Selling your business is a rigorous process, so the more you can do in advance, the more likely you are to realize a successful transaction when the time is right.
There comes a time in the lifecycle of any business when it may make sense to sell. Whether you are considering selling next year or in three years, there are steps you can and should be taking now to prepare for a transaction down the road. Three steps in particular will help you to maximize value, terms and the probability of closing a deal.
The first step involves developing a good "story." Regardless of whether you are marketing your business to strategic buyers or financial sponsors, you need to demonstrate why the business is an attractive acquisition. For strategic buyers, the story may include understanding potential synergies and the strategic fit. For private equity groups, the story may involve laying out a defensible growth plan, as that is their primary motivator for a deal.
Developing a five-year growth plan can help you understand where the business may be strong and weak with respect to its future expansion and what the business requires to achieve attractive growth. Buyers will want a view of how you are progressing with any of the growth plans you outline.
Second, evaluating your objectives in pursuing a sale can give you important insights into who might be the most attractive buyer. Strategic buyers may very well strip the business, but be able to pay a higher price, while financial sponsors will likely want management (and potentially you) to stay invested in the business longer term.
This makes it even more important to start thinking about your objectives early. If you want to fully retire as soon as possible but are highly active in the business, a private equity group may not be the right fit, since they would likely need you to stay for several years. Potential gaps in management are also important to understand as part of that evaluation process to determine where your business might be lacking in talent depth.
Lastly, getting your house in order is a priority in advance of a potential sale. Bringing your business records and financials together can give you a leg up on everyone's least favorite part of a deal: due diligence. Audited financials in particular are immeasurably valuable to helping avoid deal complications and surprises on financials. Understanding your areas of potential exposure (tax, environmental, etc.) can also be tremendously important to find obstacles up front--in order to develop solutions to problems that might otherwise kill your deal.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark