When is it a good time to sell my business?

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There is no good or bad time to sell a business.

Your own thoughts on the state of the economy, the prospects of your business making or losing money at a set time, and the future prospects of your business are completely irrelevant for the purposes of the sale of a business. This is because the buyer has their own reasons for making a purchase, and these reasons will be very different to your reasons for selling. Sellers often fail to appreciate this when it comes to looking at potential buyers, as they very often put their own set of values, opinions and prejudices first before considering the buyer.

I use the word ‘prejudices’ in a sense that we will have, for example, buyers who will get in touch to say that they intend to speed up the conveyancing process, and to do this they need to purchase a law firm. We will contact a target law firm on our books to ask for permission to release details to the buyer, and the seller will immediately refuse on the basis that they feel offended that the buyer thinks they can speed up the conveyancing process, when the seller knows that in reality this is virtually impossible to do in the current system. What the seller has failed to appreciate is that it is irrelevant for the purposes of achieving a sale at a set price to a buyer, as to what the buyer’s intentions are.

This gets into the whole issue of whether or not there is a good time to make a sale, because if a buyer has decided they need to purchase a business in order to achieve a goal, or to implement a system, then there is not going to be a good or bad time to do this, but simply a time. This time can be in a completely different world to the one being currently occupied by the business they are purchasing, and sometimes sellers find it really hard to get their heads around this.

Take an example of a firm that is not struggling, but not particularly making a lot of money in a difficult market.

The seller wants to get out, because they are fed up of doing the same work for very little money, and are looking for a buyer to take over. In their minds, they think that it is impossible to make any money from the work they are doing at the moment, and cannot imagine why anyone would want to purchase their business.

The buyer however, has completely different plans, because they have work to put through a firm for a completely different source to the current sources of work the seller has. All they need is an existing business to take over, in order to achieve their goals.

To the one party, the seller, the market is awful and chances of making any money are very limited, but to the other party, the buyer, there are huge potential sources of work which they want to tap into, if only they were able to purchase the business the seller is disposing of.

So, one person’s difficult market is another person’s prosperous market, and it is very rare that the two actually meet at the same time.

As I write this FAQ we have been through a sustained period of growth in the property market, and conveyancing law firms have enjoyed boom times, with increased profits, difficulty recruiting new staff because of shortages, hugely increased turnover, and great prospects for anyone in the sector. However, it has not been particularly easy to sell conveyancing law firms, because buyers can see that the current market is at capacity, and buyers are waiting for the market to drop. As and when the market drops, we anticipate there being an increased interest in conveyancing businesses, but while the business is booming we don’t think there is as much interest, and that is borne out by the numbers of buyers we see coming into the business.

Buyers are looking for a business they can add value to. They want to take over a business where it is possible to grow, increase profits, generate more turnover, and expand teams.

If you take the opposite extreme of a small business in a sector that’s not particularly busy, generating a small amount of profit from a relatively low turnover without much marketing and limited staff numbers, but possessing the right structure and offering a buyer huge potential to increase turnover and generate profit, then a lot more buyers are going to be interested in the latter business than they are the former.

In a way, I guess this kind of answers the question in terms of whether or not there is a good time to sell a business, or when is a good time to sell a business, because to a certain extent, as your business goes on its journey from inception through to disposal, it changes in shape and size. There will be different types of buyers interested at different stages of the life of a business, and it is true that there are certain types of business that are  a lot easier to sell than others. However, there is no good time to sell in terms of external factors. For the reasons given above, you just never know when a buyer is going to come along and why a buyer is looking to make a ‘good’ offer.

In terms of other factors affecting a time to sell, which can include your own situation, then things are very different.

For example, it is never a good idea to try to sell just before you plan to retire or close a business down. Buyers will have a very good guess that a 75-year-old looking to dispose of a business is not going to be hanging around for a long period of time if they are unable to sell, and so are likely to be in a much weaker position when it comes to negotiation. If that same 75-year-old had looked around when they were 60 years old, things may have been very different indeed.

We offer exit strategy advice and assistance as paid service, because it is so complex at any point in the life span of a business. Everyone has different plans for the future, and for their businesses and personal life, and they all intertwine, which makes exit strategy planning all the more important.

Summary

The short answer to this lengthy article is that there is never a good time to sell a business. You don’t know the path a buyer is taking, in the same way that they don’t know your own circumstances. External market forces may be affecting your trading, but a buyer may see it completely differently. Do not foist your own opinions onto a reason for the sale or purchase of a company, because it always seems to end in the wrong decision being made.

If you would like further assistance in relation to timings, exit strategies or the sale of your business, please drop us a line or give us a call.

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