When investment guru Warren Buffet was asked how to build a great business, he answered: "Surround yourself with great people." And it's also the best advice for the entrepreneur starting to think about the trickiest journey of all – how to sell the business.
"Learn from the best," advises Terry Holland, a private-equity specialist at Krystal Financial, a firm that buys stakes in businesses. When he chairs entrepreneur conferences, Mr. Holland brings in founders such as Charlie Chang, who sold his nutritional food company, Vega, for $550-million. Mr. Chang brought in private equity experts as partners for a minority position several years before the sale. The result was a far bigger valuation than if he had sold 100 per cent of the business in one transaction.
Here are five questions business owners should ask themselves before they sell.
1. What are the options? "Talk to M&A firms, as they know the whole universe of potential buyers, including private equity," says Mr. Holland. "Many owners are not clear about the full range of buyers open to them, such as sharing ownership with private-equity partners for several years before the final sale."
2. What is the buyer going to value? M&A firms can explain what each type of buyer will value, Mr. Holland says. The corporate finance experts know what drives value better than the owner as they have sold companies hundreds of times. These firms can help get the business on track to act to boost valuation. If you have five years to sell, it gives time to structure the business and minimize the taxes.
3. Who should be on your transition team? "Many owners think they can prepare their company for sale, but it doesn't make sense to do it themselves," says Mr. Holland, who is on the board of seniors housing firm Amica, which was merged with BayBridge Seniors Housing Inc. in a deal with the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Mr. Holland says the owners of Amica hired investment bankers who created a competitive bidding process. "Without competition amongst interested buyers, it's hard to drive the price up."
4. Who is your legal ace? Mr. Holland stresses the importance of a "deal lawyer" who is skilled in negotiating and completing a deal. "They will not get caught up in the small stuff that can derail a deal. A company's corporate lawyer for the last 30 years isn't likely what you want. They may have their place, but they are not the same animal as a deal lawyer and will not be as capable of managing your team through a sale process."
5. Do you know your number? How much money do you need to be able to retire? Mr. Holland says there is value in working with a financial planner to figure out the dollar number. "They are well-versed in transitions where the owner gets a lump sum of money." The financial planner understands that all transitions have personal implications for individuals and their families. They can walk an owner through the types of substantial changes in their situations and guide them through the steps taken by other families that have had a successful sale.
Jacoline Loewen is director of business development of UBS Bank (Canada). She is also author of Money Magnet: How to Attract Investors to Your Business. You can follow her on Twitter @jacolineloewen.