When it comes to buying or selling a business, there is no replacement for a solid confidentiality agreement. One of the key ways that business brokers and M&A advisors are able to help buyers and sellers alike is through their extensive knowledge of confidentiality agreements and how best to implement them. In this article, we will provide you with an overview of what you should expect out of your confidentiality agreements.
A confidentiality agreement is a legal agreement that essentially forbids both buyers and sellers, as well as related parties such as agents, from disclosing information regarding the transition. It is a best practice to have a confidentiality agreement in place before discussing the business in any way and especially before divulging key information on the operation of the business or trade secrets.
While a confidentiality agreement can be used to keep the fact that a business is for sale private, that is only a small aspect of what modern confidentiality agreements generally seek to accomplish. Confidentiality agreements are used to ensure that a prospective buyer doesn’t use any proprietary data, knowledge or trade secrets to benefit themselves or other parties.
When creating a confidentiality agreement, it is important to keep several variables in mind, such as what information will be excluded and what information will be disclosed, the term of the confidentiality agreement, the remedy for breach, and the manner in which confidential information will be used and handled.
Any effective confidentiality agreement will contain a variety of key points. Sellers will want their confidentiality agreement to cover a fairly wide array of territory. For example, the confidentiality agreement will state that the potential buyer will not attempt to hire away employees. In general, this and many other details, will have a termination date.
The specifics of how confidentiality is to be maintained should also be included in the confidentiality agreement. Parties should agree to hold conversations in private; this point has become increasingly important due to the use of mobile phones and in particular the use of mobile phones in out-of-office locations. Additionally, it is prudent to specify that principal names should not be used in outside discussions and that a code name should be developed for the name of the proposed merger or acquisition.
Safeguarding documents is another area that should receive considerable attention. Digital files should be password protected. All paperwork should be kept in a safe location and locked away for maximum privacy when not in use.
In their enthusiasm to find a buyer for their business, many sellers have overlooked the confidentiality agreement stage of the process. Most have regretted doing so. A confidentiality agreement can help protect your business’s key information from being exploited during the sales process. Any experienced and capable business broker or M&A advisor will strongly recommend that buyers and sellers always depend on confidentiality agreements to establish information disclosure perimeters.
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The simple fact is that selling your business is likely to be the single most important financial decision you’ll ever make. With this important fact in mind, it is essential that you prepare far in advance. Let’s dive in and take a look at some of the key items you’ll want to check off your list before placing your business on the market.
Think About Legalities
When it comes to selling a business, legal issues should be at the forefront of your thoughts; after all, selling your business does involve the creation and execution of a complex and detailed legal agreement. There are many times in life where it is possible to cut corners, but hiring a good lawyer or law firm is not one of those times. Moreover, you’ll want to settle all litigation, environmental issues or other issues that could potentially derail a sale.
Deal with Serious Buyers
Working with a good business broker or M&A advisor is an essential part of the selling process, as these professionals will help you to weed out “window shoppers” as well as prospective buyers who are simply not a good fit for your business. Any serious buyer should be willing to submit a Letter of Intent. Everyone should be on the same page as far as price and terms as well as what assets and liabilities are to be assumed. This second point reinforces the first point. It is essential to have an experienced lawyer helping you through various aspects of the sales process.
Be Flexible on Price
You should also be prepared to accept a lower price than you might ideally want. There are many reasons that this may occur, ranging from a lack of management depth and a lack of geographical distribution to a dependence on a limited number of clients. Reliance on a small number of customers and/or clients can give potential buyers pause, as it could raise concerns regarding the stability of your business. Addressing these issues years before placing your business on the market can help you best achieve the price point you desire. This is yet another reason to work with a business broker in advance.
Improving Your Chances for Success
In terms of achieving the price that you want for your business, there are other steps you can take. Increasing the visibility and profile of your business is always a savvy move. Consider attending trade shows, boost your online profile via stepping up your social media game and explore creating a coherent public relations program.
Finally, selling a business is often a waiting game. You have to be psychologically prepared to wait a considerable period of time before your business is sold. The fact is that most businesses do indeed sit on the shelf for a considerable period of time before they are sold.
Preparation, patience and good organization will dramatically increase your chances of selling your business and achieving an appropriate price. The sooner you begin organizing your business and working with experienced professionals, the greater the chances of success will be.
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Most business buyers and sellers are wondering what 2021 and beyond will bring. BizBuySell and BizQuest President Bob House provided a range of insights stemming from BizBuySell’s 3rd Quarter Insight Report and a survey of over 2,300 business owners.
The simple fact is that the pandemic has most definitely had a major impact on the buying and selling of businesses. This fact is obvious. But diving deeper, there are a range of insights that can be gleaned.
First, owners do understand that COVID is a massive force in business right now. According to the survey, 68% of owners feel that they would have received a better price for their business in 2019 than in 2020. Only 37% of respondents felt that they would receive a better price this year. Of owners who felt that they would receive a lower price in 2020 than in 2019, 71% of these owners said that their assessment was directly tied to the pandemic and its accompanying economic impact.
A question on the survey asked owners if the pandemic had impacted their exit plans. 55% responded that the pandemic had not changed their exit plans. Additionally, 22% said that they now planned on exiting later, and 12% stated that they planned on exiting earlier. In short, the majority of business owners were not changing their exit plans.
On the other side of the coin, buyers are acknowledging that the present seems to be a very good time to buy. A staggering 81% of buyers stated that they felt confident that they would be able to find an acceptable price point. In terms of their purchasing timeline, 72% of respondents stated that they were planning on buying a business soon. Survey follow-ups indicated that large numbers of buyers were also planning on buying in 2021.
Generational differences are playing a role as well. Baby Boomers tend to be more optimistic than non-boomers as far as their overall views on the recovery. 43% of Baby Boomers now expect the economy to recover within the next year as compared to just 30% of non-Boomers. House pointed out, “Baby Boomers are the generation that did not plan, which makes it harder for them to adjust transition plans if they were preparing to retire, as small businesses don’t have the infrastructure and management teams in place to wait out a bad cycle.”
Based on the information collected by BizBuySell’s 3rd Quarter Insight Report and their survey, it is clear that there is a new wave of buyers on the horizon. The report supports the notion that the pandemic has made small business ownership an attractive option for new entrepreneurs. Factors driving new entrepreneurs into the marketplace include everything from being unemployed and wanting more control over their own futures to a desire to capitalize on opportunities.
Finally, House notes that 2021 could be a “perfect storm for business sales,” as 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each and every day. This means that the supply of excellent businesses entering the marketplace will likely increase dramatically.
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Goodwill is a term that might cause a little confusion for some. But at its heart, it is a relatively straight-forward concept. Goodwill is generally viewed as a term that encapsulates everything from a business’s reputation to the goods, services and products it provides. The key idea is that there is goodwill if the business is viewed as a true and functioning business that has longevity in the marketplace.
The Importance of Reputation
It is important to point out that many of the aspects that go into defining goodwill are not easily noted on a balance sheet. One of those elements has already been mentioned in the form of reputation. A good reputation is an intangible asset that is hard to put an exact dollar amount on. Imagine that you had a choice between two businesses that were almost identical. However, one business enjoyed a strong reputation while the other had a reputation for poor customer service and goods and services. This decision would be an easy one for most prospective buyers.
Going Beyond the Numbers
When a buyer pays more than the recognized value of a business, goodwill usually plays a major role. There are many variables that can be included into goodwill such as quality and track record of management; strength of the local economy; the loyalty of the customer base; good relationships with suppliers; copyrights; trademarks and patents; name or brand recognition; specialized training and knowhow. The list goes on. Business brokers and M&A advisors will be sure to highlight these goodwill factors to prospective buyers. Factors that impact the longevity of a business, and its long-term potential, should not be overlooked.
The Evolving Meaning of Goodwill
In recent years, the accounting profession has changed how it deals with the concept of goodwill and how it is factored into decisions. Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, many large companies were built around the ownership and use of heavy equipment and machinery; however, in the last two decades there has been a shift away from tangible assets and towards intangible assets.
Assets under the umbrella of intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, brand names and more, are now considered key aspects of goodwill. In short, in the last twenty-years, goodwill has taken on a more complex and varied meaning. Today, businesses are not necessarily based around massive factors and huge assembly lines. Workers and management in the world’s largest companies 50 years ago would be hard pressed to explain the inner workings of some of today’s corporate juggernauts.
Goodwill is more complicated than ever before. This factor serves to underscore the value, and importance, of working with an experienced, capable and proven business broker or M&A advisors. The goodwill elements within a business need to be highlighted so that prospective buyers fully understand the business’ real value.
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For every reason that a pending sale of a business collapses, there is a positive reason why the sale closed successfully. What does it take for the sale of a business to close successfully? Certainly there are reasons that a sale might not close that are beyond anyone’s control. A fire, for example, the death of a principal, or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado. There might be an environmental problem that the seller was unaware of when he or she decided to sell. Aside from these unplanned catastrophic events, deals abort because of the people involved. Here are a few examples of how a sale closes successfully.
The Buyer and Seller Are in Agreement From the Beginning
In too many cases, the buyer and seller really weren’t in agreement, or didn’t understand the terms of the sale. If an offer to purchase is too vague, or has too many loose ends, the sale can unravel somewhere along the line. However, if prior to the offer to purchase the loose ends are taken care of and the agreement specifically spells out the details of the sale, it has a much better chance to close. This means that a lot of answers and information are supplied prior to the offer and that many of the buyer’s questions are answered before the offer is made. The seller may also have some questions about the buyer’s financial qualifications or his or her ability to operate the business. Again, these concerns should be addressed prior to the offer or, at least, if they are part of it, both sides should understand exactly what needs to be done and when. The key ingredient of the offer to purchase is that both sides completely understand the terms and are comfortable with them. Too many sales fall apart because of a misunderstanding on one side or the other.
The Buyer and Seller Don’t Lose Their Patience
Both sides need to understand that the closing process takes time. There is a myriad of details that must take place for the sale to close successfully, or to close at all. If the parties are using outside advisors, they should make sure that they are deal-oriented. In other words, unless the deal is illegal or unethical, the parties should insist that the deal works. The buyer and seller should understand that the outside advisors work for them and that most decisions concerning the sale are business related and should be decided by the buyer and seller themselves. The buyer and seller should also insist that the outside advisors keep to the scheduled closing date, unless they, not the outside advisors, delay the timing. Prior to engaging the outside advisors, the buyer and seller should make sure that their advisors can work within the schedule. However, the buyer and seller have to also understand that nothing can be done overnight and the closing process does take some time.
No One Likes Surprises
The seller has to be up front about his or her business. Nothing is perfect and buyers understand this. The minuses should be revealed at the outset because sooner or later they will be exposed. For example, the seller should consult with his or her accountant about any tax implications prior to going to market. The same is true for the buyer. If financing is an issue it should be mentioned at the beginning. If all of the concerns and problems are dealt with initially, the closing will be just a technicality.
The Buyer and Seller Must Both Feel Like They Got a Good Deal
If they do, the closing should be a simple matter. If the chemistry works, and everyone understands and accepts the terms of the agreement, and feels that the sale is a win-win, the closing is a mere formality.
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