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Valuing the Business: Some Difficult Issues

Business valuations are almost always difficult and often complex. A valuation is also frequently subject to the judgment of the person conducting it. In addition, the person conducting the valuation must assume that the information furnished to him or her is accurate.

Here are some issues that must be considered when arriving at a value for the business:

Product Diversity – Firms with just a single product or service are subject to a much greater risk than multiproduct firms.

Customer Concentration – Many small companies have just one or two major customers or clients; losing one would be a major issue.

Intangible Assets – Patents, trademarks and copyrights can be important assets, but are very difficult to value.

Critical Supply Sources – If a firm uses just a single supplier to obtain a low-cost competitive edge, that competitive edge is more subject to change; or if the supplier is in a foreign country, the supply is more at risk for delivery interruption.

ESOP Ownership – A company owned by employees, either completely or partially, requires a vote by the employees. This can restrict marketability and, therefore, the value.

Company/Industry Life Cycle – A retail/repair typewriter business is an obvious example, but many consumer product firms fall into this category.

Other issues that can impact the value of a company would include inventory that is dated or not saleable, reliance on short contracts, work-in-progress, and any third-party or franchise approvals necessary to sell the company.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Considering Selling? Some Important Questions

Some years ago, when Ted Kennedy was running for president of the United States, a commentator asked him why he wanted to be president. Senator Kennedy stumbled through his answer, almost ending his presidential run. Business owners, when asked questions by potential buyers, need to be prepared to provide forthright answers without stumbling.

Here are three questions that potential buyers will ask:

  1. Why do you want to sell the business?
  2. What should a new owner do to grow the business?
  3. What makes this company different from its competitors?

Then, there are two questions that sellers must ask themselves:

  1. What is your bottom-line price after taxes and closing costs?
  2. What are the best terms you are willing to offer and then accept?

You need to be able to answer the questions a prospective buyer will ask without any “puffing” or coming across as overly anxious. In answering the questions you must ask yourself, remember that complete honesty is the only policy.

The best way to prepare your business to sell, and to prepare yourself, is to talk to a professional intermediary.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Photo Credit: DodgertonSkillhause via morgueFile

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Is Your “Normalized” P&L Statement Normal?

Normalized Financial Statements – Statements that have been adjusted for items not representative of the current status of the business. Normalizing statements could include such adjustments as a non-recurring event, such as attorney fees expended in litigation. Another non-recurring event might be a plant closing or adjustments of abnormal depreciation. Sometimes, owner’s compensation and benefits need to be restated to reflect a competitive market value.

Privately held companies, when tax time comes around, want to show as little profit as possible. However, when it comes time to borrow money or sell the business, they want to show just the opposite. Lenders and prospective acquirers want to see a strong bottom line. The best way to do this is to normalize, or recast, the profit and loss statement. The figures added back to the profit and loss statement are usually termed “add backs.” They are adjustments added back to the statement to increase the profit of the company.

For example, legal fees used for litigation purposes would be considered a one-time expense. Or, consider a new roof, tooling or equipment for a new product, or any expensed item considered to be a one-time charge. Obviously, adding back the money spent on one or more of these items to the profit of the company increases the profits, thus increasing the value.

Using a reasonable EBITDA, for example an EBITDA of five, an add back of $200,000 could increase the value of a company by one million dollars. Most buyers will take a hard look at the add backs. They realize that there really is no such thing as a one-time expense, as every year will produce other “one-time” expenses. It’s also not wise to add back the owner’s bonuses and perks unless they are really excessive. The new owners may hire a CEO who will require essentially the same compensation package.

The moral of all this is that reconstructed earnings are certainly a legitimate way of showing the real earnings of a privately held company unless they are puffed up to impress a lender or potential buyer. Excess or unreasonable add backs will not be acceptable to buyers, lenders or business appraisers. Nothing can squelch a potential deal quicker than a break-even P&L statement padded with add backs.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Photo Credit: DodgertonSkillhause via morgueFile

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The Devil May Be in the Details

When the sale of a business falls apart, everyone involved in the transaction is disappointed – usually. Sometimes the reasons are insurmountable, and other times they are minuscule – even personal. Some intermediaries report a closure rate of 80 percent; others say it is even lower. Still other intermediaries claim to close 80 percent or higher. When asked how, this last group responded that they require a three-year exclusive engagement period to sell the company. The theory is that the longer an intermediary has to work on selling the company, the better the chance they will sell it. No one can argue with this theory. However, most sellers would find this unacceptable.

In many cases, prior to placing anything in a written document, the parties have to agree on price and some basic terms. However, once these important issues are agreed upon, the devil may be in the details. For example, the Reps and Warranties may kill the deal. Other areas such as employment contracts, non-compete agreements and the ensuing penalties for breach of any of these can quash the deal. Personality conflicts between the outside advisers, especially during the
due diligence process, can also prevent the deal from closing.

One expert in the deal-making (and closing) process has suggested that some of the following items can kill the deal even before it gets to the Letter of Intent stage:

  • Buyers who lose patience and give up the acquisition search prematurely, maybe under a year’s time period.
  • Buyers who are not highly focused on their target companies and who have not thought through the real reasons for doing a deal.
  • Buyers who are not willing to “pay up” for a near perfect fit, failing to realize that such circumstances justify a premium price.
  • Buyers who are not well financed or capable of accessing the necessary equity and debt to do the deal.
  • Inexperienced buyers who are unwilling to lean heavily on their experienced advisers for proper advice.
  • Sellers who have unrealistic expectations for the sale price.
  • Sellers who have second thoughts about selling, commonly known as seller’s remorse and most frequently found in family businesses.
  • Sellers who insist on all cash at closing and/or who are inflexible with other terms of the deal including stringent reps and warranties.
  • Sellers who fail to give their professional intermediaries their undivided attention and cooperation.
  • Sellers who allow their company’s performance in sales and earnings to deteriorate during the selling process.

Deals obviously fall apart for many other reasons. The reasons above cover just a few of the concerns that can often be prevented or dealt with prior to any documents being signed.
If the deal doesn’t look like it is going to work – it probably isn’t. It may be time to move on.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Photo Credit: jppi via morgueFile

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Family Businesses

A recent study revealed that only about 28 percent of family businesses have developed a succession plan. Here are a few tips for family-owned businesses to ponder when considering
selling the business:

  • You may have to consider a lower price if maintaining jobs for family members is important.
  • Make sure that your legal and accounting representatives have “deal” experience. Too many times, the outside advisers have been with the business since the beginning and just are not “deal” savvy.
  • Keep in mind that family members who stay with the buyer(s) will most likely have to answer to new management, an outside board of directors and/or outside investors.
  • All family members involved either as employees and/or investors in the business must be in agreement regarding the sale of the company. They must also be in agreement about price and terms of the sale.
  • Confidentiality in the sale of a family business is a must.
  • Meetings should be held off-site and selling documentation kept off-site, if possible.
  • Family owners should appoint one member who can speak for everyone. If family members have to be involved in all decision-making, delays are often created, causing many deals to fall apart.

Many experts in family-owned businesses suggest that a professional intermediary be engaged by the family to handle the sale. Intermediaries are aware of the critical time element and can help sellers locate experienced outside advisers. They can also move the sales process along as quickly as possible and assist in negotiations.

Keeping it in the Family

It’s hard to transfer a family business to a younger kin. Below are some statistics regarding family businesses.

  • 30% of family businesses pass to a second generation.
  • 10% of family businesses reach a third generation.
  • 40% to 60% of owners want to keep firms in their family.
  • 28% of family businesses have developed a succession plan.
  • 80% to 95% of all businesses are family owned.
Source: Ted Clark, Northeastern University Center for Family Business

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Two Similar Companies ~ Big Difference in Value

Consider two different companies in virtually the same industry. Both companies have an EBITDA of $6 million – but, they have very different valuations. One is valued at five times EBITDA, pricing it at $30 million. The other is valued at seven times EBITDA, making it $42 million. What’s the difference?

One can look at the usual checklist for the answer, such as:

  • The Market
  • Management/Employees
  • Uniqueness/Proprietary
  • Systems/Controls
  • Revenue Size
  • Profitability
  • Regional/Global Distribution
  • Capital Equipment Requirements
  • Intangibles (brand/patents/etc.)
  • Growth Rate

There is the key, at the very end of the checklist – the growth rate. This value driver is a major consideration when buyers are considering value. For example, the seven times EBITDA company has a growth rate of 50 percent, while the five times EBITDA company has a growth rate of only 12 percent. In order to arrive at the real growth story, some important questions need to be answered. For example:

  • Are the company’s projections believable?
  • Where is the growth coming from?
  • What services/products are creating the growth?
  • Where are the customers coming from to support the projected growth – and why?
  • Are there long-term contracts in place?
  • How reliable are the contracts/orders?

The difference in value usually lies somewhere in the company’s growth rate!

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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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:

  1. A value placed on the company by an outside appraiser or expert. This can be either formal or informal.
  2. The seller’s “wish price.” This is the price the seller would really like to receive – best case scenario.
  3. The “go-to-market price” or the actual asking price.
  4. 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.”

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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.

© Copyright 2013 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.