The saying “loose lips sink ships,” doesn’t have ancient origins. While it sounds like one of those sayings that has been around forever, the saying was actually invented during World War II. It was taken quite literally. The idea was that a lack of secrecy could lead to the loses of actual ships or other wartime deaths. So in other words, this saying was serious business. It should come as no surprise that this saying is alive and well in the business world.
Few things are more important than safeguarding your business from leaks. Leaks can, simply stated, spell disaster for your business. Leaks can be particularly damaging if you are looking to or are in the process of selling business. A leak that you are planning on selling your business can have a range of consequences. Everyone from employees to customers, suppliers and, of course, prospective buyers and competitors could all take notice and this could have ramifications.
Yet, confidentiality stands as a bit of a Catch-22 situation. Sellers want to get to the best price possible for their business and that means letting prospective buyers know that the business is for sale. The greater the number of potential buyers contacted, the greater the chances of receiving top dollar. However, the more potential buyers that know you are interested in selling, the greater the risk of a leak. Clearly, this situation represents a considerable dilemma.
As a buyer, you may discover that owners can be overly, perhaps even irrationally concerned, about leaks. It is important to remember that for most owners, the business represents their largest asset and often their greatest professional accomplishment in life. In other words, they have a lot riding on their business. It is important to remind sellers that the less time a business is on the market the lower the risk of a leak. Also, the longer the negotiations go on, the greater the risk of a leak.
Sellers should always remember to keep all important documents related to the potential sale or sale literally under lock and key. Everything should be considered confidential and only transferred to buyers in a highly secure fashion. Confidential information shouldn’t be emailed or faxed, as this makes a leak much easier. Sellers and buyers alike should remember that they shouldn’t discuss the sale or potential sale with anyone. Confidentiality should be stressed at all times.
Working with a business broker is one way to dramatically reduce the risk of a leak occurring. For business brokers, confidentiality is a cornerstone of their operations. Business intermediaries require buyers to sign very strict non-disclosure agreements. While loose lips may sink “ships,” there is no reason that your business, or the one you are interested in buying, has to be one of those ships.
If you own a business, then ownership transition should definitely be a central topic in your planning. A few years ago, MassMutual Life Insurance Company conducted a very interesting and thought-provoking survey of family-owned businesses. Obviously, family-owned businesses have their own unique needs and challenges. The MassMutual Life Insurance Company survey certainly underscored this fact. While the survey was conducted a few years ago, the information it contained is more relevant and actionable than ever. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key conclusions and discoveries.
One of the most important findings of the survey was that a full 80% of family-owned businesses are still controlled by the founders. The survey also discovered that 90% of family-run businesses intend to stay family-owned in the future.
Lack of Leadership Plans
Leadership is another area of great interest. Strikingly, approximately 30% of family-owned businesses will in fact change leadership within just the next five years. Moreover, 55% of CEOs are 61 or older and have not chosen a successor. When a successor has been chosen that successor is a family member 85% of the time. Succession is often a murky area for family-owned businesses. A whopping 13% of CEOs stated that they will never retire.
Failure of Proper Valuations
According to the survey, valuation is another surprise area. 55% of companies fail to conduct regular evaluations, meaning that they are essentially flying blind in regards to the true value of their company. Adding to the potential confusion is the fact that 20% of family owned businesses have not completed any estate planning and 55% of family-owned businesses currently have no formal company valuation for estate tax estimates.
Lack of Proper Strategic Plans
The financials for family-owned businesses are often just murky as their succession issues. The MassMutual Life Insurance Company survey also discovered that 60% of family-owned businesses failed to have a written strategic plan and a whopping 48% of family-owned businesses were planning on using life insurance to cover estate taxes.
Simply stated, many family-owned businesses are not organized properly and are, in the process, not fully taking advantage of their opportunities. In short, family-owned businesses are frequently insular in their approach to a wide range of vital topics ranging from succession and leadership to valuation, planning and more. In the long term, these vulnerabilities may serve to undermine the business making it harder to sell when the time comes or opening it up to other problems and issues. Family-owned businesses are strongly advised to work with professionals, such as experienced accountants and business brokers, to ensure the long term profitability and continuity of their businesses.Read More
The reasons for selling a business can be divided into two main categories. The first is a sale that is planned almost from the beginning or by an owner who knows that selling is or should be a planned event. The second is exactly the opposite – unplanned; the sale is motivated by a specific event such as health, divorce, business crises, etc. However, in between the two major reasons, are a host of unpredictable ones.
A seller may not even be thinking of selling when he or she is approached by an individual, group or another company, and an attractive offer is made. The owner of a business may die, and the heirs have no interest in operating it. A company may bring in new management who decides to sell off a division or two; or maybe even decides that selling the entire business is in the best interests of everyone.
A major competitor may enter the market, forcing an owner to elect to sell. And the competition may not just be another company. The owner of a business may realize that an external threat is such that the company will lose a competitive advantage. New technology by a competitor may outdate the way a company produces its products. Two competitors may merge, placing new pressures on a company. The growth of franchising and big box stores can promote themselves on a much larger scale than a single business, no matter how good it is. National advertising can create the perception that a large business’s pricing, inventory or service is better than the smaller competitor, even if it isn’t.
Although these issues may not push a business owner or company management to consider selling, they are certainly causes for consideration. Unfortunately, most sellers fail to create an exit strategy until they are forced to. Professional athletes want to go out on top of their game, and business owners should do the same.
A large percentage of business owners are not just owners, but also operators. Owning a business can be exciting and rewarding, but it is also a tremendous amount of unending work. In the end, the “buck” stops with you. With that realization comes a significant amount of stress. It goes without saying that stress can lead to burnout.
A business with a burnt-out owner can spell doom. Even if you are lucky and have invested the time to surround yourself with an amazing team, you will only have so much time before you have to jump back in and be very proactive. Otherwise your business will begin to suffer.
Let’s face it, as the owner, you can take a vacation. But your burnout might not let you even enjoy said vacation. This is even more true if you are stuck checking your texts and your computer all day long, trying to manage things from out of town.
The First Step is Acceptance
When dealing with burnout the first, and most important step, is to admit that you are in fact, burnt out. This condition may be the result of mental and physical fatigue. While most people might not immediately connect issues, such as health and diet, with burnout, there is often a connection.
Start Taking Care of Yourself
Owning a business means work and lots of it. That may mean that you are not taking enough time or thinking enough about your own health and well-being. Consider improving your diet to include more fresh foods and reduce or even eliminate fast food, which has been proven to negatively impact health. You should also consider investing in air and water purification systems. A recent medical study showed that indoor air pollution can harm not just the lungs but even the kidneys as well.
In the end, you are the key element in the success or failure of your business. If you are suffering from aches and pains, headaches and fatigue, then you, as the heart of the business, are ultimately harming the business. Putting your health first is a way for you to safeguard the health of your business.
Consider Putting a #2 Person in Place
Many business owners have a great “right hand person” that can take over if the owner becomes sick, but that is not always the case. Keep in mind that when it comes to selling your business, having that key team member will be essential to your potential buyer. If it’s possible to start cultivating that person now, by all means do so.
You may be saying, “But I’m a health nut and I still feel burnt out.” Again, owning a business is demanding, and the years can weigh heavily. It is important, especially before burnout sets in, to step back and look for ways to streamline your operations and delegate responsibilities. Small changes can have a big long-term impact. Additionally, streamlining your operations will make your business more attractive when it comes time to sell.
In the end, if taking a vacation, streamlining your operations, and improving your health regime doesn’t yield big results, it might be time to consider selling your business. There is no rule that states that you must operate your business until retirement. Don’t be afraid to walk away if necessary.Read More