How Your Employees Can Boost Profits and Values

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.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Don’t Let the Dust Settle on Your Lease: 8 Factors to Consider

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.

  1. At the top of the list is the factor of length. Usually, the longer your lease the better.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Your Deal is Almost Done, Then Again, Maybe Not

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.

Industry Structure

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.

Human Resources

Review your key people and determine what kind of employee turnover is likely.

Manufacturing

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

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

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.

Marketing

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.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Three Easy & Effective Ways to Negotiate

Far too many prospective business buyers and sellers overlook just how important negotiations can be. But they can also be tricky. In general, there are three approaches to negotiations. Thinking through your negotiation strategies well before the time to buy or sell is a savvy and prudent move.

Negotiation Tactic #1 Take It or Just Leave It

In this negotiating tactic, the buyer makes an offer and the seller makes a counter-offer, then both sides leave it there. If the deal works fine. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine too.

It is usually smart to step back and ask yourself if you are comfortable with this approach. Sometimes a small degree of flexibility can go a long way towards turning a proposed deal into a reality.

Negotiation Tactic #2 Maybe Consider Splitting the Difference

Another negotiating tactic is to simply offer to split the difference. This tactic is pretty straightforward and it demonstrates a good deal of flexibility; however, the financials may not always make sense for both sides.

As always, it is important to think about all the factors involved in allowing a deal to fall apart, such as how much time will it take to find another buyer or another business to buy? Showing a willingness to split the difference is often seen as a goodwill offer that can facilitate further negotiations within an environment of lower emotional intensity.

Remember, as long as the two sides are talking, a deal may be reached. But when communication ceases, then the deal is definitely finished and not in a good way.

Negotiation Tactic #3 Negotiation from What is Most Important to Each Party

Understanding what is most important to both parties is usually critical for a successful deal. Important areas can range from allowing a relative to stay with the business to moving the business to a new location. Not all key points are directly linked to money, and it is vital to understand this all-important negotiating fact.

Negotiation Tactic #4 Bring in a Pro

In negotiations there is an old adage, “Never negotiate your own deal.” Emotions can run high when it comes to buying or selling a business and then there is the problem of perspective. Buyers and sellers are often lack the perspective that an outsider can bring.

Opting for help and guidance from someone who buys and sells businesses for a living, can be a huge step in the right direction. Through a professional business broker, it is possible to not only establish a fair price but also address the array of intangibles that can go into buying and selling a business.

At the end of the day, deals are put together piece by piece, and skill is involved in the process. Working with others is at the heart of successful negotiation, and that means taking into consideration what the other side wants and what the other side needs.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Red Flags are Not a Pretty Sight

When it comes to selling a business, sellers simply must pay attention to red flags. Problems can always pop up, and that’s why they need to keep their eyes open.

Rarely does a “white knight” ride in and rescue a business with no questions asked. And if this were to happen, you should be asking, “Why?” Until a deal is officially inked, sellers need to evaluate every aspect of a transaction to make sure something isn’t happening that could wreck the deal.

Common Red Flags to Watch For

One example would be having a company express interest in your business but you are never able to directly contact key players, such as the President or CEO. The reason that this is a red flag is that it indicates that the interest level may not be as great as you initially hoped.

A second red flag example would be an individual buyer, with no experience in acquisitions or experience in your industry, looking to buy your business. The reason that this second example could prove problematic, is that even if the inexperienced buyer is enthusiastic as the deal progresses, he or she may become nervous upon learning what a deal would actually entail. In other words, the specifics and the reality of owning a business, or owning a business in your industry, could come as a shock to an inexperienced buyer.

Both of these examples above are examples of early-stage red flags. But what about issues that pop up at later stages? The simple fact is that red flags can come at any stage of the selling process.

A good example of a middle-stage red flag is when a seller is denied access to the buyer’s financial statements, which is of course essential to verify that the seller is able to actually make the acquisition. A final-stage red flag example is an apparent loss of momentum, as the buying and selling process can be a long one.

Business Sellers Need to Protect Their Assets

Sellers are usually very busy and don’t have time to waste; this is doubly true for owner/operators of businesses, as the time they invest with a prospective buyer is time that could be spent doing something else.

All too often, businesses begin to run into trouble when they place their business on the market. If this trouble negatively impacts the bottom line, then the business can become more difficult to sell and the final sale price will likely be lower.

That’s why it is so essential that sellers protect themselves from buyers that are not truly interested or are simply not a good fit. Working with a business broker is an easy and highly effective way for sellers to protect themselves from buyers that are simply not the right fit. A broker helps to “weed out” unfit candidates.

While red flags are never good, that doesn’t mean that a red flag means a deal is a definitely at an end. Especially with the guidance of an experienced business broker, many of these issues can be overcome.

In the end, if you, either as a buyer or seller, suspect that there is a problem, then you should take action. The problem will not simply go away. The single best way to deal with a red flag is to tackle it head on as soon as you recognize it.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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When Selling Your Business, Play to Win

If you are an independent business owner, you are most likely also an independent business seller–if not now, you will be somewhere down the road. The Small Business Administration reports that three to five years is a long enough stretch for many business owners and that one in every three plans to sell, many of them right from the outset. With fewer cases of a business being passed on to future generations, selling has become a fact of independent business life. No matter at what stage your own business life may be, prepare now to stay ahead in the selling game.

Perhaps one of the most important rules of the selling game is learning how not to “sell.” An apt anecdote from Cary Reich’s The Life of Nelson Rockefeller shows a pro at work doing (or not doing) just that:

When the indomitable J.P. Morgan was seeking the Rockefeller’s Mesabi iron ore properties to complete his assemblage of what was to become U.S. Steel, it was Junior [John D. Rockefeller, Jr.] who went head-to-head with the financier. “Well, what’s your price?” Morgan demanded, to which Junior coolly replied, “I think there must be some mistake. I did not come here to sell. I understand you wished to buy.” Morgan ended up with the properties, but at a steep cost.

As this anecdote shows, the best approach to succeeding at the selling game is to be less of a “seller” and more of a “player.” Take a look at these tips for keeping the score in your favor:

Let Others Do the Heavy Pitching

Selling a business is an intense emotional drain; at best, a distraction. Let professional advisors do the yeoman’s duty when selling a business. A business intermediary represents the seller and is experienced in completing the transaction in a timely manner and at a price and terms acceptable to the seller. Your business broker will also present and assess offers, and help in structuring the transaction itself. If you plan to use an attorney, engage one who is seasoned in the business selling process. A former Harvard Business Review associate editor once said, “Inexperienced lawyers are often reluctant to advise their clients to take any risks, whereas lawyers who have been through such negotiations a few times know what’s reasonable.”

Stay in the Game

With the right advisors on your side, you can do the all-important work of tending to the daily life of the business. There is a tendency for sellers to let things slip once the business is officially for sale. Keeping normal operating hours, maintaining inventory at constant levels, and attention to the appearance and general good repair of the premises are ways to make the right impression on prospective buyers. Most important of all, tending to the daily running of the business will help ward off deterioration of sales and earnings.

Keep Pricing and Evaluation in the Ballpark

Like all sellers, you will want the best possible price for your business. You have probably spent years building it and have dreamed about its worth, based on your “sweat equity.” You’ll need to keep in mind that the marketplace will determine the value of the business. Ignoring that standard by asking too high a price will drive prospective buyers away, or will at the least slow the process, and perhaps to a standstill.

Play Fair with Confidentiality

Your business broker will constantly stress confidentiality to the prospects to whom he or she shows your business. They will use nonspecific descriptions of the business, require signatures on strict confidentiality agreements, screen all prospects, and sometimes phase the release of information to match the growing evidence of buyer sincerity. As the seller you must also maintain confidentiality in your day-to-day business activities, never forgetting that a breach of confidentiality can wreck the deal.

Sell Before Striking Out

Don’t wait until you are forced to sell for any reason, whether financial or personal. Instead of selling impulsively, you should plan ahead carefully by cleaning up the balance sheet, settling any litigation, providing a list of loans against the business with amounts and payment schedule, tackling any environmental problems, and by gathering in one place all pertinent paperwork, such as franchise agreement (if applicable), the lease and any lease-related documents, and an approximation of inventory on-hand. In addition, you could increase the value of your business by up to 20 percent by providing audited financial statements for one or two years in advance of selling.

Think Twice Before Retiring Your “Number”

The trend is for sellers to assume they will retire after selling the business. But consider this: agreeing to stay on in some capacity can actually help you get a better price for your business. Many buyers will pay more to have the seller stay aboard, thus helping to reduce their risk.

Keep the Ball Rolling

You need to keep the negotiation ball rolling once an offer has been presented. Even if you don’t get your asking price, the offer may have other points that will offset that disappointment, such as higher payments or interest, a consulting agreement, more cash than you anticipated, or a buyer who seems “just right.” The right buyer may be better than a higher price, especially if there is seller financing involved, and there usually is. In many cases, the structure of the deal is more important than the price. And when the ball is rolling, allow it to pick up speed. Deals that drag are too often deals that fail to close.

By following these tips, and by working closely with your business broker, you can have confidence in being a seller who, like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., doesn’t “come here to sell.” You will play the selling game–and be a winner.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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There’s No Business Quite Like a Family Business

The simple fact is that family businesses are different. After all, a family business means working with family and all the good and bad that comes with it.

While an estimated 80% to 90% of all businesses are family owned, relatively few are properly planning for what happens when it comes time to sell. According to one study, a whopping 72% of family businesses lack a developed succession plan which is, of course, a recipe for confusion and potentially disaster. Additionally, there are many complicating factors, for example, studies indicate that 40% to 60% of owners of family businesses want the business to remain in the family, but only 40% of businesses are passed to a second generation and a mere 10% are passed down to a third generation.

Let’s turn our attention to a few of the key points that family business owners should consider when selling a business.

  1. Confidentiality should be placed at the top of your “to do” list. When it comes to selling a family business, it is vital that confidential is strictly observed.
  2. Remember that it may be necessary to lower your asking price if maintaining the jobs of family members is a key concern for you.
  3. Family members who stay on after the sale of the business must realize that they will no longer be in charge. In other words, after the sale of the business the power dynamic will be radically different, meaning that family members will now have to answer to new management, outside investors and an outside board of directors.
  4. Family members will want to appoint a single family member to speak for them in the negotiation process. A failure to appoint a family member could lead to confusion, poor decision making and ultimately the destruction of deals.
  5. When hiring a team to help you with selling your business, it is critical that your lawyer, accountant and business broker are all experienced and proven.
  6. Don’t hold meetings with potential buyers on-site.
  7. Every family member, regardless of whether they are an employee or an investor, must be in agreement regarding the sale of the company. Again, one of your primary goals is to avoid confusion.
  8. Family employees and family investors must be in agreement regarding the sale price or there could be problems.

Working with an experienced business broker is a savvy move, especially when it comes to selling a family business. Business brokers know what it takes to make deals happen. Being able to point to a business brokers’ past success will help reduce family member resistance to adopting the strategies necessary to successfully sell a business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Difficult Issues Often Attached to Valuing a Business

There is little doubt that valuing a business is often complex. In part, this complexity is due to the fact that business evaluation is subjective. The simple fact is that the value of a business is often left to the mercy of the person conducting the evaluation. Adding yet another level of complexity is the fact that the person conducting the valuation has no choice but to assume that all the information provided is, in fact, correct and accurate.

In this article, we will explore the six key issues that must be considered when determining the value of a business. As you will see, determining the value of a business involves taking in several factors.

Factor #1 – Intangible Assets

Intangible assets can make determining the value of a business quite tricky. Intellectual property ranging from patents to trademarks and copyrights can impact the value of a business. These intangible assets are notoriously difficult to value.

Factor #2 – Product Diversity

One of the truisms of valuing a business is that businesses with only one product or service are at much greater risk than a business that has multiple products or services. Product or service diversity will play a role in most valuations.

Factor #3 – ESOP Ownership

A company that is owned by its employees can present evaluators with a real challenge. Whether partially or completely owned by employees, this situation can restrict marketability and in turn impact value.

Factor #4 – Critical Supply Sources

If a business is particularly vulnerable to supply disruptions, for example, using a single supplier in order to achieve a low-cost competitive advance, then expect the evaluator to take notice. The reason is that a supply disruption could mean that a business’ competitive edge is subject to change and thus vulnerable. When supply is at risk then there could be a disruption of delivery and evaluators will notice this factor.

Factor #5 – Customer Concentration

If a company has just one or two key customers, which is often the situation with many small businesses, this can be seen as a serious problem.

Factor #6 – Company or Industry Life Cycle

A business, who by its very nature, may be reaching the end of an industry life cycle, for example, typewriter repair, will also face challenges during the evaluation process. A business that is facing obsolescence usually has bleak prospects.

There are other issues that can also impact the valuation of a company. Some factors can include out of date inventory, as well as reliance on short contracts and factors such as third-party or franchise approvals being necessary for selling a company. The list of factors that can negatively impact the value of a company are indeed long. Working with a business broker is one way to address these potential problems before placing a business up for sale.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Do Buyers Want in a Company?

Selling your business doesn’t have to feel like online dating, but for many sellers this is exactly what it can feel like. Many sellers are left wondering, “What exactly do buyers want to see in order to buy my company?” Working with a business broker is an excellent way to take some of the mystery out of this often elusive equation. In general, there are three areas that buyers should give particular attention to in order to make their businesses more attractive to sellers.

Area #1 – The Quality of Earnings

The bottom line, no pun intended, is that many accountants and intermediaries can be rather aggressive when it comes to adding back one-time or non-recurring expenses. Obviously, this can cause headaches for sellers. Here are a few examples of non-recurring expenses: a building undergoing foundation repairs, expenses related to meeting new government guidelines or legal fees involving a lawsuit or actually paying for a major lawsuit.

Buyers will want to emphasize that a non-recurring expense is just that, a one-time expense that will not recur, and are not in fact, a drain on the actual, real earnings of a company. The simple fact is that virtually every business has some level of non-recurring expenses each and every year; this is just the nature of business. However, by adding back these one-time expenses, an accountant or business appraiser can greatly complicate a deal as he or she is not allowing for extraordinary expenses that occur almost every year. Add-backs can work to inflate the earnings and lead to a failure to reflect the real earning power of the business.

Area #2 – Buyers Want to See Sustainability of Earnings

It is only understandable that any new owner will be concerned that the business in question will have sustainable earnings after the purchase. No one wants to buy a business only to see it fail due to a lack of earnings a short time later or buy a business that is at the height of its earnings or buy a business whose earnings are the result of a one-time contract. Sellers can expect that buyers will carefully examine whether or not a business will grow in the same rate, or a faster rate, than it has in the past.

Area #3 – Buyers Will Verify Information

Finally, sellers can expect that buyers will want to verify that all information provided is accurate. No buyer wants an unexpected surprise after they have purchased a business. Sellers should expect buyers to dig deep in an effort to ensure that there are no skeletons hiding in the closet. Whether its potential litigation issues or potential product returns or a range of other potential issues, you can be certain that serious buyers will carefully evaluate your business and verify all the information you’ve provided.

By stepping back and putting yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer, you can go a long way towards helping ensure that the deal is finalized. Further, working with an experienced business broker is another way to help ensure that you anticipate what a buyer will want to see well in advance.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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A Short Story All Family-Owned Businesses Should Read

When it comes to selling a family-owned business there are no shortage of complicating factors, but one in particular pops up quite often. This article contains a true story about a popular family business that was built up from the ground up only to later meet a very sad ending. While this is just one story, there are countless similar situations all across the country.

Once upon a time, there was a family-owned pizza dough company that had millions in sales. They sold their pizza dough to a range of businesses including restaurants and supermarkets. The founder had five children and split the business equally amongst them. Complicating matters was the fact that the children didn’t feel compelled to work in the family business. As a result, they turned the operation of the business over to two members of the third generation.

Once the founder’s children reached retirement age, they decided that they wanted to sell. So, they hired a business broker. The business broker began the search for an appropriate buyer, however, there was little interest. After considerable effort, the business broker found a successful businessman who offered to buy the pizza dough business for 50% of the sales, which was a good price. The business broker took the offer to the five owners and that is when the problems began.

A huge family argument was unleashed and the business broker was cut out of the loop. Later the offer was turned down flat and worst of all there was no counter-proposal, no attempt to negotiate price, terms, conditions or anything else. In short, the offer was finished and done. In the end, the business broker had lost several months of hard work.

Wondering what had happened, the business broker learned that two of the third-generation members who had been operating the business didn’t want to sell out of fear of losing their jobs. Over two decades later, the business has experienced almost no growth and is essentially breaking even. The owners, now in their 70s will likely never receive anything for their equity.

What you have just read is a true story, although the specific business type has been changed. This story serves to outline the problems that can arise when it comes time to sell a family business, especially if there is no agreement in place. Passing on this deal meant that the five children lost a considerable amount of money; this would have of course been money that could have made their retirement much more pleasant.

The story is both tragic and cautionary, in that this great business built from scratch by its founder was, in the end, left to flounder.

There is a moral to this story. Family-owned businesses need to have strict guidelines in place concerning issues such as salaries, benefits, what happens when one member wants to cash out and more. Such issues should be worked out with professionals, such as business brokers, years in advance.