Exit Strategy - A practical guide to selling your business
A man who represents himself has a fool for a client and a fool for a lawyer.
There are plenty of experts happy to act for you and help you sell your business. Many wear smart suits, drive luxurious cars and know the right words to use when they want to impress. If you are an entrepreneur who likes to get on and do it your-self, your natural reaction will probably be to keep well away from the experts. These people know how to charge; they cost money and since it is your money, it is tempting to try and sell the business yourself. After all, you will have had years of experience in your industry and know far more about your company and the market it operates in than any consultant or self proclaimed expert you have ever meet.
Perhaps you have had a bad experience with a consultant who borrowed your watch, told you the time, and sent you a bill for the privilege of learning what you already knew before sending the watch back with a broken hour hand. If you have, the idea of bringing in outside advisors to help you with the sale of your company may be unwelcome but this is one occasion when it is better to stand back and let others act for you. True, it will cost you money but the cost will be small compared to the cost of getting the whole process wrong.
Indeed, for some exit strategies you have no choice in the matter. To float your company, for example on the secondary market, you are required to employ a specialist advisor from an approved list. ‘No advisor, no flotation’ is the rule and even after flotation you are obliged to retain the services of this specialist advisor. Without him on your pay-role your shares are suspended and cannot be traded. Regardless of legal compulsion there are other sound reasons for finding and hiring the right people to help you drive through the sale of your company.
Remember the size of the transaction, probably the biggest you will ever make. This is no time to learn the ropes as you go along. Learning through your mistakes is not an option. You need to plug into the knowledge, experience and skills that the right intermediaries can offer.
Remove the emotions
Your company will be a prized possession built up through many years of hard work and sacrifice. The emotional connection you have to the business means that you are too close to the product, your company, to act as a professional salesman. Instead, you need an intermediary to act for you who is not emotionally involved, one who can operate objectively under pressure and negotiate the sale on your behalf. His objectivity and calm will help guide you through the decision making that you will find necessary without getting hung up or taking things personally. By acting as a calming influence your intermediary smooth the process and make it easier to negotiate the hurdles when they appear.
Handling a complex sales negotiation involves frequent contacts with potential buyers and their advisors. The sales process is a major undertaking and almost impossible to conduct from your premises without everyone wondering what is going on. Buyers, financial backers, bankers, accountants, surveyors and sundry other parties all quickly get involved and if you are negotiating with several possible purchasers the problem gets even bigger. The stream of strange visitors, phone calls and questions being asked about how the business works can quickly distract staff and create suspicion, damaging morale at a time when you need the business performing at its best. Because the intermediary operates from his own offices he is able to keep your direct contact with the buyers to a minimum and conducting the sale away from your business makes it easier to control the process and maintain confidentiality until it is the right time to make any announcement.
In order to sell your business you need to be able to find potential buyers. Finding the right contacts and talking to them is the only way you can begin the sales process. Without making the right connections the sale will not happen. Suppliers and competitors are one obvious source of potential buyers and you may already have produced a list of possible suitors worth approaching before you engage your intermediaries. But is the list big enough? Will it give you the best price for your company and the best terms? The answer is almost certainly ‘no’ since you do not have the knowledge or the experience to find the best buyer. You need help from someone who knows the market. By bringing in good outside advisors you will dramatically expand the list of potential purchasers capable and interested in buying your company. Your intermediaries will have their own contacts. They will know venture capitalists looking for target companies to buy, owners of larger businesses who want to expand through acquisition and management teams looking for the right business to buy into.
Choosing an intermediary with the right stature adds value to your proposition since your company is now backed by his reputation. His contacts will know that he is professional and works with the right type of companies. He will have dealt with these people before and his name will open doors that you do not even know exist. I'll tell you how to find the good ones here.