Despite the predictions of many experts, now may be the best time to sell your business. Yes, there’s been a recession. Yes, you’d think that there should be a flood of businesses on the market. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. And prices are not depressed. A business with positive cash flow and other desirable assets that shows well can still fetch a good price.
In 2005, a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent BusinessThe Business Transition Crisis, with the subtitle, Plan Your Succession Now and Beat the Biggest Business Selloff in History.
We have less than two years for that prediction to come true, and so far it hasn’t happened.
Like me, various advisors read the tea leaves and a brand new industry emerged with visions of capturing the resultant fees associated with the selling event. Bankers, accountants, lawyers, business brokers and financial planners believed that business owners would line up at their door seeking advice and expertise that would help them sell their business for the most money possible while paying the least amount of taxes. But the lineups haven’t materialized.
I asked some business brokers what’s really happening out there. Most have said that business is fine. It’s a steady increase year over year, but it’s not the huge wave they expected. “Business for me just keeps getting better. Every year I get more referrals, and that’s the only way I get business anymore,” says Rob Mitchell of Sunbelt Business Brokers Premium in Guelph, Ont.
Steve Skrlac with Keystone Realty, a brokerage that focuses on small- to medium-sized businesses, echoes Mitchell’s remarks. “The boom isn’t happening. We are busy, but not as much as we expected.”
When I ask Skrlac why, he identifies a few trends. “Boomers are healthier than their predecessors that were reaching their sixties. They want to work longer. In fact, many are bored with their previous job or being retired and are actually becoming entrepreneurs in their fifties and sixties. They may sell one business and start or buy another.”
Mitchell gave three reasons:
- Many sellers are just recovering from the lengthy recession. Their sales are not back to their peak and they are not willing to sell the business for a significant discount due to the current sales levels.
- Many sellers don’t know where to turn. They don’t know business brokers (or M&A professionals) exist or don’t know of a “good one.” Many need to be referred by someone before they are comfortable speaking to a broker.
- Many either haven’t saved enough to retire or enjoy what they are doing and are not ready to retire just yet.
What I didn’t expect to hear is that, at least right now, it’s a sellers’ market. There are more people interested in buying a business than there are businesses for sale.
Mark Groulx with AIM Group Canada says, “I have a list of 42 buyers who are interested in purchasing a business worth over $3 million. And I have connections with dozens of private equity firms from North America and a few in China who have almost unlimited millions to invest, but not the complementary list of owners looking to sell.”
“It is still a seller’s market right now,” says Mitchell. “Anyone with a good business should be able to sell it for a good price after looking at multiple offers.”
So were the prognosticators wrong? Has the tsunami dissipated? “Not likely,” say both Mitchell and Skarlac.
There’s still a build-up in the market. It’s inevitable. Boomers are going to have to pass on their businesses eventually. It’s not a matter of if, but when. The when has been pushed out further into the future, but it’s still there. Even those boomers who are in good health now will eventually need to make the transition.
What’s the takeaway?
- Today’s boomers are healthier and still want to be engaged and active well beyond the traditional retirement age. As a result, they won’t all sell their business in their mid fifties or sixties like their parents might have.
- This means that there’s still going to be a big bump in sales, but it’s been paused for a few years. It could be there will be a more steady increase over the next 10 years vs. a spike in sales. The dam that is holding back the river has some cracks, but it’s not breaking yet.
- It’s a sellers’ market. If you are thinking of selling, now could be a good time if you and your business are ready. Talk with someone who can help to step through the process with you.
- You might find that a particularly active friend in their fifties or sixties might want to buy your business. Talk with them. A small business may attract someone who is looking to “buy a job”—someone who wants more control over their life and feels passionate about a service or product that your company supplies.
- Many business owners have experienced setbacks in the past few years and the value of their business has gone down. They want to bring it back up before selling. That could extend their preferred timeline by an extra three to five years.
- You still need to take steps to make your business attractive and have a realistic view of what it’s worth. If not, it may be hard to find a broker, never mind a buyer who is willing to look at your business seriously.
While the predictions of a tsunami may have been premature, those on the street believe it’s still coming.
Wayne Vanwyck is the founder and CEO of The Achievement Centre International in London, Ont., and Callright Marketing Services in Kitchener, Ont. He is the creator of The Business Transition Coach Forum, the author of the best-selling book Pure Selling and his recent book The Business Transition Crisis: Plan Your Succession Now and Beat the Biggest Business Sell-off In History. He has been training and coaching business owners for the past 28 years.
More columns by Wayne Vanwyck