The Importance of Maintaining Confidentiality in the Business Sale Process

The Importance of Maintaining Confidentiality in the Business Sale Process

The Importance of Maintaining Confidentiality in the Business Sale Process

When a business owner decides to sell their business, one of the biggest issues discussed with Sunbelt Business Brokers is how to maintain confidentiality during the process. When a business owner states they want the business sale to be done confidentially they mean they don’t want the employees, customers, vendors, lenders, etc. to know the business is being sold or even that it is for sale. In addition, confidentiality means that none of the important and confidential information about the business should be tossed about carelessly and wind up in the hands of someone that could use the information to harm the business and the seller. The protection of confidential information is a very important element of buying a business in Texas.

Confidentiality Agreements

Confidentiality Agreements (CA) are also often called Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). Nearly every business owner and business broker will want a potential buyer to sign a Confidentiality Agreement before releasing information specific to their business. In all likelihood a CA will need to be signed before the buyer is even told the name or location of the business. It is very important that you, as a buyer, understand the requirements in the Confidentiality Agreement. You will be expected to honor what you sign and commit to do. Failure to honor the terms of the confidentiality agreement could subject you to legal action and possible damages. If you are unable to understand the terms and commitments in the Confidentiality Agreement please seek appropriate legal advice.

Common Elements in Confidentiality Agreements

Time Frame: You will be expected to maintain confidentiality for a specific time.

Return of Materials: You will commit to return or destroy the information at the request of the seller. This includes all hard copy and digital copies. The seller can insist that you do this at any time the seller chooses. Also, you will likely be required to confirm in writing that you have destroyed the information.

Restrictions on Use of Information: Confidential information can only be used by you to evaluate YOUR interest in purchasing the business. For instance, you cannot “pass it along to a friend that might be interested in purchasing the business. You won’t even be allowed to state the name of the business for sale to non-professional advisers. You can only release the information to your professional advisers(CPA, Attorney, etc.) who you must then advise that the information is bound by a confidentiality agreement. Furthermore, you will be responsible for what your advisors do with the information. Make sure you tell your advisors the information you give them is bound by a Confidentiality Agreement.

Employee Contact: You will likely be prohibited from talking to or contacting employees without permission of the seller. You will also likely be prohibited from hiring employees or providing information to anyone who could use it in another business to hire or recruit the seller’s employees.

Vendors, Suppliers, Customers, Lenders Contact: The same restrictions as Employees, basically, without written approval from Seller you cannot contact any of these parties nor provide information so that others can.

Important Note: There are many different forms of Confidentiality Agreements, some have many more terms and very different terms than above. Make sure you read the agreement carefully and thoroughly understand your obligations before signing any Confidentiality Agreements.

Buyer Insider Tip #1: In order to buy a business on the best price and terms it’s important for the buyer and seller to establish a good relationship. A buyer can get an advantage over other buyers by telling the seller they understand the need for confidentiality and that they will absolutely honor the non-disclosure agreement. The seller will appreciate it and will likely be more comfortable releasing the critical information you expect to receive.

Why is Confidentiality During the Business Sale so Important to the Seller and Buyer?

The sale of a good business is not like the “going out of business sales you see on TV. If there is a going out of business sale the business owner has no interest in preserving the ongoing value of the business. Their only concern is selling the inventory and fixtures. In selling a good business the buyer and the seller both have an interest in preserving the value of the business in the process. Obviously, the Buyer wants the value of the business preserved so that its continued success is possible.

Employees

When word gets out that a business is for sale often the employees assume the worst. Employees may assume the buyer is going to fire them. When buying a business a significant part of the value is in the trained employees. A business buyer does not want the employees to quit. The employees and buyer have a common interest to keep the employees employed in the business. If the business sale rumor causes employees to look for other jobs then the seller is harmed and the buyer is also harmed.

Buyers occasionally want to talk to employees before they buy the business to make sure they aren’t going to quit. This is almost always a bad idea for the buyer and the seller. What we have found works best in most cases is that the employees aren’t told of the business sales until the sale is complete and then the buyer and seller together announce the sale to the employees.That way the seller can endorse the buyer and the buyer can assure the employees that they all have jobs. This sudden announcement might seem uncomfortable but actually, it eliminates uncertainty for the employees that might be created if they hear the business is for sale weeks or months before an actual sale.

Buyer Insider Tip #2: As you near the actual purchase date work closely with the seller on a plan to announce the purchase to employees. Experience tells us you want to make the sale announcement on the first day of the work week so that you, the buyer, has all week to start building a relationship with the employees. You probably don’t want to announce a sale on Friday afternoon then send the employees home for the weekend to sit around worrying about things.

Vendors, Suppliers & Lenders

If suppliers hear a business is being sold they may choose to alter their credit policies until the new owner is in place. If a seller has a vendor that normally sells a product to the business and allows the business 45 days to pay the bill and, because of a rumored sale, changes its policy to want payment in 10 days, that could have a significant and harmful impact on the day-to-day operation of the business.

Customers

For retail businesses, the buyer usually has no concern about the need for contacting the customers before the business purchase. However, for business-to-business companies, there are often concerns and issues to be addressed. If the business has significant customer concentration issues (i.e.,one customer represents 50% of the total sales of the business) the buyer may want to have some assurances that the business will continue after the sale.These assurances can be provided in a number of ways. Examples are contracts in place and/or service agreements that can be assumed by buyer. The Seller and Buyer must work together to determine how to accomplish the goals of both parties how to complete the business sale without damaging the business and also assure that the buyer has a good opportunity to continue the relationship with the customers.

Business Insider Tip #3: Virtually all business sales have a few areas where the buyer and the seller need to be creative to resolve a risk issue for the buyer that is a confidentiality issue for the seller. Buyers who work with the seller openly, reasonably and respectfully usually end up with the most favorable solution.

A Prepared Business Owner’s 9 Step Strategy to Sell a Business

A Prepared Business Owner’s 9 Step Strategy to Sell a Business

As every entrepreneur knows, selling a business is a big event, a milestone toward the next phase of life.  The majority of business sales are triggered by unexpected events in the owner’s lives. If you’re not prepared to sell, it is more likely that your transaction will be at a greater disadvantage, potentially reducing your overall valuation or causing a more problematic sale. It is very easy to get caught up in the daily business operations, leaving you more vulnerable should an unexpected event occur. Plan ahead with an exit strategy.

Planning Ahead: A Business Value Insurance Policy

Business owners buy insurance in hopes that they don’t need it, but when they do need it, they are very happy they have it. Often the insurance is for events that might cost them as little as $1,000. Being prepared to sell your business when you’re not planning to sell is like having a “Business Value” insurance policy. Without preparation (your insurance) you are “uninsured” for the loss of business value, which can cost hundreds of thousands of $$ or more.

1) Financial Statements.

Make certain your financial statements for at least 3 years are accurate, accounting practices are consistently applied year-to-year and all of the assets and liabilities on the balance sheet are accurate.  Here’s a good guide to what’s important in your business accounting.

2) Dispose of unused equipment.

Scrap or auction it, but get rid of it. You’re selling a business, no need to have useless equipment lying around.

3) Clean out dead or slow moving inventory.

Business owners often think that obsolete inventory doesn’t cost anything to keep on hand and maybe one day you’ll get a call from a customer needing that exact item. Get an accurate count of all your inventory, then get rid of the slow-moving or stagnant items.

4) Make sure your employment practices are documented and applied properly.

Is overtime being paid properly? Are your 1099 independent contractors classified properly? Have your employees been screened appropriately for their jobs?

5) Check your books.

Make sure the expenses recorded on your financials are all legitimate business expenses. The cleaner the books the higher the price.

6) Clean up any old partnership or ownership issues.

7) Make sure your tax payments are all up-to-date. Sales tax, FICA, etc.

8) Get an appraisal.

Have a business valuation or business appraisal done on the business so you can determine if the value of the business is adequate to provide the cash needed to secure your future.

9) Talk to your accountant.

Look at your corporate structure and determine what tax issues will need to be resolved to maximize the after-tax proceeds in a sale. Are you still a C Corp? If so, talk to your accountant to see if changing to an S Corp would benefit you in a sale.

Reduce the Risk

Why do these things increase the value of the business?  Because they reduce the risk to a buyer of a business. The lower risk for the buyer, the higher price a seller can expect.  In my 20 years managing business sales, I have found that the most successful business sales are completed because a business owner was PREPARED to sell when the opportunity arose.

A Practical Guide to Seller Financing

A Practical Guide to Seller Financing

Selling a business is one thing, getting paid on the sale is another.  The options available for financing the deal are dependent on the business and the buyer. Here are some things to be aware of if you find yourself with a chance to sell your business.

Seller Financing:  The good, the bad and the uh oh

Seller Financing as the ONLY Financing

The Good:

  1. Seller provided financing opens the sale up to a wider range of buyers (though not necessarily higher quality buyers).
  2. Without a 3rd party lender (SBA, Bank, etc) the deal can likely get to closing faster than if bank financed
  3. Buyer usually isn’t as price sensitive since there usually isn’t a 3rd party valuation
  4. You may be able to cross-collateralize or obtain cross default agreements to tie up assets.
  5. If you get a personal guaranty from buyer you may have better chance to get paid.

The Bad:

  1. If the buyer defaults on the note it can be expensive to try to collect
  2. If you worry as much about the note payment as you did about the business are you any better off?
  3. Unless done properly there can be all kinds of tax issues

The Uh, Oh:

  1. If the buyer has a lease on facility you may need a landlord subordination agreement or you won’t be able to get to the collateral or worse, you might have to pay the back rent in order to get to your collateral.

Hints:

  1. Get the landlord subordination agreement at the time of the sale.
  2. If you can, cross default the lease and note so that if buyer is in default on either they are in default on both.
  3. Make certain to file a UCC1 on the collateral assets so the whole world knows your note needs to be paid before the assets can be sold.
  4. Try to get a really high default interest rate on the note so that the financial pain of default is high.
  5. Consider a sub-lease to the buyer rather than buyer getting a new lease. That way you retain control of the facility and can act faster if you need to intervene.
  6. Try to get collateral other than business assets. Does buyer have a vacation home? Other assets?
  7. Guarantors – get as many guarantors as possible also make sure spouse signs guaranty if required in your state.
  8. Require buyer to provide financial statements and tax returns to you for as long as the buyer owes you money so you can keep an eye on the business health.

Seller Financing with Other Types of Financing

SBA Loans with subordinated Seller note:

The Good:

  1. The Bank is likely to screen the buyer more thoroughly than most sellers
  2. The seller note is likely to be less than 10% of the total selling price.

The Bad:

  1. The bank will look very carefully at the business cash flow (several years), seller financials need to be in good order.
  2. Bank will require a 3rd party valuation to make sure the price the buyer and seller agreed to is fair.
  3. SBA limits any “after the sale” arrangements between buyer and seller.
  4. The seller note will likely have a period (usually 2 years) whereby the seller gets NO payments and only interest accrues.
  5. If buyer defaults on seller note the Bank will limit what actions the seller can take to get paid.

The Uh, Oh:

  1. Because of the restrictions in the bank subordination agreement the seller note is usually the first obligation that goes unpaid.
  2. If the seller stops paying you it’s usually a sign of other significant problems with the business.
  3. If the buyer stops paying the note the seller recourse is basically limited to enforcing the personal guaranty.

Revolvers (also known as Asset Based Loans) – with associated seller note

Definitions: a “revolver” is a bank loan or financing company loan that gets adjusted every month (or week or even day). These revolvers are tied to accounts receivable (a/r) and/or inventory and are a % of those items. For example a common revolver term is a bank loans the business up to 70% of current accounts receivables and/or 20% of good inventory at cost.  (The a/r % is high because a/r is highly liquid and can be collected quickly. Inventory is much more difficult to liquidate and has high costs associated with liquidation i.e., warehousing, transportation, auction costs etc.)

The Good:

  1. A revolver is flexible in that if funds cashflow when the business is growing.
  2. A revolver usually has fewer covenants.
  3. The “credit worthiness” of the business is less stringent than normal bank standards

The Bad:

  1. The seller note will lose a/r and inventory as collateral.
  2. The revolver lender usually can “pull the plug” at any moment
  3. The cost to the borrower can be significantly more expensive than an SBA term loan.

The Uh, oh:

  1. Revolver loans normally have many fees and opportunities for lender to squeeze a few more dollars out of borrower
  2. Revolvers are famous for high cancellation fees if you want out of the deal.

Credit Card Loans Against Receipts – along with seller financing

Description – With these loans a lender “forecasts” your credit card receipts and lends you money in advance, then when the customer credit cards are process for the business sales then the money is redirected to lender to pay off the loan they advanced. Generally speaking these loans are used for retail stores, restaurants, etc with high % of credit cards sales and highly predictable and regular sales. Take the time to calculate the real costs of this kind of financincing, it can get expensive quickly.

The Good:

  1. If you have high volume of regular credit card sales these loans are not difficult to obtain
  2. The cashflow is steady

The Bad:

  1. These loans can be very expensive
  2. The CC lender gets paid before the seller note by taking their money out of the sales revenue.

The Uh, oh:

  1. Because these loans have a claim on all revenue it is very unlikely any other 3rd parties would provide financing.
  2. The process of payment takes control of cashflow out of biz owners hands (which could be a good thing in some cases)

If you are selling a business you’ll need to risk adjust the price depending on the financing structure that the buyer and seller agree to. Also, make sure to get good legal and accounting advice to understand what the net value is. And finally, look closely at the risks associated with any financing arrangements.

Diversify Your Business

Diversify Your Business

4 Ways to Eliminate Customer Concentration and Build Confidence with Prospective Buyers 

It’s value suicide. A company with more than 15 percent of its revenue with one customer is at high risk of having the rug pulled out from under them.

As the owner of such company, it’s going to add difficulty when it comes time to sell.  And for any potential buyer, the risk is higher unless you can prove growth potential by finding more like customers, and fast.

If you are preparing your business for sale, you need to start to think like a buyer. If you have customer concentration issues, stop looking at the business as the operator and start looking at it from an opportunity and sustainability standpoint—especially under new ownership. Remove yourself, your history and past knowledge from the business, because that is exactly what a buyer is going to get.

There’s no doubt that you worked hard at building long-lasting customer relationships, especially with a major client. But in selling your business, it’s a red flag.  It’s risky. That client could leave shortly after you are gone. The buyer will always be fully aware of such risk and there’s no hiding it.

Here are some ideas on how to minimize that risk for the potential buyer and better position your business for a premium value:

Remove the Client Trap

You aren’t alone, a lot of business owners fall into this trap. It’s easier to please and upsell existing clients than it is to look for new business.  Start looking for “like clients”.  Every good client is a profile for another new client. Same size, same problems or same needs, figure out the key component and start looking for a new client that mimics your cash cow.

Ask for Referrals

Happy clients are also happy to refer you to others.  It’s the entire basis of the Net Promoter Score and why so many companies are using it not only to improve customer service but to prove viability of the business.  If you don’t ask for referrals, you won’t get them.  Stop by or give your best customer a courtesy call, let them know you are looking to grow your business and ask if they know of any other business that could utilize your services. If not now, ask them to keep you in mind.  In some cases, businesses offer a referral fee. This may or may not work for you, but it’s another option to reward the referring party.

Seal the Deal in Writing

When you have a customer or client who is a significant portion of revenue, get the deal in writing including the duration of the agreement. Although contracts can be nullified post-transaction, at least the contract minimizes the risk of them leaving and gives the new owner some peace of mind.

Remove Sole Dependency

Many times in key accounts like this, the customer has become dependent on you. They want to only work with you or negotiate with you.  Start to transition this responsibility with another team member now, even if you aren’t looking to sell right away. The customer needs to transfer their confidence from you to the business. This will add even more assurance to the prospective buyer.

Minimizing risk is the number one thing you can do before listing your business on the market. The less risk there is, you can sell for more and sell faster. Customer concentration is just one area to reduce that risk. Keep reading our blog as we go through other areas to increase the salability of your company.

Business Sale: Tangible vs Intangible Assets a Quick Analysis

Business Sale: Tangible vs Intangible Assets a Quick Analysis

A mysterious part of buying a business is the intangible asset sale. We find a wide variety of views and preconceived notions about business value from individuals as they review a business sale. Most the time, the discussion turns quickly to the business assets. That inevitably leads to a discussion of Tangible and Intangible Assets.

Investors involved in a business sale generally have a reasonable understanding of tangible assets but usually a less than good understanding of an intangible asset. They have a tendency to use disparaging terms like “Blue Sky” or “air ball” when they don’t understand the true value of intangible assets.

First let’s try to reach common ground on some basic definitions that are commonly used but not always understood.

Tangible Assets

Tangible assets are really based on banking and lending definitions. A general definition is an asset that has a physical form. For instance a truck is a tangible asset. You can touch it, feel it and more importantly sell it. While a truck is a tangible asset that may be salable, there are other tangible assets that might have different characteristics. Suppose you own a widget shop and you have a special machine you invented that bends the widget a special way. You love the machine but it’s of no use to anyone but you. That is still a tangible asset but it has relatively low value to the outside world. The truck you can likely sell pretty easily but finding a buyer for the widget machine might be a whole different problem.

Intangible Assets

These are assets that don’t have a physical form. For instance the trademarked Nike swoosh is a very high value intangible asset. One way to think about tangible vs intangible assets is tangible assets are used to make or deliver the product or service and intangible assets are what are used to generate the demand for the product or service or create the system to produce the product or service efficiently.

A very well known intangible asset is the secret formula for Coca-Cola. That formula has no tangible form, it’s basically words written down somewhere (likely different parts of the formula in different places). But that intangible asset is worth much more than the cost of the machines (tangible assets) used to produce Coke.

Now that we have a basic idea of the assets, let’s talk about why we have assets at all and how they effect a business sale.

Assets in a business have only one purpose (or one purpose that makes sense), to generate profits.

So what value can be created in a transaction? A Tangible Asset Sale or an Intangible Asset Sale?

I’ll give you 2 simple but real life situations.

1) Let’s say you can buy a machine for $100 that will generate $25 more per year in profits. You decide that’s a good investment, so you invest the $100 and you’ll get your $25 per year profits for as long as the machine works. So now you have a $100 tangible asset (the machine) and a $25 cash flow from it.

2) Now let’s say you add an email capture tool to your website, it captures visitors’ email addresses which you can use to automatically send out specials and mailers. The email tool costs $100 and generates $25 in cash flow.

In this case you created 2 intangible assets:

a) the email tool on your website and b) the list of emails of people interested in your products.

The intangible asset sale with the highest value is the list of emails for people interested in your products. Anybody can buy the email tool for $100 but you have the specific list of people’s email addresses that represent potential sales, this list is an intangible asset.

Think of it this way. Two businesses are exactly the same except one has the email addresses for these customers and one business doesn’t, which business is worth more?

The moral of this story is that when investigating a business sale and determining the value of the business for purchase, the assets that have real value are the assets responsible for generating the business profit, regardless of if they are tangible or intangible asset sale. A smart buyer knows how to identify those assets and isn’t blinded by the tangible asset mantra preached by the bankers.