Selling Tutorial

Is it time to sell? Selling your business is a major decision! You have devoted your time, money, and energy into building, running, and operating your business. It may well represent your life’s work. If you have already decided that now is the right time to sell, you want the very best professional guidance you can get. This is when working in tandem with a professional business broker can make the difference between just getting rid of the business and selling it for the very best price and terms!

Following are some of the most common topics and questions frequently brought up by sellers. If you have any questions that we have not covered, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


For Business Sellers

If you’ve gone this far, then selling your business has aroused enough curiosity that you are taking the first step. You don’t have to make a commitment at this point; you are just getting informed about what is necessary to successfully sell your business. This section should answer a lot of your questions and help you through the maze of the process itself.

The first question almost every seller asks is: “What is my business worth?” Quite frankly, if we were selling our business, that is the first thing we would want to know. However, we’re going to put this very important issue off for a bit and cover some of the things you need to know before you get to that point. Before you ask that question, you have to be ready to sell for what the market is willing to pay. If money is the only reason you want to sell, then you’re not really ready to sell.

*Insider Tip:
It doesn’t make any difference what you think your business is worth, or what you want for it. It also doesn’t make any difference what your accountant, banker, attorney, or best friend thinks your business is worth. Only the marketplace can decide what the value of your business is.

The First Steps

Okay, let’s assume that you have decided to at least take the first few steps to actually selling your business. Before you even think about placing your business for sale, there are some things you should do first.The first thing you have to do is to gather information about the business.

Here’s a checklist of the items you should get together:

  • Three years’ profit and loss statements
  • Federal Income Tax returns for the business
  • List of fixtures and equipment
  • The lease and lease-related documents
  • Copies of any equipment leases
  • An approximate amount of the inventory on hand, if applicable

Make sure the financial statements of the business are current and as accurate as you can get them. If you’re half way through the current year, make sure you have last year’s figures and tax returns, and also year-to-date figures. Make all of your financial statements presentable. It will pay in the long run to get outside professional help, if necessary, to put the statements in order. You want to present the business well “on paper.” As you will see later, pricing a small business usually is based on cash flow. This includes the profit of the business, as well as the owner’s salary and benefits, the depreciation, and other non-cash items.

Who are the Buyers?

Buyers buy businesses for many of the same reasons that sellers sell businesses. It is important that the buyer is as serious as the seller when it comes time to purchase a business. If the buyer is not serious, the sale will never close. Here are just a few of the reasons that buyers buy businesses:

  • Laid-off, fired, being transferred (or about to be any of these)
  • Early retirement (forced or not)
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Desire for more control over their lives
  • Desire to do his or her own thing

A Buyer Profile

Here is a look at the make-up of the average individual buyer looking to replace a lost job or wanting to get out of an uncomfortable job situation.  The buyer will never have owned a business before, and most likely will buy a business he or she had never considered until being introduced to it.

Their primary reason for going into business is to get out of their present situation, be it unemployment or job disagreement (or discouragement). Prospective buyers want to be in charge of their own destiny, and they don’t want to work for anyone. Money is important, but it’s not at the top of the list; in fact, it probably is in fourth or fifth place in the overall list. In order to pursue the dream of owning one’s own business, the buyer must be able to make that “leap of faith” necessary to take the risk of purchasing and operating a business.

Buyers who want to go into business strictly for the money usually are not realistic buyers for small businesses. Keep in mind the following traits of a willing buyer:

  • The desire to buy a business
  • The need and urgency to buy a business
  • The financial resources
  • The ability to make his or her own decisions
  • Reasonable expectations of what business ownership can do for him or her
What Buyers Want

This may be a bit premature if you not have decided to sell, but it may help in your decision-making process to understand not only who the buyer is, but also what he or she will want to know.

Buyers Want Cash Flow

The first thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of buyers want to buy cash flow. Sit down with your accountant or bookkeeper and begin to get your financial statements in order, with cash flow the order of business. Cash flow is not the same thing as profit. Most buyers look at the profit and loss statement or tax return, as well as owner or family compensation.They will consider any excess compensation to employees and family. Buyers will also look at large, one-time expenses such as a new computer system or remodeling. They will consider non-cash items like depreciation and amortization. Interest expenses will be reviewed, as will owner prerequisites. These are items that a professional business broker considers when advising a selling client on a selling price.

What Can You Do?

Appearances Do Count

The time to replace that old worn-out piece of equipment is before you decide to sell. Don’t assume that a new owner will want to do it or that the price will just be slightly lower because you haven’t replaced it. The time to “spiff up” the business is now, even if you aren’t selling. Fix the sign, replace the carpet, paint the place – make it look good. Even if you’re not selling, it’s just plain good for business, and you never know when the time to sell will occur.

Everything Has Value

There are other things that add value to your business. Don’t discount the value of customer lists, proprietary products and/or techniques, well-maintained equipment, secret recipes, customized software programs, or good employees. These are termed “off-balance sheet items,” and although not used in most pricing models, they add to value. Look at your business very carefully so you don’t overlook those items that make your business more attractive to the buyer.

Eliminate the Surprises

Long before you put your business on the market, eliminate the surprises! Review every facet of the business and remedy any problems that could appear during the sale process. No one likes surprises – most of all potential buyers. Whether legal, accounting, environmental, or anything else – solve it now.

We look forward to working with you in finding a suitable buyer for your business. You, as the seller, are an integral part of the total marketing program. Below you will find a few friendly recommendations that will help in our marketing efforts when you decide you are ready to sell.

  • Keep normal operating hours. There may be a tendency to “let down” when you put your business up for sale. However, it’s important that prospective buyers see your business at its best.
  • Repair signs, replace outside lights, etc. You don’t want your business to look as if it has been neglected.
  • Maintain inventory at a constant level. If you let your inventory slide, your business will look neglected. If anything, increase it so your business will look busy.
  • Remove items that are not included in the sale and unnecessary items, especially if inoperative.
  • Repair non-operating equipment or remove it if you are not using it.
  • Tidy-up outside premises.
  • Spruce-up the inside of the business.etc.

It might also be helpful if you took a good look at your business from the perspective of a buyer. Try to put yourself in the place of a prospective purchaser of the business. What would you do to make it more attractive or more saleable? Obviously, the financial records of your business are critical to the sale of your business, but how it looks is also important. First impressions really count! If a potential buyer doesn’t like the appearance of your business, the rest of it may never get a chance. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us. We look forward to hearing from you!

Do You Have Other Questions?

Be sure to visit Selling FAQ for answers to the following questions:

  • How long does it take to sell my business?
  • What can business brokers do – and, what can’t they do?
  • What can I do to help sell my business?
  • What happens when there is a buyer for my business?
  • Why is seller financing so important to the sale of my business?