7 Big Questions to Ask Yourself Before Moving Forward

The first step towards successfully selling a business is finding a qualified business broker to work with.  Sellers should also ask themselves an array of important questions.  A recent article, “7 Questions to Answer Before Selling Your Business,” published by Good Men Project, has a great overview of questions sellers should answer before moving forward.

Author Troy Lambert believes that at the top of the list is one very simple and powerful question, “Are you ready?”  For example, your financial reports should be ready to show.

The second question is, “What’s it worth?”  Determining what a business is worth means you’ll need a professional business valuation.  A great deal can go into evaluating your business and you need an expert to help you determine that value.

Third, Lambert believes that prospective sellers should ask themselves, “How’s the health of my industry?”  He emphasizes that honesty is key here for a variety of reasons.  If your industry is in a transition period, for example, then it might be better to wait until a better time to sell.

The fourth question on Lambert’s list is, “How long will it take?”  In short, you need to remember that selling a business can take a long time.  Successfully selling your business may even mean that you have to stay on and work with the new owner during a transition period.

The fifth key question is, “Who is my buyer?”  You don’t want to waste a lot of time with potential buyers who are simply not a good fit.  Finding the right buyer for your business helps to ensure that a deal will be finalized.

Sixth, Lambert wants sellers to think about how they will get paid.  Are you willing to finance part of the deal?  What about balloon payments over time?  Understanding, before you put your business on the market how you want to be paid and how flexible you can be in terms of payment is essential.

For most sellers, selling a business will stand as the largest financial decision of their lives.  With this realization comes more than a little pressure.

Considering the enormity of the decision, having good advice is simply a must.  A seasoned and experienced business broker understands what it takes to buy and sell a business.  Working with a business broker is an easy and efficient way to begin the process of selling your business.  Brokers know what it takes to successfully sell a business and can help you answer these questions and many more.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Historic Levels of Small Businesses Being Sold Drops Slightly

The number of small business transitions continues to be strong for the first quarter of 2019.  In fact, despite a small decline, small business transitions remain at historically high levels.

Looking at the Statistics

According to a recent BizBuySell article entitled, “Number of Small Businesses Changing Hands Dips Slightly, But Market Remains Ripe for Buyers and Sellers,” now is still very much the time for both buying and selling a business.  It is true that the number of businesses sold in the first three months of 2019 dropped by 6.5% when compared to 2018.  Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the number of completed transactions remains very strong.  Likewise, inventory is increasing, with a 6.1% increase in listings in Q1 of 2019 when compared to the same period in 2018.

While the market is indeed strong, the BizBuySell article did note that some experts feel that there are signs that the market could become more challenging moving forward.  In part, this is due to the prospect that interest rates and financing could become increasingly challenging and more expensive.  These factors indicate that now is a smart time to both buy and sell a business.

Likewise, the financials of sold businesses in Q1 remains strong.  In fact, the median revenue of sold businesses jumped 6.5% when compared to Q1 2018.  Now, the median revenue stands at $540,000.  However, cash flow continues to hover around the $100,000 for five years in a row.

What are the Top Regions?

Currently, the top markets by closed small business transition are Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington.  The top markets by median sale price are Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Denver-Aurora and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington.

A Consistently Strong Market

Overall, the experts at BizBuySell believe that the market remains very strong and active.  They believe that the wave of retiring baby boomers looking to exit their businesses, historically low interest rates and the rise of the next generation of entrepreneurs are helping to fuel a great deal of activity.

According to Matt Coletta, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, M&A Business Advisors, “We are seeing more quality businesses coming on the market with good, clean books than I have seen in my 25+ years in the business.”

If you are considering buying or selling a business, then now is an excellent time to jump in.  Working with a business broker is a great way to ensure that you find the right business for you at the right price.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Survey Report Predicts Major Changes

The IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Survey Report for the fourth quarter of 2018 has a range of interesting insights.  The survey’s purpose is to provide an “accurate understanding of market conditions for businesses being sold in Main Street (values $0-$2MM) and the Lower Middle Market (values $2MM-$50MM).  This national survey was designed as a tool for business owners and their advisors and has the support of both the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Projects and the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.

One of the most striking facts to leap out of the report is the fact that a full one-third of advisors fully expect the strong market to end this year.  Overall, advisors are not optimistic that the current climate will continue through 2020.  In fact, advisors are encouraging sellers to consider placing their businesses on the market now, while the market is still strong.  This is according to Craig Everett, PhD and Assistant Professor of Finance and Director of the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project.

One fact from the report that could be overlooked is that only a mere 8% of advisors expect the current climate to last for 48 months or more.  Additionally, only 9% believe that the current climate will last between 24 to 48 months.  Perhaps most striking of all is the fact that 60% of advisors feel that the current climate will end within the next two years.

Business owners who are considering selling should be advised that almost two-thirds of advisors now feel that there will be a significant shift in the next two years.  Considering that it can take a year or more to sell a business, business owners would be wise to consider this important fact.

The report sites Neal Isaacs, Owner of VR Business Brokers of the Triangle who states, “Deals are taking longer in due diligence as buyers work hard to validate their investment and make sure that what they’re buying is worth the premium price today’s sellers are commanding.”

So, is now the time to sell?  Many experts feel that it is possible to lose a sizable amount of value if one waits too long to sell.  Even just a few months can make a huge difference in terms of perceived value and the ultimate sales price.  Working with a proven business broker is a key way to ensure that you are selling at the right time and secure the best possible price.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Thinking About Succession Planning

If you haven’t been thinking about succession planning, the bottom line is that you should be. In the February 20, 2019 Divestopia article, “All Companies Need to Look at Succession Planning,” author Brad Cherniak examines the importance of succession planning. Owning and/or operating a business can be a great deal of work, but it is imperative to take the time to develop a succession plan.

Succession Planning is for Businesses of All Sizes

Author Cherniak wants every business owner to realize that succession planning isn’t just for big businesses. Yet, Cherniak points out that the majority of small-to-medium sized businesses, as well as their senior managers, simply don’t focus much on succession planning at all.

Many business owners see succession planning as essentially being the same as exiting a business. Cherniak is quick to point out that while the two can be linked and may, in fact, overlap, they are by no means the same thing. They should not be treated as such.

Following an Arc Pattern

Importantly, Cherniak notes, “Succession planning should also be linked to your strategic planning.” He feels that both entrepreneurs and businesses managers follow an arc pattern where their “creativity, energy and effectiveness” are all concerned. As circumstances change, entrepreneurs and business managers can become exhausted and even a liability.

The arc can also change due to a company’s changing circumstances. All of these factors point to “coordinating the arcs of business,” which includes “startup, ramp-up, growth, consolidation, renewed growth and maturity,” with whomever is running the business at the time. In this way, succession planning is not one-dimensional. Instead it should be viewed as quite a dynamic process.

Evaluating Each Company Individually

Cherniak highlights the importance of making sure that the team matches the needs of a company as well as its stages of development. Who is running a company and setting its direction? Answering these questions is important. It also is of paramount importance to make sure that the right person is in charge at the optimal time.

Companies and their circumstances can change. This change can often occur without much notice. As Cherniak points out, few small-to-medium sized businesses focus on succession planning, and this is potentially to their detriment.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Could the Red-Hot Market for Businesses Be Cooling Down

The economy is red hot, and that fact is translating over to lots of activity in businesses being sold.  However, it is possible that this record-breaking number of sales could cool down in the near future. In a recent article in Inc. entitled, “The Hot Market for Businesses is Likely to Cool, According to This New Survey,” the idea that the market for selling business is cooling down is explored in depth.  Rather dramatically, the article’s sub header states, “Entrepreneurs who are considering selling their companies say they’re worried about the future of the economy.”

The recent study conducted by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business as well as the International Business Brokers Association and the M&A Source surveyed 319 business brokers as well as mergers and acquisitions advisers.  And the results were less than rosy.

A whopping 83% of survey participants believed that the strong M&A market will come to end in just two years.  Perhaps more jarring is the fact that almost one-third of participants believe that the market would cool down before the end of 2019.

The participants believe that the economy will begin to slow down, and this change will negatively impact businesses.  As the economy slows down, businesses, in turn, will see a drop in their profits. This, of course, will serve to make them more challenging to sell.

The Inc. article quotes Laura Ward, a managing partner at M&A advisory firm Kingsbridge Capital Partners, “People are thinking about getting out before the next recession,” says Ward.  The Pepperdine survey noted that a full 80% of companies priced in the $1 million to $2 million range are now heading into retirement. In sharp contrast, 42% of companies priced in the $500,000 to $1 million range are heading into retirement.  Clearly, retirement remains a major reason why businesses are being sold.

Is now the time to sell your business?  For many, the answer is a clear “yes.” If the economy as a whole begins to slow down, then it is only logical to conclude that selling a business could become tougher as well.

The experts seem to agree that whether it is in one year or perhaps two, there will be a shift in the number of businesses being sold.  Now may very well be the right time for you to jump into the market and sell. The best way of making this conclusion is to work with a proven and experienced business broker.  Your broker will help you to analyze the various factors involved and make the best decision.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Kind of Buyers are You Most Likely to Meet?

Selling a business can be an exciting and rather lucrative time.  But going through the sales process means embracing the notion that you’ll have to be very prepared for whatever might be thrown your way.  A key aspect of preparing to sell your business is to know what types of buyers you’re likely to encounter.

It is only logical to anticipate the types of buyers you may be dealing with in advance.  That will allow you to plan how you might potentially work with them.  Remember that each buyer comes with his or her own unique desires and objectives.

The Business Competitor

Competitors buy each other all the time.  Frequently, when a business is looking to sell, the owner or owners quickly turn to their competitors.  Turning to one’s competitors when it comes time to sell makes a good deal of sense; after all, they are in the same business, understand the industry and are more likely to understand the value of what you are offering.  With these prospective buyers, a great confidentiality agreement is, of course, a must.

Selling to Family Members

It is not at all uncommon for businesses to be sold to family members.  These buyers are often very familiar with the business, the industry as a whole and understand what is involved in owning and operating the business in question.

Often, family members are prepared and groomed years in advance to take over the operation of a business.  These are all pluses.  But there are some potential pitfalls as well, such as family members not having enough cash to buy or not being fully prepared to run the business.

Foreign Buyers

Quite often, foreign buyers have the funds needed to buy an existing business.  However, foreign buyers may face a range of difficulties including overcoming a language barrier and licensing issues.

Individual Buyers

Dealing with an individual buyer has many benefits.  These buyers tend to be a little older, ranging in age from 40 to 60.  For these buyers, owning a business is often a dream come true, and they frequently bring with them real-world corporate experience.  Dealing with a single buyer can also help expedite the process as you will have fewer individuals to negotiate with.

Financial Buyers

Financial buyers are often the most complicated buyers to deal with, as they can come with a long list of demands.  That stated, you should not dismiss financial buyers.  But just remember that they want to buy your business strictly for financial reasons.  That means they are not looking for a job or fulfilling a lifelong dream.  For financial buyers, the key point is that your business is generating adequate revenue.

Synergistic Buyers

A synergistic buyer can be an excellent candidate.  The reason that synergistic buyers can be such a good fit is that their business in some way complements yours.  In other words, there is a synergy between the businesses.  The main idea here is that by combining the two businesses they will reap a range of benefits, such as access to a new and very much aligned customer base.

Different types of buyers bring different types of issues to the table.  The good news is that business brokers know what different types of buyers are likely to expect out of a deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Considering All of Your Business Real Estate Options

In a recent December 2018 article in Divestopedia entitled, “Options for Business Real Estate When Selling a Company,” the topic of business real estate was explored at length.

One of the key points of the article was that understanding one’s business real estate options would ultimately help in achieving “the goals desired in a transaction.”  The article is correct to point out that many, or even arguably most, business owners simply don’t know what real estate options are available to them when it comes time to sell the company.

In particular, there are two big options:

  1. Sell everything including the real estate.
  2. Hold onto the real estate for the rental income.

In the Divestopedia article, the authors correctly point out that if you, as the business owner, personally own the real estate in a separate entity, then you are good to go.  You should have a “clear path to valuation.”

However, if your company owns the real estate, then things get a little more complicated.  If this is the situation you’ll want to have a third-party appraisal of the real estate so that its value is clear.  The article also points out that if your business is a C-Corp and your business also owns the real estate, then it’s a good idea to talk to your accountant as there will be differences in taxation.

Every situation is different.  Many buyers will prefer to acquire the real estate along with the business.  On the other hand, many buyers may prefer a lease, as they don’t want everything that comes along with owning real estate.  Communicating with the buyer regarding his or her preference is a savvy move.

Now, as Divestopedia points out, if you do plan to retain the building, then you’ll want to be certain that a strong lease is in place.  Ask any business broker about the importance of having a strong lease, and you’ll get some pretty clear-cut feedback.  Namely, you always want to have a strong lease.

Issues such as who repairs what and why should all be spelled out in the lease.  It should leave nothing to chance.  One of the best points made in the Divestopedia article is that you will want a strong lease for another key reason.  When the time comes to sell the property, you want to show you have a lease that is generating good income.

Real estate and the sale of your business are not one-dimensional topics.  There are many variables that go into selling when real estate is involved.  It is important to consider all of the variables and work with a business broker who can help guide you through this potentially complex topic.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Four Significant Issues You Need to Consider When Selling Your Business

The process of selling a business can be very complex. Whether you’ve sold a business in the past or are selling a business for the very first time, it is imperative that you work with an expert. A seasoned business broker can help you navigate through what can be some pretty rough waters. Let’s take a closer look at four issues any seller needs to keep in mind why selling a business.

Number One – Overreaching

If you are both simultaneously the founder, owner and operator of a business, then there is a good chance that you are involved in every single decision. And that can be a significant mistake. Business owners typically want to be involved in every aspect of selling their business, but handling the sale of your business while operating can lead to problems or even disaster.

The bottom line is that you can’t handle it all. You’ll need to delegate the day-to-day operation of your business to a sales manager. Additionally, you’ll want to consider bringing on an experienced business broker to assist with the sale of your business. Simultaneously, running a business and trying to sell has gone awry for even the most seasoned multitaskers.

Number Two – Money Related Issues

It is quite common that once a seller has decided on a price, he or she has trouble settling for anything less. The emotional ties that business owners have to their businesses are understandable, but they can also be irrational and serve as an impediment to a sale. A business broker is an essential intermediary that can keep deals on track and emotions at a minimum.

Number Three – Time

When you are selling a business, the last thing you want is to waste time. Working with a business broker ensures that you avoid “window shoppers” and instead only deal with real, vetted prospects who are serious about buying. Your time is precious, and most sellers are unaware of just how much time selling a business can entail.

Number Four – Don’t Forget the Stockholders

Stockholders simply must be included in the process whatever their shares may be. A business owner needs to obtain the approval of stock holders. Two of the best ways to achieve this is to get an attractive sales price and secondly, to achieve the best terms possible. Once again, a business broker serves as an invaluable ally in both regards.

Selling a business isn’t just complicated; it can also be stressful, confusing and overwhelming. This is especially true if you have never sold a business before. Business brokers “know the ropes” and they know what it takes to both get a deal on the table and then push that deal to the finish line.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Importance of Understanding Leases

Leases should never be overlooked when it comes to buying or selling a business.  After all, where your business is located and how long you can stay at that location plays a key role in the overall health of your business.  It is easy to get lost with “larger” issues when buying or selling a business.  But in terms of stability, few factors rank as high as that of a lease.  Let’s explore some of the key facts you’ll want to keep in mind where leases are concerned.

The Different Kinds of Leases

In general, there are three different kinds of leases: sub-lease, new lease and the assignment of the lease.  These leases clearly differ from one another, and each will impact a business in different ways.

A sub-lease is a lease within a lease.  If you have a sub-lease then another party holds the original lease.  It is very important to remember that in this situation the seller is the landlord.  In general, sub-leasing will require that permission is granted by the original landlord.  With a new lease, a lease has expired and the buyer must obtain a new lease from the landlord.  Buyers will want to be certain that they have a lease in place before buying a new business otherwise they may have to relocate the business if the landlord refuses to offer a new lease.

The third lease option is the assignment of lease.  Assignment of lease is the most common type of lease when it comes to selling a business.  Under the assignment of lease, the buyer is granted the use of the location where the business is currently operating.  In short, the seller assigns to the buyer the rights of the lease.  It is important to note that the seller does not act as the landlord in this situation.

Understand All Lease Issues to Avoid Surprises

Early on in the buying process, buyers should work to understand all aspects of a business’s lease.  No one wants an unwelcomed surprise when buying a business, for example, discovering that a business must be relocated due to lease issues.

Summed up, don’t ignore the critical importance of a business’s leasing situation.  Whether you are buying or selling a business, it is in your best interest to clearly understand your lease situation.  Buyers want stable leases with clearly defined rules and so do sellers, as sellers can use a stable leasing agreement as a strong sales tool.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Is Now The Time to Sell Your Signs and Graphics Business?

I often get asked by signs and graphics shop owners “How is the market for selling my business?” which is then followed by brief references to the economy and whether the business transaction market place has recovered to pre-recession levels.  I’ll get to the answer, but first a little background.

Signs and graphics shops, like most businesses, are typically sold based on a “multiple of earnings”.  “Earnings” can be assessed in slightly different ways depending on the size of the business, and the “multiple” is a factor that varies based on industry and size of company.  The higher the “earnings” are, typically the higher the “multiple” may be.  As an example, if a business has “earnings” of $100K, and the typical “multiple” for that industry and size has been established at “2.5”, then the value of the business is calculated as 2.5 x 100K = $250K.  However, if a business in the same industry generates earnings of $350K, then the “multiple” may be “3 or greater”, generating a value in excess of $1,050,000 (3 x $350K).

Obviously, market timing can have an impact on the selling process, particularly if one is comparing the statistics during the lowest depth of a recessionary period versus the highest peak of a period of an economic boom.  And, in general, “multiples” do tend to increase slightly as the economy improves, especially if finance lending loosens accordingly.  However, these variations are minimal except at the ends of the spectrum, and the biggest cause of the statistical decline is often more directly related to the overall “earnings” within the group rather than the actual multiple a buyer may pay for the same earnings amount at a different point in time.

Pratt’s Stats, a leading private company transaction database, provides transactional detail history on over 22,000 private company transactions.  The statistics are gathered from a variety of sources, including business brokers, mergers & acquisitions specialists and investment bankers.  While statistics can be manipulated to make almost any case, and are only as reliable as the reporting received, let’s look specifically at the sign industry over the last decade – before the great recession (2004 -2008) versus the period of 2009 to date as the economy has improved.

The “ earnings multiple” factor for sign business transactions was slightly higher in the “prior to 2009” group than the later group, however the difference is minimal, and when taking into consideration the average value of assets included in the transactions, there is literally no difference.  The notable period where there was a difference, and a significant one, was in 2010 and a portion of 2011.  The “multiple” factor dropped by greater than 16%, and the total number of transactions for the industry was minimal.  As you may recall, this period was the most difficult time for anyone to get a bank loan, forcing sellers to finance many of the transactions that occurred.

It is important to note that even during 2010, there were several transactions that attained the typical or standard value one may expect.  A couple of examples are noted below:

  • Sign and graphics shop with annual revenue of $2.15M, and earnings of $274K, sold for $850K, a multiple of 3.10.
  • Sign and graphics shop with annual revenue of $2.24M, and earnings of $404K, sold for $1.3M, a multiple of 3.22.

Another statistic of note during the post recession period is that there were fewer sales of signs and graphics shops that performed below the industry standards or were marginally profitable if at all.  Poor performing businesses have been much harder to sell in the post recession period than during the pre-recession period.

Please keep in mind that most buyers will not just focus on the most recent financial year, but will likely use an average of the last two to three years. Also keep in mind that these statistics are not meant to suggest an exact valuation formula, as there are variances from deal to deal and there are many factors involved in each deal.  With that said, the statistics do provide guidelines that one should consider in their planning process.

As for overall business transaction activity, BizBuySell, the Internet’s largest business-for-sale marketplace, has reported that second quarter 2014 small business transactions reached the highest levels reported since before the recession hit in mid-2008.

So, back to the initial question of market timing for selling a sign business – the answer is “GOOD”, but the real question one should be asking is “Is your business ready to go to market?”  While financial performance is the single most important element affecting the value of a sign business, there are many other factors to be considered as well.

  • Recent trends in revenue and profits – are these increasing each year?
  • Are the financial records “clean” and properly representative of the performance of the business? This is not only critically important to the buyer, but also for the bank that may be financing the transaction.
  • Are all tax returns and other government filings up to date?
  • Is production equipment considered current technology or is it obsolete?
  • Is your customer base diversified across a variety of industries?
  • Is your customer base diversified across a number of customers? In the eyes of a buyer, a single customer that accounts for more than 15% – 20% is viewed as a risk.
  • Is your business automated, using current technology to maximize efficiencies?
  • Do you have historical records of customer transactions (a computerized customer database)?
  • Are past customer graphic files stored electronically and accessible?
  • Do you have a website? Is e-commerce an active part of your business?
  • Staff status – do you have tenured people in place? Do you have a competent second in command on staff?
  • Have you delegated to the point to where the business does not rely on you for survival?
  • Physical location – is your business in a desirable location? Is the facility relatively clean, neat and organized?
  • Lease status – do you have additional years remaining on a lease and is it transferrable to a buyer?

These are a few of the items you should consider when assessing your business – the more you are able to answer the above questions in the affirmative, the better your signs and graphics business should be positioned to sell, and more importantly to maximize the sales price!