In many cases, the sale of a small company is “event” driven. That is, the reason for sale is often an event such as a health decline or illness, divorce, partnership issues, or even a decline in business.
A much more difficult reason for selling is one in which the owners simply want to retire and live happily ever after. Here is the problem:
Suppose the owners have a very prosperous distribution business. They each draw about $200,000 annually from the business plus cars and other benefits. If the company sold for $2 million, let’s say after debt, taxes and closing expenses, the net proceeds would be $1.5 million. Sounds good, until you realize that the net proceeds only represent about 3-1/2 years of income for each (and that doesn’t include the cars, health insurance, etc.). Then what?
The above scenario is not atypical, especially in small companies. These are solid companies that provide a very comfortable living for two owners. In the above example, the owners obviously decided they couldn’t sell because it didn’t make economic sense to them. The business was worth much more to the owners than to any outside buyer. Perhaps they thought that an intermediary could produce a buyer who would be willing to pay far more than the business was worth. But, the M&A market is a fairly efficient one.
So, what should they do?
The downside is that competition could enter the fray and their business would not bring in the same cash flow.
The business could also suffer because the owners are not continuing to build it. They apparently want to retire and take life easy, and this mind-set could dramatically undermine the business.
If the owners are forced to sell the business because it is declining, they, most likely, won’t even receive the $2 million they might have received earlier.
On the other hand, the owners, ready to begin their happily ever after, could bring in a professional manager. This addition would cut their earnings slightly to pay for the new manager, but it would also reduce their responsibilities and give the business a chance to grow with new energy and ideas.