Since one often hears the term “fair value” or “fair market value,” it would be easy to assume that “fairness opinion” means the same thing. A fairness opinion may be based to some degree on fair market value, but there the similarities end. Assume that you are president of a family business and the other members are not active in the business, but are stockholders; or you are president of a privately held company that has several investors/stockholders. The decision is made to sell the company; and you as president are charged with that responsibility. A buyer is found; the deal is set; it is ready to close — and, then, one of the minority stockholders comes out of the woodwork and claims the price is too low. Or, worse, the deal closes, then the minority stockholder decides to sue the president, which is you, claiming the selling price was too low. A fairness opinion may avoid this or protect you, the president, from any litigation.
A fairness opinion is a letter, usually only two to four pages, containing the factors or items considered, and a conclusion on the fairness of the selling price along with the usual caveats or limitations. These limitations usually cite that all the information on which the letter is based has been provided by others, the actual assets of the business have not been valued, and that the expert relied on information furnished by management.
This letter can be prepared by an expert in business valuation such as a business appraiser or business intermediary. The content of the fairness opinion letter is limited to establishing a fair price based on the opinion of the expert. It does not provide any comment or opinion on the deal itself or how it is structured; nor does it contain any recommendations on whether the deal should be accepted or rejected.
Fairness opinions are often used in the sale of public companies by the board of directors. It helps support the fact that the board is protecting the interests of the stockholders, at least as far as the selling price is concerned. In privately held companies, the fairness opinion will serve the same purpose if there are minority shareholders or family members who may elect to challenge the price the company is being sold for.
Placing a price on a privately-held company is usually more complex than placing a value, or a price, on a publicly-held company. There are many reasons for this fact, but one of the top reasons is that privately-held companies don’t have audited financial statements.
Why are Audited Financial Statements Lacking in Privately-Held Companies?
Preparing an audited financial statement is expensive and, as a result, many companies that have not gone public simply forego the expense. On the other hand, publicly held companies reveal much more information regarding their finances as well as a range of other kinds of information.
Compared to a privately-held company, a publicly held company can often seem like an “open book.” Buyers are left with the proposition of having to dig out a lot more information from a privately-held company in order to assess whether or not a valuation or price is accurate.
What Can You Do to Overcome this Factor?
You, as the seller, can help streamline this process. By having as much information available as possible and having your accountant make sure that your numbers are presented in a manner that is easy to understand and follow, you will increase your chances of selling your business.
Experts agree that there are several steps a seller of a privately-held company can make when he or she is establishing a price or a value. First, use an outside appraiser or expert to determine a value. Next, establish what your “go-to-market” price is. Third, know your “wish price.” A seller’s “wish price” is the price that he or she would ideally like to see. Finally, it is critical that sellers establish the lowest price that they are willing to take. You should know in advance how much you are willing to sell for as this can help a negotiation move along.
The Marketplace Will Ultimately Decide
It is common that the final sale price for the company be somewhere between the asking price and the bottom-dollar price established in advance by the seller. Yet, it is important to note, that on occasion a selling price may, in fact, be lower than any of the four we’ve outlined above. At the end of the day, the undeniable fact, is that the marketplace will establish the final sales price.
Here are a few of the areas that you can expect a buyer to review when establishing the price that he or she is willing to pay: stability of the market and stability of earnings, the potential of the market, product diversity, the size of the customer base, the number and seriousness of competitive threats, how broad the customer base is, the relationship with suppliers, the distribution network in place, needs for capital expenditures and other factors. The more favorable each of these points are, the more likely it is you’ll receive a higher price.Read More
Are you looking for a way to perfect your presentation? Understanding what the typical serious buyer wants will help you get your business ready for selling.
Let’s turn our attention to looking at what these types of individuals and entities really want. After all, your time is precious.
1. An Interest in the Industry
First, prospective buyers will want to have a better understanding of your industry. Any serious buyer will want to understand the industry as a whole, as well as your existing customers, prospective customers and the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Key factors, such as threats from competition, will also be a major factor for prospective buyers.
2. Seeking Knowledge about Discretionary Costs
Secondly, expect buyers to take a long look at discretionary costs. Sellers will often look to reduce their expenses in a range of discretionary areas including advertising, research and development and public relations; this is done to help make a business appear more attractive to a buyer. However, it is important to note, that a savvy prospective buyer will notice reduction in discretionary expenses.
3. Inquiries about Wages and Salaries
Wages and salaries is another area that receives attention from buyers. If your business is paying minimum wage or offers a limited retirement program then employee turnover is likely to be high. Buyers may be concerned that employee stability may be low, which, of course, can potentially disrupt business.
4. Questions about Cash Flow and Inventory
No serious buyer will ignore the issue of cash flow. Any prospective buyer will want to know that the business they are considering buying will continue to generate profits both now and in the future.
Inventory is another area that will not be ignored. If your business is carrying a large amount of antiquated, unsalable or simply unusable inventory, then expect that to be factored into a prospective buyer’s decision-making process. It is best to disclose such inventory instead of hiding it, as it will be discovered during due diligence.
5. Seeking Capital Expenditure Details
Finally, capital expenditures will be examined by buyers. You can expect buyers to carefully evaluate machinery and equipment to ensure that there will be no expensive surprises looming on the horizon.
These give areas are definitely not the only areas that buyers will explore and investigate. Everything from financial agreements and environmental concerns to government control will be examined in depth. You should invest some time thinking about the situation from the perspective of a buyer, as this will help you discover many potential problems and try to secure viable workarounds. Working closely with a business broker is another way to ensure that you can successfully anticipate the needs of buyers.Read More
Like many things in life, timing can be everything when it comes to selling your company. Every day more and more baby-boomers are now reaching retirement age. Soon, the market will likely be flooded with companies looking to sell.
According to a 2016 survey of business brokers, 54% plan to exit in the next ten years. We may be on the verge of a massive wave of businesses hitting the market. Getting out in front of that wave could be in your best interests. Now very well may be the time to sell.
Are You Suffering from Burnout?
If you’ve been running your business for many years, it is quite possible that you are suffering from burnout. This issue is remarkably common with business owners and it is also very dangerous. Owners suffering from burnout don’t invest as much of themselves and their creative energy into their businesses, and that has a range of implications.
Everything from losing customers to failing to keep up with the competition are all possibilities when an owner feels ready to throw in the towel. The end result is that owners, through poor decisions and inaction, can inadvertently decrease the value of their businesses. Combine this fact with the fact that a wave of businesses may soon be hitting the market and selling may start looking more and more attractive.
Jump into a Strong Economy
Further, today’s strong economy means that new and unexpected competitors may soon enter the picture. It is difficult to predict how the marketplace may change in the coming years, but a strong economy means both more opportunities for existing businesses and the potential for greater competition.
Interest rates have remained at historic lows and that could definitely help you sell your business. Working with an experienced business broker is one way to test the waters. You may determine that now is the perfect time to sell your business. There are many factors involved in selling your business, and a skilled broker can help you look at the overall situation at hand and determine when it is the right time to sell.Read More
Many experts agree that the best time to prepare to sell your business is when you start your business. That may sound extreme. However, few business owners reach that level of preparedness. A simple fact of life and owning a business is that most sales are event-driven. Factors such as problems with a partnership, health issues, burnout or even divorce can drive a business owner to sell.
Once you’ve made the decision to sell, it is essential that you realize one key fact. Unexpected events and factors will always rise to the surface. In this article, we’ll explore four key questions that you’ll need to address before selling your business.
1. What is the Value of Your Time?
Meeting with prospective buyers can be a serious time sponge. One of the key benefits of working with a business broker is that a broker can take some of the pressure off of you. They can interact with buyers on your behalf.
A large percentage of business owners are also deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of the business. Business owners don’t have time to meet with every interested party or take the time to weed out the qualified prospects from the window shoppers.
2. What Do You Want Your Level of Involvement to Be?
Working with prospective buyers is obviously time consuming, but so is knowing every detail about a prospective buyer’s visit. A seasoned business broker can sift through what information is essential and what information is extraneous. In this way, you only hear about what is relevant and can skip the rest.
It is important for business owners to keep in mind that buyers expect that the business will continue to run successfully not just during the sales process but through closing as well. For this reason, you’ll want to stay as focused on the day-to-day operations of your business as possible; after all, if a deal falls through the last thing you want is to have a dip in revenue.
3. Are There Other Decision Makers?
Determining whether or not there are any other decision makers is a very smart move. Part-owners and silent partners will have to be addressed when it comes time to sell.
4. Just How Important is Confidentiality to You?
Confidentiality is important when it comes to selling your business. The more active your selling process, the greater the chances are that you’ll have a leak if you’re not extremely careful. Leaks unfortunately occur more than you might think.
How much will this issue negatively impact your business if it does occur? You should have a “leak plan” ready to go. In your plan, you should have in place what steps you should take to minimize the damage caused by the leak. Being ready to deal with key customers, employees and distributors is the cornerstone of dealing with any leak. Business brokers are experts at helping clients maintain confidentiality. This can save you a great deal of time and effort on many fronts.
By answering these four questions fully, you will save yourself time, stress and effort. Selling a business is a complex process. But with the right planning you can minimize your effort and maximize your results.Read More
The simple fact is that without employees, you don’t have a business. Given the tremendous importance of your employees, it is important to step back and reflect on the value associated with keeping those employees happy.
There is a direct relationship between happy employees and happy customers. A happy employee takes steps to ensure that your customers are satisfied. This approach in turn leads to a higher level of customer retention and helps in attracting new customers. On the flip side, unhappy employees can be quite dangerous to your company’s bottom line.
The hiring process is a key process for the health of your business and should never be overlooked or treated as a secondary process within your business. Cultivating happy employees begins at this point. Hiring can and will either make or break your business.
Offering great pay and benefits is only one important factor in keeping employees happy. A more overlooked important factor is to appreciate the contributions that employees make. If employees feel as though they are being overlooked or not appreciated, their overall happiness level will falter. Many owners unnaturally expect their employees to have the same dedication to their business that they do, and this can lead to problems.
Your employees realize that they don’t own the business. As a result, most are only willing to invest so much of themselves, their talents and their abilities into your business. Taking steps to keep your employees engaged, such as showcasing that their talents are appreciated, will help keep employees invested and happy. Research has also revealed feeling happy will make them more productive. A few years ago, Fortune Magazine wrote an article that cited a UK study connecting employee happiness and productivity. It’s definitely worth a look.
Being a positive owner is a gigantic step in the right direction where cultivating happy employees is concerned. Being a good role model is at the heart of having happy employees. It is vital that you reward people with praise and bonuses for jobs well done and fire employees that are consistently negative or failing to perform their respective duties. Special touches, such as giving employees their birthdays off, can go a long way towards cultivating the kind of climate that leads to increased satisfactions. And don’t forget, your team’s satisfaction will increase your bottom line.
When it comes time to sell a business, you can be sure that prospective buyers will be interested in your level of profits. In this way, the investment you make in the happiness of your employees can be returned many fold.Read More
A recent article posted on the Axial Forum entitled “What Do Buyers Look for in the Lower Middle Market?” explains how to make your business valuable to potential buyers and how to find the right buyers for your business. The buyers in the lower middle market are usually strategic buyers, financial buyers, private equity firms, and search fund advisors.
Buyers in this market are generally looking for the following characteristics:
- A strong management team who has incentive and is prevented from competing against the company if their employment is terminated
- Stability and predictability of revenue and cash flow
- Low customer concentration
- Other value drivers such as state-of-the-art operating systems
- High level of preparedness
The article warns about the biggest obstacles for owners. Business owners should consult with experienced deal attorneys and investment bankers before speaking to any buyers. They should also consult with advisors before the company goes on the market to make sure the business is properly prepared for sale. A business owner’s management team may also be subject to rigorous professional assessment and background checks if a private equity or financial buyer is interested.
Currently in the marketplace, buyers are offering amounts higher than the historical norms. This means that along with the higher sale prices, sellers are subject to more scrutiny through due diligence. This is all the more reason for a seller to be prepared and to work with experienced advisors to get their business ready for sale.
A recent article from the Axial Forum entitled “5 Ways Sell-Side Customer Diligence Can Maximize Sale Prices” explains how third-party sell-side customer diligence has become increasingly more common and why it can help sellers maximize and justify sale prices. Here are the 5 ways this due diligence can help you get the best sale price:
- Determine if it’s the right time for a sale – Positive customer feedback can help reinforce the decision to sell, and neutral or negative feedback can help improve the company so it will be better prepared for a sale.
- Attract and persuade buyers – Your confidential information memorandum (CIM) will show how strong customer relationships are, how your market share has grown, how the business has become more competitive, and more. Thorough documentation of the health of customer relationships will also help attract buyers.
- Control the message – Having the seller contact their customers reduces the risk of anyone being tipped off about the sale and also allows for the seller to provide a better interpretation of the results.
- Prove there is a clear path for future growth – Pre-sale due diligence can help justify the ways in which the company can grow in the future.
- Accelerate the timeline – Having customer diligence done ahead of time will speed up the process so the buyer doesn’t have to do it.
Sell-side due diligence gives the buyer a good overall assessment of customer relationships while also allowing the seller to control the process of the findings and substantiate their asking price.
A recent article from Inc.com entitled “The Art of Finding the Right Buyer for Your Business” gives us three essential items to consider when selling a business.
- Set goals – The first step is to set goals for the future of your business, yourself and your family. You’ll want to consider factors such as how the transaction will affect your employees, if you will continue on as a team member or transition out of the company, and what your overall goals for the company are. This will help you and your advisor customize the sale process.
- Explore options – Be sure to know the difference between a private equity group and a strategic corporate buyer, and find out how they can benefit your business. There are also “family offices,” which are investors who manage the wealth of a family or multiple families, but they hold a business forever.
- Keep an open mind – It’s especially important in the beginning to stay open to both types of buyers and find a good advisor who can help guide you towards the right buyer. Whether they are a financial buyer or a strategic buyer, you don’t know how they are going to handle the future of a company until you get to know them.
A recent article from the M&A Source entitled “Gold Rush: New Entrepreneurs Seek Search Funds to Finance Takeovers of Baby Boomer Businesses” explains how new entrepreneurs are looking for funding to take over businesses as the baby boomer generation starts to retire. There is currently an entrepreneurial generational gap with far less young entrepreneurs than there are baby boomers looking to sell. Healthy financial trends paired with recent tax reforms have contributed to making ideal conditions for the new generation of small business owners.
This new generation of entrepreneurs is coming from recent MBA graduates who are choosing to acquire a business instead of heading to Wall Street. Most notably, they are doing things differently when it comes to financing by turning to the search fund model which is seeing unprecedented growth as of late. This process known as entrepreneurship through acquisition (ETA) is also becoming increasingly popular in business schools which are now offering ETA programs.
It is believed that this trend is going to continue and that the timing is right. More schools are increasing awareness about it and the model will get easier as more baby boomers retire and sell their businesses. As more big money sources see this model gain popularity, there will be more money to support this growth as well.
A recent article posted by Divestopedia entitled “Avoiding the Biggest Deal Killer: Time” tells us that the key to a successful deal is preparation and momentum. This means that the seller should be fully ready when the business hits the marketplace, not when the first offer is made.
To keep the momentum going, there are 14 factors to consider:
- Know when it is a good time to sell your business
- Know why you want to sell
- Know the company’s strengths and weaknesses
- Know what you will do after you sell your business
- Know the value of your business
- Have a realistic asking price
- Be sure you are current on all taxes
- Make sure operational details are organized and recorded
- Know that the business can operate without you
- Know your company’s place in the market
- Be prepared with accurate financial statements, tax returns, and financial reports
- Know that your team of trusted advisors is ready
- Have a growth and marketing plan for your buyer
- Know what is most important to you so you can stay focused on the key issues and not worry too much over minor details
Owners often neglect understanding their leases and this can be problematic. If your business is location-sensitive, then the status of your lease could be of paramount importance. Restaurants and retail businesses, for example, are usually location-dependent and need to pay special attention to their leases. But with that stated, every business should understand in detail the terms of its leases.
There are many key factors involving leases that should not be ignored or overlooked. If you adhere to these guidelines, you’ll be much more likely to control your outcomes.
- At the top of the list is the factor of length. Usually, the longer your lease the better.
- Secondly, if the property does become available, then it is often in an owner’s best interest to try and buy the property or he or she may be forced to move.
- When negotiating a lease, it is best to negotiate a way out of the lease if possible; this is particularly important for new businesses where the fate of your business is still an unknown. Experts recommend opting for a one-year lease with a long option period.
- You may want to sell your business at some point, and this is why it is important to see if your landlord will allow for the transfer of the lease and what his or her requirements are for the transfer.
- Look at the big picture when signing a lease. For example, what if your business is located in a shopping center? Then attempt to have it written into your lease that you’re the only tenant that can engage in your type of business.
- If you’re located in a shopping center, then try to outline in your agreement a reduction of your rent if an anchor store closes.
- Your lease should detail what your responsibilities are and what responsibilities your landlords hold. Keep in mind that if you are a new business, it is quite possible that your landlord will likely require a personal guarantee from you, the owner.
- The dollar amount is necessarily the most important factor in determining the quality of your lease. It is important to carefully assess every aspect of the lease and understand all of its terms.
There are many other issues that should be taken into consideration when considering a lease.
- For example, what happens in the event of a natural disaster or fire? Who will pay to rebuild?
- Is there a percentage clause and, if so, is that percentage clause reasonable?
- How are real estate taxes, grounds-keeping fees and maintenance fees handled?
Investing the time to understand every aspect of your lease will not only save you headaches in the long run, but it will also help to preserve the integrity of your business.Read More
The value of the term sheet shouldn’t be overlooked. From buyers and sellers to advisors and intermediaries, the term sheet is often used before the creation of an actual purchase or sale agreement. That stated, it is important that the term sheet is actually explained in detail. Let’s take a closer look at its importance.
What is a Term Sheet?
Even though term sheets are quite important, they are rarely mentioned in books about the M&A process. In the book, Streetwise Selling Your Business by Russ Robb, a term sheet is defined as, “Stating a price range with a basic structure of the deal and whether or not it includes real estate.”
Another way of looking at a term sheet, according to attorney and author Jean Sifleet, is that a term sheet serves to answer to four key questions: Who? What? Where? And How Much?
Creating the Right Environment
A good term sheet can help keep negotiations on target and everyone focused on what is important. Sifleet warns against advisors, accountants and lawyers who rely heavily on boilerplate documents as well as those who adopt extreme positions or employ adversarial tactics. The main goal should be to maintain a “win-win” environment.
At the end of the day, if a buyer and a seller have a verbal agreement on price and terms, then it is important to put that agreement down on payment. Using the information can lead to a more formalized letter of intent. The term sheet functions to help both parties, as well as their respective advisors, begin to shape a deal, taking it from verbal discussions to the next level.
Make Sure Your Term Sheet Has the Right Components
In the end, a term sheet is basically a preliminary proposal containing a variety of key information. The term sheet outlines the price, as well as the terms and any major considerations. Major considerations can include everything from consulting and employment agreements to covenants not to compete.
Term sheets are a valuable tool and when used in a judicious fashion, they can yield impressive results and help to streamline the buying and selling process. Through the proper use of term sheets, an array of misunderstandings can be avoided and this, in turn, can help increase the chances of successfully finalizing a deal.Read More
Having a letter of intent signed by both the buyer and the seller can be a very good feeling. Everything can seem as though it is moving along just fine, but the due diligence process must still be completed. It is during due diligence that a seller decides whether he or she is going to finalize the deal. Much depends on what is discovered during this important process, so remember the deal isn’t done until it is truly finalized.
In his book, The Art of M&A, Stanley Forster Reed noted that the purpose 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.”
Summed up another way, due diligence is quite comprehensive. It probably comes as no surprise that this is when deals often fall apart. Before diving in, it is critically important that you meet with such key people as appraisers, accountants, lawyers, a marketing team and other key people.
Let’s take a look at some of the main items that both buyers and sellers should have on their respective checklists.
You should determine the percentage of sales by product line. Additionally, take the time to review pricing policies, product warranties and check against industry guidelines.
Review your key people and determine what kind of employee turnover is likely.
If your business is involved in manufacturing then every aspect of the manufacturing process must be evaluated. Is the facility efficient? How old is the equipment? What is the equipment worth? Who are the key suppliers? How reliable will those suppliers be in the future?
Trademarks, Patents and Copyrights
Trademarks, patents and copyrights are intangible assets and it is important to know if those assets will be transferred. Intangible assets can be the key assets of a business.
Operations is key, so you’ll want to review all current financial statements and compare those statements to the budget. You’ll also want to check all incoming sales and at the same time analyze both the backlog and the prospects for future sales.
Environmental issues are often overlooked, but they can be very problematic. Issues such as lead paint and asbestos as well as ground and water contamination can all lead to time-consuming and costly fixes.
Have a list of major customers ready. You’ll want to have a sales breakdown by region and country as well. If possible, you’ll want to compare your company’s market share with that of the competition.
The Balance Sheet
Accounts receivable will want to check for who is paying and who isn’t. If there is bad debt, it is vital to find that debt. Inventory should also be checked for work-in-progress as well as finished goods. Non-usable inventory, the policy for returns and the policy for write-offs should all be documented.
Finally, when buying or selling a business, it is vital that you understand what is for sale, what is not for sale and what is included whether it is machinery or intangible assets such as intellectual property. Understanding the barriers to entry, the company’s competitive advantage and what key agreements with employees and suppliers are already in place, will help ensure a smooth and stable transition. There are many important questions that must be answered during the due diligence process. Working closely with a business broker helps to ensure that none of these vital questions are overlooked.Read More