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What Does Benchmark International Tell Clients in Terms of Timing Expectations?

Our seller clients know that we see quite a few offers come through every week, month, and year and they expect us to provide our input on the timeframes that are “market.” As this is a buyer-seller neutral point and a strong set of mutual expectations is productive to achieving a closing, we want to give you an idea as to what is happening on our side of the table.

Nobody is getting deals closed in less than 90 days.

Even well-funded, experienced buyers seem to require 90 to 120 days get from letter of intent (LOI) execution to close in the middle and lower-middle markets. 

A request for more than 120 days is exorbitant.

A third of a year is a long time to be off the market for an owner who is committed to selling their business.When the time comes, there may well be good reason to extend exclusivity but we know that our clients more often than not regret any grant of 120 days or thereabouts. We can work with them to set up specific grounds for extending exclusivity beyond 90 days where a situation warrants it, but blanket grants of 120 days, or even 90 days with a 30-day automatic extension, are something we highly discourage our clients from accepting.

Diligence should start quickly.

We encourage acquirers to use the offer letter to inform the seller about diligence timings, especially when the initial diligence list will be sent and, if possible, when the initial diligence visit will start. All too often, we see LOIs signed followed by a long pause in activity and that drastically alters our clients’ attitudes toward the buyer and the offer. We encourage or clients to have this expectation set at the time of signing and expect that there will not be a pause but rather an aggressive start, even if that start only covers a portion of the scope of the overall diligence effort. When this happens, we see diligence lists arriving within a week of signing and the first onsite (or the next face-to-face meeting) within three weeks of signing.  

 

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First drafts do not wait until the diligence is complete.

We understand that acquirers may not want to incur the cost of engaging counsel based solely on the information in the Confidential Information Memorandum and a meeting or two. But we also understand that waiting two months to engage counsel and get first drafts out does not lead to a high close rate. We all know that drafts can be sent “pending finalization of due diligence.” Our successful deal closings have the first drafts coming out within a month of LOI signing. Our clients know that if they have not seen a draft by then, the deal is not likely to close.  

The seller can really mess up the timeline.

Failure to provide prompt and complete responses to diligence requests, abnormal reservation of disclosure of “sensitive” issues until later in the process, going on vacation, or simply the lack of organized files are all things we have discussed with our clients prior to going to market (and again when the LOIs start to arrive). They know that they can be the problem when it comes to timing. 

But if the seller does not mess up the timing…

Our clients know that time kills all deals. And they know that if they have been prompt and thorough, and the LOI signing date is approaching triple-digit days in the rearview mirror, things are not going well. Our statistics show that few deals die in the first 100 days after signing and few deals close more than 100 days after signing. This is something we share with our clients—both to set their expectations and to motivate them to be prompt and complete. 

Questions should be responded to within three business days.

We instruct our clients that deals require momentum to close. Precisely when they are most exhausted by the process is when they must reply in an even more expedient manner. Being realistic, we feel that the seller owes the buyer responses to every question within three business days, even if the response is, “We are working on it. It’s been a bit difficult to get our hands on that data.” Similarly, we believe the acquirer should respond to the seller’s questions, and send their follow up questions, within three business days. Allowing sellers to feel that anything that has not yielded a follow up within those three days has a “soft close” around it and goes an immeasurable distance in keeping sellers motivated, focused, and responsive.  

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The Changing Landscape of Indemnification in U.S. Purchase Agreements

It has been very interesting to follow the changes in market norms for indemnification over the last two decades. As due diligence has escalated dramatically, especially in the U.S. lower-mid markets, over that time, indemnification terms have moved in equal measure in the opposite direction. It seems that acquirers believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While this has significantly increased the time between signing a letter of intent and closing, it has also made the negotiation of the purchase agreements a bit simpler. First-time sellers—always attentive to post-closing liabilities—seem to be much more comfortable with the current market terms for indemnification than they did with those in practice at the turn of the millennium.

While Benchmark International does not provide legal advice to its clients (or to acquirers), we do rely on our viewing of hundreds of purchase agreements per year to offer our seller clients a perspective on what we see as the norms for their market. While this is a moving target, our insights have remained fairly constant for the last three or four years as follows:

  • We see indemnification for any item other than a fundamental representation being capped at between 10 and 20% of the non-contingent portion of the purchase price.
  • Acquirers are still alternating between both baskets and true deductibles. These are typically agreed at between one and two percent of the non-contingent portion of the purchase price with baskets being at the higher end and deductibles being at the lower end. These de minimis carve-outs are applied to fundamental representations in about half of all deals.
  • The obligations for everything but fundamental representations survive for between 12 and 24 months, with 18 months coming on strong as the mode.

 

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  • Fundamental representations are almost always capped at the entire purchase price and survive for very long periods such as seven years, until the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations, or indefinitely. This survival period is one deal point for which we would say there is no market norm at the moment.
  • The representations classified as fundamental have not changed much over the years: organization, capitalization, authority, no conflict, ownership of assets, brokers, environmental, tax, and ERISA.
  • Fraud continues to be treated like the fundamental representations.
  • We still see a few acquirers attempting to leave out the provision encapsulating the indemnification as the exclusive remedy. And we still see sellers’ counsel never allowing that to be absent in the final draft. Leaving it out of a first draft has become so rare that it is almost seen as painting outside the lines, poor sportsmanship, or the like by our clients’ counsel.
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The Ultimate Checklist For Buying A Business

Acquiring an existing business can offer great advantages over starting a new business from scratch, especially if the target business is thriving and holds more opportunities for growth. When considering the purchase of a company, you should take certain steps so that you can be confident that you are minimizing your risk and making a smart move. Use this comprehensive checklist to help you ask the right questions and guide you through the process. 

 

☐ Is the Target Company Financially Healthy? 

This is a question you must ask yourself before considering anything else about the business. You will want to carefully comb through the business's financial statements for the past five years (at least) to identify if anything appears out of the ordinary and to assess how the numbers compare with standard performance in that sector. Also, request to see the tax returns for the same years. This will help you determine whether the owner has put personal expenses through the company books and give you a more complete picture of the company's actual value. You also will want to know if you will be taking on any existing debt, and exactly how much.

 

☐ Will You Be Able to Generate Cash Flow?

It is crucial that you know whether you will be able to generate cash flow immediately upon purchasing the business. If not, are you in a position to carry the business until that time comes? No matter how attractive the company may seem, you must ensure that you are not getting in over your head. Take a thorough look at sales records to assess past and future performance. You must also find out if any existing clients or customers are planning to part ways and what you can do to retain their business. 

 

☐ Does the Company Have a Good Reputation? 

Doing a quick Google search can reveal quite a bit about a business. You will want to see how the company is perceived in the world. Does it have a lot of negative reviews or bad press? Are there any customer complaints, and do you know how they were handled? Get a comprehensive look at the business's reputation because you are going to need to see if you have work to do in order to turn it around. This could include a complete rebranding and marketing effort, which costs money. 

 

☐ Have You Done Your Homework on the Staff?

When you acquire an existing business, you are also acquiring its management team and employees. You should know the skill levels and proficiencies of any staff you will be inheriting, and whether you are going to be faced with the task of replacing key staff members. Do all team members plan to stay with the company? Have they been made any promises by previous ownership that you will now be expected to fulfill? Is anyone retiring or planning to go on extended leave? Is anyone disgruntled about the sale? When you know the answers to these questions, you'll be best prepared to address any issues. 

 

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☐ What is the State of the Inventory?

If inventory is applicable to the business in question, everything should be itemized and given a carefully determined value. Will any inventory lose value with time, or only have a value at certain times of the year? Will it be adequately stocked for when you take over the company? When you are investing in a company, you're going to want to have everything you need on hand to generate revenue from its operation. 

 

☐ What is the State of the Physical Property?

First things first: you need to know if the business owns the property on which it resides or if there is a lease agreement in place. Then seek out answers to the following questions. What are the details of the lease and the reputation of the landlord? How much is the rent, and is it due to increase? Is the property in good condition, or is it in need of repair? If the business owns the property, what are the real estate taxes? Is the property able to accommodate any planned growth? Is it legally zoned? Is the location appropriate? Are you going to need to make changes, or find a new location altogether? This is an area where you cannot be too thorough. 

 

☐ Do You Have All the Legal Documents and Contracts?

This is another critical step in purchasing a business. You are going to need to have every last piece of paperwork that pertains to that business. This includes business licenses, copyright agreementspatentstrademarks, import and export permits, mining rights, real estate documents, etc. Basically, if something relates to the business in any way, you should have documentation of it. If the current owner has not kept good records, there is your first sign that you might want to think twice about moving forward with the acquisition. 

 

☐ What is the Condition of the Business's Equipment?

You should assess the condition of all office equipment, furniture, machinery, and vehicles used for the business. What is owned and what is leased? What are the items' lease or purchase details, and are there maintenance agreements in place? You should assess the condition of all equipment to determine if anything will need to be replaced because this will be a factor in the purchase price of the business.

 

☐ Are You Familiar With the Business's Suppliers?

This is important because suppliers can have a significant impact on how reliable your business is able to run. You want to ensure that they are established and committed to providing superior quality and service. Find out if they fill orders on time and meet their obligations. Look into any contracts that are in place, so you understand the relationship. You also will want to ask if there are any expected price increases or factors that may impact the existing arrangement.

 

☐ Contact Benchmark International 

If you are looking to buy a business, we represent highly motivated sellers in the lower-middle and middle market that may be the perfect fit for you. Contact one of our experts to discuss how we can help with target company searches. 

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6 Books About Growing A Business That You Should Read

Growing a Business

By Paul Hawken

In this book, Paul Hawken explains how a successful business is an expression of the individual behind it, along with practical advice, common sense, and down-to-earth ideas. Even though it was written 30 years ago, it remains an excellent and very relevant read, backed by the fact that the author’s own companies are still successful after all these years.

 

Organizational Physics - The Science of Growing a Business 

By Lex Sisney

The author of this book spent more than a decade leading and coaching high-growth technology companies. In his work, he discovered that companies that thrive do so in accordance with six universal principles. The book covers a blend of important business and entrepreneurial topics in a manner that stands out from other business books.

 

Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine

By Mike Michalowicz

In this book, the author offers principles to simplify accounting and easily manage a business through analysis of bank account balances. The theory is that a small, profitable business can be more valuable than a large business surviving on its top line, and those that achieve early and sustained profitability have a better chance of maintaining long-term growth.

 

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Explosive Growth: A Few Things I Learned While Growing To 100 Million Users - And Losing $78 Million

By Cliff Lerner

This best seller provides step-by-step instructions, case studies and proven tactics on how to explode business growth. It reveals the detailed growth frameworks that propelled the author’s small online dating startup to grow to 100 million users while coupling humorous storytelling with concrete examples.

 

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

By Gabriel Weinberg

Traction is based on interviews with more than 40 successful business founders about their real-life successes. It covers 19 channels that can be used to gain traction for a business, and how to select the best ones for your company. The book discusses topics such as targeted media coverage, effective email marketing strategy, and online search optimization.  

 

Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact

By Ron Price and Stacy Ennis

Growing Influence is packed with relatable human experiences and practical advice on developing the right leadership skills. It chronicles two main characters’ growth as they applied the principles in the book, mixing solid business advice with a novel that is fresh, timely and inspiring.

 

Ready to Grow Your Business?

Contact us for help with unique growth strategies for your company and how we can partner for your successful future.

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9 Surprising Stats About Buying or Selling a Business

Are you considering buying or selling a privately held business? Below are a few stats that you might find surprising:

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