Many people assume they know what “fairness opinion” means because they are familiar with the term “fair market value.” Fair market value refers to a price that is reasonable for both a buyer and seller in an open and competitive market. However, a fairness opinion is quite different. This term refers to a report that evaluates the facts of a merger or acquisition or any other type of business purchase.
A fairness opinion is typically in the form of a letter that contains an actual opinion and justification of why a selling price is fair. Of course, there are limitations, as this report is fully based on information that has been provided by the management of the business.
Who Prepares a Fairness Opinion?
A fairness opinion must be prepared by a professional with expertise in business valuation. It is typically done by a business intermediary or appraiser. An investment banker can also prepare a fairness opinion. Although the professional who prepares the fairness opinion may very well have experience in structuring deals, this letter does not include any information or opinion on the deal itself. It also doesn’t include advice or recommendation. In preparing the report, the advisor seeks to look at the deal from the perspective of the investors.
Basically, it is structured to specifically comment on fairness from a financial perspective, based on the information on hand.
Who Uses Fairness Opinions?
You will most frequently see fairness opinions utilized in the sale of public companies by the board of directors. When this document is received, it shows that the board is working to protect the shareholders. Of course, fairness opinions can also be used for private companies. In this case, it can serve to protect the interest of shareholders or family members who may later look to challenge the sales price. However, in most situations that involve middle market private acquisitions, a fairness opinion is not necessary.
In the end, a fairness opinion assists with communication and decision-making. It serves to lower the risks surrounding a deal. This important document can be used in court if a shareholder later decides to file a lawsuit against the director of a company.
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When it comes to getting a loan, you can be certain that a bank will want collateral. This is true for both personal and business loans. Simply stated, if you have collateral, your bank won’t be concerned about being left empty handed if you can’t repay the loan. Many budding business owners are, in fact, held back by the fact that they lack the collateral needed to buy a business. However, the good news is that there are ways that one can buy a business with no collateral or very little collateral.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is the first stop for those wanting to start a business with a low level of collateral. The SBA’s 7 (a) program provides banks with incentives to make loans to buyers. It is through this program that the SBA will provide guarantees for a whopping 75% of the loan amount. The borrower still has to have the remaining 25% of the loan amount. This means that on a $1 million dollar business, the borrower just has to come up with $250,000 and not the full $1 million dollars.
Through the SBA’s 7 (a) program it is possible for prospective business owners to consider businesses that would otherwise be completely out of their reach. Yet, there is a second excellent aspect to the program, namely that the cash that buyers use to meet the 25% requirement can come from an investor or a gift. Anyone looking to become a first time business owner will want to fully explore all that the SBA’s 7 (a) program has to offer.
A second route for those looking to buy their first business is seller financing. Seller financing is not rare, as many may suspect. This method of financing is actually quite common. If sellers are motivated, they are much more willing to consider seller financing. Keep in mind that there are many reasons why a seller may be motivated, such as retirement, unexpected personal problems, or just burnout. Seller financing and the SBA’s 7 (a) program could, in some situations, be used together. This combination could serve to greatly increase your chances of buying a business.
This is not to state that there are zero obstacles or limitations with the SBA’s 7 (a) program. For example, the program requires that sellers cannot receive any form of payment for a full two-year time period. There are ways to address this problem, but it is something that buyers and sellers alike should be ready to address.
A lack of collateral doesn’t have to mean the end of the dream of owning a business. If you are interested in owning your own business and lack collateral, meet with a consultant at S.C.O.R.E. and other experienced professionals, such as a business broker or M&A advisor. An experienced brokerage professional will have a wide-array of ideas for how to buy a business with little or limited collateral.
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When in the process of buying a business, some buyers have accidentally overlooked important questions that need to be asked. However, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you wish you’d found out details that would have impacted your decision-making. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some often-overlooked inquiries.
1. What Is Included in the Sale?
It is possible to get so focused on the purchase of the business itself, that you overlook key details such as what is included. Don’t just assume that you’ll also receive important assets such as real estate, inventory, or machinery. All of this must be carefully outlined and documented. You will want to know exactly what you’ll be getting for your investment.
2. What Assets Are Included?
You’ll want to get the ins and outs of the proprietary materials and ensure that they are included with the business. If there is intellectual property, such as patents and copyrights, formulations, or software, you’ll want to ensure it is included. If it’s not included in the sale, you’ll want to know why. After all, the success of the business could depend on these.
3. How Can You Grow the Business?
Before you buy a business, it’s a good idea to ask yourself about its potential for growth. Many sellers will be prepared to provide you with ideas and strategies. If it is deemed that the growth for the business is limited, this is something you’ll want to determine in advance. Also, it is important to think about the amount of working capital you’ll need to not only run the business, but also to make any necessary changes.
4. What is the Staffing Situation?
You’ll want to think about how dependent the business is on the current owner or manager. If and when the current owner leaves, how much will that impact operations? You’ll also want to know in-depth information about who the management team is and how experienced they are. It is essential that your expectations are in line with reality.
As you can see, many variables must be taken into consideration before you sign on the dotted line. Much of this will be handled during the due diligence process. However, it is essential that you ask the right questions and speak up whenever you need clarity on an issue. When a business is properly vetted, you’ll not only be satisfied, but you’ll also be more successful.
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Whether you are thinking of buying or selling a business, it’s worth taking a look at the quarterly BizBuySell reports. The findings from these publications are taken from analysis of sales and listing prices of approximately 50,000 businesses across the United States. The report covers the statistics of sales prices and successful transactions. It also discusses the trends that are at play. Regardless of your role in the business world, these trends likely will have some sort of impact on you.
A Boom for Sellers
The latest BizBuySell report, which covers Q4 of 2021, found that now is a very positive time for sellers. Q4 actually surpassed the pre-pandemic numbers of the fourth quarter of 2019. Of course, this is a major shift away from the sales numbers in 2020. It is typical to see transitions dip in the fourth quarter; however, 74% of brokers stated that their sales were steady during this time period. Experts say that this strength has carried into early 2022.
Other notable sales statistics include the following:
- 8,647 closed transactions were reported in 2021, an increase from 7,612 in 2020
- Sales prices increased 16% year-over-year
- Median cash flow grew 10% year-over-year
Buyers are Looking for Quality
In terms of what buyers are currently looking for, 60% of surveyed buyers indicated that strong financials were simply a “must have” when they were considering a business. This number is in stark contrast to 18% of buyers who responded that discounted opportunities were a top consideration.
Labor Shortages a Factor
The BizBuySell report also discussed the prevalent factor of labor shortages. In fact, 64% of owners surveyed say that this issue has impacted them. Business brokers agree that labor shortage is currently the largest problem for small businesses. Another corresponding issue is that of supply chain disruptions, which 75% of the business owners responding to the survey said had an impact on them.
A More Balanced Landscape
In the survey, brokers were asked if they believed that owners were more or less likely to sell their business in 2022 versus 2021. The general trend was towards brokers believing that there would be more businesses sold this year as compared to last year. Last year, the view was that buyers had the edge over sellers. However, now it seems as though brokers feel that the landscape has shifted and become more balanced overall.
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Once you get to the stage of your deal where you have a signed letter of intent, you may already be feeling a sense of relief that your deal is near finalization. But remember that the due diligence stage is typically yet to come. This stage includes everything from financial and legal investigations to a review of specific information regarding how a business is run.
The due diligence process can be quite comprehensive and it often reveals some surprises. Because it is important for sellers to know what to prepare and for buyers to know what to look for, let’s examine some of the categories that are reviewed during this process.
Trademarks and Copyrights
Will assets like trademarks, patents and copyrights be transferred? This is a point that has certainly interfered with some deals being successful. Due to the fact that trademarks, patents, and copyrights are often essential parts of a business, they cannot be overlooked.
Products and Industry
Due diligence will likely include analysis of product lines and the respective percentage of sales that they make up. If the business in question is a manufacturing business, then all aspects of the process will be examined. For example, buyers will be looking for age and value of the equipment, information about suppliers, etc.
It goes without saying that financial statements should be poured over during due diligence. Current statements and incoming sales should be carefully reviewed. Review of financial information will also include balance sheets. Is there bad debt? Is there work in progress? These kinds of issues will be evaluated.
If you are selling a business, you should be prepared to share lists of major customers. Buyers may also want to compare your market share to that of your competitors.
Buyers should be looking for information on key personnel, as well as data on any potential employee turnover. If you are selling a business, it’s important to try to fix any staffing problems that might interfere with a buyer’s ability to properly run the business.
A key goal of the due diligence process is to find potential problems, such as liabilities and contractual issues. But on the upside, due diligence also includes investigation into assets and benefits. The end result should be that the selling price of the business is justified and both parties walk away satisfied. As stated above, it is very common for problems and issues to pop up during due diligence, so it’s important to stay proactive and be open to negotiation until the deal is finalized.
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