“Preparing your business for sale is one of the most important things you will ever do – the more effort you put into this, the higher the value your company will achieve.”
So says Philip de Lisle, a serial entrepreneur and MD of executive coaching company Enhancing Clarity.
The sales process can vary wildly in length – six months if you’re lucky, potentially 12 or longer depending on how things unfold.
But before you put your business on the market you should make it as attractive as possible to prospective buyers. From tidying up books and records to simply giving the premises a lick of paint, even minor details could make the difference when it comes to finding buyers.
Your exit strategy could be years in the making or you may suddenly decide that it’s time for a change.
If the decision is recent then it’s important not to rush things and take the steps necessary to make the business an appealing asset. It could take several months to reach the point where you feel ready to put it on the market.
Read more about the right time to sell a business.
Follow these steps to give yourself the best chance of finding a suitable buyer and selling at a satisfactory price.
Appoint a reputable business broker/business transfer agent (BTA) or accountant with the requisite skills to value your business. You will probably lack the necessary experience and certainly lack the objectivity to do it yourself.
But you can put in some groundwork by checking the prices of similar businesses for sale – in terms of sector, location, size, revenues – on specialised classifieds sites like BusinessesForSale.com.
Books and records and documentation
More than any other factor, interested parties will want to know – in the clearest terms possible – how much income your business is generating and the trajectory of revenues and costs over the past 3-5 years.
Your number one priority, therefore, should be getting your books and records up to date, tidy and accessible.
This applies to other relevant documentation too. Where possible, also tie up clients whose contracts are nearing expiration to renewed terms.
Premises and equipment
First impressions count. A spring clean of your premises won’t affect your business valuation but an unclean, untidy property can certainly repel buyers.
You might even repaint walls, replace carpets or replace ageing equipment. Anything, even a few plants, that makes the place more welcoming could make a subtle, but meaningful difference.
Top tips from a BTA: Sean Mallon, founder, Intelligent Business Transfer
1. When you’re getting ready to sell your business, it’s all too easy to start winding down and take your foot off the pedal. If you want to make your business as attractive as possible to potential buyers – and get the best deal you can – you need to work harder than ever in the months leading up to the sale.
2. Get your paperwork straight so it’s easy for buyers to see how buoyant your business is, while making sure day-to-day operations are running smoothly and efficiently to demonstrate just how quickly a new owner could take the reins.
3. Take time to compile accurate financial information to show buyers how your business has been performing. Prospective purchasers will want to see that all your paperwork is in order.
Apart from satisfying them that your tax records, leases, contracts and articles of incorporation are ship-shape, it also reflects well on the efficiency of your business operations.
“All buyers will undertake some form of due diligence,” says de Lisle.
“Depending on your sector, this might just be a financial questionnaire or a full-blown ‘walk the floors’ exercise, so it’s vital to be as prepared as you can be.
“And this includes being ready for negotiation meetings. This is a big investment of time but it will be worth it.”
Anticipate any questions the buyer might ask by reviewing financial statements in advance of a visit.
It’s also wise to prime your employees for visits from VIPs (you may not want to disclose their true reason for visiting, however). The last thing buyers want to see is a shabbily-dressed, unmotivated-looking workforce.
With the help of your advisors, review all legal documentation – such as leases, contracts and articles of incorporation – and make sure it is relevant, up to date and easy to access. Don’t make buyers wade through piles of expired and irrelevant documents.
De Lisle, who has experience of selling businesses, says: “I always thought about ‘lifting the drains’. In every company there will be ‘nasties’: those things that you did because time or cash were tight so you needed to take a shortcut. These are the issues to correct now, or at least have a credible explanation of why things are as they are.”
2. Document your vital processes. A buyer will love you for it.
3. Know your numbers. Nothing is guaranteed to put off a potential buyer more than an owner who is not on top of the financials.
You also need to gradually disentangle yourself from the business. This means delegating your duties to relevant staff and gradually reducing your daily involvement.
How would your business cope if you suddenly went travelling for six months? The answer to this will reveal how protracted this process will be.
Read more about how taking time off from your business can help you understand how sellable your business is.
To reassure the buyer and minimise disruption during the transition, you may agree to advise the owner in a consultative capacity for a period after the sale has completed.
Get your administrative affairs in order well in advance of the sale to make your exit from the business as painless as possible.
Says de Lisle: “If you can document all vital processes, you are making the next owner’s job much easier as they don’t have to start from ground zero – which will prepare them to pay more!”