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The Five Most Common Mistakes When Buying or Selling a Business

For most business owners buying or selling their business is a rare event indeed. In fact most businesses owners do it only once, when they exit their business to retire. Like most things in life the first time you do something is the occasion when you make the most mistakes. If you are selling a business you can’t afford to make mistakes because it’s the only chance you’ll get.

When buying a business making a mistake can leave you not only seriously overpaying for a business but having a management headache which may take years not months to put right and in the meantime will seriously damage the prospects of your current business.

It may be some comfort to know that it is not just smaller businesses the make horrendous mistakes, big businesses all too regularly fall into the same trap. I know from personal experience the business I worked for in my last corporate role was purchased by another company and the acquisition almost brought the acquiring company to its knees, because as far as I could see it made two of these common mistakes.

Mistake No 1 Getting emotionally involved with the sale.

Let’s face it, it’s exciting to be buying or selling a business and it requires a lot of management time. For the vendor selling a business there is the prospect of making that exit and having the money to retire. For the buyer there is the undoubted prestige of acquiring a business and the prospect of a big jump in company size or new geographic coverage.

The result for the unwary buyer is that in buying a business they get duped into paying too high a price because they get wrapped up in the chase. For the novice seller the process of selling the business gets dragged out over a long period of time, causing them to take their eye off the day-to-day management of the business, often leading to a downturn in its fortunes and so its ultimate price.

Mistake No 2 Not Having a Walk Away Number

Buying or Selling a business involves negotiation, in order to make sure you don’t pay too much when buying a business or get paid too little when selling a business you need to establish 1. What is the value of the business and 2. What is the maximum you’ll pay or minimum you’ll accept. Once you’ve established this you’ll be much better placed in the negotiation and you’ll be less likely to make mistake No 1.

Mistake No 3 Not understanding the Impact of Culture

This Ladies and Gentleman is the big one, of all the issues that get overlooked culture stands head and shoulders above everything else. Good businesses have strong cultures; their staff have bought into the fact that their way is the right way. Now imagine what happens when these staff are told, that their way is no longer the right way and your way is the right way. Yes that’s right they’ll find every reason to demonstrate the flaws in your system and why your way is not the right way. Worse they are butting up against your staff who are equally convinced that your way is the right way. So you tend either to have a very difficult integration problem because you now have two opposing camps or you have an attrition problem as the staff from the acquired company leave.

The seller will of course say that culture isn’t a problem, because to him it isn’t. Either there isn’t a problem with culture or it’s too late for you when you find out there is as he’s already got his money. Why don’t people address this problem? Firstly because so many don’t even recognise it as an issue and secondly because they have made mistake number 1 and are looking for reasons to buy rather than looking for issues.

Mistake No 4 Underestimating Management Effort

Buying a business is just the first step, now you’ve got to integrate it with the rest of your business so that means addressing, culture, strategy, planning, financial systems, sales, customer relationships a new organisational structure to mention just a few. The management effort to achieve this is considerable even if you have willing staff, so don’t be surprised if it takes 6 months to a year to get it all bedded down. This effort is considerable even if the new acquired company is small in comparison to yours.

Mistake No 5 Buying a business that is too big or too small

This tends to relate to the problem of biting off more than you can chew. Remember the bigger the business you buy in relation to you the acquirer the more political clout it will have and the more concessions you will have to make, and the longer integration will take. The more your management is focused on the acquisition the bigger the risk that they will let your core business slip and then you have a really big management headache, that is, trying to integrate the new business and recover your own.

The other side of the coin is that you waste your money on something too small which won’t payback a recent return on all the management effort required to integrate it into your existing business.

Once you understand these problems you are on your way to avoiding them and making your acquisitions a success and not a millstone.

Starting With the Right Legal Business Type, Sole Proprietorship

When starting your business, one of the things you will need to figure out is the legal form you should register your business as, in order to ensure that you are operating with the correct business profile and level of financial protection to suit your precise needs.

Though not a lawyer, having worked in several countries, across 3 continents, I have picked up a few things that I suspect will prove helpful in your decision making process, and would suggest that you consider some of the following issues carefully.

To start with, in all the countries I have worked, it was clear that there were usually a combination of 3 or 4 legal business types used to legally conduct business. And for the most part the similarities were significant.

The most common of these business types is a Sole Proprietorship. And though these may known by different names, in different countries, they are essentially subject to the same rules, regulations, financial protection and taxation.

So, when considering this business type it is good to be aware of essentially three key features that typically govern this type of legal business form.

1. You are personally liable for the debts of the business

With this type of legal business type, you are the business. This means that the bank can take your house in lieu of a debt incurred to conduct business. If you get sued for something you did wrong in your business, you also stand to loose your personal assets, including your house and car as they are all on the line.

From an operational perspective it means that bank accounts will be in your personal name, as if you had no business. Notably in most countries it would be possible to register a trading name, which you could attach to your bank account in order to receive checks in the name of your business, however it is still you that are on the hook.

One thing to keep in mind though is that even though operating your business as this type of entity exposes you to personal liability, in most countries where this is a serious risk, you are able to insure against liability from suits. And when it comes to debt, the upside is that you can use your personal credit history to conduct business cheaper, which if managed well, should never really prove to be an issue. Just pay your bills and all will be fine.

2. Your business is taxed as if it is you.

Simply put the profits from your business are treated as personal income, and you would declare it as such. You are also able to deduct most of your personal expenses, that relate to your business, from your taxable income, which might mean that if you work from home, a part of your living expenses could potentially be deductible. Essentially the business is you, and for the most part the expenses you incur to earn a living are treated as tax deductible expenses.

3. You are unable to sell the business, you can only sell the assets.

Though for the most part this will not prove a significant issue, it is important to realize that since you are the business, you cannot sell the business. You are able to sell the assets of the business, which may include trading names, stock, customer databases etc. however you have to be aware that to transfer the debts and liabilities of the business, you have to specifically contract that into the sale. And even then it does not necessarily resolve all the issues that may potentially arise, even after the sale of the business.

Here are some of the benefits of this type of business:

1. It usually costs nothing or very little to set up or register.

2. Business operating costs are considerably lower than the other available legal business forms, e.g. your accountant and lawyer will likely cost you significantly less, because things are just simpler.

3. It is easy to setup, and you can start operating your business very quickly.

4. As mentioned above you can rely on your personal credit history for conducting business so this will, initially at least, make things a little easier.

5. It is easy to close down as you simply stop doing business. There is usually little or no cost to shutting down this type of business, except of course for liquidating the assets and paying off debts and liabilities.

In a nutshell, if you are looking to operate a small business with little risk of someone suing you, and you are fine with putting your house up as collateral for your business debt, then this might be the one for you.

And though personally I do not prefer this type of business, either way I would suggest that you do take the time to discuss this with your accountant and lawyer before making a decision.

I wish you all the best with your ventures and invite you to share your comments and stories here.


Start Online Business Easily

The internet has brought about great improvement in the way business is done nowadays. Earlier traditional methods used to stay in touch with clients has changed. With the advance in technology, it has become easier to conduct business online and get more profits in return. An online web presence not only makes a huge difference to your business but it also helps in promoting it on a global level.

Social media has opened new opportunities to business owners. You can target your audience and get in touch with them faster and more direct. Starting an online business is definitely a wise decision. There are no requirements to start online business, apart from the fact that you have to make your business visible for people to see and find you. There are lots of ways to do that. You can either create a website for your business, which is simple and effective, or you can also make the use of Facebook to target your audience. Facebook allows you to create fan pages as well as ads that will redirect the visitors back to your site thus boosting the traffic towards your business. It depends entirely on how you market your services online, which offers multiple ways of making fast money.

So if you are interested to start online business, here are a few benefits from doing so:

Freedom – In an online business, you are the boss. There is no one to direct or control you. You are free to make your own decisions and decide your working hours. In an online business, you are open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year therefore increasing your earning potential from anywhere. You can sit and do whatever you wish. You can devote as many hours you want. There is no need to spend a fixed number of hours, by creating a simple yet effective marketing plan, you can choose the amount of hours you want, based on your schedule.

Personal growth – With an online business, you can learn a lot. Every day you will come across something new that you will want to try. A tool that may be beneficial to the growth of your business. Unless you try, you won’t understand how it can be incorporated in your business and what the outcome may be. There are plenty of opportunities to grow and expand your business. By researching online promotion techniques, or even taking an SEO class, you will benefit greatly personally, and in your business.

No to low start-up cost – To start online business, there are no specific requirements. All you need is a laptop or desktop computer and an internet connection. As compared to the offline business or brick and mortar, you need a proper place to conduct the business, insurance and benefits for the employees and staff to handle the customers. This can increase the overall cost which is greatly reduced in an online business. You can hire freelancers and pay them according to the work they do. This is quite inexpensive, but is rewarding.

Get connected to social media – Social media brings countless benefits to your business. It has become a popular platform for people to connect and is worldwide. The top networking sites like Facebook and Twitter help you to connect to your customers on a daily basis and let them know about newly launched products or services and specials. There is no need to individually connect to every person but a group message is often effective. Creating fan pages and tweeting are the best way to spread information and people come to you.

To start online business is simple but you have to put in effort to create a product or service that is marketable. You can’t just do whatever you like but, you will need to plan as well as use of excellent marketing strategies. That is why it is beneficial to gather information from books, or other successful online business to start an online business. Without the direction or good information you will just waste your time. Perhaps talk to an expert to establish and start your business. Their expertise can be very helpful in making the right decision for the business. Once you get familiar, you will be able to manage it well.

Before starting your business, you will have to devote time in exploring the trends of online business and your audience.

What are acceptable business practices? And also,

What are the costs involved?

There are great benefits with an online business if established properly. You will see income generate on an automated level. You probably won’t see results on the very first day, so be patient. When you start online business, it is essential to stay up to date with the changing technology as to not miss out on potential business opportunities.