Recently, the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA) released its Q2 survey report, The IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse. This survey features feedback from an impressive 301 brokerage professionals across 44 states with 266 transactions taking place in the quarter. The report had numerous key findings that will be of interest to those looking to buy or sell a business.
The Emergence of Covid-Proof Businesses
One key fact of interest is that a full 25% of businesses are still operating below capacity due to the pandemic’s enduring impact. The Market Pulse survey concluded that a quarter of all small and medium sized businesses are either in a position where they are temporarily closed or are operating below capacity. On the other side of the equation, the survey noted that 29% of businesses have either emerged as “Covid proof” or have actually benefited from the pandemic.
For sellers with Covid resistant businesses, now could be an excellent time to sell. For buyers, there are potential deals to be had, especially for those who are willing to look beyond the current pandemic fueled environment and towards the future.
Why are Sellers Selling?
The report also noted that burnout is a major factor impacting deal activity. Retirement continues to be the leading reason why businesses are selling, but burnout has become a quickly rising secondary reason.
The top five reasons that sellers are putting their business on the market are: retirement (35%), burnout (27%), health (15%), tax increases (7%) and general Covid fatigue (7%). The pandemic is still likely playing a role in the minds of many business owners who are looking to sell, which means that buyers could find good deals due to the pandemic. It is important for buyers to note that as pandemic conditions improve, many of today’s good deals will likely vanish.
While the IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse report noted that over the last year it took longer for deals to close in most sections, there were exceptions to that rule. For example, in the $5 million to $50 million sector, there has actually been an acceleration. On average, deals in that range are taking a mere ten months to close.
Top Buyers in 5 Sectors
Sellers will be pleased to hear that the report concludes that buyers are indeed active, noting that in the Main Street market, personal services were trending. In the lower middle market, it was manufacturing and construction/engineering that dominated industry transactions.
The top buyers in the $0 to $500,000 sector were first time buyers (39%), in the $500K to $1MM range, the top buyers were first time buyers (37%), and in the $1MM to $2MM range, entrepreneurs (29%) lead the way. For the $2MM to $5MM range, it was first time buyers (36%) and serial entrepreneurs (28%) who led the way. For the $5MM to $50MM range, PE firms seeking a platform deal (33%) were the most represented group of buyers. It is interesting to note that with the exception of the $5MM to $50MM range, first time buyers topped the list.
Buyers and sellers will be pleased to learn that the IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse report clearly outlines just how much the climate has changed from 2020 to 2021. Today’s market conditions are different than they were a year ago. If you’re looking to purchase a business, you can still find great deals. Those looking to sell should find increased interest from an array of buyers, especially first-time buyers.
Created in 2012, the IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Survey was created to provide business owners and their advisors with a clear understanding of ever-changing market conditions.
Through this survey, it is possible to gain clarity on businesses being sold in Main Street (values $0-$2MM) and the lower middle market (values $2MM -$50MM). Scott Bushkie served as the originator of the Market Pulse Report with IBBA and M&A Source and has continued to play a key role since the report’s inception.
A core finding of the IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Survey for Q2 was that there has been a big shift between the turmoil of 2020 and the climate of 2021. Across the spectrum of sizes and price ranges of businesses, sellers now have an advantage or are at least in a better position to sell their business. This is quite different from the situation in 2020.
The market has shifted towards being a seller’s market for a variety of reasons including the fact that many private equity groups are now looking for ways to grow their money. Acquiring an existing business has become an increasingly attractive option to buyers due to the current labor pool conditions.
Buyers are now looking at existing companies as a way to bypass attracting talent. Instead, they can secure that talent via acquiring a new business. In short, many buyers are looking to buy versus organically build to meet their talent needs.
Another reason that now is a good time for sellers is that many buyers are looking to leave corporate America. This situation has likely been accelerated by the pandemic and people seeking to control their own destiny. The increase in global uncertainty has made the idea of becoming a business owner increasingly attractive.
The shift in climate from 2020 to 2021 underscores the value of the IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Survey. Through this revealing survey, it is possible for business owners and their advisors to gain a clearer understanding of market conditions and what to expect.
There is no doubt that buying a business can be a very exciting idea; however, it is critical that prospective buyers don’t lose track of what is truly important. Let’s explore the five most important steps that any buyer needs to take when evaluating a business. The simple fact is that as a buyer, you have no choice but to look beyond the sizzle and work to find the steak. In other words, it’s essential to determine the true worth of a given business.
#1 – Evaluate What is Actually Being Sold
No buyer should assume that he or she understands everything that is, or is not, being sold when buying a business. One of the most important tasks for any buyer is to carefully evaluate the business under consideration and invest the time to understand what the business does and what is included in the sale. This is a task that your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will perform as well.
#2 – Understand Business Performance
Understanding the performance of a business can be more complex than it initially appears. On one hand, the numbers don’t lie, and it is possible to quickly evaluate the bottom line.
However, in the process of evaluating the business, you and your Business Broker or M&A Advisor might discover that there are many flexible factors that could quickly alter how well the business performs. For example, you’ll want to take into account the number of hours the current business owner is working and if key employees are contributing enough to the business. These are just two of a wide variety of factors that could influence overall performance.
#3 – Look at the Financials
Ultimately, there is no replacement for understanding the current financials of a business. Perhaps a business has all the potential in the world, and you can easily see that potential. However, remember that almost all buyers must obtain financing; this means that it is usually critical that the business has strong financials in its current state. Before considering any business, you and your team of professionals will want to carefully evaluate profit and loss statements, tax returns, balance sheets, and other important financial documents.
#4 – Evaluate the Business Plan
Understanding the current owner’s goals and what steps they’ve outlined to achieve those goals is a key step. As a new owner, you’ll want to know that there is a path forward for growing your business, and a business plan is essential for achieving that goal.
#5 – Look at the Demographics
One of the single best ways to grow your business is to understand your customers. For this reason, it is important that you have a clear understanding of the demographics of the business and why customers should remain loyal. If there are challenges on the horizon, such as an expanding competitor or new competitor entering the arena, then you’ll want to know this information as well.
Evaluating a business is not a simple process. Working closely with a brokerage professional who has years of experience in evaluating all types of businesses is essential. This is an excellent first step towards buying the right business for your needs.
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Eventually every business owner will have to turn over control of their business to someone else. There are many options for how this can play out. They range from selling the business to a prospective buyer or selling to a competitor, to turning your business over to a family member. It is key that you start thinking about these options years before you end up in a situation where you actually have to sell.
Working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one way to determine what sales options are optimal for you based on your specific situation. Let’s explore some of the variables you’ll want to consider when you decide to transfer your business to a family member.
There are some significant advantages to transferring your business to a family member. No doubt topping the list of advantages of going this route is the fact that the transfer can be considered a gift. One advantage of this approach is that you’ll reduce your real estate taxes. Depending upon how the agreement is written, you also may be able to maintain some control over the business. For many business owners, this factor can be a big advantage.
One issue you’ll want to explore when opting to transfer your business to a family member is seller financing. Seller financing is a common practice when it comes to buying and selling businesses in general. This type of financing is even more common where transfers to relatives are concerned.
Seller financing opens up the versatile option of implementing a private annuity. A private annuity can serve to spread payments out across a long period of time. This could be a win-win situation for both you and your relative. You would receive a long-term stream of income as a result of ongoing payments. In turn, this decision may very well make ownership more financially realistic for your relative.
Keep in mind that if you sell your business to a relative, this in no way negates the need for a buy-sell agreement. Even when you are dealing with your most trusted family members, legal agreements must be firmly in place. A buy-sell agreement is an invaluable tool that protects everyone involved.
This contract clearly outlines all aspects of the arrangement. Your buy-sell agreement should include such key information including the value of the business, amount being paid, information on which employees will be retained, the current business owner’s level of future involvement, and much more.
Working with Professionals
Ultimately, there are a range of potentially powerful benefits associated with transferring a business to a relative. While it is true that you can expect the IRS to closely evaluate the sale, this should not dissuade you from considering this option. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors are experts at buying and selling businesses, and they understand the specifics of transferring a business to relatives. Working with professionals early in the selling process can help you gain tremendous insight into the best way to proceed.
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You understand the finer points and potential of your business better than anyone; however, that doesn’t mean that prospective buyers will instantly see your business’s various strengths. When you are looking to sell your business, you have two very important jobs. The first is to get your business ready to be sold. A second essential job is to showcase your business’s greatest strengths. At the end of the day, you must be the one to articulate why your business is worth buying. This effort, of course, will be supported by your Business Broker or M&A Advisor.
Understand Who Will Buy Your Business
Most people have never sold a business before and don’t fully understand what is involved in positioning one’s business for sale. The bottom line is that not every business is a good fit for every buyer. Finding the right buyer for your business will greatly expedite the process. This is yet another reason why it is critically important to work with experienced professionals. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors not only know what buyers are looking for, but also what sellers need to do to get their business ready to sell.
How to Navigate Roadblocks
Selling a business, especially if you attempt to do so without professional help, is a very time-consuming and often draining process. Successfully running a business requires attention to detail and focus. Unfortunately, these can both suffer when owners attempt to put on yet another hat and handle the sale of their business.
While you are attempting to sell your business, it is critically important that you maintain normal operations. The last thing you want is to weaken the finances of your business while you are waiting to find a buyer. Remember that it takes months, a year, or even longer to find a buyer for the typical business. Don’t let your business suffer damage in the interim.
Think Like a Buyer
Preparing your business to be sold isn’t as simple as making a few cosmetic changes and calling it day. Instead, you’ll want to think like a buyer.
What would you want to see if you were buying a business? You would want to know a great deal about that business and how it operates, who its key employees are, how likely those key employees are to stay, who the main customers and suppliers are, and the strength of the business location and competitors. Of course, you would also want a very detailed picture of the business’s financial situation.
In short, you would want to clearly understand what the business does and what it’s really worth, how financially healthy it has been in the past, what the business’ prospects are moving forward and, in general, how much effort the business will take to operate. These are exactly the kind of key facts that any serious buyer will want to know. It’s only to be expected that a buyer would expect to learn this information before making a decision.
At the end of the day, working with a Business Broker or M&A Advisor is one of the easiest ways to streamline the sales process. Thanks to years of experience, they already understand the pitfalls that you may experience as well as what is needed to position your business so that you can find the right buyer quickly and receive the best price possible.
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When buying or selling a business, it is critically important that you evaluate the lease. It is a strange phenomenon that otherwise savvy business people will treat leases as a secondary concern. However, problematic terms in a lease can literally force you to pack up a business and move. This would not only be a jarring experience, but a very costly one as well.
Finding a good location is of paramount importance to both the profile and profitability of your business. You may feel that there are more important issues when buying or selling a business. But by the end of this article, you’ll see the wisdom in placing a lease near the top of your “to evaluate” list.
There are three different kinds and types of leases: a new lease, an assignment lease and the sublease. All three of these options are most definitely different from one another and can potentially impact your business in different ways.
The New Lease
A new lease, as the name indicates, is the result of a lease that has expired. That means that the buyer must work with the landlord to establish a new lease. Buying a business only to discover that you don’t have a lease and the landlord isn’t interested in keeping your business at its current location is most definitely a shock that no business owners want to encounter. Buyers should be one-hundred percent certain that they have a lease in place before they buy a business.
Assignment of Lease
The second type of lease is the assignment of lease; this form of lease is quite common. It involves the buyer of a business being granted the use of the location where the business is currently located and operating. Through the assignment of the lease, the seller is able to assign the buyer the rights associated with the lease. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the seller is not acting as the landlord, but instead, simply has the ability to assign the lease.
The third option for lease is the sublease. The sublease is basically a lease within a lease, and it comes with some important distinctions that must be understood. A sublease generally requires the permission of the landlord and that permission should not be viewed as a “foregone conclusion” or “automatic.”
The bottom line is that no new business owner wants to discover that their new business doesn’t have a home. There are an array of very important issues to work out when buying a business, and it is critically important that buyers never overlook what kind of lease is involved. A savvy seller will highlight what kind of lease they have, especially if the terms are favorable. But buyers should always be proactive and ask questions about the status of the lease and make certain that lease terms are clearly defined.
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There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.
The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?
The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”
Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.
Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.
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There are unique attributes of a company that make it more attractive to a possible acquirer and/or more valuable. Certainly, the numbers are important, but potential buyers will also look beyond them. Factors that make your company special or unique can often not only make the difference in a possible sale or merger, but also can dramatically increase value. Review the following to see if any of them apply to your company and if they are transferable to new ownership.
Brand name or identity
Do any of your products have a well recognizable name? It doesn’t have to be Kleenex or Coke, but a name that might be well known in a specific geographic region, or a name that is identified with a specific product. A product with a unique appearance, taste, or image is also a big plus. For example, Cape Cod Potato Chips have a unique regional identity, and also a distinctive taste. Both factors are big pluses when it comes time to sell.
Dominant market position
A company doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 firm to have a dominant position in the market place. Being the major player in a niche market is a dominant position. Possible purchasers and acquirers, such as buy-out groups, look to the major players in a particular industry regardless of how small it is.
Newsletters and other publications have, over the years, built mailing lists and subscriber lists that create a unique loyalty base. Just as many personal services have created this base, a number of other factors have contributed to the building of it. The resulting loyalty may allow the company to charge a higher price for its product or service.
A long and favorable lease (assuming it can be transferred to a new owner) can be a big plus for a retail business. A recognizable franchise name can also be a big plus. Other examples of intangible assets that can create value are: customer lists, proprietary software, an effective advertising program, etc.
The ability to charge less for similar products is a unique factor. For example, Wal-Mart has built an empire on the ability to provide products at a very low price. Some companies do this by building alliances with designers or manufacturers. In some cases, these alliances develop into partnerships so that a lower price can be offered. Most companies are not in Wal-Mart’s category, but the same relationships can be built to create low costs and subsequent price advantages.
Difficulty of replication
A company that produces a product or service that cannot be easily replicated has an advantage over other firms. We all know that CPA and law firms have unique licensing attributes that prevent just anyone off of the street from creating competition. Some firms have government licensing or agreements that are granted on a very limited basis. Others provide tie-ins that limit others from competing. For example, a coffee company that provides free coffee makers with the use of their coffee.
Technology, trade secrets, specialized applications, confidentiality agreements protecting proprietary information – all of these can add value to a company. These factors may not be copyrighted or patented, but if a chain of confidentiality is built – then these items can be unique to the company.
There are certainly other unique factors that give a company a special appeal to a prospective purchaser and, at the same time, increase value. Many business owners have to go beyond the numbers and take an objective look at the factors that make their company unique.
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Most people think of starting a business from scratch, developing an idea, building a company from the ground up. Starting from scratch, however, has its disadvantages including – developing a customer base, marketing the business, hiring employees and creating cash flow … without any history or reputation to rely on.
To avoid these challenges, buying an existing business may prove to be the better solution. Buying an existing business has its advantages – including, but not limited to:
The Business Is Established.
An existing business is a known entity. It has an established and historical track record. It has a customer or client base, established vendors, and suppliers. It has a physical location with furniture, fixtures, and equipment in place. The term “turnkey operation” may be overused, but an existing business is just that, and more. New franchises may offer a so-called turnkey business opportunity, but it ends there. Start-ups are starting from scratch with all the disadvantages stated above.
The Business Has Existing Relationships.
In addition to the existing relationships with customers or clients, vendors, and suppliers, most businesses also have experienced employees who are valuable assets to the company. A buyer may already have established relationships with banks, insurance companies, printers, advertisers, professional advisors, etc., but if not – the existing business/owner does, and they can readily be transferred to the buyer as part of the acquisition.
The Business Isn’t “A Pig in a Poke”.
Starting a new business is just that: “a pig in a poke.” No matter how much research, time, and money you invest, there’s still a big risk in starting a business from scratch. An existing business has a financial track record along with established policies and procedures. A prospective buyer can see the financial history of a business – when sales are high and low, what the true expenses of the business are, and how much money an owner can make, and more. Also, in almost all cases, a seller is more than willing to stay on to teach and work with a new owner – sometimes free of charge.
An Existing Business Comes with A Price and Terms.
As stated above, an existing business has everything in place. The business is in operation and typically has an established selling price. Opening a new business from scratch comes with a great degree of uncertainty and can become a proverbial “money pit”. When purchasing an established business, a buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting for their money. In many cases, a seller is also willing to take a reasonable down payment and then finance the balance of the purchase price.
The “Unwritten” Guarantee.
By financing the purchase price, a seller is saying that he or she is confident that the business will be able to pay its bills, support the new owner, plus make any required payments to the seller.
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1. Build a solid management team. A business with sales of $5 million and up needs a full complement of officers and directors. Such a team might include: a COO, a CFO, a sales manager and, depending on the of type business, an IT director. It is also beneficial to create a Board of Directors with at least two outside members. This professionalization of management can remove the stigma of “the one man band.” Not only will this build a stronger company, it will increase the value to a possible acquirer. Smaller firms should also build a strong management team, and creating an outside advisor group is also a good idea.
2. Loyal employees. Happy and loyal employees make for a strong company. Top management should have non-compete and/or confidentiality agreements. Solid benefits plans for all employees should be in place. A company’s greatest asset is its employees and perhaps its biggest value-increaser.
3. Growth. Some smaller companies are kept small to maximize the owner’s benefits – the proverbial “cash cows.” However, if building value is the goal, then developing new products or services, building market share, expanding markets or opening new ones, is critical. This generally requires a financial investment, but building a strong growth rate also builds value.
4. Understanding your market. The value of a company may be contingent on its industry, its place in the industry and the direction of the industry itself. How big is the industry, is it headed up or down, who is the competition and how big is the company’s market share? Is it time to change direction or diversify?
5. Size counts. Companies with less than $5 million in sales and an EBITDA of less than $1 million can be perceived as small. Therefore, they may be dependent on continuing outside financing and lack the critical mass for both buying and selling power. These companies can be perceived as too small for acquisition or are penalized when it comes to value. However, over the past few years corporate buyers, as well as private equity firms, have seen the advantages of purchasing smaller firms. Obviously, companies with $10 million or more in sales and an EBITDA of $1 million or more are considered as solid and able to stand on their own.
6. Changing direction. Small companies can be very adept at changing course and implementing change. They have to be able to change and move quickly to take advantage of new markets, to fill voids in existing markets and even to add or change products or services.
7. Documentation. Business plans, financial plans and personnel plans should all be in writing – and kept current. Terms of employment agreements should be spelled out and in writing. Business planning and company objectives, etc., should also be in writing and reviewed periodically. Contracts should be reviewed and maintained on a current basis.
8. Diversification. A major problem with many small companies is that their business is concentrated on one or two major customers or clients. Ideally, no customer or client should represent more than 10 percent of sales. Expanding to new markets, introducing new products, and finding new customers must be considered without deviating too far from the company’s core business.
9. Name and brand identity. Nothing beats the name Walt Disney, or Kleenex® or the soft drink called Coke® – they are household names. Small firms may not have the brand or name recognition of these companies, but they can work at it. This recognition is especially powerful in the consumer product area. But franchising has expanded this name or brand recognition to many different types of businesses.
10. Taking advantage of proprietary and other assets. Patents, brand names, copyrights, alliances, and joint ventures are all examples of not only proprietary assets, but, in many cases, valuable ones. Even equipment can be used in several different ways. Large landscape companies in cold climates put snow plows on their trucks, utilize their existing workforce and become a snow plowing company for their regular landscaping customers — office complexes, apartment and condo developments, etc.
11. “Lean and Mean.” Many companies lease their real estate needs, outsource their payroll, have their manufacturing done offshore, or have UPS handle all of their logistical needs. Since all non-core requirements are done by someone else, the company can focus its efforts on what they do best.
12. Do it now! The owners of small firms, even large ones, have an attitude that says, “I don’t have time now, I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too busy now putting out fires.” So the real challenges of building the business, and value, get sidetracked or put off indefinitely. Creating value is critical to the long-term (and short-term) success of the business.
Keep in mind that the best time to consider selling is when business is good, the business is running profitably, and many of the above “value-adders” are in place. By contacting your local professional intermediary you can explore which of the above will add the most value to your firm, so it will be ready to sell when you are.
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