Many of us have heard the saying, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” While most business owners meticulously plan the ongoing management of their organization, far fewer prepare for a successful sale. If the sale of the company is a part of your exit plan, it quite literally pays to be prepared.
Why is it critical that businesses be prepared for an acquisition?
The current climate for acquisitions makes it more likely than ever that you’ll find yourself talking to a potential buyer. Acquisition activity has been ramping up since 2010, and is only expected to increase. Low interest rates and resurgent equity markets have left corporations flush with cash, and looking for opportunities.
Yet even in the current environment, the majority of deals still fail. Over 85 percent of prospective deals are never completed. Suitors come calling, but the process breaks down prior to execution, often because sellers are unprepared.
What is the first step a company should take to prepare?
It is critical to identify and document the areas that drive organizational value. Every organization is different, and what makes you an attractive candidate for an acquisition depends on the nature of your business. Some acquisitions are technology buys, driven by intellectual property. Others are organizational or revenue buys, driven by the desire to add personnel or future earnings.
Regardless of what drives the marketability of your company, it is important to recognize the value drivers and document them. For example, if you hold technology patents, it’s essential that these are defended and documented.
What financial preparations should be made?
A detailed examination of financial records and projections should be expected during the negotiation process. If you haven’t had an audit completed recently, that should be the first step. If you have been through an audit, you need to be ready to provide the same information on relatively short notice. Make sure to keep the information that your auditors ask for current.
The focus of the financial review may also be driven by the type of acquisition. If a suitor is seeking to buy a future revenue stream, you need to be sure your projections are tight and defensible.
What pitfalls can derail the sale of a business?
Areas of potential risk can provide bargaining power to a buyer or stop the process in its tracks. Whether it’s an uncertain tax position, legal exposure, or patent dispute, exposure can damage or kill a deal. Ideally, you’d like to resolve these issues. But if that’s not possible, put them on the table as soon as possible. It’s best for buyers to know where you stand sooner rather than later so the investment in the process is not wasted.
What else should business owners keep in mind?
Understand your own expectations and limits. You don’t want to be deciding where you are willing to bend during negotiations. That will weaken your ability to negotiate the best deal. Are you comfortable with an earn-out? How much guaranteed cash do you need? Are you willing to indemnify the buyer against any contingent liabilities?
Finally, it’s wise to find an experienced adviser to help you navigate through the process. The majority of business owners only sell a business once, so it’s important to get it right the first time.