The Importance of Proactive Planning When Selling Your Business

by: Scott Whalen
Verified by: CPA

September 7, 2023

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The saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail” holds true, especially when it comes to selling your business. For many business owners, their enterprise represents a culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. So when the time comes to sell, it’s important to take appropriate steps to maximize the business’s value and achieve the outcome you envision for yourself, your employees, and the continuity of your business. This is best accomplished with proactive planning.

This is the first article in a series expanding on our previous overview, Top 10 Tax (and Non-Tax) Issues to Consider When Selling Your Business.

Going Beyond the Proceeds

While the proceeds of the sale are a vital factor, a successful business sale is also about preserving the legacy, ensuring the well-being of employees, and achieving personal goals. Here’s why proactive planning is crucial:

Achieving Full Business Value

Achieving the highest possible valuation isn’t just about showing good financial statements. There are multifaceted elements of the business that, when optimized, can significantly amplify its value. Here are some areas to consider:

  1. Financial Health: Clean financial records, profitability and revenue growth and debt management. If audited financials aren’t available, a Quality of Earnings report may be a helpful undertaking prior to sale. A Quality of Earnings report is a detailed study of how a business generates revenues, income and cash flows.
  2. Operational Efficiency: Streamlined, optimized processes and secure supplier relationships.
  3. Strong Customer Base: A diversified number of customers without overweighting to a select few; contracts and agreements in place that ensure future revenue.
  4. Human Resources: A strong team of leaders who will stay with the business post-sale; a stable workforce with low turnover and an workplace that offers competitive salaries, training and a positive environment.
  5. Intellectual Property and Assets: Ensure any patents, trademarks or copyrights are secured and up to date. Physical assets, such as machinery and equipment should be well maintained and up to date.
  6. Market Position and Brand Reputation: A strong brand and reputation in the market; a competitive analysis that illustrates where the business stands in comparison to competitors.

Understanding the Selling Landscape

The selling process involves multiple aspects such as valuations, legal considerations, and market dynamics. Early planning gives business owners the time to engage with advisors who specialize in these areas and acquaint themselves with these aspects to ensure they make informed decisions.

  1. Valuations: Valuation is the process of determining the current worth of a business and is the foundation on which the sale price is set. A proper valuation ensures that the business is neither underpriced (losing potential value) nor overpriced (which can deter potential buyers).
  2. Legal Considerations: Attorneys will provide guidance on contracts, negotiations, and ensure that all legal aspects of the sale are properly addressed.
  3. Market Dynamics: External factors and trends in the industry and economy can influence the demand and value of a business. Understanding the market can help with timing the sale, setting the price and finding the right buying audience.

Succession Planning for Employee and Customer Confidence

Selling a business isn’t just a change of ownership on paper; it involves the lives, careers, and emotions of the employees who have dedicated their time and energy to the organization. It also can bring uncertainty to long standing customers. Developing a succession plan ensures that both employees and customers have confidence that the business can continue to operate successfully without the current owner. Among the things to consider in this area are:

  1. Customer Retention: A succession plan can assure customers that the business will continue to provide its products or services without disruption. This continuity is also important to potential buyers.
  2. The Role of Employees in the Transition: For many businesses,  employees—often with years or even decades of experience—can play a significant, positive role in the transition of ownership.
  3. Potential Owners Within the Ranks: Some employees, due to their expertise and understanding of the business, may be ideal candidates to take on ownership roles. This could be in the form of a full ownership transition, a partnership, or a shareholding scenario.
  4. Family: In family-owned businesses, the decision to pass on the baton to the next generation or to a family member is common. However, it’s essential to ensure that they have the aptitude, interest, and vision for the role.

Meeting Personal Goals

Selling a business is not just a financial decision but also a deeply personal one. The sale can significantly influence an owner’s life and future plans. Early planning that aligns with personal aspirations can ensure that the sell and transition take into account the entire picture. Among the personal considerations for the business owner may be:

  1. Clarity on Objectives: Before pursuing a sale, the business owner should clearly define what they want to achieve from the sale. This could include a certain standard of living in retirement, starting a new venture, spending more time with family, or even pursuing a passion.
  2. Financial Goals: By understanding future financial needs, owners can set a realistic price for their business. For instance, someone hoping to retire immediately after selling might have different financial requirements than someone looking to reinvest in a new business venture. Additionally, the sale is an opportunity to engage in long-term wealth. financial planning and charitable giving planning with an eye on tax efficient strategies.
  3. Legacy: Some owners are deeply invested in the culture and purpose behind their business. They may want to ensure that the new owner will uphold these values. Early planning allows them to seek like-minded buyers or to incorporate terms into the sale agreement that preserve the business’s legacy.
  4. Post-Sale Role: Some business owners might want continue in some capacity after the sale. Early planning can guide negotiations in this direction.
  5. Tax and Legal Implications: Understanding the tax and legal implications of a sale on the owner’s personal situation can prevent unwanted surprises. It allows business owners to work with advisors  to structure the deal in a way that’s most advantageous to them and aligns with their future plans.

Selling a business is a monumental decision, and preparation is key. By engaging in proactive planning, business owners not only safeguard their legacy but also ensure they reap the full rewards of their years of hard work and dedication. The complexities inherent in this process demand attention to detail, forethought, and foresight and a team of experienced advisors.

Whether you’re stepping into a new chapter of entrepreneurship or embracing a well-deserved retirement, let the commitment to proactive planning be the foundation of your business’s final, successful chapter and the beginning of a new chapter for you.

Smith + Howard: Experienced Transaction Advisors

At Smith + Howard, we’re committed to going above and beyond basic tax guidance and financial due diligence. Our expert advisors have vast experience assisting both buyers and sellers and are well-equipped to help you navigate the complexities of selling your business. We are pleased to guide you through a successful transaction as an integral part of your experienced team. 

We appreciate the role our clients’ businesses play in their lives and communities, and are committed to helping business owners fully explore the options available to them as they prepare to sell their business.  

To learn more about how Smith + Howard can help you achieve your financial goals for the sale of your business, contact an advisor.

How can we help?

If you have any questions and would like to connect with a team member please call 404-874-6244 or contact an advisor below.