Get your AFS into gear

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.

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Accurate business valuations empower you to make proper decisions.

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