Due diligence is a buyer’s detailed investigation into the matters of your company in preparation for a possible sale transaction. For many business owners, this is one of the most dreaded parts of selling their business. After a letter of intent (LOI) is signed and a price range is agreed to, buyers have the right to dig into the business to ensure that they know what they are buying, and to identify any potential risks of owning the business. While buyers and sellers have different objectives and motives, both parties benefit from a thorough and efficient processes. Whether your company is pursuing a capital infusion or positioning itself for an acquisition by a strategic or financial buyer, due diligence is a critical component of every investment. It’s an intrusive process and, like everything else about the sale of your business, you need to be prepared.
When a potential buyer assesses your company, they will want to fully understand the essentials of the business such as organizational information, financial records, regulatory matters and litigation, employment and labor matters, and many others. When your company is well-prepared for the exit process, long before it is anticipated, not only will it make the company look more attractive to potential buyers but it will also maximize the value and expedite the transaction timeline. If not properly prepared, this can result in an incredible demand on a company and its resources, give a buyer the perception that the company is disorganized, and create operational difficulties within the company.
Below are four ways to prepare for due diligence and secure the deal you want:
Start with a Due Diligence Checklist
Most buyers will provide the target company with a due diligence checklist but, before receiving that list, sellers should ensure that common checklist items are available, up-to-date, accurate, and organized. The data needed for the due diligence process should be in order and ready to be uploaded to a virtual data room within a couple of days of initiating due diligence. This is not only necessary in the event of an acquisition, but it is also a valuable discipline to maintain as the company grows.
Invest in Professional Accounting Practices
The due diligence process is dependent upon the strength of the seller’s accounting system. It is essential that the company’s financial reports present potential buyers with a clear story, allowing them to fully evaluate the company’s earning potential. Buyers will be concerned with all of the target company’s historical financial statements and related financial metrics, as well as the reasonableness of the projections of its future performance. A business’ financial records should be clearly stated and easy to follow. If not, this could create confusion, misunderstanding, and devaluation.
Planned transactions have failed, even though the business itself was healthy and growing, when the financial reporting was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete, and the buyer could not trust the data. Accurate financial statements are also necessary for the seller to support the business valuation. What assets does the business have? How profitable is the business? What is the working capital? What are the growth trends? All of these are major factors in the valuation of the business, so the data representing them needs to be accurate and precise.
To avoid issues, it is recommended that, before going to market, a seller contacts an independent accounting firm to review or audit the company’s financial statements. This will help to ensure that the company financial data is accurate and complete, will instill a sense of confidence from the buyer, and will more likely result in an efficient and successful due diligence process.
Engage Qualified Representation
A team of good professional advisors is crucial to a successful sale of a company. These advisors will steer sellers in terms of what they need to do to get their company ready for sale. Tap into these resources because they will have dealt with enough transactions to know what you should be focusing on to ensure a successful sale. Some recommended professional advisors include, but are not limited to, a M&A broker, an accountant, a tax advisor, a M&A lawyer, a wealth advisor, an investment banker, and a trusts and estate lawyer, if needed. With advance planning and the help of good advisors, a seller can ensure that his or her best interests are fully represented, common pitfalls are avoided, and the transaction will run smoothly and efficiently.
Responsiveness to Requests
During the due diligence process, potential buyers will seek to comprehensively understand the business practices behind a company’s earnings. It is the sellers job to guide the buyer through the learning curve. Respond to the buyer’s due diligence requests in an organized, detailed, and complete manner. If there are requests for missing data, respond punctually. This responsiveness allows the seller to gain credibility with a buyer, and provides buyers additional comfort with the quality of the business they are buying.
Due diligence is a vital and complex part of M&A transactions. Preparing beforehand can help a company position itself for higher valuations, stronger negotiations, and better outcomes. Understanding the importance of due diligence to both parties in a transaction, planning in advance, enlisting the support of specialists, and investing the time to run a thorough due diligence review early in a transaction will help prevent unwelcome surprises and potential liabilities for both parties.