Musings on business value, sale preparation, sale negotiations, sale structure.

Archive for May, 2018

Get your AFS into gear

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Jim’s business was jalapeño hot. He told me all about it in about 30 seconds of polished elevator pitch over a poor cell phone line. It got me into my car on the way to Springs within half an hour.


PrepareYourBusinessForSale™ is all about getting exactly that done. But in going the PYBFS route, you also get to add value to your business. Here is why.


Early engagements

I walked into an old house. It had been kitted out for the administration of a business designed to churn out products in volume. We had a good natter. He told me some stories. I told him a few of my own. We drank his very nice coffee, and a few hours went by as I went through my interview process.

The house was one the owner had inherited from his mother. It was more than adequate for what it housed.
The growth curve of the business had been steepening. Jim felt that he needed to get an equity partner into the operation to help fund the continuing growth. The only thing that did not flow in the day, was the financial information. There were some issues. “But I will get onto my auditors as soon as you leave, and I will email the financials to you before the end of the week.”

Cape Town

The next day I had an appointment with another business owner who also wanted to sell his business. This time in Cape Town. He had arranged for me to see him as soon as got back from his trip to Italy. So I was up early, and onto a plane. I spent the better part of an afternoon with Mario as well. He also had nice coffee.

Mario has had his business valued by us every year for a long time. He had sent his latest financial statements to my office the previous day. My team picked them up and started putting them into our valuation model.

He also had a very nice business which had a similar problem with growth. He needed to buy some impressive machinery so that the business could continue to grow at the same rate. His financial advisor said it would be a better idea to sell some equity, rather than push the debt level higher. So that was what he intended to do. I am not a financial advisor. I just listen to those guys.

Network

We maintain a detailed mind map database of businesses, funders, and clients. It’s a veritable who owns whom, gleaned from discussions and web pages. It has now grown into a thing of beauty. A few years ago, it was more rudimentary than it is today.
So on the plane home, I went through the database mind map. I kind of killed two birds with the same stone, mid-flight, so to speak. I was looking for relationships between each of two clients and listed companies.

As it happened, Jim had more prospects for what we thought he wanted to do, than Mario did.

When I got back to Jozi, Mario’s financial inputs were complete. I was able to start the pitch analysis with a full deck of cards (and a search for a few more metaphors to throw into the mix). We still always start with an exercise to determine what the market would bear. We do this for every new client.

We stepped up our research of the agendas of the targets for both businesses. For targets, the easiest route to growth is often through acquisition. The intelligence gathering has always been very beneficial. And boy does our industry talk about who wants what. So keeping the database up to date is easy, albeit time-consuming.

It was going to be an interesting time, I thought. The weekend came, and so did Monday. As always.

I called Jim. He was still waiting for his auditor. There was another problem.

Processes

We collected the rest of Mario’s documents which would be necessary for the sale. His web person made some changes to his website which we thought would help. Jim made similar changes himself. He was very good at that sort of stuff.

Both provided company documents for interrogation during a due diligence. We quickly added debtor lists, supplier agreements, bank accounts and employment histories. They were all easily forthcoming from both. All was going well, three weeks into each respective engagement.

Except Jim’s financial statements were still not available.

I should explain at this point. We always ask new clients to supply five years of financial statements. We can build a very good story from that sort of history. Jim could give everything except the last two years. We had all Mario’s history on file.

Jim’s trial balances and draft income statements for the last two years showed great results. There was no reason to doubt them. But it is the financial statements which investors want. The ability to provide annual reports in good time tests the whole governance issue.

Mario goes to market

Six weeks into the Cape Town engagement, and we had prepared Mario to talk to investors. It did not take many, and he had something which made financial sense. His machinery would be ordered soon.

Jim, in the meantime, was struggling. But he was also getting pushy. He wanted to talk to investors as well. So, he sat down with one of them. It was a great meeting. They loved what they saw. He would have the financials to them next week Tuesday, he said.

Tuesday came. The investor called. It looked like it would take a few more days. “A really fine business”, said the potential investor.

A week later, and Jim wanted to see another investor. “Just to have a plan B”. But he was already screwing with Plan A. But he met with Plan B. Then with Plans C, D, and E. And still, the auditors (apparently) were dragging their feet.

All the prospective Plans A to E did not so much lose patience, as simply wander off elsewhere. As business owners, we have limited resources. Sometimes we need to appreciate that the attention span of professionals, faced with various options, only have so much bandwidth.

Jim gets his stuff together

Jim’s financials were published. The trial balance figures were largely confirmed.

Plan A came back from his trip. It was difficult to get hold of him. When Jim did, he did not have much time to talk. Another fantastic deal had presented itself, and he was going hell for leather after it. “You know, that price may have been a bit steep”, he suggested. “Let’s talk next month”.

When Plan B did not return calls, Jim worried. So when he spoke to PlanC, he had lost some of his form. By Plan D, the picture was not pretty. The closing price was always going to be lower than the original nibble.

And over to you now

As much as this is a fiction, it is only partly so. I have written this with a collection of similar experiences over more than 25 years of helping business owners to change their lives. When a business for sale cannot provide information quickly and accurately, the momentum in the deal is lost. Value suffers. Always. When the third prospect goes cold, the seller gets desperate to keep the others happy. Silly things happen.

So what about your financial statements? Don’t be like Jim. Be like Mario. Don’t let them stand in abeyance with your auditor or accounting officer for more than six months, at the outside. If you can get them into your filing cabinet within four months, you will have the edge.

Business valuations | Various applications and costs

Accurate business valuations empower you to make proper decisions.

Divorce or partnership valuations

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When partners split up, there are problems with money and value. Almost always. Oh yes; there was that one time…

This post refers to a dissolving marriage as a model. But the points made, hold for most partnership dissolutions. They are not pleasant, but applying some rules keeps things fair.

Complications arise when married people split their joint estate. If one of the assets includes a business, the recipe is more than “take the white from the egg”.

  1. What is the value of the business?
  2. Where are business proceeds entering each spouse’s pocket?
  3. Open and fair negotiation

1. What is the business value?

The dissolution of any partnership is a transaction itself. It should be accounted for, with a market-related valuation. Business valuation methods start with the company’s financial statements. But the concurrent interrogation of key valuation indicators in the business is critical.

Competent and confident valuers are bold in declaring shortfalls in the discovery. Do not ignore their messages. The valuer will have taken heed of the shortfalls, in arriving at a number. Those noted shortfalls can provide valuable information for later use.

2. Where is each partner currently benefiting?

Every valuation accounts for an element of “normalising” the income statement. This involves removing or adding items which are “out of the ordinary”.
That exercise should also examine what each partner receives before the dissolution, and adjust for what each will receive after the dissolution. Consider adjustments for replacing the partner in day to day work. Understated assets and income, or exaggerated liabilities and expenses mean lower business valuations.

3. Negotiation

A fair negotiation recognises pre partnership equity. The change since then is what you are after.
A fair settlement considers an ex-partner receiving double recovery for a single asset. That would be inequitable.

The most significant asset in a marital estate is often the family business. A fair resolution hinges on an accurate valuation of it. Work with an experienced valuation expert who understands sound valuation concepts. Don’t play the “tarms 20” game.

Shareholder register

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PYBFS019

Who owns your business?

Who are the owners of your business? I ask this because a surprising number of business owners do not know. Many have forgotten the history of the enterprise. It was once a very convenient relationship. Now it is a muddle. It is easier to get confused about this, and many people do. Here is a scenario:

Some of our clients started out in difficult circumstances. Today’s successful business was not always so calm. He may have founded the business from a position of desperation. A retrenched former employee needed to put food on his table, and clothe his kids.
Having been an employee for years, he ventured out into the small-business world. To call him naive would be accurate. (Yip; it wasn’t only you. And if you weren’t naive, I’m sure you know somebody) The business ran into trouble. Creditors liquidated it. Then his bank sequestrated him. He was not a disciple of Peter Carruthers.

Wiser, and desperate to survive, he started out again. Only this time, he did so from home, without the expense of a landlord. But the second time around there was a small complication in that he had several judgments to his name. We can be so unforgiving of those brave souls who step to the fore. They give effect to the politicians’ platitudes. You know; about small businesses being the cornerstone of our economies.

Our less naive, and now more resourceful entrepreneur, had to make a plan. He approached a friend to stand as a silent partner. That friend would also be the legal frontman of the business.
People do this.

White people fronted for entrepreneurial black people under the old corrupt mob. You know, before the current corrupt mob. Brave or greedy, these white people saw an opportunity. It was an economic reality. Race-based fronting is not new. It was illegal then too.

Some businesses which thrive today, still have the original owners on paper. The friends of the actual businessmen. Owners who never go near the businesses. Owners who have no idea that they own businesses.
This can get tricky at the time of selling the business. And you know, all businesses get sold if they can keep their heads above water long enough. Have I mentioned before that businesses are very valuable retirement assets? Your business might be gold.

Divorce

  • There are many reasons for, and examples of, legacy shareholders still owning businesses.
  • Husband and wife start out in business together and then get divorced.
  • Siblings take over the business from their parents, without defining duties and expectations.
  • Seed capital partners who themselves have diluted or merged.

This is not an issue for most readers. But you do not know until you look at your share register. Your eventual new owner of the business will want to see it.

Go get it out. And give it some thought.

Consider this

It once was preferable to sell your business out of the company or cc. The asset deal was the safest option for the seller and the buyer. For a developing set of circumstances, it is now better to sell your shares. The equity deal could save about 60% of the tax bill on the transaction in the entrepreneur’s hands. Tax calculations have changed to benefit the shareholder as an individual.

Shareholder agreements may have participation and preemptive requirements. The memorandum of incorporation of your business will define these requirements. If your fellow shareholders are not who you assume them to be, then this could get interesting.

It is better to deal with this stuff now than when you are staring down the boardroom table of a due diligence. Do so before you are dead, dismembered, or comatose. Your heirs will thank you for taking action on this advice. They will write songs about you.