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Small Business Resources > How Not to Sell Your Business

How Not to Sell Your Business

Ask any business owner who has sold a business or attempted to sell a business, "What would you do differently?" If he or she attempted to sell it without help, chances are pretty good that the transaction did not succeed. If the transaction were actually completed, chances are that they did not get a good price, but had no idea that this occurred.

We were recently engaged to sell a medical products company. In our process we will identify 50 to 150 companies that would be likely buyers based on similar products, services or markets served. When those targets are approved by our seller client, we get on the phone and contact the buying prospect to see if we can generate some interest and get confidentiality agreements executed.

We were able to identify several interested buyers and were at the stage where they were submitting their qualified Letters of Intent. The LOI basically says that if we complete our due diligence and we find that everything is as you earlier presented it, we will pay you $XXX under these terms and conditions.

We got one offer from a perfect fit buyer and we determined that it was well short of our seller's expectations and well below what our view of the price for similar companies in this market niche. We called this buyer to discuss his offer.

When we told him our client's range of expectations, he said that it was way too expensive. We asked him what basis he had for that conclusion, he replied that he was looking to pay 5 X Cash Flow for a business. We told him that recent transactions indicated that similar companies were selling for 2.5 times revenues and not a price based on a cash flow model.

Let's take this a little further with some ball park calculations based on our transaction. For example, if our client had $5 million in revenue and a 20% cash flow margin, his cash flow is $1 million and according to this buyer, his company should sell for 5 X $1 million or $5 million. The market view, however, is that this company is worth $5 million X 2.5 or $12.5 million. When we dug a little deeper into our buyer's offer we found out that he currently was in the process of buying another similar company.

When we inquired for more detail we found that this other company was a long time competitor, the owner was getting ready to retire and approached this buyer to see if he would be interested in acquiring them. We asked the buyer if the seller was represented by an investment banker, business broker or merger and acquisition advisor. He said that the seller was not. I asked him if there were any other buyers involved in the process. He said that as far as he knew, he was the only buyer. I asked him how the selling price was determined. The buyer said that he set the price based on, you guessed it, 5 X cash flow.

Let's see what this seller's approach is going to cost him. If we assume that he was very similar in size and cash flow to our client. A competitive market price in a formal merger and acquisition process would be $12.5 million. Our buyer will pay him only $5 million and the seller will close thinking he got a fair deal without any market validation. This is a $7.5 million mistake that could have very easily been avoided by hiring a business sales professional that would have invited in multiple buyers and multiple competitive bids.

Well, at least the seller avoided all investment banker fees. This is a sad end to a 25 year history of business excellence. Unfortunately it happens all the time.

About the Author
About the Author
Dave Kauppi is a Merger and Acquisition Advisor and President of MidMarket Capital, representing owners in the sale of privately held businesses. We provide Wall Street style investment banking services to lower mid market companies at a size appropriate fee structure.

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