10 Questions Everyone Should Ask Before Signing on the Dotted Line

Before buying any business, a seller must ask questions, lots of questions.  If there is ever a time where one should not be shy, it is when buying a business.  In a recent article from Entrepreneur magazine entitled, “10 Questions You Must Ask Before Buying a Business”, author Jan Porter explores 10 of the single most important questions prospective buyers should be asking before signing on the dotted line.   She points out to remember that “there are no stupid questions.”

The first question highlighted in this article is “What are your biggest challenges right now?”  The fact is this is one of the single most prudent questions one could ask.  If you want to reduce potential surprises, then ask this question.

“What would you have done differently?” is another question that can lead to great insights.  Every business owner should be an expert regarding his or her own business.  It only makes sense to tap into that expertise when one has the opportunity.  The answers to this question may also illuminate areas of potential growth.

How a seller arrives at his or her asking price can reveal a great deal.  Having to defend and outline why a business is worth a given price is a great way to determine whether or not the asking price is fair.  In other words, a seller should be able to clearly defend the financials.

Porter’s fourth question is, “If you can’t sell, what will you do instead?”  The answer to this question can give you insight into just how much bargaining power you may have.

A business’ financials couldn’t be any more important and will play a key role during due diligence.  The question, “How will you document the financials of the business?” is key and should be asked and answered very early in the process.  A clear paper trail is essential.

Buying a business isn’t all about the business or its owner.  At first glance, this may sound like a strange statement, but the simple fact is that a business has to be a good fit for its buyer.  That is why, Porter’s recommended question, “What skills or qualities do I need to run this business effectively?” couldn’t be any more important.  A prospective buyer must be a good fit for a business or otherwise failure could result.

Now, here is a big question: “Do you have any past, pending or potential lawsuits?”  Knowing whether or not you could be buying future headaches is clearly of enormous importance.

Porter believes that other key questions include: “How well documented are the procedures of the business?” and “How much does your business depend on a key customer or vendor?” as well as “What will employees do after the sale?”

When it comes to buying a business, questions are your friend.  The more questions you ask, the more information you’ll have.  The author quotes an experienced business owner who noted, “The more questions you ask, the less risk there will be.”

Business brokers are experts at knowing what kinds of questions to ask and when to ask them.  This will help you obtain the right information so that you can ultimately make the best possible decision.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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A Step by Step Overview of the First Time Buyer Process

A recent article on Businessbroker.net entitled, First Time Buyer Processes by business broker Pat Jones explores the process of buying a business in a precise step-by-step fashion.  Jones notes that there are many reasons that people buy businesses including the desire to be one’s own boss.  However, he is also quick to point out that buyers should refrain from buying a business that they simply don’t like.  In the quest for profits, many prospective owners may opt to do this, but it could ultimately lead to failure.

Step One – Information Gathering

For Jones, there are seven steps in the business buying process.  At the top of the list is to gather information on businesses so that one has an idea of what kind of businesses are appealing.

Step Two – Your Broker

The second key step is to begin working with a business broker.  This point makes tremendous sense; after all, those new to the business buying process will benefit greatly from working with a guide with so much experience.  Business brokers can gain access to information that prospective business owners simply cannot.

Step Three – Confidentiality and Questions

The third step in the process is to sign a confidentiality agreement so that you can learn more about a business that you find interesting.  Once you have the businesses marketing package, you’ll want to have your broker schedule an appointment with the seller. It is vitally important that you prepare a list of questions on a range of topics.  There is much more to buying a business than the final price tag.  By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to learn more about the business and its long-term potential.

Step Four – Evaluation

In the fourth step of the business buying process, you’ll want to evaluate all the information that you have received from the seller.  Once again, a business broker can be simply invaluable, thanks to years of hands-on experience, he or she will know how to evaluate a seller’s information.

Step Five – The Decision

In the fifth step, you’ll need to decide whether or not you are making an offer.  If you are making an offer, you will, of course, want it to be written and include contingencies.

If your offer is accepted, then the process of due diligence begins.  During due diligence, you and your business broker will look at everything from financial statements to tax returns.  You will evaluate the company’s assets.  Again business brokers are experts at the due diligence process.

Buying a business is an enormous commitment.  Making certain that you’ve selected the right business for you is one of the most critical decisions of your life.  Having as much competent and experienced help as possible is of paramount importance.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Goodwill and Its Importance to Your Business

What exactly does the term “goodwill” mean when it comes to buying or selling a business?  Usually, the term “goodwill” is a reference to all the effort that a seller puts into a business over the years that he or she operates that business.  In a sense, goodwill is the difference between an array of intangible, but important, assets and the total purchase price of the business.  It is important not to underestimate the value of goodwill as it relates to both the long-term and short-term success of any given business.

According to the M&A Dictionary, an intangible asset can be thought of as asset that is carried on the balance sheet, and it may include a company’s reputation or a recognized name in the market.  If a company is purchased for more than its book value, then the odds are excellent that goodwill has played a role.

Goodwill most definitely contrasts and should not be confused with “going concern value.”  Going concern value is usually defined as the fact that a business will continue to operate in a fashion that is consistent with its original intended purpose instead of failing and closing down.

Examples of goodwill can be quite varied.  Listed below are some of the more common and interesting examples:

  • A strong reputation
  • Name recognition
  • A good location
  • Proprietary designs
  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Trade secrets
  • Specialized know-how
  • Existing contracts
  • Skilled employees
  • Customized advertising materials
  • Technologically advanced equipment
  • Custom-built factory
  • Specialized tooling
  • A loyal customer base
  • Mailing list
  • Supplier list
  • Royalty agreements

In short, goodwill in the business realm isn’t exactly easy to define.  The simple fact, is that goodwill can, and usually does, encompass a wide and diverse array of factors.  There are, however, many other important elements to consider when evaluating and considering goodwill.  For example, standards require that companies which have intangible assets, including goodwill, be valued by an outside expert on an annual basis.  Essentially, a business owner simply can’t claim anything under the sun as an intangible asset.

Whether you are buying or selling a business, you should leverage the know how of seasoned experts.  An experienced business broker will be able to help guide you through the buying and selling process.  Understanding what is a real and valuable intangible asset or example of goodwill can be a key factor in the buying and selling process.  A business broker can act as your guide in both understanding and presenting goodwill variables.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Determining Your Company’s Undocumented Value

Business appraisals are not one-dimensional.  In fact, a good business appraisal is one that factors in a wide range of variables in order to achieve an accurate result.  Indisputable records ranging from comparables and projections to EBITDA multiples, discount rates and a good deal more are all factored in.

It is important to remember that while an appraiser may feel that he or she has all the information necessary, it is still possible they have overlooked key information.  Business appraisers must understand the purpose of their appraisal before beginning the process.  All too often appraisers are unaware of important additional factors and considerations that could enhance or even devalue a business’s worth.

There Can Be Unwritten Value

Value isn’t always “black and white.”  Instead, many factors can determine value.  Prospective buyers may be looking at variables, such as profitability, depth of management and market share, but there can be more that determines value.

Here are some of the factors to consider when determining value: How much market competition is there?  Does the business have potential beyond its current niche?  Are there a variety of vendors?  Does the company have easy access to its target audience?  At the end of the day, what is the company’s competitive advantage?  Is pricing in line with the demographic served?  These are just some of the key questions that you’ll want to consider when evaluating a company.

There are Ways to Increase Both Valuation and Success

No doubt, successful businesses didn’t get that way by accident.  A successful business is one that is customer focused and has company-wide values.  Brian Tracy’s excellent book, “The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business,” notes that it is critical for businesses to have a company-wide focus on three key pillars: marketing, sales and, of course, revenue generation.  Tracy also points out that trends can be seen as the single most vital factor and bottom-line contributor to any company’s success and, ultimately, valuation.  For 2018 and beyond, projected trends include an increase in video marketing, the use of crowdfunding as a means of product validation and more.

No Replacement for Understanding Trends

If a company doesn’t understand trends, then it can’t understand both the market as it stands and as it may be tomorrow.  Savvy business owners understand today’s trends and strive to capitalize on the mistakes of their competitors while simultaneously learning from their competitors’ successes.

Tracy accurately states that while there are many variables in determining value, finding and retaining the best people is absolutely essential.  One of the greatest assets that any company has is, in the end, its people.

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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The Deal Is Almost Done — Or Is It?

The Letter of Intent has been signed by both buyer and seller and everything seems to be moving along just fine. It would seem that the deal is almost done. However, the due diligence process must now be completed. Due diligence is the process in which the buyer really decides to go forward with the deal, or, depending on what is discovered, to renegotiate the price – or even to withdraw from the deal. So, the deal may seem to be almost done, but it really isn’t – yet!

It is important that both sides to the transaction understand just what is going to take place in the due diligence process. The importance of the due diligence process cannot be underestimated. Stanley Foster Reed in his book, The Art of M&A, wrote, “The basic function of due diligence is to assess the benefits and liabilities of a proposed acquisition by inquiring into all relevant aspects of the past, present, and predictable future of the business to be purchased.”

Prior to the due diligence process, buyers should assemble their experts to assist in this phase. These might include appraisers, accountants, lawyers, environmental experts, marketing personnel, etc. Many buyers fail to add an operational person familiar with the type of business under consideration. The legal and accounting side may be fine, but a good fix on the operations themselves is very important as a part of the due diligence process. After all, this is what the buyer is really buying.

Since the due diligence phase does involve both buyer and seller, here is a brief checklist of some of the main items for both parties to consider.

Industry Structure

Figure the percentage of sales by product line, review pricing policies, consider discount structure and product warranties; and if possible check against industry guidelines.

Human Resources

Review names, positions and responsibilities of the key management staff. Also, check the relationships, if appropriate, with labor, employee turnover, and incentive and bonus arrangements.

Marketing

Get a list of the major customers and arrive at a sales breakdown by region, and country, if exporting. Compare the company’s market share to the competition, if possible.

Operations

Review the current financial statements and compare to the budget. Check the incoming sales, analyze the backlog and the prospects for future sales.

Balance Sheet

Accounts receivables should be checked for aging, who’s paying and who isn’t, bad debt and the reserves. Inventory should be checked for work-in-process, finished goods along with turnover, non-usable inventory and the policy for returns and/or write-offs.

Environmental Issues

This is a new but quite complicated process. Ground contamination, ground water, lead paint and asbestos issues are all reasons for deals not closing, or at best not closing in a timely manner.

Manufacturing

This is where an operational expert can be invaluable. Does the facility work efficiently? How old and serviceable is the machinery and equipment? Is the technology still current? What is it really worth? Other areas, such as the manufacturing time by product, outsourcing in place, key suppliers – all of these should be checked.

Trademarks, Patents & Copyrights

Are these intangible assets transferable, and whose name are they in. If they are in an individual name – can they be transferred to the buyer? In today’s business world where intangible assets may be the backbone of the company, the deal is generally based on the satisfactory transfer of these assets.

Due diligence can determine whether the buyer goes through with the deal or begins a new round of negotiations. By completing the due diligence process, the buyer process insures, as far as possible, that the buyer is getting what he or she bargained for. The executed Letter of Intent is, in many ways, just the beginning.

Buying a Business – Some Key Consideration

  • What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Is real estate included? Is some of the machinery and/or equipment leased?
  • Is there anything proprietary such as patents, copyrights or trademarks?
  • Are there any barriers of entry? Is it capital, labor, intellectual property, personal relationships, location – or what?
  • What is the company’s competitive advantage – special niche, great marketing, state-of-the-art manufacturing capability, well-known brands, etc.?
  • Are there any assets not generating income and can they be sold?
  • Are agreements in place with key employees and if not – why not?
  • How can the business grow?  Or, can it grow?
  • Is the business dependent on the owner? Is there any depth to the management team?
  • How is the financial reporting handled? Is it sufficient for the business? How does management utilize it?

What Do Buyers Really Want to Know?

Before answering the question, it makes sense to first ask why people want to be in business for themselves. What are their motives? There have been many surveys addressing this question. The words may be different, but the idea behind them and the order in which they are listed are almost always the same.

  1. Want to do their own thing; to control their own destiny, so to speak.
  2. Do not want to work for anyone else.
  3. Want to make better use of their skills and abilities.
  4. Want to make money.

These surveys indicate that by far the biggest reason people want to be in business for themselves is to be their own boss. The first three reasons listed revolve around this theme. Some may be frustrated in their current job or position. Others may not like their current boss or employer, while still others feel that their abilities are not being used properly or sufficiently.

The important item to note is that money is reason number four. Although making money is certainly important and necessary, it is not the primary issue. Once a person decides to go into business for himself or herself, he or she has to explore the options. Starting a business is certainly one option, but it is an option fraught with risk. Buying an existing business is the method most people prefer. Purchasing a known entity reduces the risks substantially.

There are some key questions buyers want, or should want, answers to, once the decision to purchase an existing business has been made. Below are the primary ones; although a prospective buyer may not want answers to all of them, the seller should be prepared to respond to each one.

  • How much is the down payment?  Most buyers are limited in the amount of cash they have for a down payment on a business. After all, if cash were not an issue, they probably wouldn’t be looking to purchase a business in the first place.
  • Will the seller finance the sale of the business?  It can be difficult to finance the sale of a business; therefore, if the seller isn’t willing, he or she must find a buyer who is prepared to pay all cash. This is very difficult to do.
  • Why is the seller selling?  This is a very important question. Buyers want assurance that the reason is legitimate and not because of the business itself.
  • Will the owner stay and train or work with a new owner?  Many people buy a franchise because of the assistance offered. A seller who is willing, at no cost, to stay and to help with the transition is a big plus.
  • How much income can a new owner expect?  This may not be the main criterion, but it is obviously an important issue. A new owner has to be able to pay the bills – both business-wise and personally. And just as important as the income is the seller’s ability to substantiate it with financial statements or tax returns.
  • What makes the business different, unique or special?  Most buyers want to take pride in the business they purchase.
  • How can the business grow?  New owners are full of enthusiasm and want to increase the business. Some buyers are willing to buy a business that is currently only marginal if they feel there is a real opportunity for growth.
  • What doesn’t the buyer know?  Buyers, and sellers too, don’t like surprises. They want to know the good – and the bad – out front. Buyers understand, or should understand, that there is no such thing as a perfect business.

Years ago, it could be said that prospective buyers of businesses had only four questions:

  1. Where is the business?
  2. How much is it?
  3. How much can I make?
  4. Why is it for sale?

In addition to asking basic questions, today’s buyer wants to know much more before investing in his or her own business. Sellers have to able to answer not only the four basic questions, but also be able to address the wider range of questions outlined above.

Despite all of the questions and answers, what most buyers really want is an opportunity to achieve the Great American Dream – owning one’s own business!

Key Factors on the Acquirer’s Side

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Photo Credit: Clearly Ambiguous via Compfight cc

There are several key factors on the acquirer’s side of a sale, most of which are necessary to achieve a successful closing. Just as a seller has to deal with quite a few factors, the acquirer must also. Some of the more important ones on the acquisition side are:

  • Sufficient financial resources to complete the deal as specified.
  • Depth of capable staff to run the existing business and also execute an acquisition at the same time.
  • A rational approach to the type, size and geographic location of target companies.
  • The willingness to “pay-up” for acquisitions such as 6x EBITDA and, if necessary, the willingness to pay 100% cash, whether the sale is one of assets or a stock transaction.
  • Assuming the acquisition search generates satisfactory deal flow, a willingness to stay the course for 6 to 12 months in the search process.
  • A confirmation by the board of directors of their commitment to complete a deal.
  • A “point person” in the search process, preferably the CEO, CFO or Director of Development who is reachable on a daily basis to discuss relevant matters.
  • Complete access to sales manager and others by the business intermediary to discuss suggestions of target companies.

Buying or Selling a Business: The External View

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Photo Credit: Victor1558 via Compfight cc

There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.

 

Advantages of Buying an Existing Business

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Photo Credit: morebyless via Compfight cc

1. Established.

An existing business is a known entity. It has an established and historical track record. It has a customer or client base, established vendors, and suppliers. It has a physical location and has furniture, fixtures, and equipment all in place.  The term “turnkey operation” is overused, but an existing business is just that, plus everything else. New franchises may offer a so-called turnkey business, but it ends there. Start-ups are starting from scratch.

2. Business Relationships. 

In addition to the existing relationships with customers or clients, vendors, and suppliers, most businesses also have experienced employees who are a valuable asset. Buyers may already have established relationships with banks, insurance companies, printers, advertisers, professional advisors, etc., but if not, the existing owner does have these relationships, and they can readily be transferred.

3. Not “A Pig in a Poke”. 

Starting a new business is just that: “a pig in a poke.” No matter how much research, time, and money are invested, there is still a big risk in starting a business from scratch.  The existing business has a financial track record and established policies and procedures. A prospective buyer can see the financial history of the business — when sales are the highest and lowest, what the real expenses of the business are, how much money an owner can make, etc. Also, in almost all cases, a seller is more than willing to stay to teach and work with the new owner — sometimes free of charge.

4. Price and Terms.  

The seller has everything in place. The business is in operation and a price is established. Opening a new business from scratch can be the proverbial “money pit.”  When purchasing an established business, the buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting for his money. In most cases, the seller is also willing to take a reasonable down payment and then finance the balance of the purchase price.

5. The “Unwritten” Guarantee.

By financing the purchase price, the seller is saying that he or she is confident that the business will be able to pay its bills, support the new owner, plus make any required payments to the seller.