Selling a Business

The Key to Maximizing Return When Selling a Business

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When contemplating the sale of a business, most owners anticipate receiving the highest value for its intellectual property, real estate or sales. If you're contemplating the sale of your business in 2015 based on positive trends in business valuations, you may be misinterpreting the true value of a return.

According to the "Second Quarter 2014 Market Pulse Survey" from Pepperdine University and the International Business Brokers Association, business valuation multiples rose about 10 percent year over year and buyers have been gaining confidence. This is great news if you have taken the necessary steps to prepare yourself and the business to get the maximum return when you sell. But, what does maximum return really mean?

The obvious definition is receiving the highest sale price possible. But don’t overlook the importance of setting clear personal goals for the sale.  Sometimes owners regretted selling their business after one year. So work to maximize your personal and financial return in a sale. Below are some tips on how to to do so:

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Selling Your Business

"Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing."

  -- Warren Buffett 

1. Have a plan for what comes next.

As a business owner, you live and breathe your business. It's what keeps you motivated and energized. A common mistake sellers make is focusing solely on running the business and the tactical aspects of selling without planning for what happens afterward.

To maximize your personal return and not be among those who regret selling, create a clear vision of what you will do next before you sell your business. You might decide to retire, start another business or pick up a part-time job doing something you love. With a clear plan for what's next, you can maximize the personal return on the sale of your business.

2. Create realistic value expectations.

One of the biggest reasons business sales fail is the difference in price expectations between a buyer and seller. You have spent years of hard work and sweat building a business that supports you and your family.

Unfortunately, a buyer won’t have the same deep understanding and history of your business. Before you enter the sale process, try to view your business through the eyes of the buyer. Take an objective view of potential issues that someone who isn't familiar with your business might identify in due diligence.

Understand what might affect a buyer’s valuation of your business and be prepared to address these issues to maximize its worth for a buyer. 

3. Make the due diligence process easy for a buyer.

You may know where all your customer contracts are located and feel confident your financials are accurate, but a buyer will want proof. Buyers have limited time in due diligence to learn as much as possible about a business before making an investment decision.

Make the due diligence process as easy as possible for the buyer. Begin gathering relevant data and preparing for the buyer’s detailed questions before you decide to sell. During my time as an merger and acquisitions partner representing buyers, the sellers who were organized and could answer my clients’ questions quickly and confidently had much higher odds of closing the deal.  

4. Go in with eyes open.

As a business owner, you know how to run a company but may not have experience in selling one. This could be the only time you'll sell a business in your life.

While the process for selling a business may vary, according to its size and complexity and the type of buyer, consider some key components before beginning negotiations.

Understanding the impact of transaction structures, negotiating a letter of intent and knowing what to expect in the due diligence process are only a few of the critical steps in the sale process. You need not be an expert in those areas, but having a working knowledge of the terminology and anticipating things properly will give you the confidence to make good decisions. Most important, don’t go it alone. Hire experienced advisors to guide you through the complexities.

The key to maximizing your personal and financial return is to prepare yourself and the business before starting discussions with a buyer. If you prepare and educate yourself about the process, you can leave the business you poured your heart and soul into knowing you got the maximum return on your investment. 

Related: Why You Should Sell Your Business to an MBA