Planning Ahead: Three Steps for a Successful Sale
There are many reasons to consider selling or monetizing your business – often for retirement or succession purposes but it could also be to obtain capital for growth or other personal investments, or to bring in a strategic partner. Whatever the reason, selling your business can be emotional, invasive, and stressful, making preparation key to a successful process. To lessen the stress and position yourself to achieve the greatest value in your transaction, the process must start early – often one to three years in advance of the desired sale date – and the approach must be thorough and comprehensive. Overall, there are three elements to remember as you begin your preparation to sell:
- Setting your personal and corporate goals and objectives.
- Preparing the company for a sale.
- Trusting the process (easier said than done? Not if you have the right partner on your side)
STEP ONE: SET PERSONAL AND CORPORATE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Perhaps the goal has always been to sell your business and settle into a comfortable retirement or passing it along to your children was what you had in mind. Maybe you want to continue to own and operate the business, but you desire a strategic partner who can assist with growth. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to articulate why you want to sell or monetize. Putting your thoughts on paper helps align your vision with reality and begins the roadmap for your journey ahead. Expressing these goals further encourages you to assess your time horizon, plan your personal role going forward, and consider the transaction drivers behind your goal – is the goal really to retire? Or is it to secure more capital for growth or for another venture? The answer to these questions could lead you on a different path than what you had originally envisioned.
Setting corporate objectives you wish to achieve via a sale or monetization for your business is equally as important. How will the transaction fit into the company’s long-term plan? What impact will it have on the company’s various stakeholders (i.e., management, employees, its customers and vendors, the market itself, other owners, etc.)? Establishing corporate objectives to drive a well-documented and well-considered transition plan will help mitigate potential issues and can help quell negative sentiments that may arise from important stakeholders during the transition.
Goal and objective setting in this fashion also become an exercise in alignment, to ensure coherence on both the personal and corporate sides. It quickly becomes clear if the two sets of goals (personal vs. corporate) compete. But not only will this exercise help identify where they are in conflict, it can also be beneficial to resolve potential differences prior to the transaction. This is especially true when the business has multiple owners with differing personal objectives at stake.
STEP TWO: PREPARE THE COMPANY FOR A SALE
Preparing a company for sale is a big step. However, preparation goes deeper than just the obvious financial and organizing matters – it’s about ensuring the business can thrive after your potential departure or reduced role. This builds confidence that the business will seamlessly continue post-sale, and that it has potential for growth, with opportunities upon which the buyer can capitalize.
It starts by developing a growth plan. It’s important to outline the potential of the company by summarizing its growth avenues and other value creation opportunities. This will help ensure that the plan is realistic and entices potential buyers, whether they be private equity groups, strategic purchasers in the same or adjacent industries, or otherwise. It’s ideal here to profile progress and performance against the growth plan, prior to launching the sale process.
This also helps you prepare for the diligence process as part of the sale. Diligence can be invasive. While financial and tax diligence are important, many buyers are looking beyond the financials to other areas of the organization – have you considered due diligence of the commercial, HR, operational and IT / digital functions of the company? These areas are typically less obvious to put through the diligence process, yet they can uncover such things as key gaps in your organizational chart or IT systems before you go to market, and before your potential buyers ask about such issues. Properly preparing these areas will reduce business disruptions throughout the sale process.
Finally, preparing for diligence will inherently help the business in other ways. Diligence preparation is rooted in business analysis, process improvement and enhanced reporting. Regardless of the sales process outcome, these activities will create value by focusing management, uncovering previously overlooked improvement areas, and subtly changing business operations to garner deeper insights into performance. Additionally, your sell-side advisor will conduct market research to develop a buyers list and distinct theses to maximize the company’s attractiveness. The market knowledge, performance insights and growth potential unlocked through this preparation will be critical inputs to incentivize potential buyers and increase the likelihood of a successful transaction.
STEP THREE: TRUST THE PROCESS (WITH THE RIGHT PARTNER)
You likely haven’t built your business alone. You’ve relied on experts within your team and externally to advise and assist throughout your journey. Don’t stop now. An experienced advisor will guide you through the transaction process from start to finish and allow you and your management team to remain focused on operating the business day-to-day. It’s also essential to engage your advisor early to ready the business to address key risk areas and prepare management for the due diligence process. Ultimately, parties genuinely interested will want to learn about the business from you, but a good advisor will lead the process and filter out insincere buyers.
Typically, a sales process can take anywhere from six to twelve months to complete, depending on how motivated the buyers or partners are and the quality of the information you, as the seller, provides. So trust the process, and exercise patience, especially during due diligence when you will inevitably deal with a barrage of questions and information requests. Try to remember that all owners go through this same process. Lean on your advisor here, as well; they should filter the noise and manage the due diligence questions and information requests on your behalf.
Remember, the process itself is a learning opportunity. Whether you achieve your transaction goals or not, you will learn a lot about your business and the market landscape by speaking to strategic buyers and/or private equity investors. Utilize this feedback to reassess your business plan and prioritize growth initiatives.
These three steps will help you better understand your goals and those for the business, bringing them into alignment for a smooth transaction. Following these steps will also help avoid any conflicts that may arise during the sale process. By engaging the right team of professional advisors and understanding that selling a business takes time and preparation, you’ll be more established for a successful sale when the time comes.