For many founders, selling your company is the moment you've been waiting for forever. You've put love and sweat into building something special, and it's time to reap the rewards.
As long as you can pull it off.
This is an exciting and stressful time. You want the best price and conditions, and you need to approach this transaction with care.
If you do the necessary work, you'll make your enterprise as appealing as possible to prospective buyers. The challenge lies in figuring out how to enhance your company's appeal.
Put yourself in the position of a potential buyer, then follow the advice below to get yourself ready for the big day.
Establish a coveted customer base
No one wants to bid on a business with a limited customer base or customers who lack real buying power. You know this already, and you should have good customers who consistently come back for more.
Zero-in on these clients and develop a strong rapport. Of course they look great on the balance sheet, and you don't want to see them walk away. But you also may want to lean on them for testimonials and positive feedback. So do what you need to to keep them happy.
And if you don't have these power-customers already?
If necessary, consider temporarily reducing prices to bring a few more in. Or look for other ways you can change your offer to make it more appealing. This could mean a few months free if they sign for one year, or extra support and services thrown in.
Once elite clients are in the fold, your company will prove that much more appealing to prospective buyers.
And once you have them, highlight the quality of these clients when negotiating your company's sale price. A company with a valuable client list is always going to be the most appealing to potential buyers.
Train and retain high-quality management
Businesses with savvy and reliable managers will generate significant interest from prospective buyers. It's not enough to simply hire “rainmakers” to manage your business. They need to be committed, long-term team members - not just brought in at the last minute.
If these superstars do not stay with the company after the sale, buyers will feel as through an egregious injustice has occurred. Meet with your best managers prior to the sale and make sure that they intend to stick around.
Good management is so appealing to buyers that it can even lead to bidding wars. If you can convince your elite managers to remain with the business after the transition to new ownership, there's a good chance that bidders will one-up one another to get their hands on this leadership.
Demonstrate proven client conversion strategies
Most of the time, buyers aren't looking for what you can do today. They want to see that this business has potential to grow and scale - they're paying for what your company could be worth.
The typical business's success hinges on marketing, sales and high-quality products or services. If you can show prospective buyers your company attracts new leads through strategic marketing and a winning sales funnel, you increase its value significantly.
In fact, in this equation conversions to customer can be even more important than generating leads. Most buyers will bet on their ability to market their new acquisition. But only if they can see that you have the ability to sell.
Demonstrate that your company can generate new leads and convert those leads on its own without help.
Show off your scalability
As we said above, those interested in buying a business are looking for a company with a scalable business model. So you need to prove the potential for your business to grow quickly and easily once they take over.
And the biggest red flag: if only a handful of clients make up most of your company's customers. Not only does this suggest that your revenue isn't particularly sustainable, if one of these clients leaves, the business loses significant value.
On the other hand, if you have a nice range of steady customers, this is a great sign for buyers. Equally, if your have a very low churn rate, or if the size of each customer's deal grows over time, these are very useful.
Look for the things that suggest your business will grow in the future, and put these front and centre in every pitch.
Establish strategic partnerships
Partnerships with market leaders are not absolutely essential to sell your business. But if your company has strong ties with others around you, it becomes much easier to attract interest from buyers.
Strategic partnerships can be used enhance your company brand, because when you're associated with other well-known brands it raises the perception of your own. But more directly, they're also a great way to expand your customer base. If you can partner on projects, every time that other company shares it with their own users, they're sharing you as well.
And from a strictly practical perspective, good partnerships are valuable to your supply chain. Buyers want to know that you have steady and reliable access to raw materials and labour. So developing relationships with suppliers can really pay off.
If you can demonstrate your company has these relationships in place, your business will have that much more appeal.
Keep clean and transparent financials
Obviously, the first thing that most prospective buyers will care about is the company's financial information. The numbers tell the real story of your business.
If the financials are not completely truthful and transparent, it will be difficult to maximize your company's appeal. (Not to mention the legal drama that will come from cooking the books.)
Most often, buyers will want to see two-to-three years' worth of profit and loss statements just for starters. They might also be interested in your balance sheet. And then they'll want to see the bank statements to back all this up.
But according to Morgan and Westfield, you should never give them the raw data. Instead you give them honest and fair reports of your profits and losses. But these can still be prepared in a way that show the company in a strong position.
And if you're not 100% sure about any of these steps, an outside audit is likely the best investment you can make. Buyers will likely have a chartered accountant look at everything, so it's best to have a similarly trained professional on your side of the deal.
Though an outside audit will cost money, it's probably essential to proving the balance sheet and other financial documents are accurate.
Consider relying on an investment banker or consultant for assistance
On top of an accountant, you should probably get advice from an expert in the sales process. Bring someone in who can spot all the obvious flaws in your approach, and get you prepared for the pitches and negotiations.
This might not actually be an investment banker. Investment bankers probably won't be willing to put in the time or effort necessary to understand your unique business. Yet they will be able to connect your company to an array of interested buyers.
In fact, this professional's insight and connections have the potential to ramp up interest in your company to the point that you're provided with multiple offers just thanks to them.
The bottom line is there is nothing wrong with asking for help from those who have a proven track record of enhancing the appeal and selling price of businesses up for sale.
The assistance of a consultant or investment banker will prove especially helpful if they're able to spark a bidding war.
Rely on a professional to sort through the offers, and you're in the best position to fetch top-dollar for your company, along with favourable transaction terms.
Document your company's policies and procedures
Can you imagine bidding on a business with undefined policies and procedures? Though some interested parties might be willing to make a bid on a company lacking well-defined processes, these companies are unattractive.
It's perfectly natural not to have everything written down as a startup or small business owner. Most of the time, new processes are added as they're needed, and more on a "need to know" basis.
So now's the time to fix that.
Take the time to type up your business's procedures, and make them available to interested parties during negotiations. Show them that yours is a well-oiled machine.
Otherwise, buyers can feel as though they'll be stepping into a messy situation in which there is minimal or no organization at all.
Loop in your “go-to” employees
Identify one or two of your best employees who will serve as an important source of ongoing support for the new owner. It's imperative you pinpoint these go-to employees prior to putting your company up for sale.
Then naturally, make it clear to buyers that they'll be getting the services of one or two essential “bridge” employees who are ready and willing to smooth the transition between owners.
This way, interested parties can bid in full confidence knowing they can step aside from the business for a vacation, personal emergency or another matter, and the company will still run as it always has.
Take time to prepare your business for sale
Don't make the mistake of rushing through this process, or accepting the first offer made for your business. This is a time to be patient.
Make the effort necessary to maximize your company's appeal, and you will likely receive multiple bids in excess of your expectations.
Enter negotiations with multiple buyers, wait until you receive the right offer and it will only be a matter of time until you sell your business for a fair price.
While you work, here's a great guide to managing spend at your growing business. It may be just what you need to get things in order: