In my interviews with those who have sold their businesses, I asked each one, "Who did you turn to for advice when it came time to sell your business?" Some reported they had acted alone, but in retrospect, most believed that had been a foolish decision. Some relied primarily on a lawyer, or business coach, some their accountant and a number turned to other CEOs for advice. About half used a business broker or investment banker.
There are two major considerations in a business sale; the technical side, including taxation, legal, financial, and transactional aspects; and the leadership side which includes setting the vision, managing growth and dealing with people and family issues. Generally, you can save money on the technical side and make money on the leadership side.
On the Leadership Side
A Business Transition CoachThink of selling your business as analogous to building a house. One of the first people you want to talk with when you are building a home is a general contractor, who helps you capture your vision, understands all the pieces, coordinates the process, and brings in the right people at the right time to get the job done. Find a facilitator who can help you to co-ordinate the process and keep you on track with your goals.
A Leadership CoachA good leadership coach can help you to add significant value to your business by motivating you to do many of the things you always wanted to do but haven’t yet gotten around to. A company that claims "our people are our greatest asset" can turn that asset into business value if they invest in their people. Mickey McDonald, commenting about the sale of his business in Halifax said, "I always invested in my people. We did sales training, leadership training, team training, and when I sold the business, they were integral to the deal. They could run the business without me."
On the Technical Side
M&A LawyerPick a mergers and acquisitions lawyer who has demonstrated experience in handling business deals similar in size and nature to your business. They require good business sense. They need to understand that it’s all about getting a good deal and not about being confrontational. And they need good 'chemistry’ with you. Insist upon complementary values and principles. If your goal is to do an honest, win-win deal, you want a lawyer who works the same way.
Tax LawyerA good tax lawyer will help ensure that your after-tax costs are minimized. They will need expertise in all areas of taxation related to selling your business including corporate and personal income tax, international tax, and the taxation of trusts and estates. When you take a pro-active approach, you’ll achieve tax savings and be able to take advantage of legal deferrals available under an increasingly complex tax system.
AccountantYou can probably continue to use your existing accountant if you are satisfied with their ability to meet your business needs. But, be careful that your accountant is not financially motivated to kill or defer your sale. If your business represents a significant portion of the accountant’s revenue, a sale may mean your company will no longer be using their services. If you are concerned about this, address it directly with your accountant or consider using someone else when preparing to sell your business.
Investment BankerA business broker or investment banker can bring experience, advice and concrete leads to help you sell your business. They’ll undertake a thorough valuation and recommend specific actions that will increase the business’s value by the time you want to sell.
Those I interviewed, who had used an investment banker to help them sell their business, swore by them and couldn’t imagine selling a business without that help. Those who had done it on their own didn’t regret not having one, but perhaps they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Consequently, they may have left money on the table or worked much harder than they needed to in order to finish the deal.