The Deal Is Almost Done — Or Is It?

The Letter of Intent has been signed by both buyer and seller and everything seems to be moving along just fine. It would seem that the deal is almost done. However, the due diligence process must now be completed. Due diligence is the process in which the buyer really decides to go forward with the deal, or, depending on what is discovered, to renegotiate the price – or even to withdraw from the deal. So, the deal may seem to be almost done, but it really isn’t – yet!

It is important that both sides to the transaction understand just what is going to take place in the due diligence process. The importance of the due diligence process cannot be underestimated. Stanley Foster Reed in his book, The Art of M&A, wrote, “The basic function of due diligence is to assess the benefits and liabilities of a proposed acquisition by inquiring into all relevant aspects of the past, present, and predictable future of the business to be purchased.”

Prior to the due diligence process, buyers should assemble their experts to assist in this phase. These might include appraisers, accountants, lawyers, environmental experts, marketing personnel, etc. Many buyers fail to add an operational person familiar with the type of business under consideration. The legal and accounting side may be fine, but a good fix on the operations themselves is very important as a part of the due diligence process. After all, this is what the buyer is really buying.

Since the due diligence phase does involve both buyer and seller, here is a brief checklist of some of the main items for both parties to consider.

Industry Structure

Figure the percentage of sales by product line, review pricing policies, consider discount structure and product warranties; and if possible check against industry guidelines.

Human Resources

Review names, positions and responsibilities of the key management staff. Also, check the relationships, if appropriate, with labor, employee turnover, and incentive and bonus arrangements.

Marketing

Get a list of the major customers and arrive at a sales breakdown by region, and country, if exporting. Compare the company’s market share to the competition, if possible.

Operations

Review the current financial statements and compare to the budget. Check the incoming sales, analyze the backlog and the prospects for future sales.

Balance Sheet

Accounts receivables should be checked for aging, who’s paying and who isn’t, bad debt and the reserves. Inventory should be checked for work-in-process, finished goods along with turnover, non-usable inventory and the policy for returns and/or write-offs.

Environmental Issues

This is a new but quite complicated process. Ground contamination, ground water, lead paint and asbestos issues are all reasons for deals not closing, or at best not closing in a timely manner.

Manufacturing

This is where an operational expert can be invaluable. Does the facility work efficiently? How old and serviceable is the machinery and equipment? Is the technology still current? What is it really worth? Other areas, such as the manufacturing time by product, outsourcing in place, key suppliers – all of these should be checked.

Trademarks, Patents & Copyrights

Are these intangible assets transferable, and whose name are they in. If they are in an individual name – can they be transferred to the buyer? In today’s business world where intangible assets may be the backbone of the company, the deal is generally based on the satisfactory transfer of these assets.

Due diligence can determine whether the buyer goes through with the deal or begins a new round of negotiations. By completing the due diligence process, the buyer process insures, as far as possible, that the buyer is getting what he or she bargained for. The executed Letter of Intent is, in many ways, just the beginning.

Buying a Business – Some Key Consideration

  • What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Is real estate included? Is some of the machinery and/or equipment leased?
  • Is there anything proprietary such as patents, copyrights or trademarks?
  • Are there any barriers of entry? Is it capital, labor, intellectual property, personal relationships, location – or what?
  • What is the company’s competitive advantage – special niche, great marketing, state-of-the-art manufacturing capability, well-known brands, etc.?
  • Are there any assets not generating income and can they be sold?
  • Are agreements in place with key employees and if not – why not?
  • How can the business grow?  Or, can it grow?
  • Is the business dependent on the owner? Is there any depth to the management team?
  • How is the financial reporting handled? Is it sufficient for the business? How does management utilize it?

Why is seller financing so important to the sale of my business?

Surveys have shown that a seller who asks for all cash, receives on average only 70 percent of his or her asking price, while sellers who accept terms receive on average 86 percent of their asking price. That’s a difference of 16 percent! In many cases, businesses that are listed for all cash just don’t sell. With reasonable terms, however, the chances of selling increase dramatically and the time period from listing to sale greatly decreases. Most sellers are unaware of how much interest they can receive by financing the sale of their business. In some cases it can greatly increase the amount received. And, again, it tells the buyer that the seller has enough confidence that the business can, indeed, pay for itself.

What happens when there is a buyer for my business?

When a buyer is sufficiently interested in your business, he or she will, or should, submit an offer in writing. This offer or proposal may have one or more contingencies. Usually, the contingencies concern a detailed review of your financial records and may also include a review of your lease arrangements, franchise agreement (if there is one), or other pertinent details of the business. You may accept the terms of the offer or you may make a counter-proposal. You should understand, however, that if you do not accept the buyer’s proposal, the buyer can withdraw it at any time. At first review, you may not be pleased with a particular offer; however, it is important to look at it carefully. It may be lacking in some areas, but it might also have some pluses to seriously consider. There is an old adage that says, “The first offer is generally the best one the seller will receive.” This does not mean that you should accept the first, or any offer — just that all offers should be looked at carefully.

Once you and the buyer are in agreement, both of you should work to satisfy and remove the contingencies in the offer. It is important that you cooperate fully in this process. You don’t want the buyer to think that you are hiding anything. The buyer may, at this point, bring in outside advisors to help them review the information. When all the conditions have been met, final papers will be drawn and signed. Once the closing has been completed, money will be distributed and the new owner will take possession of the business.

What can I do to help sell my business?

A buyer will want up-to-date financial information. If you use accountants, you can work with them on making current information available. If you are using an attorney, make sure they are familiar with the business closing process and the laws of your particular state. You might also ask if their schedule will allow them to participate in the closing on very short notice. If you and the buyer want to close the sale quickly, usually within a few weeks, unless there is an alcohol or other license involved that might delay things, you don’t want to wait until the attorney can make the time to prepare the documents or attend the closing. Time is of the essence in any business sale transaction. The failure to close on schedule permits the buyer to reconsider or make changes in the original proposal.

What can business brokers do – and, what can’t they do?

Business brokers are the professionals who will facilitate the successful sale of your business. It is important that you understand just what a professional business broker can do — as well as what they can’t. They can help you decide how to price your business and how to structure the sale so it makes sense for everyone — you and the buyer. They can find the right buyer for your business, work with you and the buyer in negotiating and along every other step of the way until the transaction is successfully closed. They can also help the buyer in all the details of the business buying process.

A business broker is not, however, a magician who can sell an overpriced business. Most businesses are saleable if priced and structured properly. You should understand that only the marketplace can determine what a business will sell for. The amount of the down payment you are willing to accept, along with the terms of the seller financing, can greatly influence not only the ultimate selling price, but also the success of the sale itself.

How long does it take to sell my business?

It generally takes, on average, between five to eight months to sell most businesses. Keep in mind that an average is just that. Some businesses will take longer to sell, while others will sell in a shorter period of time. The sooner you have all the information needed to begin the marketing process, the shorter the time period should be. It is also important that the business be priced properly right from the start. Some sellers, operating under the premise that they can always come down in price, overprice their business. This theory often “backfires,” because buyers often will refuse to look at an overpriced business. It has been shown that the amount of the down payment may be the key ingredient to a quick sale. The lower the down payment, generally 40 percent of the asking price or less, the shorter the time to a successful sale. A reasonable down payment also tells a potential buyer that the seller has confidence in the business’s ability to make the payments.