Selling Your Business? Do-It-Yourself is Risky Business!

When the owner of a business makes the decision to sell, he or she is taking a giant step that involves the emotions as well as the marketplace, each with its own set of complexities. Those sellers who are tempted to undertake the transaction on their own should understand both the process and the emotional environment that this process is set against. The steps outlined below are just some of the items for a successful sale. While these might seem daunting to the do-it-yourselfer, by engaging the help of a business intermediary, the seller can feel confident about what is often one of the major decisions of a lifetime.

1. Set the stage.

What kind of impression will the business make on prospective buyers? The seller may be happy with a weathered sign (the rustic look) or weeds poking up through the pavement (the natural look), but the buyer might only think, “What a mess!” Equally problematic can be improvements planned by the seller that appeal to his or her sense of aesthetics but that will, in fact, do nothing to benefit the sale. Instead of guessing what might make a difference and what might not, sellers would be wise to seek the advice of a business broker–a professional with experience in dealing regularly with buyers and with an eye experienced in properly setting the business scene.

2. Get the record(s) straight.

Although outward appearance does count, what’s inside the books is even more important. Ultimately, a business will sell according to the numbers. The business broker can offer the seller invaluable assistance in the presentation of the financials.

3. Weigh price against value.

All sellers naturally want to get the best possible price for their business. However, they also need to be realistic. To determine the best price, a business broker will use industry-tested pricing techniques that include ratios based on sales of similar businesses, as well as historical data on the type of business for sale.

4. Market professionally.

Engaging the services of a business broker is the key to the successful marketing of a business. The business broker will prepare a marketing strategy and offer advice about essential marketing tools–everything from a business description to media advertising. Through their professional networks and access to data on prospective buyers, business brokers can get the word out about the business far more effectively than any owner could manage on an individual basis.

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What a Buyer May Really Be Looking At

Buyers, as part of their due diligence, usually employ accountants to check the numbers and attorneys to both look at legal issues and draft or review documents. Buyers may also bring in other professionals to look at the business’ operations. The prudent buyer is also looking behind the scenes to make sure there are not any “skeletons in the closet.” It makes sense for a seller to be just as prudent. Knowing what the prudent buyer may be checking can be a big help. A business intermediary professional is a good person to help a seller look at these issues. They are very familiar with what buyers are looking for when considering a company to purchase.

Here are some examples of things that a prudent buyer will be checking:

Finance

  • Is the business taking all of the trade discounts available or is it late in paying its bills? This could indicate poor cash management policies.
  • Checking the gross margins for the past several years might indicate a lack of control, price erosion or several other deficiencies.
  • Has the business used all of its bank credit lines? Does the bank or any creditor have the company on any kind of credit watch?
  • Does the company have monthly financial statements? Are the annual financials prepared on a timely basis?

Management

  • Is the owner constantly interrupted by telephone calls or demands that require immediate attention? This may indicate a business in crisis.
  • Has the business experienced a lot of management turnover over the past few years?
  • If there are any employees working in the business, do they take pride in what they do and in the business itself?

Manufacturing

  • What is the inventory turnover? Does the company have too many suppliers?
  • Is the business in a stagnant or dying market, and can it shift gears rapidly to make changes or enter new markets?

Marketing

  • Is the business introducing new products or services?
  • Is the business experiencing loss of market share, especially compared to the competition? Price increases may increase dollar sales, but the real measure is unit sales.

When business owners consider selling, it will pay big dividends for them to consider the areas listed above and make whatever changes are appropriate to deal with them. It makes good business sense to not only review them, but also to resolve as many of the issues outlined above as possible.

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Do You Have What It Takes to Find Success in the 21st Century?

There is no doubt that the times are definitely changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift across many industries, and the simple fact is that many industries will never return to the old normal. Success in the 21st century will require a good deal of adaptation and the ability to evaluate where you stand today and where you need to be tomorrow.

Flexible Thinking

One of the cornerstones of being successful in life and in business is to embrace flexible thinking. A flexible approach to problems can lead to finding new and highly effective ways of tackling problems. Being able to find success in the 21st century is about much more than simply riding the next technological wave or trend. Instead, it is about being amongst the first to use flexible thinking to spot trends and developments ahead of the competition and exploit those developments first. Technology and the world are changing faster than ever. Being able to utilize fluid, flexible thinking to identify problems and then seek out cutting-edge solutions to those problems will be a key aspect for success in this century.

A Solid Plan

Flexible thinking is essential for success, but so is having a plan. Just as business leaders needed a plan to achieve final success two-thousand years ago, the same holds true today. In many ways, evolving technology has not reshaped basic logic. 

You’ll want your business plan to strike the right balance between being rigid and flexible. At the same time, you’ll need a solid business plan that includes specific written goals and concrete time frames.

Embracing Technology

The days of ignoring technology or “working around” it are simply gone. The modern business landscape has integrated not just digital marketing, but digital financial transactions as well. This trend is only going to become more pronounced in the coming years. 

The business landscape means understanding and embracing the fact that commerce now has a massive digital component at every level. The pandemic has served to accelerate this fact and has very likely permanently changed how business will be conducted in the future. Whether it is meeting clients or customers online for a Zoom or Skype meeting, embracing digital marketing, or a range of other changes, it is essential for business owners to recognize change and incorporate it into their business and their long-term plans.

You can try to fight the future, but in the end you will fail. Charting the right course for the future means having the right mindset and a great support team in your corner. Business Brokers and M&A Advisors are experts at helping business owners prepare their businesses for sale. Demonstrating that your business has adapted to the dynamic and ever-changing environment will help you make your business much more attractive to prospective buyers.

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What You Should Know About Selling Your Business

There can be no doubt that selling your business stands as one of the most complex and important decisions you’ll likely ever make. It is quite often the case that a business represents decades, or even a lifetime, of dedicated work. In this article, we’ll examine some of the key steps that you should take when it comes time to sell.

One of the most important steps that any seller can take is to begin the sales process far in advance of the date that he or she plans to put the business on the market. Working with an experienced business broker or M&A advisor (and doing so preferably years in advance) is one of the single best ways to ensure that you’ll be ready to sell your business when the time comes. It will also help you to avoid the numerous pitfalls that potentially await.

A good brokerage professional can also help identify weaknesses in your business and help you address those issues; however, this is only the beginning. Your broker can help you with everything from strategy and negotiations, maintaining confidentiality and establishing the market value of your business, to connecting you with other seasoned professionals, such as accountants and lawyers.

A third key point that all sellers should consider is their own psychology. It is vital that all sellers remain flexible in their approach to selling their business and also remain respectful of prospective buyers. It is important that you put yourself in the shoes of your buyer and try to think of what they will need to feel confident in their decision. 

The right seller psychology is also absolutely essential. Sellers should not attempt to rush or force a sale or overprice their business. In short, you need to keep “your head in the game” and as much as possible, keep your emotions out of the process. 

Sellers also need to realize that the statistics strongly indicate that seller financing is likely. Only 75% of sellers ultimately receive their asking price, and businesses that are listed as “all cash” generally don’t sell. Reasonable sales terms will greatly increase the chances of successfully selling a business. It is common that sellers fail to realize just how much interest they can generate by financing the sale of their business. A reasonable down payment is also another way to improve the odds of selling a business. Being willing to offer financing makes a clear statement to a prospective buyer that you believe in the business and its ability to generate revenue. From a buyer’s perspective an “all cash” demand can be a red flag.

At the end of the day, an open mind and steady temperament will increase your chances of selling. You may want to sell your business and completely move on to new things. But the reality of selling a business is such that “walking away” may not be feasible. Transitioning your business into the hands of a new owner is usually more of an ongoing process than a “sign on the dotted line and receive a check” type of situation. Understanding this fact, and working closely with a business broker or M&A advisor in advance of selling your business, will help to streamline the sales process and greatly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

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5 Tips for Dealing with Customer Complaints

Companies of all sizes frequently fail to handle customer complaints appropriately.  In the digital era, where complaints can be seen by hundreds, thousands or go viral to millions, it is essential that customer complaints, especially serious ones or ones backed by considerable emotion, are treated seriously and dealt with in a timely manner.

If you are failing to provide good customer service, this should be corrected.  After all, offering decent customer service is neither costly nor overly complicated.  At its core, good customer service can be reduced down to listening to the customer, letting the customer know that his or her complaint has been acknowledged and cataloged, and then working to remedy the situation if possible. 

A good positive attitude and staying calm when dealing with irritated or dissatisfied customers can go a long way towards keeping a customer happy and halting them from expressing their feelings in an online public forum.  Let’s look at five tips for dealing with customer complaints in an effective manner.

Tip #1 – Take a Proactive Stance 

A good attitude and a proactive stance can go a very long way towards diffusing an unhappy or angry customer.  A disappointed customer wants to know that he or she is being heard and that steps are being taken to remedy their situation.  Clearly communicating that you are working to fix the situation and doing so in a positive manner will diffuse most negative customer scenarios.

Tip #2 – Take Quick Action to Fix the Problem

Once a customer is calm and is feeling a little better about your company, there is still more work to do.  When you state that a problem will be addressed, it is essential that the problem is indeed addressed.  This is vitally important for the reputation of your company.  A failure to follow up on a promise to fix a situation could actually backfire and leave customers feeling as though they were initially manipulated.

Tip #3 – Always Stay Calm

If a customer is unhappy enough to write an email or post a negative review online, then they are obviously displeased.  However, if a customer is angry enough to pick up the phone and call, you can be fairly certain that the customer in question is rather upset.  This anger may boil over on the phone call. That’s why customer service people need to be ready to deal with that anger in a calm and collected fashion.  Customer service team members or salespeople should never match the anger of a customer.  Instead, they should focus on demonstrating that they are committed to fixing the problem.  It may benefit you to invest in employee training so that employees are ready to deal with angry or disappointed customers when the time arrives.

Tip #4 – Look for Customer Dissatisfaction Problem Patterns

If the same complaints and issues come up again and again, then it is very likely that there is a larger problem that must be addressed.  Numerous customer complaints from different customers shouldn’t be treated as a “headache.”  Instead, it should be viewed as a great opportunity to improve your goods and/or services.  Once you have detected a negative customer service pattern, be sure that you and your team move quickly to remedy the problem.  Your business will be stronger for doing so in the long run.

Tip #5 – Track Your Success

It is important to never assume that you have successfully addressed customer service issues until customers have, in fact, verified that the situation is resolved.  For this reason, it is wise to follow up with customers and ask for feedback via either questionnaires in the mail, email follow ups, or even phone calls.

Customer complaints that are not appropriately addressed can fester and become larger problems.  The time, effort, and money you invest in boosting the quality of your customer service team will yield significant positive results for the long-term.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Top Ten Ways to Avoid Wrecking a Deal

Finalizing a deal is usually a complex process, and there is a good deal of room for error, misunderstandings, miscalculations, and good old-fashioned wild cards.  That is why it is critical to carefully think through the deal process well in advance.  In this article, we’re going to explore the top ten steps you can take to avoid wrecking a good deal.

  1. Confidentiality – At the top of our “how not to wreck a deal list” is confidentiality.  It is vital that everyone involved in the deal takes steps to avoid a breach.  Experienced business brokers are experts at maintaining confidentiality.
  2. Flexibility  – The second tip on our list is to be flexible. A lack of flexibility can absolutely destroy a deal. You shouldn’t go into a deal expecting to have all of your terms met.
  3. Be Open to Negotiations – Just as it is critical to be flexible, it is also important to embrace the concept of negotiation.  Sellers are used to being their own bosses, but when it comes to successfully selling a business, no factor is quite as important as a willingness to negotiate.
  4. Advance Preparation – Next on our list of musts to avoid wrecking a deal is to prepare for the sale well in advance.  Sellers will want to make sure that they have several years of records as well as legal and accounting documentation ready and well-prepared.  You can be 100% certain that any serious buyer will want to see your records and take a look at your financials.
  5. A Reasonable Selling Price – An inflated price will decrease the number of buyers that take a serious look at a business.  Additionally, an unreasonable price may make a seller look uninformed.  Business brokers and M&A advisors are experts at handling valuations.  One of the single best ways to boost your chances of finalizing a sale is to establish a fair and justifiable price for your business.
  6. Maintain Operations – Far too often sellers lose track of the day-to-day operations once their business goes on the market.  It is absolutely vital that sellers continue operating their business as though it may never sell.  The bottom line is that it can take months, or even years to sell.  The last thing any seller wants is for their business to lose value when they are in the process of trying to sell.
  7. Keep up the Momentum – A lack of momentum can kill a deal.  Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is an easy way to make sure you maintain momentum throughout the process.
  8. Consider Your Buyer’s Needs – Serious buyers will need a variety of information from sellers in order to obtain financing.  You can expect buyers to need appraisals of assets, information on environmental regulations, and more.  Sellers should have this kind of key information ready and waiting.
  9. Encourage Competition – Another great way to avoid wrecking a deal is to achieve leverage via buyer competition.  In general, it is a good idea to create a competitive situation – one in which prospective buyers know that there is more than one interested party.  Brokerage industry professionals understand the delicacies of presenting this information.
  10.  Seller Participation – Finally, sellers must stay involved in the entire process, and that includes being willing to assist during the transition. Showing a willingness to help during the transition period will help to foster goodwill and trust.

There are many reasons why a deal could potentially fall apart.  You may not be able to control every single variable, but by following the ten key tips outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to increasing your chances of successfully completing a deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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“Hello” is a Key Part of Making the Right First Impression

Just as people will form judgments and ideas about you as a person based on first impressions, the same holds true for your company.  It is always best to put your “best foot forward,” and this is true whether we’re talking about your personal life or business.  Periodically, it is prudent for every company to step back and evaluate its initial point of communication with customers and clients.

In today’s digitally interconnected world, it is critical that customers and clients feel as though they are not just being listened to; they really want to be heard.  Emails must be responded to promptly.  This is true regardless of whether the email is from a customer requesting more information about your goods or services, or if it’s a message with a question or complaint.  If your company is unresponsive, this fact can quickly spread on social media.

Of course, customers and clients still pick up their phones and make calls.  While many people’s first impressions of your business are increasingly likely to be via your website, there is no denying the importance of the phone call experience.  When callers reach your business, it is vital that they receive a professional and warm reception.  Whether the point of contact is a live person or a message, the experience should be a trouble-free and low stress experience. 

Far too many businesses overlook this variable, but you can be quite certain that not all of their competitors are doing so.  If you have a navigation system, it should be easy to navigate.  If possible, there should be an option to talk to an operator so that callers don’t get lost within a labyrinthian phone maze filled with dead ends.  Callers might not remember a positive phone experience, but you can bet that they will remember a stressful one.

When a team member greets a caller, the response should be pleasant and should include some version of “How may I help you?”  Every operator should know company basics, such as your times of operation and the key names of your personnel.  They should also demonstrate a willingness to help.  Your team members should understand that their job depends on the success of the company and that they are on the frontlines of maintaining a positive business-customer relationship.  Professionalism is a must, and team members should never lose sight of this fact.

Finally, your key management executives should invest the time to experience your company’s sphere of communication.  What is it like to call your company and interact with team members?  What improvements could be made? 

In this very digital era, it is important to remember that there is still no replacement for human interaction.  When a caller reaches out to your company for information or assistance, it is best to use technology judiciously.  Try to opt for the human touch when possible.  While the person answering the phones at your business might not be the highest paid person on your payroll, always remember that their job is an essential part of your company’s image.

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Can Sellers Use Buyer Warning Signs to Their Advantage?

When buyers are looking to make a purchase, the most important step they can take is to perform due diligence on both the business and the seller.  Yet, it is important to note that a large percentage of sellers fail to do their due diligence on buyers. 

Deals fail all the time.  Sadly, this means that all parties lose a tremendous amount of time and effort.  Additionally, sellers not only waste time, but often lose money due to business disruptions during the process of working with a prospective buyer. 

Let’s dive in and look at a few warning signs that you should look for when dealing with a buyer.  The sooner you spot these red flags, the sooner you can avoid potential problems.

There are several key questions that sellers should ask. The list includes:

-What, if any, other businesses have you considered to date? 

-How much equity will you be committing? 

-Do you have any experience with my kind of business? 

It is important to look for warning signs early on, as this is the way that sellers can avoid wasting considerable time.  It should also be noted that sellers shouldn’t be afraid to listen to their gut instincts.  If you feel that a prospective buyer isn’t serious and may only be window shopping (or if you feel that the buyer is looking for a far greater deal than you are willing to provide), then simply move on.  When you cut your losses early on, this can free you up to focus on prospective buyers that are a better fit. 

What if your intermediary informs you that there has been no communication from the prospective buyer after they received the memorandum?  Simply stated, this lack of communication could mean that the prospective buyer has changed his or her mind, or was never that serious in the first place. 

Another red flag you might see is when the process is turned over to a junior member of the prospective buyer’s management team.  In other cases, the prospect may fail to provide details or information concerning their financial capability to successfully complete the deal.  If any of these three red flags pop up, you should consider being proactive.  You and your broker might want to reach out to the prospective buyer and ask to meet to discuss the situation. 

Warning signs can also occur just prior to closing.  Even after the letter of intent has been signed, there is still room for problems to arise.  An inexperienced attorney representing the buyer, one that simply doesn’t understand what is involved in a deal, can spell doom for what could have otherwise been a good deal. The same is true for an over aggressive attorney.  One potential remedy for this situation is for your own attorney to intervene and discuss the situation.

Spotting warning signs is about more than not wasting everyone’s time. When you can observe these indicators and act effectively to address them, it can help keep deals on track. Working with a business broker or M&A advisor is an excellent way to not only spot red flags, but also to know how to respond appropriately.  The end result will be more successfully completed deals. 

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The Transformative Benefits of the Entrepreneurial Operating System®

Damon Neth is a Professional EOS Implementer™ of the Entrepreneurial Operating System®.  He co-authored a best-selling book entitled X-Formation: Transforming Business Through Interim Executive Leadership.  He also has founded five companies and acquired four other companies.  Additionally, Damon Neth is an accomplished entrepreneur and a leading EOS® business coach.

EOS® is a powerful set of business tools that provide a framework that empowers companies to create a clear vision throughout their entire organization, and in the process, boost the health of the company as a whole.  This article discusses EOS® and how it could potentially transform your organization.

What is EOS® All About?

EOS® is based on the book Traction: Getting a Grip on Your Business, which is written by Gino Wickman.  The effectiveness of EOS® is underscored by the fact that EOS® is currently utilized by over 10,000 companies around the globe. 

EOS® is a powerful set of tools that, as Neth explained, “are being used by businesses every single day to grow, transform and capitalize on opportunity and deal with problems.  These tools provide strategic advantages and strategic tools that many organizations implement to become better, to beat their competition, to become stronger.”

How Can EOS® Benefit Your Company?

Through EOS®, it is possible to establish a clear vision for your organization.  Neth points out that cultivating this vision is about finding clarity of purpose so that every team member is pulling in the same direction.  When used from the top to the bottom of a company, the tools provided by EOS® can have a transformative effect.  Discipline and accountability are key focal points of EOS®, as it is through discipline and accountability that the health of companies can be enhanced greatly.

At the core of EOS® is the concept that everyone should share the same company vision.  That means that there must be good, consistent and steady communication.  In order to facilitate this level of communication and understanding, it is necessary to have a transparent system in order to remove barriers, blockers and impurities.  When properly utilized, EOS® creates an opportunity through which everyone can not only identify their own issues, but also find ways to solve those issues.

Managing People

The most important asset that any company has is its people.  As a result, it is absolutely essential to not only find the right people, but also to guide those people as efficiently and effectively as possible.  As Neth explained, “You’ve got to be clear and transparent with people about what you need and about what success ultimately looks like.  You want to make certain that everyone in the organization understands their job.” 

In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, the role of the generalist is quickly being eroded.  In its place, we discover that people’s roles within companies are, by necessity, becoming more and more specific.  All of this points to the increasing importance of clarifying people’s roles within companies, and what is expected of them.  Gray areas need to be eliminated as they impair team members’ understanding of their duties and responsibilities.

Communication is Key 

Everyone in the organization should understand not only the role of their respective department, but also their role within that department and the organization as a whole.  Once again, the key to success boils down to good communication and clarity of purpose and roles within the organization.  Everyone must be rowing in the same direction, and it is through weekly measurables that true progress can take place.

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A Private Equity Firm Veteran’s Advice for Business Owners Preparing to Sell

What kinds of insights about selling a business might come from experts at private equity firms?  This article includes advice for sellers from industry veteran Lamar Stanley.  Stanley is a Director at Gen Cap America, which is a lower middle market private equity firm in Nashville, Tennessee.  Since 1988, Gen Cap America (GCA) has made 60+ investments across seven committed private equity funds. 

Before joining GCA, Stanley was with the Nashville based private-equity strategy group, Diversified Trust Company.  Stanley holds a B.A. degree from The University of the South and an M.B.A. from The University of Chicago. 

Understanding Small Business

Over the decades, Stanley has amassed a considerable amount of knowledge and expertise.  He points out that it is easy for people to lose sight of the fact that many so-called “overnight successes” are actually the result of ten or twenty years of hard, thankless work.  It is through these years of laser-like focus that entrepreneurs are able to bootstrap their business.  Additionally, these business owners need to not only have a vision, but also the insight to bring on great people to help build their business.

The Benefit of a Deal Attorney

Stanley feels that working with a deal attorney can make a tremendous amount of difference, as it can increase the chances of a successful transaction taking place.  Deal attorneys understand the deal process, which can make all the difference when it comes to streamlining the process. 

“Deal fatigue” can derail what would otherwise be a good deal.  This term applies to how deals can sometimes drag on for months.  Working with an experienced deal attorney can help expedite the entire deal process.  In turn, it can help to avoid the dangers typically associated with deal fatigue.

Preparing in Advance for a Sale

Stanley believes that it is critical for a business owner to think about selling as soon as possible.  Ideally, a business owner should be thinking about selling when they start their business.  He realizes that most business owners can’t hope to prepare for selling as soon as they create the business.  But the point is clear, the sooner they begin the process the better.  Business brokers and M&A advisors can best serve business owners by helping them understand that they shouldn’t wait until a month or week before they are ready to sell their business to get their respective houses in order. 

There are so many important factors involved in getting a business ready to sell.  They range from customer concentration and diversifying suppliers to preparing financial statements and working capital estimates well in advance. 

In particular, Stanley points to the danger of business owners having to deal with preparing their business for sale while continuing to operate the business during the sales period.  What must be avoided is for business owners to essentially have two jobs at the same time, as this increases the odds of deals falling apart from deal fatigue.  The sooner a business broker is involved in the process, the better.

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