Dan Fries is a freelance writer and full stack Rust developer. He looks for convergence in technology trends, with specific interests in cyber security, micro mobility, and smart cities. Dan enjoys snowboarding and is based in Hong Kong with his pet beagle, Teddy. His website is danfries.net.
The current climate for company owners and entrepreneurs is dynamic and competitive, which means that exiting a business can actually be a wise and profitable move under the right conditions.
Exiting does not have to be about cutting your losses. Some entrepreneurs feel that selling can be a good option whenever they get to the point where the company is operating at the level they intended, and others simply want to pursue other activities that may not be related to entrepreneurship.
A turnkey business proposal should be similar to a marketable title in terms of making investors feel that they can pick up the reins to the business immediately after the sale is finalized.
Cheat sheet for an exit plan audit
The ambition that drove you to turn your business idea into a reality should be the same that guides you to package your company into a neat and exciting package for investors.
Ask yourself, from a high level: Do you want the business to be taken over by the highest bidder? Would you prefer to see a continuance of the brand you worked so hard to build? …Or somewhere in the middle?
If you do feel strongly one way or the other, you are in the majority. However, your business partner or partners may not feel the same way.
Suitable business successors who share your business goals are generally more difficult to find, but there is a strong chance that they will be optimists who do not care too much about the exit plan audit and turnkey checklists.
With all this in mind, the following guide is for the most likely scenario of a business sale proposal that hopes to attract the highest bidder.
Step 1 – Get your accounts and finances in order
An easy transfer is the greatest marketability factor in a business sale transaction, and this is intrinsically related to its finances. Let’s say an e-commerce store has been operating for three years and is looking to sell.
If the seller is not able to come up with two documented years of financial history, the best prospects are bound to take a pass and the listing will get stale. When this happens, lowballing sharks and vultures will begin to circle, thus increasing the chances of having to sell at a loss.
But the process of exiting the business might be compared to that of buying a new home in that it requires a stock check. Clarity in the specifics of your accounts will be both beneficial to you and to your successor. Keep in mind that most supporting records of at least two years of reliable financial history should include:
* Detailed list of debtors and creditors
* Stock ownership
* Capital gains information
* All operating expenses
* Staff and wages details
* Bookkeeping ledgers
* Operating agreements and other documents
If the e-commerce shop seller has diligently used Quickbooks or Zoho for bookkeeping and accounting, coming up with these records and presenting them to prospective buyers will not be difficult.
Naturally, any reasonable opportunity to improve a negative item should be taken. For example, if you have an overdue web design bill for $300, pay it immediately.
Step 2 – Identify your contract status
Purchase prospects have a right to learn about the contracts keeping the business in operation, but they will also appreciate a frank opinion of these agreements.
An e-commerce may have multiple banner exchanges in place, and they may have run their course or become conflicting without the owner taking action.
If the seller thinks that some of the exchanges should be reconsidered, the best approach is to express such opinions to the buyers.
Similarly, the buyer would like to know if the current email marketing services provider can be replaced on the spot or if a hard agreement is written in stone for a few more months. Often, enterprise email clients like Outlook have multi-year contracts, but relative to alternatives like G Suite, Mailbird and Aweber.
Step 3 – What is the condition of your current software licenses?
You will want to make a clear list of all software used to support the business. This should also include the licensing model.
The list does not have to be fancy. It can be as simple as a column/row chart, but it should be detailed insofar as cloud-based subscriptions, SaaS service agreements, e-commerce software platforms, peripheral devices, and login credentials.
If you think that your company may have benefited with the use of software you never got around to installing, this is something that you should communicate to prospective buyers before they ask.
Or maybe you originally developed the site on a shoestring budget with a popular website builder like Wix or CMS like WordPress, but have lately come to believe that it’s time to move past the simplified DIY model and spring for a professionally constructed version.
You avoided this technological upheaval because you planned on unloading the business but that’s information that should be passed along.
Step 4 – Help buyers post-transfer
Not all buyers look forward to handshakes, receiving the keys, and saying goodbye. Some prospects will be upfront and tell you that they are only interested in the domain name or social media accounts. When this is the case, they may not even walk you to the door.
On the other hand, if a fashion boutique owner purchases an established e-commerce shop as an extension of the brick-and-mortar business she inherited from relatives, she may not know anything about online retail and would like a guiding hand. Are you willing to help this buyer if the sales price is right?
Brand-conscious sellers will likely offer business guidance to their successors if requested, but even if you do not care about what happens to the brand you built, your post-transfer collaboration could be turned into an attractive selling factor for the right prospect.
Step 5 – Meet with the employees and vendors
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about technology and processes but would be remiss to leave out the human factor, which is the most important “step” on this list.
An online business that is successful enough to draw the attention of buyers is likely to have at least a few employees and certainly a handful of vendors. It’s a common courtesy to make the introductions among all parties involved and let everyone know there’s a new sheriff riding into town.
And just because the online business world often has employees scattered across the planet and whom might have never met one another face-to-face, do your best to at least get the initial conversations started.
A buyer might want to bring in his own team but then again, they might not.
Go forth, and exit with grace
In the end, your business exit strategy can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be.
Realize, though, that the more you work on making your proposal marketable and enticing, the better your chances of making the sort of profit that satisfies your grandest dreams of avarice.
At the same time, you do owe some debt to the buyer to set them up with the best chance to succeed.