M&A Advisor Tip: How do you know when it is time to sell?

When you no longer have the fight, get out of the ring.

Burnout is the second leading reason business owners sell, after retirement. Many business owners hold on too long, long after their drive has gone. When that happens, the business stops growing or even starts going backward – and the value of the business declines.

The best time to sell is when you’re energized and motivated by your work. If you see burnout on the horizon, find ways to reduce your burden or start preparing to sell your business.

For further information contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com.

Selling Your Business to a Family Office

Business owners looking to sell their business, or attract an investment partner, may want to add family offices to their outreach strategy. These private family firms, established by high net worth families to manage their wealth, can offer unique advantages.

While family offices aren’t new, they have become more active in M&A in the last decade. In the past, family offices may have looked to private equity firms as a resource to grow their wealth, but new trends have many family offices investing directly in private businesses.

For a family office, direct investment can offer several benefits such as higher returns, greater control, and the ability to invest in industries that best fit their family expertise. By the same token, family offices can prove attractive to certain business owners and sellers. Here’s why:

Patient Capital

Private equity firms typically have five to seven years before they need to resell their investments and deliver a return to investors. But family offices aren’t limited to specific timelines and can hold their investments longer.

That buy and hold strategy can be a good fit for business owners looking to take some chips off the table without exiting entirely. A longer investment period gives them more time to grow the business with support from their new, prestigious partners. Sellers concerned about employee job security, community presence, and legacy issues may also prefer a longer time-frame.

Industry Specialists

These families made their fortune in business, and they tend to invest in the industries they know best. For business owners looking to retain a portion of their business, these buyers can provide untold value in terms of connections, influence, and expertise.

Less Controlling

Some family offices have a reputation for being somewhat hands off. They’ll provide resources to help your business grow, while generally taking a more flexible approach to oversight.

Often, family offices aren’t interested in replacing management. This can be good for owners who will retain equity and continue to lead. But it means that sellers looking for a fast exit may not be the right fit (unless you’re leaving a proven leadership team behind).

The takeaway is that family offices can offer a better fit for business owners looking at a variety of exit options. If you’re selling, talk to your advisor about adding these groups to your target buyer list.

Be aware that these groups can be hard to reach on your own. Many family offices operate under the radar. They don’t actively promote themselves or announce they’re searching for acquisitions. What they do is build relationships with advisors known to present quality investment opportunities.

To access these groups, work with an M&A firm with widespread industry connections, a large buyer database, and access to exclusive M&A research tools.

Contact Al Statz at 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com for further information on what these family offices are looking for and how to best approach them.

The Four P’s of Selling a Business

Marketers sometimes talk about the four p’s (product, placement, price, promotion) of marketing. Known as the “marketing mix,” the emphasis a company puts in each area can have a direct impact on sales and profits.

And while selling a business is not like selling a product, we can use this idea to think about how certain factors impact a company’s value and sale readiness. The right mix will make your company more desirable to buyers and more likely to attract multiple competitive offers.

People

Human resources plays a critical role in your business’s saleability. As an owner, you need to be replaceable. Ideally, your business should continue to operate and grow even if you aren’t a part of day-to-day operations.

In the lower middle market, you’ll gain extra value by having a management team or key employee group that can run the business with little to no input from you the owner. Buyers want to know they can maintain your success even after you’re going.

When talking up your business to would-be buyers, talk up your people. Say “they did that” or “we did” whenever possible, instead of highlighting your own solo contributions.

It may seem counter intuitive, but the less your company needs you, the more it’s worth. Because if you truly are the only one with all the magic dust, your business is a risky proposition and will be harder to sell.

Performance

Generally, buyers want a business with a stable record of profits and preferably a growth trend. They will typically look at the last three years of financial performance, paying attention to the last 12 months.

A business is generally worth a multiple of its cash flow, specifically EBITDA adjusted for the owner’s salary and benefits. Drive cash to the bottom line, and avoid hiding unnecessary perks inside your financials, particularly in the last few years before a sale.

Look at cash-related issues like working capital, capital expenditures, fair market rent, and fair market payroll. If you’re underpaying yourself in terms of rent, your cash flow might not reflect the new owners cash flow. And if you’re working 80- hour weeks (longer than any paid manager could be expected to work), your current salary might not be an accurate reflection of the necessary replacement salary.

Cash flow is one of the most important numbers buyers will use when valuing your business. Make sure yours is accurate and tells a good story.

Potential

Buyers want a growth story and a vision for the future. They want you to sell them on the company’s growth potential.

You may be proud of what you’ve built, but it doesn’t do any good to tell would-be buyers that the business is doing “the best it possibly can.” That means there’s no where to go but down. Spend some time thinking about growth opportunities and what you might do if you had more energy, more capital, or were willing to take on new risk.

If you don’t have a vision for growth, talk to an advisor. Different buyers bring different assets and advantages to the table.

Price, aka Value

Not every company can go to market without an asking price. But for the ones that can, a no-price strategy gives the seller an advantage.

Ask two professional valuation experts to determine your business value, and you’ll probably get similar numbers. But ask two or more buyers to value your business, and their target price may vary significantly. That’s because your business is worth more or less to different buyers, depending on their motivations, resources, and business synergies. How they value your business will depend, in part, on how badly they want to reach their goal.

For further information on this subject or to discuss a current M&A or business valuation need, contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com.

M&A Advisor Tip: Drive Cash to the Bottom Line

We all like to save money on our taxes. But hiding personal expenses in your tax return can do more harm than good. Most businesses are purchased as a multiple of cash flow (roughly EBITDA less capital expenditure needs, less increases in working capital as the company grows). If buyers and lenders can’t find your personal expenses in the financials or if the adjustments are so severe they border on tax evasion, they’ll be suspicious and possibly scared off.

It’s in your best interest to drive cash to the bottom line in the last 2-3 years before a sale.

Take a hit on taxes for a few years to get a much larger return when the company sells.

For further information on this topic or to discuss a potential business sale, contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com.

M&A Advisor Tip: When the Kids Don’t Want the Business

Many business owners are surprised to find out their kids don’t want to take over.

Maybe the kids never wanted it. Or maybe they changed their mind after working in the business for a while. Either way, some business owners get caught having to make quick decisions about transferring their company to a third party.

Our advice: Talk to an M&A advisor, EVEN IF you plan to sell to your kids.

It can take years of planning to position a business for a successful sale, internal family transfer, or management buyout. Working with an advisor gives you options and a backup plan. We can help you create a transition plan that fits your goals … and your kids’ goals.

For further information on this topic or to discuss your exit options confidentially, contact Al Statz at 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com.

M&A Advisor Tip: What Does It Feel Like When You Sell?

“Immense satisfaction tinged with loss.” That’s how one business owner described selling his business.

After putting years of hard work into building a business, many owners have a hard time letting go. Emotions run high, and those emotions can lead to some regrettable decisions.

As advisors, part of our role is to help you make sound choices when it comes to selling your business. We can help you sort through your emotions and your goals to find the right buyer to carry on your legacy, at the right time.

Smart preparation and planning make it easier to find the right fit. It doesn’t matter if you’re not ready to let go yet. Let’s start the conversation today.

For more information contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com.

5 Ways to Make Your Business More Sellable, Right Now

It was time. After 30 years running their small 25-employee company, Frank and Martha were ready to retire to the Oregon Coast. To their surprise, after a 12-month listing with a business broker, there were just a few interested parties and no offers. Instead of enjoying retirement, Frank and Martha are now a year older and no closer to retirement. For them, preparing to sell was an after-thought.

Regretfully, this scenario plays out often. Many small companies aren’t in shape to sell. This post offers tips for building a more marketable company.

5 Ways to Make Your Business More Sellable

  1. Clean up financial reporting. Nothing scares buyers away like poor financial statements and back up data.  If you don’t have the resources to do this work in house, find a CPA or fractional CFO to help with this.
  2. Build a team. Often, businesses are too dependent on the owner(s). If buyers are unsure about a company’s ability to prosper under new leadership, they won’t buy. Buyers want to see a capable and committed management team. Stay bonuses can help.
  3. Diversify the customer base. Companies with a few clients that represent a majority of revenue are tough to sell. Contract manufacturers often have this problem. A business may not survive losing its top client, let alone continue to pay down acquisition debt. A good rule of thumb is to keep top clients below 20% of revenue.
  4. Document, systematize and automate. The more confident buyers are that a business will continue to run smoothly under their watch, the more likely they will buy and the more they will pay. Most companies have opportunities in this area.
  5. Quality of earnings. Buyers and lenders discount or shy away from businesses with declining or uneven earnings. They also don’t want to see deferred capital spending or excessive working capital needs that put a drag on future cash flows.

These are some of the most common recommendations we give to company owner clients. Every business has its own unique levers to pull.

I realize these recommendations are easier said than done. Just know that failing to prepare for a sale can result in no deal, or selling at a substantial discount and not having enough money to enjoy retirement or prolonging retirement for several years.  See my recent post on Why Business Owners Should Prepare to Sell Now.

At Exit Strategies we counsel business owners before taking their businesses to market. After an initial assessment, we sit down with owners to create simple plans to improve sale-readiness and value. When our clients are ready, our senior M&A brokers guide them through the sale process. As a result we have one of the highest success rates in our industry.

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Al Statz is the founder and president of Exit Strategies Group, a leading M&A advisory and business valuation firm with offices in California and Portland Oregon. If you are interested in selling your company in the next few years, call Al at 707-781-8580 or Email him.

How Key Employees Factor into a Business Sale

One of the negotiations we get involved with as M&A advisors is retention of key employees. Nearly every private business in every industry has a few “indispensable” employees. Before taking a company to market, we work with clients to evaluate key-person dependence and develop strategies for retaining key employees. This article offers help in identifying key employees in your business.

On one hand, having key employees is a selling feature of a business. But, when critical responsibilities and proprietary knowledge are concentrated in a few key individuals, this represents a business risk to buyers who need these people to stay and be happy and productive. Business deals can grind to a halt over key employee retention if owners fail to plan for this part of the sale process.

An owner’s first instinct is often to downplay the importance of key employees, so as not to discourage prospective buyers. But denial is not a strategy. In today’s market you can expect buyers to investigate key employees and insist on their commitment to the company.  Ask these questions to identify your key employees, before going to market. Buyers will!

8 Questions to Help Identify Key Employees

1. Who are our top sales producers?
2. Who shoulders most of the workload around here?
3. Who designed our top-selling products?
4. Who own patents to important products?
5. Who would do the most damage if they left to join a competitor?
6. If we lost them today, who would be most difficult for us to replace?
7. If we lost them today, who would have the most impact on our top line and/or bottom line?
8. When I leave, who will replace me?

With your key people identified you can develop strategies to mitigate the company’s dependence on them and/or retain them, and decide how and when to involve them in the sale process. Your strategy may include stay bonuses.

It’s always better to have a well thought out exit strategy than to leave things to chance. It helps to work with an experienced M&A broker/advisor like Exit Strategies. Since 2002 we’ve helped well over a hundred sellers strategize and successfully navigate tricky ownership transfer issues like key employee retention.

To learn more or to discuss a potential business sale or acquisition need, give Al Statz a call at 707-781-8580.

Secrets to Business Valuation – a Lesson from Curly

Remember that scene from the 1991 movie City Slickers where Curly (Jack Palance) shares the secret to life with Mitch (Billy Crystal) shortly before he dies? Curly holds up his index finger and says to Mitch that the secret to life is to figure out his one thing and then stay with it. Channeling Curly today, I will share with you the three things that determine the value of any operating company, with rare exception.

As M&A advisors and valuation experts, we frequently see similar companies of the same size sell for vastly different sums. Let’s look at a simple illustration. Say Company A and Company B both distribute industrial products in similar markets, both do $30 million in revenue and both go to market at the same time. At the end of a rigorous sale process, Company A sells for $25 million and Company B sells for $15 million.

What caused the difference in the price buyers were willing to pay? It usually boils down to three factors: cash flow, growth and risk.

Cash Flow

At the end of the day what matters most to investors is future cash flow. Net cash flow is influenced by net profits, as well as working capital levels and capital investment needs. Owners can use free cash flow to either pay themselves, pay debt providers or reinvest in the business. Looking at our example, even though Companies A and B have the same revenue, Company A operates more efficiently and generates significantly more cash flow for its investors.

Growth

The second factor is growth — top line and bottom line growth. The more cash flows are expected to grow over time, the more cash flow investors will have at their disposal, and the higher they will value a company. Company A has likely proven – based on its historical financial results and investment record – that they are capable of growing at a faster pace than Company B.

Risk

The third thing affecting valuation is the level and types of risk associated with receiving those expected cash flows. Investors decide how certain they are that a company will continue to perform the way it has or achieve its growth projections. The more certain they are, the more they’ll pay, and vice versa. In our example, Company A may have less cash flow volatility, a stronger leadership team, or more market or product diversification, which would reduce perceived risk and increase certainty of performance.

Valuation theory and actual prices paid support the view that similar companies can have very different values. Acquirers and investors, when deciding how much to pay for a company, quickly look past gross revenue and EBITDA to net cash flows, growth and risk. The sooner a company owner understands and embraces this, the happier they’ll be when they decide to sell.

Exit Strategies values private companies for business owners before they make important decisions about sales, mergers acquisitions, recapitalizations, buy-sell agreements, equity incentive plans, and more. If you are business owner and would like to learn more or discuss a potential M&A transaction or valuation need, confidentially, give Al Statz a call at 707-781-8580.

 

Corporate Social Responsibility in Mergers and Acquisitions

Like it or not, and irrespective of our personal political ideologies, corporate social responsibility has gained in popularity in the past decade. In this article, we’ll discuss what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is and what it means for private business owners from an exit strategy perspective.

The Four Pillars of CSR

CSR is often thought of as having four pillars: the community, the environment, the marketplace and the workplace.

  1. Community. This pillar refers to the manner in which a company contributes to the greater community. Contributions can range from simply providing good jobs for people in your local community to donating money for a new playground or public art project.
  2. Environment. People around the globe are becoming more environmentally conscious. Increasingly, consumers want to know that the companies that they patronize have sound environmental practices. These practices range from recycling, to using low-emission high-mileage vehicles, to using biodegradable packaging. The more your company can demonstrate how it is protecting the long-term health of our environment, the more customers will be attracted to your product or service.
  3. Marketplace. Proper corporate social responsibility includes adopting fair treatment policies towards suppliers and vendors, contractors and shareholders. It’s critical to view all stakeholders in the company as partners. The marketplace aspect of CSR means rejecting any exploitative business practices that you may have in favor of fairer and more equitable business practices.
  4. Workplace. With respect to workplace, CSR encourages the implementation of fair and equitable treatment of employees. It makes sense that having a healthy, financially secure and committed workforce with a strong corporate culture and a safe work environment improves the desirability of your company. Profit sharing, medical coverage, retirement and wellness programs are all part of this mix.

Are socially-responsible companies better investments?

In my experience as an M&A advisor, I have to answer yes, all other things being equal. It’s not the most important factor, but today’s acquirers prefer to buy companies with a culture of social responsibility. Owners considering selling or recapitalizing should plan for this. Being able to demonstrate a strong CSR track record should serve to increase buyer and investor demand and therefore selling price.

Our M&A advisors to small businesses have noticed that older (baby boomer) owners in particular are surprised by the importance of good CSR practices to the younger generation of buyers. With the advent of social media, its easier than ever for them to get a sense of your company’s social responsibility.

It may be time to to gather your management team to explore the value that CSR can bring to your organization and assess your CSR performance. Here is an HBS white paper on Why Every Company Needs a CSR Strategy and How to Build It.

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Al Statz is Exit Strategies Group’s founder and CEO. For further information or to discuss a current need, confidentially, Al can be reached at 707-781-8580.