After decades of hard work, selling your business can be an exciting and rewarding time. Yet, many business owners overlook the importance of focusing on the legal matters associated with sales. In this article, we’ll explore three of the most significant mistakes sellers make.
1. Use an NDA
The first critical mistake that business owners should be guarding against is skipping the use of a non-disclosure agreement. Simply stated, a business owner should always make sure that a non-disclosure agreement is in place before disclosing to any buyers that a business is on the market.
NDA’s stand as an invaluable way to restrict who does and does not know your business is for sale. After all, the last thing any business owner looking to sell his or her business wants is for competitors or employees to learn confidential information.
2. Hire an Attorney
The second critical mistake that many business owners make is they skip working with an attorney. There is no way around the fact that if you are selling a business, or for that matter anything of significant value, you need to work with a lawyer experienced in the area of sales.
Business owners become accustomed to doing a great many things themselves and learning on the job. There is no doubt that this is a personality trait that has served them well over the years. However, when it comes time to sell your business, there is zero room for “on the job training” or relying on your own instincts. One of the best ways that you as a business owner can protect your future is to work with a lawyer when selling your business. In fact, a Business Broker or M&A Advisor can be a vital resource for helping you to find a proven lawyer with a background in the buying and selling of businesses.
3. Get a Letter of Intent
A third significant mistake that business owners frequently make when selling their business is that they fail to get a letter of intent. Much like an NDA, a letter of intent is a key legal document in the process of selling a business. All too often business owners will skip requesting a letter of intent out of fear of slowing down the process and potentially disrupting a deal.
The letter of intent is designed to both clearly spell out expectations, while simultaneously protecting your interests as a business owner. When a buyer signs a letter of intent, it indicates that he or she is taking the process seriously. This will protect you from wasting your time.
The process of buying or selling a business is complex in many different ways. Whether it is dealing with human psychology, organizing your books, thinking about what information prospective buyers are likely to want to see, or addressing a wide array of legal issues, it is a complex and time-consuming process. Working closely with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the fastest ways that you can increase your chances of a successful sale.
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You understand the finer points and potential of your business better than anyone; however, that doesn’t mean that prospective buyers will instantly see your business’s various strengths. When you are looking to sell your business, you have two very important jobs. The first is to get your business ready to be sold. A second essential job is to showcase your business’s greatest strengths. At the end of the day, you must be the one to articulate why your business is worth buying. This effort, of course, will be supported by your Business Broker or M&A Advisor.
Understand Who Will Buy Your Business
Most people have never sold a business before and don’t fully understand what is involved in positioning one’s business for sale. The bottom line is that not every business is a good fit for every buyer. Finding the right buyer for your business will greatly expedite the process. This is yet another reason why it is critically important to work with experienced professionals. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors not only know what buyers are looking for, but also what sellers need to do to get their business ready to sell.
How to Navigate Roadblocks
Selling a business, especially if you attempt to do so without professional help, is a very time-consuming and often draining process. Successfully running a business requires attention to detail and focus. Unfortunately, these can both suffer when owners attempt to put on yet another hat and handle the sale of their business.
While you are attempting to sell your business, it is critically important that you maintain normal operations. The last thing you want is to weaken the finances of your business while you are waiting to find a buyer. Remember that it takes months, a year, or even longer to find a buyer for the typical business. Don’t let your business suffer damage in the interim.
Think Like a Buyer
Preparing your business to be sold isn’t as simple as making a few cosmetic changes and calling it day. Instead, you’ll want to think like a buyer.
What would you want to see if you were buying a business? You would want to know a great deal about that business and how it operates, who its key employees are, how likely those key employees are to stay, who the main customers and suppliers are, and the strength of the business location and competitors. Of course, you would also want a very detailed picture of the business’s financial situation.
In short, you would want to clearly understand what the business does and what it’s really worth, how financially healthy it has been in the past, what the business’ prospects are moving forward and, in general, how much effort the business will take to operate. These are exactly the kind of key facts that any serious buyer will want to know. It’s only to be expected that a buyer would expect to learn this information before making a decision.
At the end of the day, working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the easiest ways to streamline the sales process. Thanks to years of experience, they already understand the pitfalls that you may experience as well as what is needed to position your business so that you can find the right buyer quickly and receive the best price possible.
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When buying or selling a business, it is critically important that you evaluate the lease. It is a strange phenomenon that otherwise savvy business people will treat leases as a secondary concern. However, problematic terms in a lease can literally force you to pack up a business and move. This would not only be a jarring experience, but a very costly one as well.
Finding a good location is of paramount importance to both the profile and profitability of your business. You may feel that there are more important issues when buying or selling a business. But by the end of this article, you’ll see the wisdom in placing a lease near the top of your “to evaluate” list.
There are three different kinds and types of leases: a new lease, an assignment lease and the sublease. All three of these options are most definitely different from one another and can potentially impact your business in different ways.
The New Lease
A new lease, as the name indicates, is the result of a lease that has expired. That means that the buyer must work with the landlord to establish a new lease. Buying a business only to discover that you don’t have a lease and the landlord isn’t interested in keeping your business at its current location is most definitely a shock that no business owners want to encounter. Buyers should be one-hundred percent certain that they have a lease in place before they buy a business.
Assignment of Lease
The second type of lease is the assignment of lease; this form of lease is quite common. It involves the buyer of a business being granted the use of the location where the business is currently located and operating. Through the assignment of the lease, the seller is able to assign the buyer the rights associated with the lease. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the seller is not acting as the landlord, but instead, simply has the ability to assign the lease.
The third option for lease is the sublease. The sublease is basically a lease within a lease, and it comes with some important distinctions that must be understood. A sublease generally requires the permission of the landlord and that permission should not be viewed as a “foregone conclusion” or “automatic.”
The bottom line is that no new business owner wants to discover that their new business doesn’t have a home. There are an array of very important issues to work out when buying a business, and it is critically important that buyers never overlook what kind of lease is involved. A savvy seller will highlight what kind of lease they have, especially if the terms are favorable. But buyers should always be proactive and ask questions about the status of the lease and make certain that lease terms are clearly defined.
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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.
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There are unique attributes of a company that make it more attractive to a possible acquirer and/or more valuable. Certainly, the numbers are important, but potential buyers will also look beyond them. Factors that make your company special or unique can often not only make the difference in a possible sale or merger, but also can dramatically increase value. Review the following to see if any of them apply to your company and if they are transferable to new ownership.
Brand name or identity
Do any of your products have a well recognizable name? It doesn’t have to be Kleenex or Coke, but a name that might be well known in a specific geographic region, or a name that is identified with a specific product. A product with a unique appearance, taste, or image is also a big plus. For example, Cape Cod Potato Chips have a unique regional identity, and also a distinctive taste. Both factors are big pluses when it comes time to sell.
Dominant market position
A company doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 firm to have a dominant position in the market place. Being the major player in a niche market is a dominant position. Possible purchasers and acquirers, such as buy-out groups, look to the major players in a particular industry regardless of how small it is.
Newsletters and other publications have, over the years, built mailing lists and subscriber lists that create a unique loyalty base. Just as many personal services have created this base, a number of other factors have contributed to the building of it. The resulting loyalty may allow the company to charge a higher price for its product or service.
A long and favorable lease (assuming it can be transferred to a new owner) can be a big plus for a retail business. A recognizable franchise name can also be a big plus. Other examples of intangible assets that can create value are: customer lists, proprietary software, an effective advertising program, etc.
The ability to charge less for similar products is a unique factor. For example, Wal-Mart has built an empire on the ability to provide products at a very low price. Some companies do this by building alliances with designers or manufacturers. In some cases, these alliances develop into partnerships so that a lower price can be offered. Most companies are not in Wal-Mart’s category, but the same relationships can be built to create low costs and subsequent price advantages.
Difficulty of replication
A company that produces a product or service that cannot be easily replicated has an advantage over other firms. We all know that CPA and law firms have unique licensing attributes that prevent just anyone off of the street from creating competition. Some firms have government licensing or agreements that are granted on a very limited basis. Others provide tie-ins that limit others from competing. For example, a coffee company that provides free coffee makers with the use of their coffee.
Technology, trade secrets, specialized applications, confidentiality agreements protecting proprietary information – all of these can add value to a company. These factors may not be copyrighted or patented, but if a chain of confidentiality is built – then these items can be unique to the company.
There are certainly other unique factors that give a company a special appeal to a prospective purchaser and, at the same time, increase value. Many business owners have to go beyond the numbers and take an objective look at the factors that make their company unique.
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