What Are Buyers Looking for in a Company?
It has often been said that valuing companies is an art, not a science. When a buyer considers the purchase of a company, three main things are almost always considered when arriving at an offering price.
Quality of the Earnings
Some accountants and intermediaries are very aggressive when adding back, for example, what might be considered one-time or non-recurring expenses. A non-recurring expense could be:
- meeting some new governmental guidelines,
- paying for a major lawsuit, or
- adding a new roof on the factory.
The argument is made that a non-recurring expense is a one-time drain on the “real” earnings of the company. Unfortunately, a non-recurring expense is almost an oxymoron. Almost every business has a non-recurring expense every year. By adding back these one-time expenses, the accountant or business appraiser is not allowing for the extraordinary expense (or expenses) that come up almost every year. These add-backs can inflate the earnings, resulting in a failure to reflect the real earning power of the business.
Sustainability of Earnings
The new owner is concerned that the business will sustain the earnings after the acquisition. In other words, the acquirer doesn’t want to buy the business if it is at the height of its earning power; or if the last few years of earnings have reflected a one-time contract, etc. Will the business continue to grow at the same rate it has in the past?
Verification of Information
Is the information provided by the selling company accurate, timely, and is all of it being made available? A buyer wants to make sure that there are no skeletons in the closet. How about potential litigation, environmental issues, product returns or uncollectible receivables? The above areas, if handled professionally and communicated accurately, can greatly assist in creating a favorable impression. In addition, they may also lead to a higher price and a quicker closing.
© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.
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A Reasonable Price for Private Companies
Putting a price on privately-held companies is more complicated than placing a value or price on a publicly-held one. For one thing, many privately-held businesses do not have audited financial statements; these statements are very expensive and not required. Public companies also have to reveal a lot more about their financial issues and other information than the privately-held ones. This makes digging out information for a privately-held company difficult for a prospective purchaser. So, a seller should gather as much information as possible, and have their accountant put the numbers in a usable format if they are not already.
Another expert has said that when the seller of a privately-held company decides to sell, there are four estimates of price or value:
- A value placed on the company by an outside appraiser or expert. This can be either formal or informal.
- The seller’s “wish price.” This is the price the seller would really like to receive – best case scenario.
- The “go-to-market price” or the actual asking price.
- And, last but not least, the “won’t accept less than this price” set by the seller.
The selling price is usually somewhere between the asking price and the bottom-dollar price set by the seller. However, sometimes it is less than all four estimates mentioned above. The ultimate selling price is set by the marketplace, which is usually governed by how badly the seller wants to sell and how badly the buyer wants to buy.
What can a buyer review in assessing the price he or she is willing to pay? The seller should have answers available for all of the pertinent items on the following checklist. The more favorable each item is, the higher the price.
- Stability of Market
- Stability of Historical Earnings
- Cost Savings Post-Purchase
- Minimal Capital Expenditures Required
- Minimal Competitive Threats
- Minimal Alternative Technologies
- Reasonable Market
- Large Market Potential
- Reasonable Existing Market Position
- Solid Distribution Network
- Buyer/Seller Synergy
- Owner or Top Management Willing to Remain
- Product Diversity
- Broad Customer Base
- Non-dependency on Few Suppliers
There may be some additional factors to consider, but this is the type of analysis a buyer should perform. The better the answers to the above benchmarks, the more likely it is that a seller will receive a price between the market value and the “wish” price.
© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.
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Why Sell Your Company?
Selling one’s business can be a traumatic and emotional event. In fact, “seller’s remorse” is one of the major reasons that deals don’t close. The business may have been in the family for generations. The owner may have built it from scratch or bought it and made it very successful. However, there are times when selling is the best course to take. Here are a few of them.
- Burnout – This is a major reason, according to industry experts, why owners consider selling their business. The long hours and 7-day workweeks can take their toll. In other cases, the business may just become boring – the challenge gone. Losing interest in one’s business usually indicates that it is time to sell.
- No one to take over – Sons and daughters can be disenchanted with the family business by the time it’s their turn to take over. Family members often wish to move on to their own lives and careers.
- Personal problems – Events such as illness, divorce, and partnership issues do occur and many times force the sale of a company. Unfortunately, one cannot predict such events, and too many times, a forced sale does not bring maximum value. Proper planning and documentation can preclude an emergency sale.
- Cashing-out – Many company owners have much of their personal net worth invested in their business. This can present a lack of liquidity. Other than borrowing against the assets of the business, an owner’s only option is to sell it. They have spent years building, and now it’s time to cash-in.
- Outside pressure – Successful businesses create competition. It may be building to the point where it is easier to join it, than to fight it. A business may be standing still, while larger companies are moving in.
- An offer from “out of the blue” – The business may not even be on the market, but someone or some other company may see an opportunity. An owner answers the telephone and the voice on the other end says, “We would like to buy your company.”
There are obviously many other reasons why businesses are sold. The paramount issue is that they should not be placed on the market if the owner or principals are not convinced it’s time. And consider an old law that says, “The time to prepare to sell is the day you start or take over the business.”
Five Kinds of Buyers
Buyers are generally categorized as belonging to one of the following groups although, in reality, most buyers fit into more than one.
The Individual Buyer
This is typically an individual with substantial financial resources, and with the type of background or experience necessary for leading a particular operation.
The individual buyer usually seeks a business that is financially healthy, indicating a sound return on the investment of both money and time.
The Strategic Buyer
This buyer is almost always a company with a specific goal in mind — entry into new markets, increasing market share, gaining new technology, or eliminating some element of competition.
The Synergistic Buyer
The synergistic category of buyer, like the strategic type, is usually a company. Synergy means that the joining of the two companies will produce more, or be worth more, than just the sum of their parts.
The Industry Buyer
Sometimes known as “the buyer of last resort,” this type is often a competitor or a highly similar operation. This buyer already knows the industry well, and therefore does not want to pay for the expertise and knowledge of the seller.
The Financial Buyer
Most in evidence of all the buyer types, financial buyers are influenced by a demonstrated return on investment, coupled with their ability to get financing on as large a portion of the purchase price as possible.
Almost all the purchasers of the smaller businesses fall into the individual buyer category. But most buyers, as mentioned above actually fit into more than just one category.
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Why Deals Don’t Close
- Don’t have a valid reason for selling.
- Are testing the waters to check the market and the price. (They are similar to the buyer who is “just shopping.”)
- Are completely unrealistic about the price and the market for their business.
- Are not honest about their business or their situation. The reason they want to sell is that the business is not viable, it has environmental problems or some other serious issues that the seller has not revealed, or new competition is entering the market.
- Don’t disclose that there is more than one owner and they are not all in agreement.
- Have not checked with their outside advisors about possible financial, tax or legal implications of selling their business.
- Are unprepared to accept seller financing or now unwilling to accept it.
- Don’t have a valid reason to buy a business, or the reason is not strong enough to overcome the fear.
- Have unrealistic expectations regarding price, the business buying process, and/or small business in general.
- Aren’t willing (many of them) to do the work necessary to own and operate a small business.
- Are influenced by a spouse (or someone else) who is opposed to the purchase of a business.