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

Archive for the ‘PrepareYourBusinessForSale’ Category

Pitch Deck 02 Suppliers

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Risky business The ultimate sale of your business is a risky thing for that business. Sellers either realise this and react accordingly, or they give it no thought at all and blunder into a mass dissemination of previously guarded intellectual property – a course which will damage the business in the future, for whoever owns it.

You need to be wary of how you present the information given to potential buyers, some of whom are not as honest as we would like them to be. Consider two different businesses:

  • The owner of a small supermarket on the one hand, with his very wide range of suppliers, all well known in the market place; and on the other hand
  • A niche manufacturer of specialized components to the mine drilling fraternity who purchases wear components to fit to his patented head.

The sensitivity of the latter is much higher. In a meeting with the former, and the owner of another supermarket who is looking to invest in other ventures, the conversation might sound like this: “Do you buy direct from Liger Brands, or do you go through the DC? When you deal with Liger, you should ask to speak to the new guy Louis – much more helpful than Joe.”

The niche manufacturer will be far more guarded in even telling the prospect that he imports his components from China, let alone the name of the supplier. These details are more likely to come out through a due diligence process after the deal is signed.

Open up and die

An example: We were involved in the sale of a motorcycle parts wholesaler which had run into cash flow problems associated with rapid growth and a depreciating currency. (At one time they were selling older inventory at the same price as the new replacement goods were costing them – how’s that for a business model? But that’s another story.) The business had sole agencies for a number of lines, and  general agencies for others. They had prepared tables of information on gross margins, sales trends and flow through profits. The prospective purchasers were appreciative, and through the process there was a short tussle between two buyers to become the new shareholder of the business. Eventually it was sold to the higher bidder.

But midway through the process a very well established motorcycle wholesaler entered the fray. The so called “ideal purchaser”. This was very exciting for our client. Then I calmed the waters by asking if it would be usual to supply this information to other competitors. Would it be okay for us to tell Biglad Biker Bloke (BBB) what the margins were on a product we supplied to them; but more than that, to tell them what our sales on that product had been for the past three years? Well of course not. Imagine how upset would another prospect be once the sale had gone through, and he discovers that BBB has had access to the same data he had, and is now using it to force prices down.

Would you normally supply market sensitive data to a competitor?

The situation resolved itself when BBB told us that they were only interested in some of the brands (the most profitable, no doubt) and would be retrenching all the staff in the transfer.  That was the end of that negotiation. More on this in a later instalment.

Non disclosure agreement (NDA)

An important question: If the prospective purchaser picks up the telephone and calls your supplier; how much damage will be done when the supplier discovers your business is for sale? This is an issue which needs to be dealt with by the M&A practitioner guiding you in the sale of your business, and should be dealt with in the non disclosure agreement signed by prospective purchasers prior to even the name of your business being supplied.

In the meantime, the advice here is to limit your output of supplier information in your Pitch Deck to fairly innocuous generic information to start with. Wait until you have a better idea of who you are dealing with, and what their intentions are. A lot of this information can be provided in subsequent handouts, and even as a generic “promise” to be proven with the due diligence.

Bus number

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What is your bus number?

“But Honey, if I get hit by a bus, this life insurance policy will make sure that you and the kids are looked after”. We have all asked the question, or contemplated the ramifications of someone being hit by the proverbial bus.

Lourens Coetzer, a very bright computer genius, turned this around in a discussion we were having recently, and coined the measure “bus number”: The number of people in an organisation which, them all being hit by a bus, it would take to destroy a business.

A stand alone, one man self employed operation obviously has a bus number of 1. Any employee, no matter what he does, and how he earns his crust, has a bus number of 1. Standard Bank has a bus number of hundreds, maybe even thousands, we would think. But what if all the tech wizards were wiped out in a bomb blast at the annual prize giving? That bus number might only be 20.

{Ed: that seems a bit extreme. At least some of the techs would be in the hydrangeas smoking weed.}

More than considering how many people any particular enterprise is able to lose to the bus, it appears that the crucial bus number needs to be considered at the weakest point in the enterprise.

  • The business is entirely dependent on its sales staff to keep the machinery running, with a short lead time, and there is a single rainmaker making up that sales team – the bus number is very low.
  • The sales department is diversified and competitive – the bus number is high.
  • The business is a professional practice – the bus number is determined by the number of competent professionals.
  • A single CAD designer distributing work to a group of machine operators…
  • Software developers in a disorganised or poorly documented project…
  • That single black shareholder/director upon whom the enterprise depends for its BEE score, now that the government appears to be abandoning its “once empowered, always empowered principle.

That quick list demonstrates how tenuous is the grip SMMEs have on their futures, and it is worrying in the present, but even more so in the future, where business values depend on the sustainability of the enterprise.

So the challenge is to raise your bus number, to account for the systems and redundancies built into your business. It is unlikely that any reasonably sized, privately owned business would have a bus number above 3.

  • The owner or CEO, the financial manager and the factory manager
  • The owner or CEO, the sales director and the factory manager
  • Just, the top three sales people

As we develop Lourens’ concept label, all sorts of derivatives spring to mind:

  • Bus number as a proportion of all employees
  • Bus number per turnover
  • Bus number as a proportion of training budget
  • Bus number critical point of failure!
  • Bus number replacement lead time

And as we reconsider the example of the empowerment score card bus number, it appears that ministerial interference is once again threatening the future values of our businesses, with random brain emissions. Thank you, Minister Zwane.

Failing to plan? Planning to fail?

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Brian Tracy said “ Failing to plan means planning to fail”
In the mad rush to increase turnover in the run up to a sale, the very essence of the business is often ignored – its raison d’etre: The bottom line and the sustainability thereof.

The formula seems simple: Raise the sales, cut the expenses any way you can, show a magnificent profit; sell to some greedy purchaser.
Unfortunately it is not this simple for a number of reasons.

  • Good quality business buyers and investors always make their agreements of sale subject to a suspensive condition of sale (or condition precedent) in which they require to be satisfied as to the state of the financials as well as satisfactory answers to a lengthy due diligence questionnaire which they will have formulated over several years. During this process they will look for sustainability.
  • Businesses do not always sell quickly. In fact very often they take a long time to be sold, and during that period they will need to be sustained themselves, for themselves. There is no clause which allows a business to deteriorate during the due diligence and financing phases but which still locks in the purchaser. (Well I suppose there is, but you’ll struggle to get a buyer to sign it.)
  • Businesses need to grow, but at the same time remain sustainable and fundable. Uncontrolled growth sucks up cash flow better than any super sopper mopper you have ever seen. With an impending sale looming, quick last minute growth will sound the death knell for most sellers.

As with so many things of any value in life, businesses need to grow in value in a well structured and planned way which takes time and patience, and they need to have the following elements in place:

  • Sales, margins and profits
  • Infrastructure
  • Intellectual property
  • Sustainability
  • Balance sheet

Sacrificing margin to grow sales helps nobody but the psychologists. Raising sales through good marketing efforts while maintaining margin is great. Great that is, as long as your infrastructure is in place to sustain the delivery to customers. But very often, the infrastructure spend bites into the profit line. Worse than that, spending on more staff and the delegation of responsibilities can also bite into the intellectual property of a business, and where the barrier to entry is very low, even bigger problems can arise.

Strangling a business through ensuring sustainability without pushing the risks a bit will ensure that you have a boring stagnating venture that you wish to sell, if only to stop the boredom.

Planning makes the difference.

Just as planning for the sale of a business will make an enormous difference to your life when the sale happens, so planning the growth of the business beyond just adding sales to the top line will allow the business to grow in a controlled manner rather than in fits and starts of feast followed by cash flow crisis. Your added sales may bolster your cash flow initially, but where will your inventory come from, and who will finance it, pack it and ship it? Who will provide the extra after sales service and explain to the greater number of customers how the widgets work? How will you collect the money, account for it and bank it? And how will you survive in the meantime?

Working through bottle necks in advance will not only save you a lot of grey hair, but will also add value to the business long before you have to, or want to sell it. Of course the added benefit is that you get to enjoy stronger cash flows while you still own the business.

Valuation Myths Value is based on turnover

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“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash flow is reality.” We’ve all heard it said, but a huge number of people have never taken it in, thought it through or understood it.

From time to time we will do some marketing to get some fresh blood into the network; and as the phone starts to ring, we are quick to recognize the “buyers” who have no real understanding as they ask: “What is the turnover?”

You see it does not matter, as a general rule. Of course there are exceptions like petrol stations and supermarkets, both of which work under a fairly standard set of parameters, understood intimately by their operators.

But when it comes to most businesses which battle from day to day to maximise their sales, while buying in their stock as low as possible, and minimizing their expenses, turnover is limited in relevance to calculating the VAT and commissions, and setting records to be graphed on a wall in the owner’s office, usually behind the door.

When it comes to valuing a business, turnover has no importance at all, except to point us in a direction of the business’s growth, and even this can be misleading. When we value a business, our model draws lots of graphs to identify the places that managers of businesses may be going wrong, and one of the anomalies we often see is a sudden rise in turnover coinciding with a fall in gross profit percentage. The inference to be drawn is that the business owner is “purchasing” sales turnover in order to impress someone, usually a hoped for purchaser of the business.

If things are well planned and fixed expenses are rationalised, this may lead to greater profits, but more often than not, the “sale month” leads to lower profits, and the result is exactly opposite to what was intended: Value falls.

Here is the simple calculation:

Two businesses in different cities, manufacturing the same goods with the same turnover and similar expenses, but one has lower cost of sales because it is closer to its principal suppliers.  It has an immediate advantage with stronger cash flows, and after paying the same expenses as its counter part, ends up with more profit.

Given the opportunity and inclination to buy either business, which one would an investor choose? Well the more profitable one of course. And if there were several investors in the same room, there would be a bidding war, and the price would go up, as the less profitable business is ignored.

Does that make sense? Of course it does. Now stop asking about turnover in valuing your business, and concentrate on the net profit and the benefit you really get out of the business as the owner.

Your IP

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How is your IP?

No really; how is your intellectual property? Is it safe? Have you secured it?

When a leading figure in a political dynasty running for the office of the most powerful man in the world neglects to look after his IP, we should all consider that we may have our own weaknesses.

Jeb Bush is the older brother of George W Bush, and the son of George H Bush, both former presidents of the USA. As is required and done, he registered an internet domain (www.jebbush.com). These things require periodic renewal payments.

You guessed it: Donald Trump spotted the ommision, bought the domain name, and now www.jebbush.com reroutes to www.donaldjtrump.com.

Not even in the movies…

So really; how is your IP? If that kind of kindergarten tomfoolery can happen in the pursuit of such power, what chance for us mere mortals?

 

Through their eyes: A different customer

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It is amazing how many sellers approach the sale of their businesses with a dogmatic, arrogant attitude of “take it or leave it.” The basis for the asking price is, too often, the amount required to fund the next stage of the seller’s life; be it retirement, another business or an investment target. Their business valuation is not based on market requirements, but on their own ideal outcomes. They entertain very little discussion and only a single position as a target.

I’m not suggesting that you should change your offering for every prospective purchaser that looks at your business, because this will drive you mad. But you should give some thought to who your likely buyer is, and what they will want to see in the investment.

In Daniel Priesley’s book Key Person of Influence, he writes at the beginning of chapter 2:

“Across all industries, the top opportunities go directly to a small group who present themselves as Key People of Influence in that field. The rest of those in the industry are left to fight over the opportunities that the KPIs turn down. It might sound unfair, but that’s how it is.”

In the book, Priestley’s message is all about being a key person of influence (KPI) in an industry, community, or environment. Something similar may be applied to the disposal of a business, if I might paraphrase Priestley: When a business is “on the shelf ready for sale” the top investment decision goes directly to those businesses which present themselves better than the others”.

If you read Priestley’s book, you will notice that I have borrowed some more from the same chapter:

You need to Productise your business. Beyond your business supplying products and services, it needs to become a product itself. It needs to become an ecosystem for a collection of products or services. You probably have stage 1 in this goal already, which is why you have a business to sell. A successful exit from the business at above average value involves the former suggestion – making the business something more than the rest in terms of PrepareYourBusinnessForSale™: The top opportunities go to those who present themselves best.

It makes sense as an eventual business seller, that you should start thinking about providing a buyer with what he wants. And what the buyer of any business wants is profits and cash flow, presented in a manner which will withstand the rigors of due diligence.

Until you learn to see the business through the eyes of a potential buyer, you will be hard pressed to sell it effectively, and yes, I know that it is not necessarily your intention to sell it right now, but that intention may change suddenly, beyond your control – remember?

Look at this way: If you were buying your business, what would your concerns be, and how can you best deal with these concerns today, knowing what you do about your business, without having your back to the wall in a “must sell” situation?

Friends, enemies and lovers

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One day your business and you will no longer be one.

How often do you talk to your partners in your business and personal life about the eventual exit plan you have?

You don’t have partners? Well I’m sure you do, actually. These can all be considered to be partners, in varying circumstances:

  • Fellow shareholders, directors, members
  • Senior employees, support professionals
  • Funders, suppliers, customers
  • Life partners, parents, children, siblings
  • Extended family members and heirs

So unless you’re a one man blogger living as a recluse in a mountain cabin selling hand carved sex toys online, you probably have partners in your endeavour.

You spend long hours talking about the strategy required to close deals, achieve the best return from your advertising, finding better channels to customers, improving production and delivery, and other necessary discussions. How much time do you dedicate to planning for your exit, or that of one of your partners?

That exit has a direct effect on the lives of the counter parties. Quite apart from the fairness side to the equation, those discussions allow the equity holders to GAIN value. The most successful negotiations I have been involved in over 25 years or so, involve annual involvement of the other partners.

“At some stage in the next 7 to 10 years I intend to retire. Let’s have a chat about what your continued role will be in this business after I have left. How are we going to make sure that you add value to the organisation, and therefore guarantee your position”.

“Look guys; one of you is going to have to buy my shares at some stage in the future”.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are all involved in building a major asset in the nature of this business. Let’s do more than keep tabs on the performance of the organisation, and do whatever we can to maximise value each and every year for the next five, so that we get to exit with something really meaningful”.

“OK, we all know the country is in a difficult time in history, both politically and economically. What can we do to make sure that we don’t only come out the other side of this time, unscathed, but with a much more valuable company?”

There are hundreds of similar conversations to be had, at levels from the boardroom, down to the mom and pop brushing their teeth at night. Are you party to a similar discussion on a regular basis?

 

Why would you sell your business anyway?

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This is the tenth instalment in the series, and I thought it might be an idea to take stock of where we are now, and ask the question: “Why sell your business anyway?”

I think that’s a pertinent question, and one which should be answered by every potential seller of a business. It is certainly a question which is asked by every purchaser. The thing is, you know exactly how your business works; you know about the cash flow of your customers, you know how they pay, and you may even know them personally. Add to that: you know your product or service intimately, and by leaving the industry you will have to venture into the great unknown, to learn about new customers, cash flow in different circumstances, how far you can push new suppliers, and you may even have to learn a new skill.

So why does the typical seller want to sell her business? Does it really matter? Well no, in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter; but at the beginning of the process it matters hugely to the buyer. He needs to be sure he isn’t having the wool pulled over his eyes, and that there isn’t a long and dark tunnel about to open up in front of him. An ice breaker in the initial investigation is “so why are you selling?”

What’s wrong with simply selling for profit? Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but unfortunately it doesn’t instill great confidence in any buyer, and so sellers find all sorts of “reasons for the sale”.

Consider whether or not your motivation in selling the business is honorable. This is a matter for your conscience at this stage. Bear in mind though; dishonorable and fraudulent reasons for sales have a habit of biting sellers in the backside at a time which least suits them. Yes, they get a clump of money up front, but ultimately they end up scrambling for other sources of funds later in defense of their subterfuge. A sort of short term gains for long term losses scenario.

Part of my motivation in persuading people to embark on this long term program of PrepareYourBusinessForSale is to attract and keep business people with a long term business goal in mind, rather than those who are desperate to transform a personal cash flow crisis into a fire sale of their businesses.

A very telling answer can often be elicited from a seller by asking the question “What will you do after the sale?” Sometimes the answer is weighed up carefully by a buyer in combination with other answers.

Let’s leave the finer nuances of selling strategies to another day for now, and instead consider the question in a straight forward way. If you are selling for any other reason that retirement, ill health or death:

  • Do you have another income producing activity to get yourself into?
  • Will you make so much money out of the sale of your business that you will never have to work again?
  • Have you forgotten the heartache and sleepless nights you went through, learning the ropes of this business in the first place?

On many occasions I have advised prospective sellers to hang on to their little money spinners. Of course I am seldom listened to, which I guess is just as well, as I’m in the business of helping business owners to sell their businesses.

More often than anybody would like, I am asked to sell a business which needs to be sold today, rather than tomorrow because of some personal calamity like serious illness or death. In those circumstances, the sale of the properly prepared business can yield enough to make a sick owner more comfortable, or a widow self sufficient. And it is those instances which prompted me to prepare and present this course.

A properly prepared business on the market sells efficiently and for a good price. A poorly prepared business on the market is on a hiding to nothing. You are here for the efficiency, I know

Please never forget this: Something awful may happen to you, rendering you incapable of either running your business or selling it. Your heirs, survivors or dependents may need to sell the business for you or your estate; and without your input, just how complicated is that going to be? And how much simpler would it be if you prepare your Pitchdeck diligently. (You thought I was going to say “prepare your business for sale”, didn’t you?

So please go back to the last instalment and consider the questions asked around preparing that Pitchdeck, and look back through the earlier instalments, get out your “Prepare Your Business For Sale” file and make sure you have covered the requirements properly. Scan paper documents reducing them to digital equivalents able to be transmitted around the world, and store them in your “PYBFS” folder on your desk top.

Pitch Deck 01

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Background

Sometimes known by other names such as the “executive summary”, the pitch deck as we shall call it, is the first real contact that your prospective purchaser is going to have with your business, apart from the somewhat frivolous “business nets R1000’s per month, asking the bargain basement price of RMillions. Please call Frank…” advertisement that you may place in the local classifieds.

Your pitch deck is a document which will lay out the basics of the business, and show what you are able to offer the purchaser. The aim of the pitch deck is to give your prospect enough information to make a decision as to whether or not she wants to move to second base, and come visit you at your place. At the same time you do not want to give away so much information that you find yourself with an extra competitor, or worse, with an existing competitor with more information than he had before.

So we won’t be giving away any strategic information that will compromise us later, and will leave us regretting our honesty and forthrightness. We want to leave her with the need to know more about something she wants, and if she wants to see ours, she’s going to have to shows us hers first, so to say.

Apart from ultimately using the pitch deck as stage one in eventually selling your business, there are other usefulnesses which should not be ignored.

As we continue through this series, your pitch deck will unfold as I ask you to answer the sorts of questions which buyers will ask. Some of these questions may stretch you a bit, but may open your eyes to various aspects of your business. Obviously that will help you to evaluate your business and its value to both yourself and a prospective purchaser.

Through that exercise, it will also help you to identify areas which can be improved with a little effort, and understand areas that will be targeted by a quality buyer. It will give you an idea of what goes through a buyer’s mind as she evaluates your business. The pitch deck is the one document that will not only capture your purchaser’s interest, but will actually sell your business for you. More than that though, your pitch deck can become the basis for an operations manual, which we will learn more of later. For the time being, I want you to give some thought as to how you would describe your business.

Start by expanding on the type of business you are selling. Remember that this paragraph is the very first interaction which your prospective purchaser will be having with your business, and for some business – prospect combinations this start can kill the deal for you. It is one thing to say “pizza takeaway”; we all understand that. But perhaps you run an engineering shop. Most prospective buyers will not understand “plant automation, simulation, optimisation and information systems”. But then this type of business will be aimed at those that do understand, and are not looking at any type of takeaway, anyway. So consider your opening very carefully, to be aimed at your target market.

  • How long has the business been running?
  • How long has the present owner been in control?
  • What is the owner’s background?
  • Is it important that the new owner has a similar background?

Give a brief idea of how the business is run on a daily basis, by the owner and by the management, and describe the level of interaction between owner and management. This is very important. Many years ago we were selling a bakery which to our thinking was a brilliant deal. Very little response was received when we targeted our database of buyers. That was both surprising and disappointing. However, once we amended the report to show that the owner left the bakery to be run by management until 11am in the morning, we were swamped with interest. Potential buyers had seen “bakery” and assumed “opens at 4am”.

Describe the products and services of the business. In particular, if the business has some type of proprietary machinery, process, service or product; scream about it. Many buyers are looking to be involved in something different to the mundane.

Compliance

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The biggest fear of any purchaser of a business is that she is going to be swindled in the deal. As Peter Carruthers is so fond of saying: “When a man with experience meets a man with money, the man with experience gets the money, and the man who had the money ends up with experience.” Or words to that effect anyway. If you have been in business for any length of time, you will know what that observation means. If you don’t understand, be careful because chances are that you will gain that experience in the future!

So how do we put the prospective purchaser’s mind at rest? The starting point is a single word: Compliance.

As a prospective purchaser of a business once said to me: “If this guy is brave enough to take on SARS by not declaring his business truthfully, and if he steals the VAT paid by his customers and does not pay it across, why would he think twice about defrauding me?” I don’t think that I could have put it any better than that.

There is a myriad of compliance issues that can be examined, and which we will delve into as this series unfolds, but for now I want to deal with four important areas.

Tax returns need to be submitted, we know. And taxes need to be paid, and “strangely” this has become one of the most complied with issues in the last decade and more. SARS wields a big stick, which has made a difference. However, there are still taxes dodgers out there, and without fail these guys battle to sell their businesses at a fair price. The reason for this is that buyers know that the most reliable source of reported figures is those supplied to SARS, simply because they are unlikely to be inflated. By the same token, properly prepared financial statements submitted yield higher values than management accounts, and much higher values than spreadsheet projections.

VAT returns must be on file, and less importantly, VAT receipts. Returns report your turnover, while receipts merely provide the amount that was paid over, and can vary immensely in their relevance from one business to another.

Staff details are usually on file together with the related contracts. Most businesses have little trouble dealing with this, simply because staff members themselves insist on compliance, nagging for their contracts until they are produced and signed! Make sure that you have accurate records of addresses and ID numbers and particularly leave details. When the transfer of your business happens, you will need to know how much leave is outstanding to each of your employees. So take your existing leave schedule, make sure that ID numbers, addresses and wages are included for each employee, and put this into your Prepare Your Business For Sale file and make a pdf copy for your desktop PYBFS folder.

Perhaps the biggest culprit of noncompliance which often becomes a hindrance to transferring a business is the asset register. Even though the maintenance of this register is a legislated requirement, many, many businesses flout this requirement, and thereby commit an offence. But not only do they commit an offence, they also bog down the sale of their businesses unnecessarily. Purchasers of businesses want to know what they are buying, for goodness sake! That’s not unfair, is it?

Something we are going to learn in this series, and hammer it home, time after time is the simple fact that when you sell a business, that business competes with all the other businesses out there that are on sale at the time. So give the purchaser what she wants!

Get your asset register up to date, and put it into your Prepare Your Business For Sale file.