It is safe to state that Howard Brownstein, President of The Brownstein Corporation, is a true expert in providing turnaround management and advisory services to companies, as well as their stakeholders. Brownstein serves as an independent corporate board member for both publicly held as well as privately-owned companies and nonprofits. During his career, he has been named a Board Leadership Fellow by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and served as Board Chair and President of its Philadelphia Chapter. He also serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Corporate Governance Committee and has been named a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He has been a speaker at many of the world’s top universities including Harvard Business School and Wharton. Brownstein received his J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Brownstein is considered to be one of the world’s top experts in distressed businesses. He believes it is essential to remember that not all distressed businesses are, in fact, the same. There is simply no way to know how bad things are for a given distressed business until one begins to “look under the hood,” and get a full view of what problems may lurk underneath.
Brownstein firmly believes that distressed businesses can represent a real and often overlooked opportunity for buyers. The recent economic downturn brought about by COVID-19 means that there will likely be a great deal more distressed businesses on the market in the coming months or even in the next couple of years.
Why is a Given Business Distressed?
Before you consider purchasing a distressed business, you absolutely must understand the core reasons for the distresses. Without a proper and detailed understanding of why the business entered a state of distress in the first place, it is impossible to clearly articulate why the business will potentially be valuable in the future. It is essential to be able to convey “what went wrong” and how the problems can be fixed.
Brownstein points out that while there are many reasons for a business to enter distress, two symptoms top the list. The first is cash flow issues and the second issue relates to management. Often it turns out that the management was simply not rigorous enough. He also notes that companies will tend to gravitate to external issues as a way to explain away their failure.
Of course, no two distressed businesses are failing from 100% identical causes. Brownstein suggests a series of questions that you need to ask when you begin exploring a distressed business.
- What is the business’ potential value?
- Is there something of value under the problems?
- Under better or different circumstances, could the business be viable?
These are all questions that your business broker or M&A advisor can assist with. It’s important to gain a clear understanding of the business’ past, present and future.
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Keeping a product or service around that isn’t pulling its weight might prove to not be a very good idea. You may have invested a good deal of time and resources into its development, but if that product or service is no longer contributing to your bottom line, it might be time to cut it loose. Even if your product is pulling its weight, but doesn’t fit into your overall core business, then you should still consider getting rid of this “orphaned product.” Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might want to keep or remove, an orphan product from your company.
There are four main reasons why a company might want to divest itself of a product line or service completely:
- An orphaned product line can be a distraction that takes away from core business operations.
- Funds allocated to an orphaned product could be used instead to build the core business or make improvements that are not in the current budget.
- Another good reason to remove an orphaned product from your lineup is that while it could ultimately be profitable with increased resources, the funds would be better allocated elsewhere.
- Your orphaned product could be profitable. Some buyers, companies and private equity groups are looking for product lines they can use to augment their existing ones. In fact, some buyers may even want to build a new business around a given product line.
Of course, it isn’t always as simple as “pulling the plug” and moving on. It is important to step back and consider the negative impacts of jettisoning an orphaned product, such as the fact that the product line could have key employees attached to it. Or there could be company culture issues related to removing the product, such as causing disruption within your company. You must also consider if the orphaned product could ultimately play a role in the sale of your company.
At the end of the day, an acquiring company may feel that the orphaned product line is a great fit for their existing distribution chain. Additionally, your offering might fit into a new product line that the acquiring company has launched. It is important that you evaluate every aspect of an orphaned product before making the decision to remove it from your company.
Understanding the needs and goals of your most likely buyers should play a role in your decision making. Working with an experienced business broker is an easy way to increase your chances of making the right decision.
An old saying in negotiating the sale of a business goes like this: The buyer says to the seller, “You name the price, and I get to name the terms.”
Another saying used to explain the actual value of the term full price: “If we could find you a business that nets you $250,000 a year after debt service, and you could buy it for $100 down, would you really care what the full price was?”
It seems that everyone is concerned only about full price. And yet, full price is just part of the equation. If a seller is willing to accept a relatively small down payment and carry the balance, a higher full price can be achieved. On the other hand, the more cash the seller wants up front, the lower the full price. If the seller demands all cash, barring some form of outside financing, full price lowers – and, in most cases, the chance of selling decreases as well. Even in cases where outside financing is used, such as through SBA, etc., the lender will do everything possible to ensure that the price makes sense.
Sellers should understand that both what they hope to accomplish in the sale of their business and the structure of the actual sale can dramatically influence the asking price. Price is obviously important, but other factors may be even more important. For example, consider a seller with health issues who needs to sell as quickly as possible. In his case, timing becomes more essential than price. Another seller may place more importance on her business remaining in the community. In her case, finding a buyer who will not move the business may supersede price or certainly influence it.
Likewise, the structure of the deal can both influence price and be a more significant factor than price to either the buyer or the seller. The structure can dictate how much cash the seller receives up front, which may be more important than price for some sellers. On the other hand, sellers should also be aware how much the interest on their carry-back can add up to. If cash is not an immediate concern, monthly payments with an above-average interest rate may be enticing.
These examples all demonstrate the importance of the business broker professional sitting down with the seller prior to recommending a go-to-market price. During this meeting, the broker should find out what is really important to the seller, as these issues may have a direct bearing on the price.
Sellers should look at the following factors and rank them according to importance on a scale of one to five, with five being extremely important.
• Buyer Qualifications
• Full Price
• Amount of Cash Involved
• Commission/Selling Fees
• Closing Costs
• Exclusive Listing
• How the Business is Shown
• How a New Owner Continues the Business
By ranking these items and discussing them with a professional Business Broker, a seller can receive helpful advice from the broker on price, terms, and structuring the sale.
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When you are buying or selling a business, you might very well end up making a deal with someone from another generation. Therefore, it only makes sense to take the time to understand that individual’s background and how that might cause behavioral differences. It is important to understand and reflect upon where many of them are coming from and the collective experiences and trends that shaped their identities and perspectives. At the same time, you can identify your own biases, strengths and weaknesses that may be caused by your own upbringing.
The strategies in this article originated from Chuck Underwood who is considered a leading expert in the diversity of communication styles between generations. He is the author of a major book on the subject as well as host of the long-running “America’s Generations with Chuck Underwood” on PBS.
Underwood’s perspective is that people of each generation were molded by their unique formative years. The decisions that buyers and sellers make will be impacted by their generation. Mostly likely, the buyers or sellers you will be coming into contact with will be either Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials.
Working with Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are a major force in the business world. While they often possess a patriotic passion to improve the country, they were also witness to a time of great change via many movements including the civil rights and women’s movement.
When you’re dealing with Baby Boomers, it is important to remember that they will want to build relationships and get to know you. Common courtesy is very important to Baby Boomers. That means they’ll expect you to show up on time and turn your phone off during meetings.
You’ll want to keep in mind that older Baby Boomers may be experiencing hearing and eyesight loss. As a result, you’ll want to keep your type and font size larger, and make text easy to read.
When you’re working with your clients, it only makes sense to pay attention to the generation during which they were raised and adapt your approach accordingly. Understanding generational differences will help you get a leg up on the competition while at the same time helping your clients achieve their goals.
What is Generation X?
Generation X (or Gen X) had a wildly different formative experience than the Baby Boomers. Generation X is generally defined as being born from 1965 to 1980. This generation spent its formative years from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. In stark contrast the relatively more pleasant and optimistic childhoods of the Baby Boomers, Gen X had a rougher ride.
America became more mobile during the time period during which Generation Xers grew up. As a result, many children were uprooted and separated from their friends, family and hometown roots. Growing up, these individuals witnessed a variety of scandals ranging from political and religious figures to sports figures. Gen Xers witnessed the systematic dismantling of the American middle class and with it a general lowering of quality of life, opportunities and confidence in corporations. In the end, Gen X was quite literally left home alone and lived as “latch key kids.” It is no wonder that this neglected generation has some issues.
Individuals growing up during this time learned early on that they had to be ready to fend for themselves. Since Gen Xers have been met with consistent and systematic disappointment and even wide scale institutional betrayal, this generation, on average, is more distrustful of organizations.
Gen Xers are self-reliant and independent and one of their core values is survival of the fittest. In his view, Gen Xers are self-focused, individualistic and want everyone to skip the nonsense and get to the point. They have no real interest in getting to know you or playing a round of golf.
Working with Millennials
Millennials spent their formative years in the 1980s and early 90s. They are a very optimistic and tech savvy generation. They are also the most classroom educated generation in history.
It is also very important to note that Millennials are the most adult supervised generation in history. So-called “helicopter parents” who work to protect their children from setbacks are the norm. Employers find that Millennials are entering adulthood, but are still relying upon their parents to help them make decisions and even career choices.
Where Gen Xers are distrustful of the “wisdom of their elders,” Millennials actively seek out such advice. Likewise, Millennials tend to volunteer a good deal and look for ways to solve the world’s largest problems.
You will find that Millennials will enjoy building a relationship with you. Keep in mind these individuals tend to be quite socially conscious and they may very well expect you to agree with their views. Additionally, there is a chance that they will have their parents involved in their business dealings.
Keep in mind that the de facto tech addiction, or at the very least acute overreliance on technology, has led to issues with Millennials’ soft skills. They can often lack the ability to read another person’s body language and adjust accordingly.
In the end, regardless of what generation you are working with, it is important that you continually adapt. This will greatly increase the odds of cementing a successful deal.
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When you are selling a business, your business broker or M&A Advisor will likely create a Comprehensive Business Review, or CBR. This comprehensive document can then be presented to prospective buyers once they have signed all necessary confidentiality documentation. It is essential that this document builds trust between both parties, as this will go a long way towards achieving a successful deal.
The bottom line is that your CBR will be 95% positive. The majority of the document will be dedicated towards selling and promoting your business. Therefore, it only makes sense to disclose some potential problems. When handled correctly, the disclosure of problems can actually be a strong asset.
For example, current weaknesses of your business could become strengths in the mind of the buyer. For example, a business with a very poor online presence represents a substantial opportunity for a buyer to improve marketing and communications. Summed up another way, don’t be afraid to include negative information, especially if that information represents an opportunity.
It is important that there is an element of trust between the parties. Creating that sense of trust begins with the CBR’s seller section.
Buying a business is radically different from buying a home. When someone buys a home, they usually don’t care too much about the person who they are buying the home from. But buying a business is usually a different experience. Your buyer will want to feel as though they have a fairly clear understanding of who you are and what you are about.
In the seller’s section, the buyer should get a decent idea of who you are. Your broker or M&A Advisor will want to interview you to gain ample information to include in your CBR. Your broker may even want to find out about your family, hobbies, interests and more. You may even want to consider including photos of yourself and your family.
The bottom line is that a potential buyer should be able to pick up the CBR and get a good feel for what you are like. If no level of trust is ever established between the buyer and seller, then it will be much more challenging for the deal to be successful.
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There is a potentially lucrative group of buyers that many sellers don’t initially think about. We are talking about foreign buyers. While there are some hurdles to working with these types of buyers, it is important to note that there are many huge advantages as well. Let’s take a closer look.
How Are Foreign Buyers Different?
At the top of the list of ways in which foreign buyers are different is that they are often seeking a visa. Another commonality among foreign buyers, one that will surprise many, is that they may want access to the U.S. educational system.
It is common for foreign buyers to want to buy a business so that they can get their children into a particular U.S. school district or college. Sometimes the desire to be eligible for state tuition also plays a role in the selection of a business and the decision-making process. In this sense, business location takes on a level of importance that it might not have for domestic buyers.
It is important to keep in mind that there are cultural and business differences that play a role with foreign buyers. Everything from a different use of business terminology to expectations can play a role. This could impact negotiations.
What About Visas and Immigration?
One of the most important things to remember is that foreign buyers are often navigating the complex world of visas and immigration. Whether or not a visa is issued can dramatically impact whether or not a deal ultimately takes place. This fact is often built into agreements. For example, a purchase condition may be conditional upon visa approval. Nonrefundable deposits may also play a role in the process.
What Do Foreign Buyers Really Want?
Foreign buyers have been impacted by the pandemic too. Yet, some factors remain unchanged. Not too surprisingly, they will want to see that a business is profitable. In this regard, you should be able to showcase profitability in a clear fashion. You can expect foreign buyers to want to see tax returns and all the typical documentation that you’d need to provide to any buyer.
A second factor that foreign buyers are interested in is longevity. If your business has successfully operated for decades, this will be a major advantage.
Ultimately, most of what domestic buyers are looking for in a business will translate over to what foreign buyers are seeking as well. With that stated, however, there are factors that are often unique to foreign buyers. As mentioned above, navigating the often-complex visa process can add a wrinkle to the entire process.
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The buyer-seller meeting is quite often a “make or break” meeting. Your business broker or M&A Advisor will do everything possible to ensure that this meeting goes as well as possible.
It is vitally important to realize that rarely is there an offer before buyers and sellers actually meet. The all-important offer usually comes directly after this all-important meeting. As a result, you want to ensure that meetings are as positive and productive as possible.
Buyers need to understand how the process of selling a business works and what is expected of them from the process. Buyers also need to understand that following their broker’s advice will increase the chances of a successful outcome.
Sellers should be ready to be honest and forthcoming during the meeting. They also want to be sure to not say or do anything that could come across as a strong-armed sales tactic.
Asking the Right Questions
If you are a buyer preparing to meet a business owner for the first time, you’ll want to make sure any questions you ask are appropriate and logical. It is important for buyers to place themselves in the shoes of the other party.
Buyers also shouldn’t show up to the buyer-seller meeting without having done their homework. So be sure to do a little planning ahead so that you are ready to go with good questions that show you understand the business.
Building a Positive Relationship
Buyers should, of course, plan to be polite and respectful. They should also be prepared to avoid discussing politics and religion, which often can be flashpoints for confrontation. When sellers don’t like prospective buyers, then the odds are good that they will also not place trust in them.
For most sellers, their business is a legacy. It quite often represents years, or even decades, of hard work. Needless to say, sellers value their businesses. Many will feel as though it reflects them personally, at least in some fashion. Buyers should keep these facts in mind when dealing with sellers. A failure to follow these guidelines could lead to ill will between buyers and sellers and negatively impact the chances of success.
Sellers Should Be Truthful
Sellers also have a significant role in the process. While it is true that sellers are trying to sell their business, they don’t want to come across as a salesperson. Instead, sellers should try to be as real and honest as possible.
Every business has some level of competition. With this in mind, sellers should not pretend that there is zero competition. A savvy buyer will be more than a little skeptical.
The key to a successful outcome is for business brokers and M&A Advisors to work with their buyers and sellers well in advance and make sure that they understand what is expected and how best to approach the buyer-seller meeting. With the right preparation, the odds of success will skyrocket.
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There is no doubt that the COVID-19 situation seems to change with each and every day. The disruption and chaos that the pandemic has injected into both daily life and business is obvious. Just as it is often difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, the same can be stated for keeping up to speed on the government’s response and what options exist to assist companies of all sizes.
In this article, we’ll turn our attention to an overlooked area of the government’s pandemic response and how businesses can use a whole new lending platform to navigate the choppy waters.
As the pandemic continues, you will want to be aware of the main street lending program, which is a whole new lending platform. It was designed for businesses that were financially sound prior to the pandemic. Authorized under the CARE Act, the main street lending program is quite attractive for an array of reasons. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this program almost too good to be true.
This lender delivered program is a commercial loan. Unlike the PPP, there is no forgivable component. However, the main street lending program does have one remarkable feature that will certainly grab the attention of all kinds of businesses. It can be used to refinance existing debt at a rate of around 3%. With that stated, it is also important to note that businesses cannot refinance existing debt with the current lender. Instead, a new lender must be found. Generally, loans are a minimum of a quarter million dollars and have a five-year term. In another piece of good news, there is a two-year payment deferment period.
The main street lending program can be used in a variety of ways. In short, the program is not simply for refinancing existing debt. Additionally, there is no penalty for prepayment. The way the program works is that lenders make the loans and then sell 95% of the loan value to the Fed. This of course means that the lender is only required to retain 5% of the loan on their balance sheet. The end result is that lenders can dramatically expand the amount of loans they can make.
Whether it is the PPP or a program like the main street lending program, there are solid options available to help you. Businesses looking to restructure debt or put an infusion of cash to good use may find that the main street lending program offers a very flexible loan with great interest rates.
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In today’s business climate, reviews are the differentiator. Years ago, people commonly asked for references when they were vetting a product or service. But these days when people are searching for a local business to work with, they are likely to conduct research on their own and read online reviews.
Google reviews can give businesses a big credibility boost without having to spend a dime. Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.
Increased Credibility & Trust
According to statistics, approximately 91% of consumers read reviews to determine credibility of a local business. In fact, 84% of consumers say the positive reviews have helped them gain trust. Without the reviews, that level of trust would not have been established.
Needless to say, people trust Google. The fact that these reviews are on a 3rd party website increases transparency. These reviews have much higher value than testimonials posted on the actual business website.
Improved Business Conversions
Once a potential customer gains trust in your company through reading Google reviews, it is more likely the conversation will get converted to an actual business transaction.
Customer Feedback Loop
When your customers write reviews about your business and post them on Google, these reviews often clearly mention details about your product or service. Through this means, future customers become educated. These reviews can also serve as a feedback loop for you if things need improvement.
Increases Online Reputation & Visibility
The power of online marketing methods you might be using to promote your business will be amplified, as users will become more attracted to your business due to 5-star reviews. This factor increases online traffic to your website and an increase in leads and business.
Another fact to be conscious of is that your clients will review your products or services whether you want them to or not. If you fail to set up Google reviews, you’re missing out on the opportunity to gain a level of control and visibility.
How to Set Up Google Reviews
- Create a Google My Business account. – Visit https://business.google.com/ to sign in or create a Google account for a business. Complete the step by step process by filing required information like email, phone number, business details, etc.
- Ask clients to review your services. – Start sharing your Google My Business URL with clients and ask them to post a review about your services. When asking for reviews, you can mention to clients that their review will help everybody else make an informed decision when they are looking for help. It is important to ask about the review within a few days of closing your transaction. If more time goes by, the client may be less motivated to post a review for you.
- Remind clients. – Everybody is busy. Therefore, there is a chance that your client might forget to write a review. In this case, we recommend reminding them to do so. You can also politely inquire if they need any help posting the review that you discussed.
Through the above-mentioned process, you can begin generating reviews for your business. Of course, it goes without saying that you can only guarantee good reviews when you are providing excellent customer service along with a top-notch product or service.
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When contemplating the sale of a business, an important option to consider is seller financing. Many potential buyers don’t have the necessary capital or lender resources to pay cash. Even if they do, they are often reluctant to put such a hefty sum of cash into what, for them, is a new and untried venture.
Why the hesitation? The typical buyer feels that, if the business is really all that it’s “advertised” to be, it should pay for itself. Buyers often interpret the seller’s insistence on all cash as a lack of confidence–in the business, in the buyer’s chances to succeed, or both.
The buyer’s interpretation has some basis in fact. The primary reason sellers shy away from offering terms is their fear that the buyer will be unsuccessful. If the buyer should cease payments–for any reason–the seller would be forced either to take back the business or forfeit the balance of the note.
The seller who operates under the influence of this fear should take a hard look at the upside of seller financing. Statistics show that sellers receive a significantly higher purchase price if they decide to accept terms. On average, a seller who sells for all cash receives approximately 70 percent of the asking price. This adds up to approximately 16 percent difference on a business listed for $150,000, meaning that the seller who is willing to accept terms will receive approximately $24,000 more than the seller who is asking for all cash.
Even with these compelling reasons to accept terms, sellers may still be reluctant. Selling a business can be perceived as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the cash jackpot. Therefore, it is important to note that seller financing has advantages that, in many instances, far outweigh the immediate satisfaction of cash-in-hand.
- Seller financing greatly increases the chances that the business will sell.
- The seller offering terms will command a much higher price.
- The interest on a seller-financed deal will add significantly to the actual selling price. (For example, a seller carry-back note at eight percent carried over nine years will double the amount carried. Over a nine-year period, $100,000 at eight percent will result in the seller receiving $200,000.)
- With interest rates currently the lowest in years, sellers can get a much higher rate from a buyer than they can get from any financial institution.
- The tax consequences of accepting terms can be much more advantageous than those of an all-cash sale.
- Financing the sale helps assure the success of both the sale and the business, since the buyer will perceive the offer of terms as a vote of confidence.
Obviously, there are no guarantees that the buyer will be successful in operating the business. However, it is well to note that, in most transactions, buyers are putting a substantial amount of personal cash on the line–in many cases, their entire capital. Although this investment doesn’t insure success, it does mean that the buyer will work hard to support such a commitment.
There are many ways to structure the seller-financed sale that make sense for both buyer and seller. Creative financing is an area where your business broker professional can be of help. He or she can recommend a variety of payment plans that, in many cases, can mean the difference between a successful transaction and one that is not. Serious sellers owe it to themselves to consider financing the sale. By lending a helping hand to buyers, they will, in most cases, be helping themselves as well.
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