Will you be able to sell your company?

Will the Great Boomer Business Retirement Migration Actually Happen?

“We’re ready to sell. You know, we’ve kind of done all we can and we’re tired. It’s time for some new blood. So my partner and I want $5 million out of the business. So what are our chances?”

We listened to Trevor a proud and accomplished silver haired 59 year old , the owner of a 15 million dollar industrial company and wondered whether he and his 58 year old partner, Paul realized what getting that exit buyout would require on their part.

“There is only one way you are going to find a buyer willing to invest that much in your business. It’s called Exit Planning and it may take 2-4 years to complete before you’re ready to sell.” I looked over at my consulting partners as we watched Paul and Trevor’s faces fall. We had seen this reaction many times before.

There is nothing more painful than seeing successful business owners suddenly realize their retirement dreams might remain only a fantasy.

With every phase of life, the baby boomers have had a profound influence on the movement of money across most aspects of our economy. But in their next phase of development will their luck with creating wealth run
out?

The numbers suggesting this is indeed possible are staggering.

By 2011, the first of 70 million boomers are going to turn 65 years old. There are more than 26 million businesses in North America, and 50 percent are owned by boomers, according to the Small Business Administration. And 7 out of 10 of these owners will want to sell their business over the next 10 years, according to the Association for Mergers and Acquisitions Advisors.

That represents $10 trillion in retirement value and 75 percent of that $10 trillion may not be realized according to Richard Jackim in his book “The Ten Trillion Opportunity – Designing Successful Exit Strategies for Middle Market Business Owners”.

Industry Canada and the US Small Business Administration are very concerned that boomer business owners are not paying attention to these statistics and secondly do not have a good understanding of what it takes to sell a business. They have alerted city economic development groups across the country like the City of Nanaimo, BC and the city of Chicago, IL who are now trying to come up with ways to alert owners and help them to get ready.

They are planning for the future to ensure their communities stay economically buoyant according to Jason Boyce in an article entitled “Get Ready for the Big One: Succession Facilitation & the Coming Demographic Wave of Change” published in Making Waves Magazine.

Spirit West Management advises owners what must be done to 
set their house in order.

“It’s much more than succession planning,”
says Lorraine Rieger McGregor, CEO and partner in Spirit West
Management. “It involves reorganizing the company so that an investor
 sees the value. That sounds easy but really what is involved is to stand
 in the shoes of a buyer and ask yourself, would I buy this company? Can 
I easily see that it will continue to grow if the owner leaves so that I
will benefit as the investor? Succession planning is all about how you
 will retire. Exit planning is all about how the business will continue to be successful after the owners leave, which is all important to buyers.”

Rieger McGregor of Spirit West offers these five tips for business
owners who are starting to think about finding a buyer in the coming
 years. First Tip? Start NOW.

1. Change Your Mind Set
Let go of your business now, emotionally. It’s not a reflection of who 
you are; it is an asset that has investment value. The more you can view 
your business from the eyes of an investor, the easier it will be to
make the transition to improving it so it will be attractive to
investors. This is not to say stop being passionate about your business,
it says let it stand on its own two feet.

2. Think Like a Buyer
If you were to buy this company tomorrow, what clues would tell you that
 it would continue to be a successful company? What would you look for to 
tell you that if you didn’t know anything about the company? Buyers want
 to see past evidence of growth: The plans, the result and the effect on
profits. They want to know the industries your company sells to are hale
and hearty especially in this challenging economy. Are your customers 
loyal, buying more regularly and getting your best solutions? Do you
 have a sales pipeline leading to increased revenue? What tools do you 
use for decision making? All of these things show a buyer you run a 
tight ship.

3. Transfer Knowledge and Power
Who will run the company if you’re not there? Can you disappear for six
weeks right now and be sure the company will still be humming when you
return? If not, you’ve got work to do. You may need a management team or
a CEO. You may need to start training and trusting your own people a lot
more than you do now. When you walk into your operation is the
atmosphere tighter than a drum or congenial, tense or excited? How come?

4. Clean Up the Files
For the next three years you’ve got to show increasing profit margins in
a consistent, steady uphill line. That means you will have to clean out
the personal items in your expense account, know where you are missing
 the mark and losing money and fix the problem and then set goals and 
targets that your team is accountable for. Then look at your agreements 
and contracts and get them reviewed by a lawyer. Do your supply 
agreements restrict geographic territory or activities? Do you have the
best suppliers on your team? Are your shareholder and management 
agreements tight or misunderstood? Get the right kind of help to sort
these problems out.

5. Focus on Growth
When was the last time you expanded your market place, launched a new
product or rethought your solution set to better meet customer needs? Is 
it easy for customers to switch from your product to some other company’s?
If so, you better find out why. Get to know your target market. Are 
you solving their problems in the right way? There is opportunity for a
 profit in every hassle you uncover in their business.

Buyers want to see a healthy pipeline of orders and opportunities for
the future. “This is not meant to tell owners what they’ve built isn’t
good enough.” Says Rieger McGregor. “It’s to let owners know that there
will be a huge number of businesses all wanting to sell in the coming
 years. Investors will have their choice of plum opportunities and will
 reject the rest. They will pick the investments where their risks of
 failure have been reduced. Owners need to know how to make that sense of
certainty obvious and reliable.”

It can take 2-4 years to sort out some of these issues. The time flies 
fast. Don’t be resistant to this effort: There’s a business to run
 and there might not be “know how” or time to try and get these ‘value’ 
improvements done properly and without business disruption. But investing the time gives both you and your employees a bright and prosperous future.

Exit planning and execution is something owners will need help with. You may
 need a consultant familiar with exit planning that can help plan and execute these change. Your accountant can devise the best tax strategies. Your lawyer will iron out the agreements and contracts and your board of
advisors should be challenging your decisions and holding you accountable for implementing plans. Then you know you close to having a saleable business.

If owners want to see their retirement plans realized, the time is now. Over the next few years it will be a buyers market, with many more competitors wanting that big exit payoff too.

And what of Paul and Trevor. They are one year into their reorganization and have found a new passion for their business. They know what they want and unlike their competitors, they are well on their way to becoming the right acquisition target for a buyer.

And they aren’t tired anymore.

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