No matter how many years you’ve been in business, you only sell that business once. That’s why a sale deserves at least some of the care and planning you put into building that business all these years. And yet, we still (more often than we’d like) get the call with the equivalent of, “I’d like to list my business on Friday and sell it on Monday…maybe Tuesday at the latest.”
If we could go back at least six months (ideally twelve months or more) with that caller, we’d talk to them about putting together their Dream Team for this sale.
Business brokers think of ourselves as team captains. This isn’t our first rodeo and we know how to bring the best out of all these players who may never have met each other before. We’ve got a playbook that works and when we don’t personally know the answer to a problem or challenge we have resources to the tune of hundreds of years of experience (and hundreds and hundreds of transactions) in our office.
Particularly for those business owners who are looking to retire after this business sale, numbers really matter. Questions like “how much do I need?” and “what is the business worth?” have to be asked and answered.
A solid financial advisor will not allow you to come up with an impossibly high “what do I need” number which includes every possible contingency for life. He/she will also not take your word for what the business is worth. These advisors will get a valuation for the business and/or ask you to explain your reasoning for the business value. Having what the business is worth line up with what you need on retirement is the most important math equation to solve before the sale. And it’s not something you can just wish into existence. We also can’t tell you the number of times we’ve heard, “Well the business has to be worth that much because that’s what I need to retire.”
As the financial advisor asks the larger questions, your company CPA can answer the question every buyer will have: are the books clean?
If they are not, they need to get clean some time before the sale. We aren’t talking about weeks or months. We are talking about years. Unreliable books for 2-3 years and one good year isn’t just a bad recipe for getting bank financing, it’s also unlikely to hook interested buyers.
While the best CPAs will have warned you for years against too many addbacks, ones fit for your dream team will get your books clean as soon as possible and put systems in place to ensure they stay that way for the future owner.
So you’re going to have a liquidity event when you sell that is going to create tax problems to solve. You need someone experienced in these issues to help you structure a deal that makes sense for your plans (this means talking to your financial advisor, too) but also doesn’t give more to the government than you are legally or morally obligated to.
A dream team tax advisor will have helped more than one business owner structure a deal before, perhaps even helping to create a deferred sales trust when that made sense.
While you may have been working with a number of great attorneys over the years, when it comes to your transaction, you should look at experience over a relationship. This transaction isn’t about friendship, it’s about business, so find someone with experience to help you get the most out of it.
We’ve said before that inexperienced attorneys can exceed their remit in business transactions so if you’re short on recommendations in your network, we’ve got a number that have consistently shown themselves as dream team players in transactions with us.
Looking to build your dream team? Don’t wait until you’re ready to sell. Start building it when you’ve built something saleable and know that you’d like to sell it one day. The best prepared get the best results.
And remember, you’re only going to sell this business once. So make it count.