Selling Your Business? Stop Leaving Money on the Table

Key Highlights

  • Current market conditions are prime for selling a business. The market is experiencing high multiples due to plentiful dry powder held by private equity firms, record amounts of cash held by strategic corporate buyers, a low interest rate environment, and high prices for publicly-traded equities.
  • The time it takes to sell generally ranges from five to twelve months. The determining factors around timing include the size of your business and the dynamic balance between buyers and sellers in the market.
  • Valuations are more of an art than a science. The best business valuation methods typically involve cash-flow. Still, the three most commonly utilized valuation calculations are the discounted cash flow, market multiples, and asset valuation.
  • The best practices for maximizing shareholder value include the following:
    • Make sure the business can thrive without you. You need a management team or key employees that can continue to drive cash flow, especially if you plan to exit the business or will have limited involvement in day-to-day operations. You should also broaden your customer base so that the business is not at risk if a couple key customers leave post-sale.
    • Learn the dynamics driving acquisitions in your industry. Many business owners spend their time focused on keeping the business running instead of devoting energy to planning for its sale. Stay apprised of the motivations for financial and strategic buyers in your industry, as this can help you negotiate a higher exit value.
    • Hire the right advisors. Don’t do it alone. An experienced M&A advisor can market your company to a larger group of potential buyers than you can access on your own. Early engagement of an independent valuation specialist can provide a market check on valuation and allow you to incorporate value drivers into your pre-sale planning.
    • Examine and adjust operational efficiencies strategically. If necessary, it could be worth adopting efficient operating procedures before the sale. This may involve investments in new equipment or technology or changes in staffing.
    • Factor tax considerations into sale decisions. Decisions around how to sell your business (merger, sale of stock, sale of assets) should consider tax implications carefully. It is also important to anticipate changes in tax law.

Investing in the Sale

For many business owners, their business represents the culmination of their life’s work and a primary source of wealth. The reasons leading one to sell a business can vary—perhaps a competitor has presented you with an unsolicited, lucrative offer. Or, perhaps you are simply ready to retire. Regardless of your motivation, the sale process can prove to be complex, with considerations including the right time to sell, whether or not to employ advisors, which business valuation method to use, and how to maximize the valuation. Therefore, when thinking about how to sell a business, you will want to maximize the value through a combination of planning and timing. Building a solid exit plan can take several years, and business owners ideally should start planning for a sale 3-5 years before they wish to transition out. You’ve invested in growing your business. When it comes time to sell your business, you must do the same.

The following analysis will help you understand the current acquisition market environment, how long it takes to sell businesses (small and large), other major considerations during the sale, how an accurate price is determined, and how to maximize acquisition value.


Jeffrey Mazer