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In the proverbial “perfect world,” business owners would plan three to five years ahead to sell their companies. But, as one industry expert has suggested, business owners very seldom plan to sell; rather, selling is “event driven.” Partner disputes, divorce, burn-out, health, and new competition are examples of events that can force the sale of a business.
Sellers often find, after they have decided to sell, that the unexpected happens and they are “blindsided” and caught off-guard. Here are a few of the unexpected events that can occur.
The Substantial Time Commitment
Sellers find that the time necessary to comply with the requests of not only the intermediary, but also the potential buyers can take valuable time away from the actual running of the business. The information necessary to compile the offering memorandum takes time to collect. Many sellers are unaware of the amount of their time necessary to gather all the documents and information required for the offering memorandum, nor of its importance to the selling process.
There is also the time necessary to meet and visit with prospective buyers. An intermediary will play an important role in screening prospects and separating the “prospects from the suspects.”
Handling the Confidentiality Issue
Owners of many companies are also the founders and creators of them. They can have difficulty in delegating and tend to want to make all of the decisions themselves. When it comes time to sell, they want to be involved in everything, thus, again, taking time away from running the business. Members of the management team, like the sales manager, have a lot of the information necessary not only for the memorandum, but also on competitive issues, possible acquirers, etc. The owner has to allow his or her managers to be part of the selling process. This is easier said than done.
Forgetting the Others
Many mid-sized, privately held companies also have minority stockholders or family members who have an interest in the business. The managing owner may be the majority stockholder; but in today’s business world, minority stockholders have strong rights. The owner has to deal with these people, first in getting an agreement to sell, then convincing them about the price and terms. A “fairness opinion” can help resolve some of the pricing issues. Minority stockholders and family interests have to be dealt with and not overlooked or pushed to the end of the deal. When this happens, many times it is the end of the deal, literally speaking.
The Price is the Price is the Price
All sellers have a price in mind when it comes time to sell their companies. Most businesses go to market with a fairly aggressive price structure. When an offer(s) is presented, it is generally, sometimes significantly, lower than the seller anticipated. They are never prepared for this event – they are blindsided, and obviously not very happy. They turn the deal down without even looking past the price. Here is where an intermediary comes in, by helping structure the deal so it can work for both sides.
Not Having Their Own Way
Business owners are used to calling the shots. When an offer is presented, they, in some cases, think that they can call all of the shots. They have to understand that selling their company is a “give and take.” They can stand firm on the issues most important to them, but they have to give on others. Also, some owners want their attorneys to make all of the decisions, both legal and business. Unfortunately, some attorneys usurp this decision. Owners must make the business decisions.
There is always the small possibility that the word will leak out that the business is for sale. It may just be a rumor that gets started or it may be worse – the confidentiality is exposed. Sellers must have a contingency plan in case this happens. A simple explanation that growth capital is being considered or expansion is being explored may quell the rumor.
“Keeping Your Eye on the Ball”
With all that is involved in marketing a business for sale, the owner must still run the business – now, more than ever. Buyers will be kept up-to-date on the progress of the business, despite the fact that it is for sale.