You can tell something's happening. It's in the air, and it's in the news. The credit markets are in turmoil, interest rates are fluctuating wildly, and going forward, the private equity firms aren't going to pay what they've been paying for companies. The upshot is this: If you've got a tempting offer to sell your business, take it -- if it's not too late.
We're nearing a market top, and we're nearing the end of an era -- the private equity era as we know it. It hasn't ended yet, and deals are still going to get done, but if you miss the boat on selling at the top, you will have to wait for the next cycle. And that could take two years. Or it could take 10.
What happened? Just as in '87, when the market crashed, and in 2000, when the bubble burst (see my Street Smarts column, "Bubble.com"), too many dollars have been chasing too many deals. Once the good deals were out of the way, the dollars started chasing bad deals. That rarely ends well.
I'm not ready to talk about what's going to happen with my own company. If you read my series in Inc. ("The Offer"), you know that I thought I had the offer of a lifetime. But even after my deal fell apart, the offers kept coming. In part, that was because the third-largest player in my industry subsequently sold for an outrageous price -- far more than the multiple I was supposed to get. Right after that, the losing bidders for that company -- five private equity firms -- started looking for another company that could serve as a platform in the records-storage and document-destruction industry. Well, there aren't that many of us. All I can tell you is that it's real nice to be romanced -- and that these kinds of deals will soon be impossible.
But a new era of something will start soon. The trick to making lots of money is to get in early. Not necessarily first, but early. So if anybody out there knows what the next financial wave will be, just let me know.