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Selling Your Business – Expect the Unexpected
According to the experts, a business owner should lay the groundwork for selling at about the same time as he or she first opens the door for business. Great advice, but it rarely happens. Most sales of businesses are event-driven; i.e., an event or circumstance such as partnership problems, divorce, health, or just plain burn-out pushes the business owner into selling. The business owner now becomes a seller without considering the unexpected issues that almost always occur. Here are some questions that need answering before selling:
How much is your time worth?
Business owners have a business to run, and they are generally the mainstay of the operation. If they are too busy trying to meet with prospective buyers, answering their questions and getting necessary data to them, the business may play second fiddle. Buyers can be very demanding and ignoring them may not only kill a possible sale, but will also reduce the purchase price. Using the services of a business broker is a great time saver. In addition to all of the other duties they will handle, they will make sure that the owners meet only with qualified prospects and at a time convenient for the owner.
How involved do you need to be?
Some business owners feel that they need to know every detail of a buyer’s visit to the business. They want to be involved in this, and in every other detail of the process. This takes away from running the business. Owners must realize that prospective buyers assume that the business will continue to run successfully during the sales process and through the closing. Micromanaging the sales process takes time from the business. This is another reason to use the services of a business broker. They can handle the details of the selling process, they will keep sellers informed every step of the way – leaving the owner with the time necessary to run the business. However, they are well aware that it is the seller’s business and that is who makes the decisions.
Are there any other decision makers?
Sellers sometimes forget that they have a silent partner, or that they put their spouse’s name on the liquor license, or they sold some stock to their brother-in-law in exchange for some operating capital. These part-owners might very well come out of the woodwork and create issues that can thwart a sale. A silent partner ceases to be silent and expects a much bigger slice of the pie than the seller is willing to give. The answer is for the seller to gather approvals of all the parties in writing prior to going to market.
How important is confidentiality?
This is always an important issue. Leaks can occur. The more active the selling process (which benefits the seller and greatly increases the chance of a higher price), the more likely the word will get out. Sellers should have a back-up plan in case confidentiality is breached. Business brokers are experienced in maintaining confidentiality and can be a big help in this area.
Take a Look at Your Lease
If your business is not location-sensitive, that is, if your business location is immaterial to its success, then the following may not be important. However, lease information is usually helpful no matter what the situation. The business owner whose business is very dependent on its current location should certainly read on.
If your business is location-sensitive, which is almost always true for a restaurant, a retail operation, or, in fact, any business that depends on customers finding you (or coming upon you, as is often the case with a well-located gift shop) – the lease is critical. It may be too late if you already have executed it, but the following might be helpful in your next lease negotiations.
Obviously, a very important factor is the length of the lease, usually the longer the better. If the property ever becomes available – do whatever it takes to purchase it. However, if you are negotiating a lease for a new business, you might want to make sure you can get out of the lease if the business is not successful. A one-year lease with a long option period might be an idea. Keep in mind that you might want to sell the business at some point – see if the landlord will outline his or her requirements for transfer of the lease.
If you’re in a shopping center, insist on being the only tenant that does what your business does. If you have a high-end gift store, a “dollar” type of store might not hurt, but its inclusion as a business neighbor should be your decision. Also, if the center has an anchor store as a draw, what happens if it closes? The same is true if the center starts losing businesses. Your rent should be commensurate with how well the center meets your needs.
Because of the World Trade Center disaster, insurance is a big issue. What happens if the center is destroyed by fire or some other disaster – who pays, how long will it take to rebuild? – these questions should be dealt with in the lease. In addition to the rent, what else will be added: for example, if there is a percentage clause – is it reasonable? How are the real estate taxes covered? Are there fees for grounds-keeping, parking lot maintenance, etc? How and when does the rent increase? Who is responsible for what in building repair and maintenance?
A key issue for many business owners is determining who holds ultimate responsibility for the rent. Are you required to personally guarantee the terms of the lease? If you have a business that has been around for years, or if you are opening a second or third business, the landlord should accept a corporation as the tenant. However, if the business is new, a landlord will most likely require the personal guarantee of the owner.
The dollar amount of the rent is not necessarily the most important ingredient in a lease. If the business is successful – the longer the lease the better. If it’s a new business, the fledging owner might want an escape clause. And, in any case, the right to sell the business and transfer the business is a necessity.
Expanding Your Business
The term “growing the business” seems to be the term of choice for business people who discuss expansion. Unfortunately, in too many cases, this growing never goes beyond the seedling stage. Business people also talk about “thinking outside the box.” Again, that concept encompasses so much – what box? How far outside? – that it really can be an unfocused way of planning. So many random ideas can come out of such discussions and thinking that nothing really gets accomplished.
It might be a much better idea to focus on one small thing that would increase business. For example, you feel strongly that mailing a circular to your existing customer base or to the immediate neighborhood would increase business, but you never seem to have the time to do it. Why not plan on mailing 1,000 circulars to possible customers over the next 30 days? This means devoting about one hour, two or three times a week, to take this project to fruition. Don’t worry about next month – take one month at a time.
Since it’s said to take about 21 days to create a habit, several months should set the stage for the rest of the year. This will also help predict whether a mailing will indeed increase business. If it doesn’t, take the same time you did to work on the mailing and come up with another idea. What you have done is to “bank” the time you created for the mailing program so that it’s there for you to develop and implement the next plan.
A caveat: don’t work on something that you know you won’t finish, no matter how great the idea. For example, calling all the prospects for your product or service may be a great idea and one that would most likely expand the business. However, you know that is not what you like to do – so, forget it.
One plan at a time and staying focused on it is the key. It may be easier to come up with 25 ideas outside the box, but if none ever get implemented, they might as well have stayed inside and never exposed to the light of day. Work on what you consider to be the best idea, and spend the same time you did on the mailing and develop it. It’s the habit of spending the one hour for two to three times a week that is critical. This creates time for a true growing of the business.
What is “Burnout?”
Burnout can come with a business that’s successful as well as with one that’s failing to grow. The right time to sell is before the syndrome becomes a threat to the effective management of a business. What are the warning signs of burnout?
That isolated feeling. The burnt-out owner has been “chief cook and bottle washer” for such an extended period of time that even routine acts of decision-making and action-taking seem like Sisyphean tasks. These owners have been shouldering the burdens alone too long.
Fuzzy perspective. Burnt-out owners are so close to their work that they lose perspective. Prioritizing becomes a major daily challenge, and problem-solving sometimes goes no further than the application of business Band-Aids that cost money in the long run rather than increase profits.
No more fun. Of course owning a business is hard work, but it should also include an element of enjoyment. The owner who drags himself or herself through every day, with a sense of dread – or boredom – should consider moving on to a fresh challenge elsewhere.
Just plain tired. Simply put, many business owners burn out from the demands placed on them to keep their companies operating day after day, year after year. The schedule is not for everyone; in fact, statistics show that it’s hardly for anyone, long-term.
The important point here is for business owners to recognize the signs and take action before burnout begins to hinder the growth – or sheer survival – of the business. Many of today’s independent business owners feel they’ve worked hard, made their money and sense that now is a good time to “cash-out” and move on.
Entrepreneurship is Alive and Well!
A recent article in the Boston Globe reported that although more attention is on the large, primarily publicly held companies, more and more people are making their living by operating their own businesses. In fact, nationally, over 500,000 new businesses are started every year. What this means is that over 10 percent of workers are “either starting a business or working at one that is less than 3 1/2 years old.” And, as indicated by frequent reports, new businesses create new jobs.
Those people who start businesses generally do not have their own funds available for start-up expenses. This is due in part to the fact that bank and SBA funding is not available to them. In addition, fewer than seven percent of new or prospective business owners will receive actual venture capital funds. So, where does the money come from? Second mortgages, credit cards, and family loans are the most common sources of start-up funds. The Globe added that “over the past few years, more than 80 percent of INC. Magazine’s Fast 1000 companies have been started with about $50,000 or less.”
The article concluded with a plea for “seed” capital and funding from both public and private sources. Perhaps this article and similar ones will lead the way towards the recognition that those who own and operate their own businesses deserve a less arduous journey toward making the right start.
“Over the past few years, more than 80 percent of Inc. Magazine’s Fast 1000 companies have been started with about $50,000 or less.”
Happy Employees Can Increase Profits – and Value
Happy employees mean happy customers and clients. An unhappy employee can mean loss of business or worse. How does a business owner create happy and contented employees? It all starts with the hiring process – hiring positive people to start with certainly helps. Offering as many benefits as your business can afford is also a plus.
However, one of the big keys is simply for the business owner to treat employees well, and appreciate their contributions. Some owners expect their employees to have the same dedication to the business as they do. They are not owners and don’t have the same privileges as an owner does. In most cases, the business is an owner’s life, whereas the employee has a life outside of the business. It is important that the owner understands this difference.
In the long run, positive and happy owners have happy employees. But if being a good role model doesn’t do the job with workers who remain negative, your only recourse is to get rid of them. Reward your people with praise, and every once in a while give them a dinner gift certificate for two – or their birthday off – anything to let them know you appreciate their work. It’s an inexpensive way to increase profits and subsequently the value of the business. When a potential buyer checks out the business, and they will, being waited on by a happy employee can seal the deal.