Effectively Utilizing Confidentiality Agreements

Every year countless great deals, deals that would have otherwise gone through, are undone due to a failure to properly utilize and follow confidentiality agreements.  A failure to adhere to this essential contract can lead to a myriad of problems.  These issues range from employees discovering that a business is going to be sold and quitting to key customers learning of the potential sale and taking their business elsewhere.  Needless to say, issues such as these can stand in the way of a sale successfully going through.  Maintaining confidentiality throughout the sales process is of paramount importance.

Utilizing a confidentiality agreement, often referred to as a non-disclosure agreement, is a common practice and one that you should fully embrace.  There are many and diverse benefits to working with a business broker; one of those benefits is that business brokers know how to properly use confidentiality agreements and what should be contained within them.

By using a confidentiality agreement, the seller gains protection from a prospective buyer disclosing confidential information during the sales process.  Originally, confidentiality agreements were utilized to prevent prospective buyers from letting the world at large know that a business was for sale. 

Today, these contracts have evolved and now cover an array of potential seller concerns.  A good confidentiality agreement will help to ensure that a prospective buyer doesn’t disclose proprietary information, trade secrets or key information learned about the business during the sales process.

Creating a solid confidentiality agreement is serious business and should not be rushed into.  They should include, first and foremost, what areas are to be covered by the agreement, or in other words what is, and is not confidential.  Additional areas of concern, such as how confidential information will be shared and marked, the remedy for breaches of confidentiality and the terms of the agreement, for example, how long the agreement is to remain enforced, should also be addressed. 

A key area that should not be overlooked when creating a confidentiality agreement is that the prospective buyer will not hire any key people away from the selling company.  Every business and every situation is different.  As a result, confidentiality agreements must be tailored to each business and each situation.

 When it comes to selling a business, few factors are as critical as establishing and maintaining confidentiality.  The last thing any business wants is for its confidential information to land in the hands of a key competitor.  Business brokers understand the value of maintaining confidentiality and know what steps to take to ensure that it is maintained throughout the sales process.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Hidden Benefits of Planning Your Succession Strategy

Succession planning is something that many business owners fail to think about; however, it turns out there are benefits to succession planning that might not be immediately obvious upon first glance.  In this article, we’ll explore a recent Accountancy Daily article, “Succession Planning for Business Owners,” which details the wisdom and benefits of succession planning.

Accountancy Daily polled 500 SME owners and uncovered a variety of interesting facts.  At the top of the list is that one-third of owners felt more confident about the future of their businesses when they had a coherent succession strategy. 

In what can only be deemed a surprising finding, the poll discovered that 17% of respondents noted that succession planning actually brought them closer to their families.  In short, the Accountancy Daily poll found that succession planning came with a variety of unexpected benefits.  In other words, it is about more than preparing to hand one’s business over to a new party.

Author Glen Foster makes the point that business owners frequently underestimate the level of effort and time needed to sell a business.  The fact is that selling a business is usually a layered process that can even take years to complete.  Importantly, business owners must understand that in the time it takes to sell, the market may have changed or their own financial or personal situations may have changed as well.  Additionally, selling can be an emotional and stressful process which further complicates the entire matter. 

For most business owners, selling a business represents the single greatest financial move of their lives.  As such, it is often accompanied with significant stress and anxiety.  It is essential not to underestimate the emotional and psychological side of the sales equation.  Properly planning years in advance for the sale of a business will help business owners prepare for the emotional and psychological stress that can result from both the sales process and the eventual sale itself. 

A key part of the stress of selling a business is that business owners are often left wondering “what comes next?” after selling.  Developing a succession strategy is a way to think through such issues well in advance.

Another key aspect of succession planning is to take the steps necessary to make sure that your business is ready to be sold.  As Foster points out, you wouldn’t put a home on the market with significant problems, and the same holds true for your business.  If you want to receive the optimal price for your business, then your business should be in tip-top shape.  This means diving into your books and records and getting everything in order.  Working with an accountant or an experienced business broker can be invaluable in this process.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Business Owners Can’t Always Sell When They Wish

A recent and insightful Forbes article, “Study Shows Why Many Business Owners Can’t Sell When They Want To” penned by Mary Ellen Biery, generates some thought-provoking ideas.  The article discusses an Exit Planning Institute (EPI) study that outlined the reality that many business owners can’t control when they are able to sell.  Many business owners expect to be able to sell whenever they like.  However, the reality, as outlined by the EPI study, revealed that the truth is that for business owners, selling is often easier said than done.

In the article, Christopher Snider, President and CEO of EPI, noted that a large percentage of business owners have no exit planning in place.  This fact is made all the more striking by the revelation that most owners have up to 90% of their assets tied up in their businesses.  Snider’s view is that most business owners will have to sell within the next 10 to 15 years, and yet, are unprepared to do so.  According to the EPI only 20% to 30% of businesses that go on the market will actually sell.  Snider believes that at the heart of the problem is there are not enough good businesses available for sell.  In short, the problem is one of quality.

As of 2016, Baby Boomer business owners, who were expected to begin selling in record numbers, are waiting to sell.  As Snider stated in Biery’s Fortune article, “Baby Boomers don’t really want to leave their businesses, and they’re not going to move the business until they have to, which is probably when they are in their early 70s.”

The EPI survey of 200+ San Diego business owners found that 53% had given little or no attention to their transition plan, 88% had no written transition to transition to the next owner, and a whopping 80% had never even sought professional advice regarding their transition.  Further, a mere 58% currently had handled any form of estate planning. 

Adding to the concern was the fact that most surveyed business owners don’t know the value of their business.  Summed up another way, a large percentage of the business owners who will be selling their businesses are Baby Boomers who plan on holding onto their businesses until they are older.  They have not charted out an exit strategy or transition plan and have no tangible idea as to the true worth of their respective businesses. 

In Snider’s view, the survey indicates that many business owners are not “maximizing the transferable value of their business,” and additionally that they are not “in a position to transfer successfully so that they can harvest the wealth locked in their business.”

All business owners should be thinking about the day when they will have to sell their business.  Now is the time to begin working with a broker to formulate your strategy so as to maximize your business’s value.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Q2 Small Business Transactions Take a Dip but Strong Market Remains

Small business transactions have been enjoying record numbers.  But as of the second quarter of 2019, the numbers have begun to take a small dip.  Experts feel that the trade war with China is playing a role, according to a recent article, “Q2 Small Business Transactions Down as Trade War Questions Remain.”

The numbers don’t lie, as the number of transactions stood at 2,444 for Q2, which is a drop of 9.6%.  But the simple fact remains that businesses are still selling at record levels.  As BizBuySell points out, there were 4,948 transactions reported in just the first half of 2019.  That means that 2019 could be the second most active business-for-sale market since BizBuySell began tracking data back in 2007.  In other words, the Q2 9.6% drop certainly doesn’t mean that the sky is falling. 

Deals per broker are declining, and many are looking to the current trade war between the U.S. and China for answers.  Increased tariffs and associated worries are, according to many experts, behind the Q2 dip. 

A recent BizBuySell poll of business owners noted that 43% are experiencing rising costs as a result of tariffs on Chinese goods.  Summed up another way, the trade war with China is impacting small businesses across the board. 

Ultimately, consumers will also feel the pinch as well with a whopping 64% of businesses noting that they will raise prices in order to address rising supplier costs.  Another attention-grabbing statistic is that 65% of small business owners are considering switching to suppliers not based in China, and 54% are looking for U.S. based supplies.  If this trend continues it could mark a dramatic shift.

There is, however, ample good news.  According to BizBuySell, buyers looking for a business will discover that the supply of quality listings on the market is increasing.  In short, now is a good time to buy a business, as the number of businesses listed as “for sale” grew by a healthy 5.2% in Q2 when compared to the same time last year. 

The “business for sale” inventory is growing.  According to Bob House, President of BizBuySell, “Businesses are performing better than ever.”

Some of the top performing markets by sales included Baltimore, Portland, Seattle, Austin and Dallas.  Those interested in buying a business will find that now is truly a historically good time to do so.  Working with a seasoned business broker can help you find a business that is right for you.  While the trade war has injected some uncertainty into the overall climate, there is no doubt that now is a historically unique time to buy a business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Is Your Business Really Worth Handing Over to the Next Generation?

Before you begin your business, you should be thinking about how you will hand that business over to someone else.  No one runs a business forever.  Whether you sell your business or let a relative inherit it, at some point you will need to step away. 

When you finally do separate from your business, it is critical that you are certain that it is worth handing over.  In his January 2019 article in Forbes magazine entitled “Make Sure Your Business is Worth Handing Over,” author Francois Botha dives in and explores this very topic.

In this article, Botha emphasizes that family businesses should not “fall into the trap of prioritizing job creation for their children.”  Instead, that the priority should be to perpetuate the business.  Botha cites the co-founder and chairman of The Leadership Pipeline Institute, Stephen Drotter, who feels that the main goal of any business needs to be its suitability.

Drotter established five principles designed to assist family businesses as they seek to prepare for succession.  The first principle is to “Identify and Fix Your Problems.”  Current ownership should deal promptly with any business problems before passing a business on to a new generation.

The second principle Drotter covers is to “Adjust Your Management to the Strategic Evolution of Your Business.”  Businesses evolve from the creation of a product to sell to focusing on sales, marketing and distribution to finally addressing a plateau in sales which facilitates the need for multi-functional management.

The third principle cited by Drotter is “Talk to Your People About Them.”  In this principle, communication with employees is key.  Getting to know and understand employees is vital.

“Be on the Lookout for Talent Everywhere,” is the fourth principle.  There is no replacement for skilled and motivated employees, and you never know where you may find them.

Finally, the fifth principle, “Provide Development” emphasizes that “almost everything is learned, and somebody often taught that which is learned.”  Employee skill must be seen as a key priority.

Making sure that a business is ready for transition to the next generation involves careful preparation and a good deal of advanced planning.  The sooner that you begin asking the right kind of thoughtful questions about the current state of your business and what will benefit it moving forward, the better off everyone will be.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Erase the Stress of Selling Your Business by Finding the Right Buyer

There is no denying the fact that life is much, much easier when one can find the right buyer for his or her business.  Buying or selling a business can be a stressful affair, but much of that stress can be eliminated by getting the right support.

The Concept of the “Right Buyer” 

In the recent Inc. article entitled, “How to Find the Right Buyer for Your Business and Avoid Negative Consequences,” Bob House builds his article around a relatively simple and straightforward, but powerful, concept.  House’s notion is, “the right buyer is worth more than a big check.”

House correctly points out that far too many sellers become fixated on exiting their business and grabbing a big pay day.  In their focused interest in the sum they will receive, these sellers ignore a range of other important details.  In part, sellers often miss the single greatest variable in the entire process: finding the most qualified buyer.  The simple fact is that if sellers want to reduce their long-term stress, then there is no replacement for finding the most qualified buyer, as the wrong buyer can be “headache city!”

Plan in Advance

As House points out, it is only prudent to determine what you want out of a buyer well before you put your business up for sale.  For example, if you don’t want to offer financing, then that is a decision you need to make well before you begin the process. 

Additionally, House wisely places considerable interest on pre-screening potential buyers.  Pre-screening is a great reason to work with an experienced and proven business broker who can assist with the process.  As a business owner your time is precious.  The last thing you want are a lot of window shoppers wasting your time. 

Keep Your Focus on Your Business 

Remember, while your business is up for sale, you still have to run your business.  Quite often, business owners have difficulty running their business and navigating the complex sales process simultaneously.  The end result can be disastrous, as revenue can drop and business problems can arise.

Working with a business broker means that you are dramatically reducing your potential stressors throughout the sales process.  A business broker will ensure that potential buyers are pre-screened and that only serious buyers are brought to you for consideration. 

Currently, the market conditions are great for sellers.  If you are considering selling, now is the time to find a business broker and jump into the market!

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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How Employees Factor into the Success of Your Business

Quality employees are essential for the long-term success and growth of any business.  Many entrepreneurs learn this simple fact far too late.  Regardless of what kind of business you own, a handful of key employees can either make or break you.  Sadly, businesses have been destroyed by employees that don’t care, or even worse, are actually working to undermine the business that employs them.  In short, the more you evaluate your employees, the better off you and your business will be.

Forbes’ article “Identifying Key Employees When Buying a Business”, from Richard Parker does a fine job in encouraging entrepreneurs to think more about how their employees impact their businesses and the importance of factoring in employees when considering the purchase of a business. 

As Parker states, “One of the most important components when evaluating a business for sale is investigating its employees.”  This statement does not only apply to buyers.  Of course, with this fact in mind, sellers should take every step possible to build a great team long before a business is placed on the market.

There are many variables to consider when evaluating employees.  It is critical, as Parker points out, to determine exactly how much of the work burden the owner of the business is shouldering.  If an owner is trying to “do it all, all the time” then buyers must determine who can help shoulder some of the responsibility, as this is key for growth.

In Parker’s view, one of the first steps in the buyer’s due diligence process is to identify key employees.  Parker strongly encourages buyers to determine how the business will fair if these employees were to leave or cross over to a competitor.  Assessing if an employee is valuable involves more than simply evaluating an employee’s current benefit.  Their future value and potential damage they could cause upon leaving are all factors that must be weighed.  Wisely, Parker recommends having a test period where you can evaluate employees and the business before entering into a formal agreement.

It is key to never forget that your employees help you build your business.  The importance of specific employees to any given business varies widely.  But sellers should understand what employees are key and why.  Additionally, sellers should be able to articulate how key employees can be replaced and even have a plan for doing so.  Since, savvy buyers will understand the importance of key employees and evaluate them, it is essential that sellers are prepared to have their employees placed under the microscope along with the rest of their business.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Could the Red-Hot Market for Businesses Be Cooling Down

The economy is red hot, and that fact is translating over to lots of activity in businesses being sold.  However, it is possible that this record-breaking number of sales could cool down in the near future. In a recent article in Inc. entitled, “The Hot Market for Businesses is Likely to Cool, According to This New Survey,” the idea that the market for selling business is cooling down is explored in depth.  Rather dramatically, the article’s sub header states, “Entrepreneurs who are considering selling their companies say they’re worried about the future of the economy.”

The recent study conducted by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business as well as the International Business Brokers Association and the M&A Source surveyed 319 business brokers as well as mergers and acquisitions advisers.  And the results were less than rosy.

A whopping 83% of survey participants believed that the strong M&A market will come to end in just two years.  Perhaps more jarring is the fact that almost one-third of participants believe that the market would cool down before the end of 2019.

The participants believe that the economy will begin to slow down, and this change will negatively impact businesses.  As the economy slows down, businesses, in turn, will see a drop in their profits. This, of course, will serve to make them more challenging to sell.

The Inc. article quotes Laura Ward, a managing partner at M&A advisory firm Kingsbridge Capital Partners, “People are thinking about getting out before the next recession,” says Ward.  The Pepperdine survey noted that a full 80% of companies priced in the $1 million to $2 million range are now heading into retirement. In sharp contrast, 42% of companies priced in the $500,000 to $1 million range are heading into retirement.  Clearly, retirement remains a major reason why businesses are being sold.

Is now the time to sell your business?  For many, the answer is a clear “yes.” If the economy as a whole begins to slow down, then it is only logical to conclude that selling a business could become tougher as well.

The experts seem to agree that whether it is in one year or perhaps two, there will be a shift in the number of businesses being sold.  Now may very well be the right time for you to jump into the market and sell. The best way of making this conclusion is to work with a proven and experienced business broker.  Your broker will help you to analyze the various factors involved and make the best decision.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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What Kind of Buyers are You Most Likely to Meet?

Selling a business can be an exciting and rather lucrative time.  But going through the sales process means embracing the notion that you’ll have to be very prepared for whatever might be thrown your way.  A key aspect of preparing to sell your business is to know what types of buyers you’re likely to encounter.

It is only logical to anticipate the types of buyers you may be dealing with in advance.  That will allow you to plan how you might potentially work with them.  Remember that each buyer comes with his or her own unique desires and objectives.

The Business Competitor

Competitors buy each other all the time.  Frequently, when a business is looking to sell, the owner or owners quickly turn to their competitors.  Turning to one’s competitors when it comes time to sell makes a good deal of sense; after all, they are in the same business, understand the industry and are more likely to understand the value of what you are offering.  With these prospective buyers, a great confidentiality agreement is, of course, a must.

Selling to Family Members

It is not at all uncommon for businesses to be sold to family members.  These buyers are often very familiar with the business, the industry as a whole and understand what is involved in owning and operating the business in question.

Often, family members are prepared and groomed years in advance to take over the operation of a business.  These are all pluses.  But there are some potential pitfalls as well, such as family members not having enough cash to buy or not being fully prepared to run the business.

Foreign Buyers

Quite often, foreign buyers have the funds needed to buy an existing business.  However, foreign buyers may face a range of difficulties including overcoming a language barrier and licensing issues.

Individual Buyers

Dealing with an individual buyer has many benefits.  These buyers tend to be a little older, ranging in age from 40 to 60.  For these buyers, owning a business is often a dream come true, and they frequently bring with them real-world corporate experience.  Dealing with a single buyer can also help expedite the process as you will have fewer individuals to negotiate with.

Financial Buyers

Financial buyers are often the most complicated buyers to deal with, as they can come with a long list of demands.  That stated, you should not dismiss financial buyers.  But just remember that they want to buy your business strictly for financial reasons.  That means they are not looking for a job or fulfilling a lifelong dream.  For financial buyers, the key point is that your business is generating adequate revenue.

Synergistic Buyers

A synergistic buyer can be an excellent candidate.  The reason that synergistic buyers can be such a good fit is that their business in some way complements yours.  In other words, there is a synergy between the businesses.  The main idea here is that by combining the two businesses they will reap a range of benefits, such as access to a new and very much aligned customer base.

Different types of buyers bring different types of issues to the table.  The good news is that business brokers know what different types of buyers are likely to expect out of a deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Confidentiality Agreements: What are the Most Important Elements?

Every business has to be concerned about maintaining confidentiality.  In fact, it is common for business owners to become somewhat obsessed with confidentiality when they are getting ready to sell their business.

It goes without saying that owners don’t want the word that they are selling to spread to the public, employees or most certainly their competitors.  Yet, there is something of a tug of war between the natural desire for confidentiality and the desire to sell a business for the highest amount possible.  At the end of the day, any business owner looking to sell his or her business will have to let prospective buyers “peek behind the curtain.”  Let’s explore some key points that any good confidentiality agreement should cover.

At the top of your confidentiality list should be the type of negotiations.  This aspect of the confidentiality agreement is, in fact, quite important as it stipulates whether the negotiations are secret or open.  Importantly, this part of the confidentiality agreement will outline what information can be revealed and what cannot be revealed.

Also consider the duration of the agreement.  Your agreement must be 100% clear as to how long the agreement is in effect.  If possible, your confidentiality agreement should be permanently binding.

You will undoubtedly want to outline what steps will be taken in the event that a breach does occur.  Having a confidentiality agreement that spells out what steps you can, and may, take if a breach does occur will help to enhance the effectiveness of your contract.  You want your prospective buyers to take the document very seriously, and this step will help make that a reality.

When it comes to “special considerations” category, this should be elements that apply to the business in question.  Patents are a good example.  A buyer could learn about inventions while “kicking the tires,” and you’ll want to be quite certain that any prospective buyer realizes that he or she must maintain confidentiality regarding any patent related information.

Of course, do not forget to include any applicable state laws.  If the prospective buyer is located outside of your state, then that is an issue that must be adequately addressed.

A confidentiality agreement is a legally binding agreement.  And it is important that all parties involved understand this critical fact.  Investing the money and time to create a professional confidentiality agreement is time and money very well spent.  An experienced business broker can prove invaluable in helping you navigate not just the confidentiality process, but also the process of buying and selling in general.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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