Timing the Sale of Your Business
Fridays with Vistage is a webinar series on relevant, timely and actionable business topics to help you generate results in your business. On Friday, June 26, Peter Lehrman of Axial will present, “Deciding When to Sell Considerations in Timing the Sale of Your Business,” You may register for it here.
For most business owners, selling your company will be a defining moment in your life. Whether it’s a family-owned business that has been passed down from generation to generation or a company that you’ve taken from inception to execution, the process of selling your company can be an emotional roller coaster riddled with unforeseen pitfalls.
Most business owners we talk to have an exit horizon determined by when they plan to retire or leave the business – yet many of these owners often ignore a number of both internal and external factors that can affect their company’s valuation and even the viability of a successful transaction taking place.
As you ponder whether you should start preparing to sell your company now, in three years, or in ten years, be sure to consider the following key factors in timing the sale of your business:
CURRENT FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE
At the core of any company’s valuation is the historical financial performance – typically the most recent three years – in order to project growth in future cash flows. Accordingly, businesses showing strong, predictable growth over two to three years before a sale will be worth more than those with erratic or little growth, all else equal. This is why you’ll hear many experts recommend that you sell your company at the height of its financial performance, and despite the temptation to hold onto your business in order to reap the benefits of continued growth, peak performance can be the perfect time to sell – and if you can find the right advisor to assist you, you’ll more than make up for potential “lost” cash flows with a hefty price tag for your business.
BROADER INDUSTRY AND ECONOMIC TRENDS
Numerous factors external to your company’s core financial performance will impact valuation and your timing of a sale. Industries undergoing rapid changes – due to new technologies, for example, or regulatory changes – will see the average industry multiples change accordingly. Government fiscal and monetary policies, too, can affect timing. For example, many sellers who had been contemplating a sale in 2012 were motivated to accelerate the process due to the expected hike in capital gains taxes in 2013. Similarly, rising interest rates makes it more costly for companies to finance their transactions with debt, and M&A activity may slow down as a result. Perhaps the most glaring example of how the health of the broader economy affects the sellability of a company is the global financial collapse of 2007/2008. Amidst widespread uncertainty and volatility, companies held on more tightly to their cash reserves and M&A activity dipped to a multi-year low in 2008.
YOUR PERSONAL POST-TRANSACTION GOALS
You may not know what you want to do after you sell your business, but you may be very certain that you want to exit it entirely and move onto the next stage of your career (or life). If you’re heavily involved in the day to day running of your business, however, what you may not realize is that many buyers will want to see a management team in place that can help run the company after the sale. Without an experienced and trusted team at the helm, buyers will either be spooked from the process and walk away, or require that you stay on post-sale to help with the transition. The best way to ensure you make a clean exit is to start building and developing a bench of management talent that can help a new owner, a process that can take years of preparation.
BUILDING THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS
For many CEOs and business owners, the price of their business isn’t the only – or most – important consideration in pursuing a successful transaction. In fact, many private company entrepreneurs care as much about the legacy and continued success of their company as they do about the size of a check. The only way to be sure you’re selling your company to the right buyer – and that you’re being advised by an investment banker or M&A advisor who understands your non-transactional goals – is to take some time to build relationships with folks you’d like to get to know before working with them. Most CEOs we talk to are typically doing this at least two to three years in advance of a sale.
You don’t decide to sell your company today and have it sold tomorrow. Deals take time and the timing is affected by your personal motivations and goals, core business performance, and the broader economic climate. You never know when you might be approached with the perfect unsolicited offer for your business, nor can you be truly prepared for unexpected personal circumstances that might accelerate your decision to exit. The only way to ensure the most successful outcome for you and your company is to be thinking constantly about the relationships you need and preparations you should be making.
To learn more about these considerations, join Axial’s CEO, Peter Lehrman, on June 26, at 10 .am. PDT/ 1 p.m. EDT, at his Fridays with Vistage webinar, “Deciding When to Sell Considerations in Timing the Sale of Your Business,” where he’ll be discussing the critical factors that impact when you should sell your company, common pitfalls when preparing for a sale, and what CEOs can do now to maximize their company’s value. You may register for it here.