It is never too early to start thinking about what tax structure you should use when it comes time to sell your business. A simple, but undeniable, rule of life is that taxes matter and they can’t be overlooked. Author Tim Fries at The Tokenist has written an excellent and quite detailed overview article on what tax issues business owners need to consider before selling their business. His article, “What Tax Structure Should You Use When Selling Your Business?” explores many aspects of a topic that many business owners fail to invest enough time in, namely taxes.
As Fries astutely points out, the taxes involving the sale of a business can be complex and are usually unknown to those selling a business for the first time. Your tax structure can influence how much money you receive at the closing of your deal, so it’s a very good idea to pay attention to all aspects of taxation and your business. It is key to remember, “When you are selling your business – as far as taxes are concerned – you’re ultimately selling a collection of assets.”
Fries points out that taxes and selling a business are no small matter. It is possible that up to 50% of the sale of a business can go to taxes. Don’t worry if you are learning this for the first time and feel more than a little shocked. However, this fact does a good job of illuminating the importance of setting up the right tax structure for your business. While you might not be able to get around taxes altogether by investing the time and effort to set up the right structure for your business, you can keep from paying more taxes than is necessary.
There are a lot of variables that go into how much you will ultimately have to pay in taxes. Let’s take a look at some of the key questions Fries raises in his article.
- Is your sale considered ordinary income or is the sale considered capital gains?
- Are you operating as an LLC, a sole proprietorship, a partnership or are you operating as a corporation?
- What portion of the sale price goes to tangible assets as compared to intangible assets?
- Is there a difference between your tax basis and the proceeds from your sale?
- What does your depreciation look like?
- Don’t expect that the buyer will instantly agree to your terms.
- Realize that the decisions you make during negotiations with a buyer will have tax implications.
- Is an installment sale right for your business?
- With C corporations, sellers usually want a stock sale whereas buyers generally prefer an asset sale.
- Cashing out immediately, where you receive all your funds at once, will increase your tax liability.
- Have you considered switching to an S corporation?
- Have you consulted with experts to decide which tax structure is best for you?
- Have you consulted with a business broker?
Selling a business is obviously complicated. Finding a seasoned business broker can help you demystify many aspects of buying and selling a business. Ultimately, having the best deal structure and finding the right buyer can be a labyrinthian process. Having the very best professional help in your corner is simply a must.
In his recent article in Smart Business entitled, “How to get your business, and yourself, ready for sale,” author Adam Burroughs explores the key points of getting your business ready to sell. Burroughs points to the truism that, at some point, almost every business owner must sell his or her business. For this reason, it is critical to think about what it takes to get your business ready to sell. Simply stated, it is best to explore and plan for selling your business long before you actually need to place your business on the market. Let’s explore some key points for selling your business.
Broadening Your Options
Burroughs interviews Scott McRill at Clark Schaefer Hackett. McRill notes, “The sooner you think about your exit, the more options you’ll have for yourself and the business when the time comes.” A savvy business owner will always want to give himself or herself as many options as possible. McRill wisely points out that early planning is key, and a failure to engage in early planning could lead to a lower selling price. If you want to get the best price for your business, then planning for the eventual sale as far in advance as possible is a good move.
Planning in Advance
According to Burroughs, business owners should start planning to sell their business at least 2 to 3 years before they actually plan to sell. Part of the reason for this is so that business owners will have enough time to make operational improvements designed to maximize the business’s overall value.
A Financial Review
At the top of every business owners “preparing to sell” list is to have a third-party review the business’s financial situation. This is excellent advice for, as frequent readers of this blog know, any serious prospective buyer will look long and hard at your business’s financials. Getting your business’s financial house in order means that you should turn to an accounting firm for help. You’ll want to review financial statements for at least the previous 2 to 3 years.
Burroughs points out that when it comes to selling a business, there are many variables that business owners often overlook. At the top of the list is the management team.
Your Management Team
Prospective buyers can get very nervous about the stability of the management team once ownership has changed hands. Often, the new buyer may only sign on the dotted line if the owner agrees to stay on after the sale during a transition period. Having a competent and proven team in place, one that is dedicated to staying with the company will help you get your business ready to sell.
There are a lot of variables involved in preparing to sell a business. The sooner that you get experts involved in the process, the better off you will be. A business broker can serve as a guide – one that can point you in the right direction. Find a broker with an abundance of experience, and you’ll have an invaluable ally who can help you navigate the process. It can take a lot of time and effort to sell a business. Working with a business broker can keep you from reinventing the wheel at every step of the process.
The answer to the question asked in the title is, “It all depends!” There are all sorts of studies, surveys and the like suggesting that as more and more “baby-boomers” reach retirement age, the market will be flooded with companies for sale. The consensus is that with these privately-held company owners reaching and nearing retirement age, the time to sell is now. In one survey, 57 percent of business owners said that their age was the motivating factor for exiting their business. In another one, 75 percent of owners with revenues between $1 million and $150 million stated that they looked to sell within the next three years. Reading all of this information, one gets the feeling that over the next few years almost every privately-held business will be on the market.
While there are always going to be those who feel that Armageddon is coming, or that all of these companies are going to be on the market on the day that baby-boomer owners hit 65, there are some compelling reasons to sell your business now – and some reasons that may compel you to hold off. One good reason for any owner to sell “now” is that it just may be time to “smell the roses,” as they say. After running the business for so many years, “burn-out” is a very valid reason for selling. Many business owners may have, without actually realizing it, let their business slide a bit. You lose a customer or client here and there and don’t make the effort to replace them. Or, you don’t make the effort to check back with the supplier who has promised to give you a better price on an important product or service. It’s too easy to stick with the one you have been dealing with for years, even though you know the price is probably too high.
On the flip side, it is also easy to convince yourself that business is down a bit this year, maybe due to the current economy or recent legislation, likely reducing the value of the company. Maybe waiting until things pick up a bit and values increase would be a good idea. Thirty-five percent of business owners, in one survey, said they were going to hold off selling because they felt their business would continue to grow and therefore, hopefully, also increase in value. Unfortunately, no one can predict the future. New competitors may enter your market. Foreign competition may move in. You may not have the energy or that “fire-in-the-belly” you once had, so the business may slide even further.
You could also point your finger to the tightening of credit and ask, “How is a buyer going to finance the business?” Despite very low interest rates, borrowing money is now more difficult.
There is an old saying that the time to plan your exit strategy is the day you start running the business. Business owners can’t outgrow interest rates, legislative changes or aging. The time to sell is when you are ready to sell. The mere fact that you have read this far may be a sign that now is the time to sell. To learn more about current market trends, what your business might sell for, and what your next step might be, call a professional intermediary.
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A major part of selling your business is getting the word out. After all, the more people that know your business is for sale, the better off you’ll be. In Bob House’s recent article, “How to Create an Effective Business for Sale Ad and Ensure It Gets the Best Result,” House gives readers an assortment of tips that he believes will help sellers attract higher offers from real buyers.
Getting the Word Out
As House wisely points out, many buyers wait until the last second to dive in and create a good sales ad. In fact, many buyers fail to grasp the real importance of creating a quality and compelling advertisement. Imagine creating a good sales ad like you would going fishing with a group of friends. The more friends you have on your fishing trip, the greater the odds that someone catches a fish. In much the same way, the more people who know you are selling your business, the greater the chances that you’ll get some serious “bites.”
Tips for Receiving More Attention
House has five key tips for attracting more attention from prospective buyers via your sales ad. At the top of the list is to be descriptive. Your sales ad should give an excellent description of your business and its unique features. As House notes, you want to “paint a clear picture.” In other words, now is not the time for mystery. You want prospective buyers to have a very clear idea of what kind of business they could possibly buy.
Secondly, you should have a great headline. People have always skimmed, but the rise of the Internet has taken skimming to a whole new level. Your sales ad should have a very engaging and interesting headline. You want to capture people’s attention. A good place to start is by determining what your business’s best feature is and emphasizing that feature in your headline.
Incorporate Top-Notch Images
Third, the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words absolutely applies to selling a business. Just as a great headline will capture people’s attention, the same holds true for a great picture. Consider having a professional photographer take the photo, as he or she may have tips to make your business look its best that you may simply not know.
Fourth, your ad should definitely include key financials. Any serious buyer will be very concerned, if not obsessed, with your financials. Information such as cash flow and income statements are a good idea as may potential buyers focus their business searches around key financial metrics.
Don’t Forget the Final Step
Finally, if there has ever been a time in your life to proofread, this is the time. In fact, you should consider hiring a proofreader to look over your ad for grammar and spelling mistakes. As House notes, you want prospective buyers to realize that you are attention oriented and responsible. A simple grammar or spelling mistake could wreck a potential deal.
Creating a great sales ad is an art form. One of the best ways to ensure that you have a great sales ad is to work with an experienced business broker. Business brokers know what buyers are looking for, have great marketing professionals at their disposal, and can help you frame your business in the best light possible.
If you are like many business owners, you are primarily focusing on building your business. Yet, as we’ve covered here many times before, you should start thinking about what you’ll need to do to sell your business before you even officially launch. Many businesses can take years to sell or even fail to sell all together. For this and many other reasons, it is important to invest some time and energy into thinking about proper exit planning and strategies.
Walker Deibel’s recent Forbes article, “How Proper Exit Planning Benefits the Buyer and Seller,” Deibel discusses his interview with Exit Planning: The Definitive Guide, author John H. Brown. Brown and Deibel both agreed that, when properly handled, exit planning can help both the seller and the buyer.
Exit planning can make a business more transferable. As Deibel points out, when buyers are evaluating businesses, transferability is a key factor. A buyer must feel that he or she can walk into a business, take it over, keep it running effectively and even grow the business in the future.
A key aspect of being able to buy a business and having that business be successful is that all relationships from vendors to customers are transferable. A good management team, one that can step in and help a new owner thrive, is a must. Building that team in advance is a savvy move for any business owner looking to sell his or her business. Concerns on any of these fronts can spell doom for a seller. If a buyer doesn’t feel that they can operate a business, then they probably shouldn’t be buying it.
Great exit planning most definitely benefits the seller as well. As Deibel notes, when sellers engage in exit planning, they realize how much money they need in order to exit. In turn, this forces sellers to become very focused and goal-oriented. Sellers will take proactive steps to ensure that their business is as appealing to a potential buyer as possible.
Ultimately, proper exit planning is a win-win, one that benefits both buyer and seller. Exit planning can provide sellers with much-needed clarity while simultaneously lowering the overall risk that sellers face.
Buying or selling a business is a multifaceted, and often quite complex, process. The sooner you begin working with a professional, like a business broker, the better off you’ll be in finding the right business for you and your particular needs. For most people, buying or selling a business is the financial decision of a lifetime. Having a proven trusted partner, one that knows the lay of the land, is simply invaluable.
When the complicating variable of family is added to the equation of selling a business, the situation can get rather messy. Family usually complicates everything and businesses are, of course, no exception. Ken McCracken’s recent article “Family business: to sell or not to sell?” 6 questions to help you make the right decision,” seeks to decode the complexities so often associated with family businesses.
Consider the Market
The foundation of determining whether or not now is the right time to sell must begin with market forces. Determining how much your business is worth is a key variable in any decision to sell.
The best way to determine the worth of your business is to have an outside party, such as a business broker, evaluate your business. What you believe your business to be worth and what the market dictates could be very different. You may discover that your business does not have the value that you hoped for. If this is the situation, then selling simply may not be an option.
What is Next for You?
Tied to knowing your market value is understanding what you will do next after you sell your business. For example, do you have a family member who can run the business without you? What will you and any family members who work for the business do after the sale goes through? You may discover that the sale could be very disruptive for you personally. All too often, people fail to recognize the emotional and mental stress that comes along with selling a business. Many owners begin the selling process only to discover that they are not emotionally ready to do so. While everyone wants to be unemotional in making their business decisions, this is not always the case.
You will also need to deal with the issue of due diligence. Working with a business broker is an excellent way to handle the due diligence process. Business brokers usually vet prospective buyers ahead of time, which can save you a great deal of aggravation and wasted time.
McCracken believes business owners should investigate how the prospective buyer handled previous acquisitions. Specifically, McCracken believes that business owners should look to how well the prospective buyer honored previous commitments, as doing so is an indicator of how trustworthy a buyer may be.
Planning for Negotiations
Finally, McCraken believes it is essential to know who will oversee negotiations. It is key to note that many deals that could have otherwise been successful, fall apart due to poor negotiations. A business broker can be invaluable in negotiations. After all, who wouldn’t want someone with dozens, or even hundreds, of successful transactions advising them?
Selling a family business can be emotionally charged and can cause significant life changes for not just you, but for members of your family as well. Often, family businesses were built up over a lifetime or even over generations, which can make the decision to sell quite emotionally charged.