by Dave Driscoll
The decision to sell your business is a big one, one that has probably caused you to toss and turn about for months if not years. I’m sure that among the “what-ifs” you considered were: What if word gets out that you are considering selling? How would that news affect your employees? Their morale, their feelings about job security and, ultimately, their productivity? What about your customers? Would they worry about the future of their relationship with you? Can they still count on prompt deliveries, uninterrupted service, competitive pricing? The work force and the customer base are both valuable elements in the success of any business.
I recall that when I was considering selling my business, I felt trapped between the desire to sell and the fear of the problems that the news of my potential sale might produce. So I procrastinated and, as a result, missed many good opportunities.
I’m here now to tell you to get over it! It’s your life, and you have the right to pursue a Life Beyond Business. Confidentiality can be effectively managed.
First, don’t be in a hurry to sell. Take your time. The harder you push, the more anxiety you will experience. This will, in turn, affect your state of mind and may have a negative effect on your business. You need to break the process down into manageable parts in your mind. Then chip away, bit by bit, toward your ultimate goal: the successful sale of your business.
Second, seek advice and assistance from professionals. Create that short list of folks with whom you can discuss the sale of your business in complete confidentiality. Professional advisers are bound by a code of ethics that requires confidentiality. If it would provide you more reassurance, create a short written agreement confirming that all discussions are confidential and that any breach of confidentiality will result in damages due. The professionals on your team should include your accountant, your lawyer, a trusted adviser and a business intermediary commonly referred to as a business broker or mergers and acquisitions (M&A) professional. All meetings should take place away from your office. Use private email, a personal cell phone and a home address for all communications.
While your accountant and lawyer are essential members of your team, the first person you may want to engage is your business intermediary. Why? The first step in the process is to determine whether your business is salable. The intermediary knows the market. That’s his or her job. The first thing you need to know is whether there is a market for your business and, if so, what you can do to prepare your business so you can maximize the value of the sale.
At this point you are still miles away from actually putting the business on the market. That’s my point. Extensive groundwork must be laid if you are to successfully market and sell your business. During this preparatory period, often the longest part of the process, it is critical to maintain confidentiality. Any questions that might arise from staff or customers who notice changes being made are easily answered as being part of your ongoing efforts to improve operations and profitability. As an owner, that is what you should always be doing at any time!
Once the business is listed as for sale, managing confidentiality becomes the responsibility of your professional business intermediary. This is a process with well-defined procedures to protect you and your business. A well-prepared business is most likely to sell quickly, limiting time spent on the market and minimizing the chance for a potential breach of confidentiality.
Dave Driscoll is president of Metro Business Advisors, a business intermediary and mergers and acquisitions firm helping owners of companies with revenue from $1 million to $15 million sell their most valuable asset. Reach Dave at DDriscoll@MetroBusinessAdvisors.com or 314-303-5600. For more information, visit www.MetroBusinessAdvisors.com. .