The Initial ApproachWe had been engaged by a client to sell her business recently and while we were in the planning meeting, the assistant walked in with a letter from a larger industry player expressing an interest in buying her company. She was feeling pretty special until we uncovered that this same letter was sent out to 50 other companies. Buyers are looking to buy at a discount if possible. The way they do that is similar to the approach that many of those get rich quick real estate programs recommend. Go out to 50 sellers and make a low-ball offer and one of them may bite. These buyers are way better informed about the value of a company than 90% of the business owners they approach.
The odds of a deal closing in this unsolicited approach are pretty slim. In the real estate example, the home owner is not hurt by one of these approaches, because they have a good idea of the value of their home. The price offer comes in immediately and they recognize it as a low ball and send the buyer packing. For the business owner, however, valuations are not that simple. This is the start of the death spiral. I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but this rarely has a happy ending. These supposed buyers will not give you a price offer. They drain your time, resources, your focus on running your business and, your company's performance. They want to buy your business as the only bidder and get a big discount. They will kick your tires, kick your tires, and kick your tires some more.
We have an offer!If they finally get to an offer after months of this resource drain, it is woefully short of expectations, to the surprise or chagrin of the owner. The owner became intoxicated with their vision of riches and took their eye off the ball of running their business.
How should you handle this situation so you do not have this outcome? We suggest that you do not let an outside force determine your selling timeframe. However, we recognize that everything is for sale at the right price. That is the right starting point. Get the buyer to sign a confidentiality agreement. Provide income statement, balance sheet and your yearly budget and forecast. Determine what is that number that you would accept as your purchase price and present that to the buyer. You may put it like this, "We really were not considering selling our company, but if you want us to consider going through the due diligence process, we will need an offer of "name your purchase price here". If you are not prepared to give us a LOI at that level, we are not going to entertain further discussions".
A second approach would be to ask for that number and if they were willing to agree, then you would agree to begin the due diligence process. If they were not, then you were going to engage your merger and acquisition advisor and they would be welcome to participate in the sales process with the other buyers that were brought into the process.
Your business is still operating...A major mistake business owners make in this situation is to focus their time and attention on selling the business as opposed to running the business. This occurs in large publicly traded companies with deep management teams as well as in private companies where management is largely in the hands of a single individual. Many large companies that are in the throes of being acquired are guilty of losing focus on the day-to-day operations. In case after case these businesses suffer a significant competitive downturn. If the acquisition does not materialize, their business has suffered significant erosion in value.
For a privately held business the impact is even more acute. There simply is not enough time for the owner to wear the many hats of operating his business while embarking on a full-time job of selling his business. Going through an extended process with a buyer who only wanted to buy at a bargain can damage the small company.
If you are not for sale, you must control the process. Why would you go through the incredible resource drain before you knew if the offer would be acceptable? Get a qualified letter of intent on the front end or send this buyer packing.