Once a buyer has negotiated a deal and secured the necessary financing, he or she is ready for the due diligence phase of the sale. The serious buyer will have retained an accounting firm to verify inventory, accounts receivable and payables; and retained a law firm to deal with the legalities of the sale. What’s left for the buyer to do is to make sure that there are no “skeletons in the closet,” so he or she is not buying the proverbial “pig in a poke.”
The four main areas of concern are: business’ finances, management, buyer’s finances, and marketing. Buyers are usually at a disadvantage as they may not know the real reason the business is for sale. This is especially true for buyers purchasing a business in an industry they are not familiar with. The seller, because of his or her experience in a specific industry, has probably developed a “sixth sense” of when the business has peaked or is “heading south.” The buyer has to perform the due diligence necessary to smoke out the real reasons for sale.
Business’ Finances: The following areas should be investigated thoroughly. Does the firm have good cash management? Do they have solid banking relations? Are the financial statements current? Are they audited? Is the company profitable? How do the expenses compare to industry benchmarks?
Management: For a good quick read on management, the buyer should observe if management is constantly interrupted by emergency telephone calls or requests for immediate decisions by subordinates? Is there a lot of change or turn-over in key positions? On the other hand, no change in senior management may indicate stagnation. Are the employees upbeat and positive?
Buyer’s Finances: Buyers should make sure that the “money is there.” Too many sellers take for granted that the buyer has the necessary backing. Sellers have a perfect right to ask the buyer to “show me the money.”
Marketing: Price increases may increase dollar sales, but the real key is unit sales. How does the business stack up against the competition? Market share is important. Does the firm have new products being introduced on a regular basis.
By doing one’s homework and asking for the right information – and then verifying it, buying a “pig in the poke” can be avoided.Read More
“As shocking as it may sound, I believe that most owners of middle market private companies do not really know the value of their company and what it takes to create greater value in their company … Oh sure, the owner tracks sales and earnings on a regular basis, but there is much more to creating company value than just sales and earnings”
Russ Robb, Editor, M&A Today
Creating value in the privately held company makes sense whether the owner is considering selling the business, plans on continuing to operate the business, or hopes to have the company remain in the family. (It is interesting to note that, of the businesses held within the family, only about 30 percent survive the second generation, 11 percent survive the third generation and only 3 percent survive the fourth generation and beyond).
Building value in a company should focus on the following six components:
- the industry
- the management
- products or services
- comparative benchmarks
The Industry – It is difficult, if not impossible, to build value if the business is in a stagnating industry. One advantage of privately held firms is their ability to shift gears and go into a different direction. One firm, for example, that made high-volume, low-end canoes shifted to low-volume, high-end lightweight canoes and kayaks to meet new market demands. This saved the company.
The Management – Building depth in management and creating a succession plan also builds value. Key employees should have employment contracts and sign non-compete agreements. In situations where there are partners, “buy-sell” agreements should be executed. These arrangements contribute to value.
Products or Services– A single product or service does not build value. However, if additional or companion products or services can be created, especially if they are non-competitive in price with the primary product or service – then value can be created.
Customers – A broad customer base that is national or international is the key to increasing value. Localized distribution focused on one or two customers will subtract from value.
Competitors – Being a market leader adds significantly to value, as does a lack of competition.
Comparative Benchmarks – Benchmarks can be used to measure a company against its peers. The better the results, the greater the value of the company.
Three keys to adding value to a company are: building a top management team coupled with a loyal work force; strategies that are flexible and therefore can be changed in mid-stream; and surrounding the owner/CEO with top advisors and professionals.