While every business sells for different reasons, the businesses that sell quickly here in our offices — and by quickly we mean within 24-72 hours — all have a few traits in common. These traits happen to work well in the case of selling a business, but they are always present at the heart of the most successful businesses. By keeping an eye on these fundamentals, business owners are actually ensuring that should they want to sell, they will get several full price offers, and in a very short time horizon as well.
Clean Books and Taxes
You’ve heard us discuss this in past articles: have clean books, or face the possibility of not being able to sell. But successful business owners aren’t interested in having clean books just in case they want to sell. They know that current financial statements are essentially an up-to-the-minute health snapshot of their business. By regularly perusing clean and current financials they are able to see trends and make adjustments or trim spending in underperforming divisions. Clean books and current tax payments are simply by-products of a successful business. They also happen to be essential to a business sale and are an immediate shine on any new business listing.
Stable and Up-trending Revenues
Successful business owners look at financial statements to see if they are growing revenues and profits month-to-month and year-to-year. This helps them properly forecast and hire. Buyers love to see the same. An off year with context will be explainable: we had a lot of businesses that sold in past years that either had slow growth, flat-lined, or even contracted a bit in the 2008-2010 time period because of the financial crisis. But because buyers saw stability in the numbers before and after that time period of crisis they were confident that they too could weather a storm if it came.
Consistent Cash Flow
Savvy business owners aim for consistent cash flows. This doesn’t mean that there’s no seasonality in the business, but that the seasonality is clearly pinpointed and planned for. This makes financing easier, should it be required. Again, as with clean books and taxes, consistent cash flows are the by-product of a successful business, not something that someone has to quickly put together in order to sell one.
- Have systems in place so that the business can run without you
- Have clear job descriptions for all the key members of your team and have solid people in those positions
- Make sure it’s clear whether a potential buyer is buying a job or buying a business.
A business is only worth what someone will pay for it, but more importantly, a business is, outside of a strategic acquisition, only worth around what a professional valuation rates it. An owner who builds a company to sell may have a number in his/her mind, and that’s certainly a point around which to build a conversation, but unless the business provides evidence to get to that number, such a number is a fantasy.
Remember that only 20% of businesses are ever successfully sold. Here at Apex, we have a much better track record, and part of that success is getting to the right price for both buyers and sellers. Successful business owners have been setting prices for their clients for years and letting the market, not their ego, tell them what products/services are worth. The sale of the business is only the last decision in a number of previous sensible pricing decisions.
If you only have three of these characteristics in your business, we should have a conversation about what you’d like to do in the future. If you have all five, you should be having a conversation with us about why and when you should sell.