If you are a private company owner contemplating retirement, receiving an unsolicited offer to sell your business might seem like winning the lottery. As with most things, fortune tends to favour the prepared, so being prepared for what is surely one of the most important decisions of your life makes real business sense. And it’s important to get it right the first time as opportunity seldom knocks twice.
First thing, don’t be surprised. Companies are always on the lookout for acquisition opportunities that are a strategic fit for their own business needs. However, some owners can be rushed into selling before they are fully prepared. An unsolicited offer is like a bolt from the blue that can strike without warning, including when you have an illness or have suffered a financial setback. Instead of taking the necessary time to properly review a proposal, you are simply reacting to whatever offer is placed in front you.
The due diligence process that accompanies most acquisition discussions can prove daunting. Ideally, you should be prepared to provide a positive snapshot of your business on short notice. Unfortunately, many business owners are not fully equipped to do that. Usually the buyer is looking for specific information from the seller to determine whether or not the business is the right fit. Your challenge is in determining what information to provide to the buyer. Having the relevant facts and figures readily available is one of the best ways to create confidence in the company’s management team and strengthen your hand during any negotiations. Without this, the buyer may discount the value of your business and offer a lower price. Worse, they may decide to simply walk away based on that first look—this happens all too often.
You don’t want to shortchange yourself in the process. Your expertise and detailed knowledge of the day-to-day running of your company can weigh heavily in a buyer’s decision to proceed to closing. As a business owner, you should have a capable management team in place that is able to move forward and continue to operate and grow the business after you retire. Having a solid management team and business plan in place will always be viewed positively by any prospective purchaser.
There is also the fact that selling your business can be an all-consuming undertaking that can adversely impact operations. With all the added responsibility, something can—and often does—fall through the cracks. Your business may suffer and, along with it, the interest of your buyer may wane.
The best advice may be to hire a knowledgeable professional who can help you prepare to sell your business. Preparedness allows you to “strut your stuff” when dealing with any potential acquirer. You will have the answers, at the ready, and discuss any disposition with the same sense of confidence that you used to run this business—one of my partners talks about “the swagger factor.”
When a potential purchaser appears, this professional can assemble a skilled team to walk you through the process and keep things from coming off the tracks. An adviser will also help you evaluate any offer objectively and help you determine whether you should consider the sale or wait for a better offer.
In the long run, the preparedness tends to clean up your balance sheet, improve cash flow, get rid of those issues that tend to surface during due diligence and generally provide you with a better version of your current business. Not only that, it will put your mind at ease—just in case you hear that knock at the door.
Laurie Bissonette is a partner with KPMG Enterprise in Sudbury, Ontario.