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You just received an IRS audit notice. Now what do you do?

First, deal with the problem immediately. Don’t let the
problem fester
By GARY MILLER | gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com | GEM Strategy Management

Last year I wrote an article on eight tips for avoiding an IRS audit. This year, I
want to give you some advice on what to do if you receive an IRS audit notice.

First, deal with the problem immediately. Don’t let the problem fester. Too often
business owners do not open IRS letters or fail to pick up IRS certified letters.
Worse yet, some owners ignore automated IRS phone calls or calls from a revenue
officer. Ignoring the IRS greatly increasing the chances that the government will
resort to collection actions (liens, wage garnishments, levies, seizures) in order to
force taxpayer compliance.

Second, understand what the IRS wants. You have been selected to be audited for a
specific reason. Being audited doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. Your
circumstances may be atypical. Your business may be cash intensive or you may
have an unusual deduction that the IRS wants to review in more detail.

The most important explanation of what the IRS is looking for is contained in the
Information Document Request (IDR). You will receive the IDR when you are
initially contacted by the IRS. By understanding what the IRS is looking for, you
can prepare and organize your documents, providing the most complete
substantiation possible. The more complete your substantiation is, the less likely
the IRS is going to challenge the information stated on your return.

Third, decide on professional representation or self-representation. If you are wellorganized
and have nothing to hide, there is nothing wrong with representing
yourself in an audit. However, if you have a complex return, failed to report
income, overstated expenses, failed to keep accurate records or reached an impasse
with the auditor, then you should seek professional help.

Since your ultimate goal is to secure the smallest final bill or to obtain a “nochange,”
on your tax return, hiring a tax attorney or a CPA firm to represent you
has significant advantages.

Often tax attorneys and CPA firms have good working relationships with the IRS.
They are knowledgeable about the IRS audit procedures, know the right time to
elevate an issue to appeals and can often move through the audit process quicker
than a taxpayer can alone.

An advantage to engaging a tax attorney is the attorney-client privilege, which
offers a greater level of protection than a CPA. In cases where wrongdoing has
occurred, a tax attorney is essential.

Fourth, limit the scope of the audit. Typically, the IRS has three years to request
examination of a return. They will normally start auditing within one year. The
exceptions are cases of late/no filings, significant errors or omissions in reporting
income or expenses, and fraud. Do not offer up previous tax returns as it might
trigger the opening of up other tax years, or an examination change. The IRS has
the right to make adjustments on additional tax years even though it wasn’t
covered with the initial IDR.

Fifth, control the flow of information. If you are representing yourself, you have
the distinct disadvantage of having to answer the auditor’s questions immediately
when asked. Never lie or make material misstatements to the auditor. Doing so is a
federal crime that carries possible jail time. However, during an audit, make every
effort to control the flow of information. Carefully listen to each question the
auditor asks and answer only that question. Be brief. Keep your answers short.
Answer as follows: “Yes”, “No”, “I don’t know”. “I will have to research
that.” Too much “off’-the-cuff” information gives the auditor more ammunition to
make examination changes and potential additional assessments.

Sixth, remain personable and cooperative. Often, it is difficult for many taxpayers
to keep their emotions in check during an audit. Many feel afraid, angry and
inconvenienced and resent the costs of the audit. It is true that some auditors can be
very difficult. However, the best audit outcomes are gained by working with the
auditor rather than butting heads with him or her. Auditors are human, too. They
will often favor those taxpayers who are personable and genuinely trying to work
with them. Being well prepared and organized demonstrates sincerity to resolving
tax issues. Cooperate. Do everything you can to move the audit process along
quickly.

Seventh, pick your battles. Tax attorneys and CPAs tell me that they try to handle
audits from a big-picture perspective. It doesn’t make sense to fight tooth and nail
for every little deduction when it may lead the auditor to open up returns from
other years. You may lengthen the audit and you will surely jeopardize your
working relationship with the auditor. Conceding deductions in some areas or only
taking a percentage of the claimed deduction when you do not have adequate
receipts or records may ultimately be the best strategy. Auditors tend to respond
positively when taxpayers are reasonable with them. Small concessions may lead
the auditor to be more lenient in other areas. Keep focused on the big picture goal –
minimizing your tax obligation.

Gary Miller is CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middlemarket
private business owners how to prepare to raise capital, sell their
businesses or buy companies. 970.390.4441 gemstrategymanagement.com

Paying too much, and nine other mistakes to avoid when buying a company

The Denver Post |  BUSINESS

 POSTED:  February 25, 2018, at 12:01 am

Gary Miller, staff photo

By GARY MILLER | gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com | GEM Strategy Management


With the economy growing substantially as well as the low cost of capital, many business owners are considering making an acquisition as part of their growth strategies. In the past few months, I have been asked by many business owners about the risks inherent in making an acquisition.

I tell them that most accomplished acquirers admit that they have learned more from their mistakes than from their successes. Current market conditions suggest it is a seller’s market with frothy multiples. Therefore, a comprehensive assessment of the acquisition “target” is a must. In my experience, there are 10 major mistakes to avoid.

  1. Not doing a thorough operational due diligence.

Although standard checklists can be used for due diligence, they are not sufficient. Buyers should examine everything they need to know about the target’s business. A thorough examination requires that a unique due-diligence plan be developed for each deal and each target. Shortcuts at this stage can be extremely expensive down the road.

  1. Not doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

There are many concerns when making an acquisition (management bench strength, operating structure and systems, industry conditions, competitive barriers, and organizational capacity). Customer concentration is the biggest concern and threat to success. The SWOT analysis will help you match your company’s SWOT to the target’s SWOT – helping you in determine where there are alignments.

  1. Not benchmarking the target acquisition against industry peer performance.

Numerous databases – like Sageworks, First Research and Business Valuation Resources (BVR) – are available to help you to determine how well the business is being managed. Comparing sales growth, profit margins and various components of the balance sheet can determine if the target is in the top or bottom 20 percentile of its peer group.

  1. Not accurately examining synergies.

One of the most appealing parts of an acquisition is the inorganic growth and synergies it can offer. But be careful – cross selling is not a given. Sales synergies are much more difficult to achieve than duplicated cost savings. Remember, cost savings are not free. There is usually some kind of investment required for all cost savings. Know what the net contribution is after calculating the required investments.

  1. Not identifying the organizations’ cultural issues. 

The “we don’t do it that way” attitude will kill the implementation of a promising acquisition. I recommend that a “culture integration outline” be developed between the buyer and seller before signing the definitive agreement. Understanding the differences between the companies’ policies, processes, practices and procedures will help smooth the integration processes.

  1. Not asking the target’s top customers the right questions.

Acquisitions become much less valuable if the target company loses its largest customers. Asking the customers the right questions indicates whether the customers are loyal to the target and if they will commit to the new organization after the deal closes. Interviewing the top 10 to 15 percent of the customers is not unreasonable.

  1. Not having integration and communication plans ready.

According to Global PMI Partners, 70 percent of all strategic acquisitions fail due to poor implementation of integration and communication plans with employees and customers. Without these plans, the acquisition is left dangling and can easily start the integration process off on the wrong foot.

  1. Not having all the key employees tied down to employment contracts.

There is always a hidden trap door for someone critical to the business. Find it and nail it shut. It is critical for the seller to deliver the senior team and key people to the buyer upon closing. If key management and employees are unwilling to sign non-compete/non- solicitation agreements, you may be headed for trouble.

  1. Paying too much for the target.

Offers need to be benchmarked against the market. If the combined businesses – in the worst case scenario – don’t generate an ROI on the purchase price (without earn-outs) greater than the buyer’s cost of capital, you’re paying too much. If you can’t work out a fair price with the seller, don’t walk away, run.

  1. Not getting professional help.

All too often, owners think that they can save money by “going it alone” without professional advisers. The latest research clearly indicates that business owners who use professional M&A advisers have a far greater chance of success when buying or selling a business than those who don’t.

Avoid these 10 common mistakes and you will be well on your way to growing both your top and bottom lines.

Gary Miller is CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middle-market business owners how to prepare to sell their businesses, buy businesses or raise capital. gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com.

 

Selling your business? Focus on the key business drivers so buyers pay top dollar.

The Denver Post |  BUSINESS

 POSTED:  January 21, 2018, at 6:00 am

Gary Miller, staff photo

By GARY MILLER | GEM Strategy Management

If you’re thinking about selling your business in 2018-2019, the time is right.

Why? First, the value of companies has never been higher. Buyers are paying premiums for well-run companies. Second, we are on the edge of an upward economic cycle, which is the best moment to sell your business. As of the time of this writing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached an all-time high of more than 26,000. Third, low-interest rates make it possible for buyers to lower their cost of capital when acquiring companies. Fourth, the unprecedented abundance of capital available for investments has never been higher. And finally, due to increased confidence in the economy, a record number of investors are looking for potential acquisitions.

However, receiving top dollar for your business is tied to how buyers perceive their financial risks and rewards. The more future potential reward a buyer perceives, the more a buyer is willing to pay for your business. The strength and quality of your key business drivers are critical to receiving the highest possible price.

There are 10 to 12 major business factors that drive value, but they vary by industry. Nevertheless, four of these transcend almost all other drivers regardless of the industry: strong recurring and diversified revenue streams, profits, margins and scalability; strong strategic business plans driving revenues from a diversified and loyal customer base; strong expected future cash flow and EBITDA (earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortization) growth; and strong management bench strength and operating systems.

Focusing on these four business drivers can position you to maximize your company’s purchase price.

The No. 1 business driver among buyers is a history of increasing revenues and profits year over year for the past three to five years. Remember, buyers, buy businesses to make money. While they will examine your past financials, operations, and other due-diligence areas, they are really buying future expectations of revenues and earnings.

A second major business driver is a strategic business plan that is demonstrating strong organic growth (sales from existing and new customers), and inorganic growth (acquisition plans to gain share of market and expanded sales if any). The plan must show strong competitive advantage in high-growth industries. If the products/services can be sold in multiple industries, so much the better. The value of your company will be even higher than those companies that serve only one industry.

A third major business driver is expected future cash flow. This includes a trio of key performance areas: expected EBITDA performance; expected working capital investment requirements, and expected fixed-asset investment requirements (also known as capital expenditures, or Cap Ex).

The higher your expected future EBITDA, the higher your company value – all else being equal. To drive expected EBITDA higher, be certain your strategic business plan is demonstrating sustained sales growth, market share gains, consistent improvement in EBITDA and gross margins. The plan should clearly articulate how you are generating both your organic and inorganic sales.

Surprisingly, your existing debt load is not necessarily meaningful in these expectations, as buyers can change the capital structure as part of the transaction.

Next, the lower your expected Cap Ex and working capital investment requirements (often ballparked as receivables plus inventory minus accounts payable) are, the higher your valuation.  Ways to decrease your working capital requirements include cutting your average accounts receivables days outstanding, cleaning up bad debts, increasing your working capital turns, removing obsolete inventory and not paying vendors faster than necessary to earn your discounts. In other words, don’t pay your vendors faster than necessary just because you can.

Finally, the lower expected working capital investment means higher expected cash flow. To lower expected Cap Ex, keep your facility, equipment and rolling stock well-maintained and invest in fixed assets prudently. Palatial facilities do not translate into a higher value for your business unless they also translate into higher future expected cash flow.

A fourth major business driver that lowers risk includes having a strong management team in place (bench strength) and strong operating systems. The more your business revolves around only you or another “key man/women,” the greater the perceived risk among buyers. Therefore, strange as it may sound, owners should strive to work themselves out of a job. A corollary to a strong management team is a quality employee base with low turnover. Both of these infer a strong culture and a stable labor force for future growth.

I recommend to clients that they obtain a detailed business assessment (audit) and analysis from a business consultant so they can identify their business’s strengths and weaknesses. The recommendations from the business assessment should identify which business drivers to improve so owners can obtain the highest price paid by a potential buyer.

Gary Miller is CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middle-market private business owners how to prepare to raise capital, sell their businesses or buy companies. You can reach Gary at 970.390.4441. gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com GEMSTRATEGYMANAGEMENT.COM

 

Let’s make a deal. M&A outlook bright for 2018, but don’t wait too long

A near record year for M&A transactions could occur

The Denver Post |  BUSINESS

Gary Miller,SDR Ventures. He writes a monthly column for The Denver Post.

By GARY MILLER | GEM Strategy Management. He writes a monthly column for The Denver Post

December 17, 2017, at 12:01 am

__________________________________________________________________________________

As the year draws to a close, I can’t help but think about the economic outlook for mergers and acquisitions deal making in 2018. Before we discuss 2018’s economic outlook, let’s summarize 2017.  Following the election of President Donald Trump and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, 2017 has been a period of apprehension for dealmakers.

These two events caused great uncertainty about the global economic outlook and left businesses worried about the implication of other key elections in 2017, particularly those in France and Germany. However, with repeated defeats for populist politicians in Europe, business and investor confidence has increased significantly coupled with the Eurozone’s rapid recovery. Since the worlds’ economies are interdependent, the global stage is set for solid economic performance in 2018.  A near record year for M&A transactions could occur.

This is a positive sign for the U.S. as the U.S. economy has its own numbers to brag about. According to Market Watch, on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s election win, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is showing its biggest post-election day gain in more than 70 years. The S&P 500 as added $2 trillion in value, up 16.3 percent since the election. The unemployment rate stands at 4.1 percent – a 17-year low. With less regulation, expanding trade deals, low-interest rates, low inflation, consistent corporate earnings increases, a rising GDP and now tax reform becoming a reality, deal making in the U.S. is set to rebound very strongly in 2018 over 2017. Deal-making could reach over $1.6 trillion in 2018 – up to $200 billion higher than in 2017 — according to multiple sources.

According to Deloitte’s fifth M&A Trends Report, about 68 percent of executives at US-headquartered corporations and 76 percent of leaders at domestic-based private equity firms say deal flow will increase in the next 12 months. Further, Deloitte reports that leaders see both the number of deals and the size of those transactions increasing significantly.

However, it is important to realize that the significant growth that we have seen in the markets to date is concentrated in two major sectors: technology and financial services. While other sectors such as healthcare, telecommunication, consumer and business services, and manufacturing are all expected to increase next year, there are wider differences among expert’s predictions.

So what does this mean for lower middle market and small-business owners? According to the 13 Annual, M&A Outlook Survey released by the law firm Dykema, respondents were bullish on the prospects of a strong M&A market. For example, over 70 percent of the respondents predict that the volume of small deals (under $50 million) will increase over the next 12 months. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they would be involved in an acquisition in the next 12 months. An astonishing 80 percent of respondents expect an increase in M&A activity involving privately owned business in the next 12 months – increasing by 10 percent from last year’s results. According to Jeff Gifford, co-leader of Dykema’ s M&A practice, more companies are pursuing small to middle market strategic transactions.

According to some economists and financial research firms, 2019 and 2020 will reveal a decline in M&A activity in both the number of transactions and the value of the transactions. Some economists are predicting a downturn or a mild recession as early as 2019 – more likely in 2020–2021. Therefore, 2018 through 2019 are the year’s businesses will be looking to maximize their deal structures and values in their exit strategies.

I am recommending to clients who are thinking about selling their businesses to start immediately preparing their exit strategies in this uncertain business cycle. Even though it is impossible to forecast the ups and downs of the business cycles several years ahead, even six to 12 months ahead, preparing now for a sale in 2018, 2019 or 2020 is your best strategy to maximize the value of your company.

At a minimum, clean up your books and records; secure a valuation of your company from an outside professional valuation firm; update your governance and legal documents; secure a quality of earnings report; have your last three years of financials reviewed or audited by an outside independent accounting firm; develop strategies to secure your major customers for long-term sales; develop long-term employee agreements for your most valuable personnel; and develop a three-year strategic business plan for 2018 through 2021. Taking these steps could increase the value of your company to potential buyers as much as 30 percent. Next year could be the best of your life when it comes to cashing out. Based on what we know now, you have only a two-year window to sell your company.

 

The most important document you need when selling your business

Avoid overly optimistic projections and unclear company storyline

The Denver Post |  BUSINESS

Gary Miller, staff photo

By GARY MILLER | GEM Strategy Management

POSTED November 19, 2017, at 12:01 am

It was late on a Saturday afternoon when Don and his management team were finishing up an internal review of their company operations. The company had been on the market for 18 months without much interest from potential buyers. Don wanted to know why. At the end of the day, Don, the founder,  and majority shareholder,  gave up as he and the management team could not reach consensus on the reasons there was such little buyer interest. Don was beside himself since revenues were strong and earnings had continued to improve over the past five years.

The following week Don asked our firm for help. We agreed to conduct a business review and analysis of his company to determine what the company needed to do to attract potential buyers. After an exhaustive review, we found a glaring void in his management systems. There was no strategic business plan — only a hodge-podge of numbers, schedules, and projections that made little sense.

We met with Don and his team (all shareholders) and explained that without a solid business plan, no potential buyer would seriously entertain purchasing their company. We advised that a formal business plan was critical to the process of selling Don’s company.

Writing a strategic business plan can take weeks, even months of intense research, writing and rewriting – particularly if you have never gone through the process before. So you might ask, is it worth it? Absolutely. First, you’ll have a better understanding of your own business as well as your industry. More important, you’ll have a set of clearly articulated goals. This will help you organize and manage your business and give you a benchmark against which you can measure future performance.

Before you can begin to put the plan together, you will need to gather solid information about your industry. Every claim your plan makes will have to be supported by authentic sources and accurate information. Information sources include trade associations, magazines, newsletters, industry research reports and annual reports from publicly traded competitors.

Your plan will include your company’s past financial records, including a quality of earnings report from an outside accounting firm. Your financials should be audited or at the very least, reviewed by an independent accounting firm. Also, your business plan should include marketing plans and statistics from competitors so you can compare your numbers to firms of similar size in your industry. You will need research to identify who is buying products or services like yours and what current trends might be changing buying patterns and behavior. Compare this information to who is buying your own products and services.

In addition, find out who finances companies like yours and the details of the loan structure. Also, identify the kinds of companies buying businesses like yours.

Passion and enthusiasm for your company’s storyline is important for the sale of your company, but your target audience will see through hype and sales speak. Instead, strive for clarity, simplicity,  and thoroughness. Here are guidelines you should follow:

  • Don’t exaggerate
  • Make your sentences short and factual
  • Guide the reader with bulleted lists, numbered sections and clearly named subject headings and subheadings
  • Do not clutter the text with small details that will slow the reading process. Refer the reader to the appendix for more detail
  • Provide a table of contents so readers can skip to relevant sections they are interested in
  • Keep the plan to about 20 to 40 single-spaced pages, plus the appendices. The appendices can be as long as necessary to include significant detail

After you’ve completed this work, you can begin filling in the various outlined sections of your plan. Regardless of your industry, at a bare minimum, your plan should include a table of contents, executive summary, company/product/services analysis, competitive analysis, investment/purchase opportunity, industry analysis, market analysis, marketing plan, operating plan, manufacturing plan, management team, human resource plan, integration plan guidelines, financial plan and projections, buyer’s exit plan and appendices. More may be required depending on your industry.

I have read scores of business plans of companies and I’ve found the same mistakes over and over again. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

  • Rose-colored glasses
  • Unsubstantiated claims
  • Overly optimistic projections
  • Unrealistic cash flow projections
  • Numbers that don’t add up
  • Not understanding the entirety of the plan
  • Not proofreading the plan
  • Unclear company storyline

After all the work you’ve invested, make sure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with spelling errors or incorrect grammar. Double check the numbers again and again. Produce a professional-looking document.

Remember, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Gary Miller is CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middle-market private business owners how to prepare to raise capital, sell their businesses or buy companies.  970.390.4441     gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com

 

 

 

To maximize the sale of your company, build business value

The Denver Post | BUSINESS

Gary Miller, staff photo

By GARY MILLER | GEM Strategy Management

October 15, 2017, at 12:01 am

It can take two to three years to prepare a business for sale

Imagine sitting at your desk and reading a registered letter from a potential buyer. The letter states that the buyer is retracting its offer to purchase your company as a result of the due-diligence review and analysis the buyer just completed.

This happened to Nathan White, owner of a small uniform manufacturer serving clients throughout the U.S. This was the second time in two years that a potential buyer had withdrawn its offer. Nathan was discouraged.

Nathan called me to see what he could do to sell his company. His story was one I have heard many times before. Nathan’s company suffered from poor exit planning, a checkered record of revenues and profits, a weak strategic business plan, inaccurate books and records, and the loss of two major clients. As a result, the potential buyer believed that the business was overpriced relative to its business value, therefore, the buyer could not justify completing the transaction.

For many owners, the last 10 years have been a difficult period for growth and profitability. Other companies, however, have done extremely well. What is the difference?

Owners do not plan early enough to sell their businesses. Since many owners have never sold a business before, they fail to realize that it takes time and careful planning to optimize the business value in order to maximize the sale price. As a result, they try to sell their businesses before they have maximized the enterprise value of their companies. This situation leads to a lower purchase price from a buyer, or worse, no sale at all.

The process of selling a business has become more complex as buyers today are more cautious and much more rigorous in their due diligence efforts due to the Great Recession.

Regardless of your personal goals, there are some key issues every business owner must address in order to be ready for a business transaction. The business landscape changes every three to five years, and your company’s exit plan needs to keep pace.

The key to increasing business value is to understand how a potential buyer views your business. Here’s what I recommend to my clients: First, obtain an independent professional valuation from an accredited valuation firm. Next, engage an objective business adviser to conduct a business audit and assessment revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the business.

The adviser can help you pinpoint the value drivers and ultimately increase your business’s value and sale price from 10 percent to 35 percent or more. If the assessment reveals that some of your business drivers are weak, prioritize them and begin work immediately to correct or improve them. Once you understand the current value of the business and the value drivers, you can identify tactics to increase its value.

Key business value drivers may include sales growth trends, balanced and growing customer mix, strength of sales backlog, strength of the market niche, strong products and services brand, highly skilled, efficient and loyal workforce, solid vendor relationships, product differentiation, product innovation, strong management team that can transition to the new owner, up-to-date technology and modern work-flow systems and processes, strong management information systems, continuous growth in profitability, barriers to competitive entry, strong company culture and loyal customer base.

At least two years will be required to increase and improve the value drivers of your business. During this time, you will be able to correct minor cosmetic issues to help build incremental value.

Company culture and existing customer relationships are two critical areas that concern most buyers. Here is where you can add business value. If a business is sold, it is important to ensure that employees will embrace the culture of the buyer. Both these buyer concerns can be mitigated if the seller stays on as an employee or consultant for a reasonable period of time.

After two or three years of focusing on value optimization, your business worth should increase in the eyes of potential buyers. Understanding your company’s value and building upon it leads to a larger sale price and maximizes the wealth transfer to the business owner. If the business value process has been carefully carried out, the added value will stand up under the most rigorous buyer due diligence.

Continued owner involvement and the development of a strong management team have become even more important to buyers in today’s merger-and-acquisition environment. As earn-out requirements are commonly integrated into a sale price, performance stipulations tied to profits and revenue are frequently included in the sale contract to obtain the full purchase price.

If you are considering selling your company, act now. You must allow sufficient time to prepare for a transaction to correct any issues and build incremental value in your business. While the market is strong now, strong markets do not last forever. Time is of the essence. Remember, poor exit planning can erode the value of a lifetime of success.

Gary Miller is the CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middle-market private business owners in preparing to raise capital, selling their businesses or buying companies. He can be reached at 970-390-4441 or gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com.

 

Know the risks when you personally guarantee your company’s debt

The Denver Post

By GARY MILLER | GEM Strategy Management

September 17, 2017, at 12:01 am

Rarely can small businesses grow without needing to borrow money sometime during the company’s life. When businesses borrow money from banks, the banks almost always require a personal guarantee from the business owner or shareholders unless the business is profitable and has $25 million or more in revenues.

Most lenders require a personal guarantee as “added assurance” that the owner is committed to the business and to repaying the loan.

A personal guarantee means that if the company fails to pay its debt, you and/or your shareholders are on the hook. Personal guarantees are not limited to bank loans or lines of credit. They also include commercial leases, car loans or leases, equipment leases and other financing arrangements.

Personally guaranteeing a business loan is putting your personal finances on the line. Therefore, your credit score and assets are at risk. Make certain you fully understand what you are getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

Be aware that many business owners incorporate their businesses as C-Corps, S-Corps or limited liability companies, to ensure they have personal liability protection. But when you guarantee your company’s debt to a third party (such as a bank), you lose personal liability protection.

In addition, your personal guarantee could affect your family. Some banks require a spouse’s guarantee in addition to your own, so assets held solely in your spouse’s name are fair game for the lender. Otherwise, you might be tempted to transfer assets to your spouse’s name. In some cases (e.g., for commercial leases), you may be able to negotiate a guarantee without your spouse’s signature.

If you give a guarantee for company debt such as a business credit card, your failure to pay if the company can’t will hurt your personal credit rating. In most cases, small-business owners are required to provide personal information when their companies apply for credit cards. In some cases, if the company fails to make required payments, this action can appear on the owner’s personal credit report. This could make it difficult to borrow in the future, get a job, buy insurance or rent a place to live.

When selling your business, remember your personal guarantee survives the sale. Be sure to obtain a release from the buyer. Try to obtain a release from your lender or transfer the debt to the buyer.  Alternatively, have the company satisfy the outstanding obligation before selling your interest so there’s no longer anything that you still personally guarantee on behalf of the company.

I recommend that my clients negotiate the structure of the personal guarantee as well as the loan terms and covenants with the bank. They include:

  • If your company has more than one shareholder, negotiate a pro rata share of personal guarantees spread among all the shareholders based on their percent of company ownership. This arrangement limits your exposure to the percentage of the company you own. For example, if you own 60 percent of the stock of your company, you only guarantee 60 percent of the debt.  If another shareholder owns 20 percent of the stock, then he or she guarantees 20 percent of the debt. According to the Small Business Administration’s standards, any individual with a 20 percent or greater ownership in a small business should be part of the loan-guarantee process.
  • If the loan guarantee includes the term ‘joint and several’ – which means that each shareholder guaranteeing the loan is on the hook for 100 percent of the debt should any of the borrowers fail to pay his or her share – get rid of it if possible. If other partners can’t pay their pro rata share, the bank may demand that you pay the entire balance even if you aren’t a 100 percent owner of the business.
  • If you are guaranteeing 100 percent of the loan, negotiate a guarantee with a combination of cash and collateral, which can come in the form of property, home equity, and other investments.
  • If the bank requires a personal guarantee, make sure you sign a “Limited” vs. an “Unlimited” personal guarantee. When you sign an unlimited personal guarantee, you are agreeing to allow the lender to recover 100 percent of the loan amount in question, plus any legal fees associated with the loan – such as the lender’s costs for securing a judgment against you.
  • If the bank loan is a term loan, five years, for example, try to limit the term of the personal guarantee – perhaps for two to three years versus the entire term of the loan.

Since banks almost always require personal guarantees, knowing what you’re undertaking is essential. Try to negotiate better arrangements that limit or even eliminate your personal exposure. Before you agree to anything, protect yourself by consulting an attorney. Make certain you fully understand what your guarantee means and what you can do to minimize your risk.

Gary Miller is the CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middle-market private business owners in preparing to raise capital, selling their businesses or buying companies. He can be reached at 970-390-4441 or gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com.

 

 

To walk or not to walk? In negotiations, go with your instinct but check these signs.

Gary Miller

The Denver Post | BUSINESS

POSTED:  August 20, 2017, at 12:01 pm

by Gary Miller | GEM Strategy Management

Prepare long before you start the negotiation process 

It was late. Time was running out and negotiations weren’t going well. It was Larry’s third trip to the headquarters of his acquisition target to hammer out the final terms and conditions of the deal.

After three days of going back and forth, it seemed that Wayne, owner of the target company, was picking away at the purchase price from every possible angle. Both men were tired and becoming increasingly frustrated with the negotiation process. After some consideration, Larry, having run out of patience, stood up and abruptly ended the meeting and led his deal team out the door.

This is an old and familiar story.

In business, buyers and sellers must be able to know when or when not to walk away from a deal. It is key – whether that means deciding against an acquisition that on paper would create significant synergies, or when the price is becoming unreasonably high. Other reasons to walk away include culture misalignment, a toxic workplace or due-diligence that reveals major problems. For the most part, you can go with your gut instincts. But there are other signs to look for that aren’t as obvious.

Below are six recommendations that could prevent you from walking away from a potentially good deal or signal that walking away is your best option.

  1. Prepare long before you start the negotiation process. Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have the more leverage you have when negotiating. Research your acquisition target and the industry carefully; learn who are the major players and examine the major trends that might affect your current business strategy — with or without an acquisition. If trends are changing significantly, then an acquisition could be less expensive in the long run than attempting to adapt to those changes without an acquisition.
  2. Establish with your deal team what things are deal breakers before you begin negotiations. Identifying the potential deal breakers early can save everyone time, effort and money, not to mention the stress of a high-stakes negotiation that winds up breaking down. For example, not having a walk-away price might lead to giving away too many concessions during the negotiation process. Be sure to cost out each concession before granting it so that the concessions do not exceed your walk-away number. Having a firm number is absolutely crucial.
  3. Establish a rigorous due-diligence process that goes beyond verifying the financials, operations, customer records, sales and marketing forecasts, disaster recovery, cyber security and other items before you enter into negotiations. Too often, due-diligence becomes an exercise in verifying the financial statements and a few other items, rather than conducting a fair analysis of the company’s strategic value and the logic supporting the strategy. For example, does this acquisition fit my growth profile and strategic business plans? Can the acquisition deliver results on schedule to deliver the value I need? Deal-making is glamorous; due diligence is not.
  4. Develop a binding detailed letter of intent (LOI) subject to a satisfactory due-diligence review vs. a term sheet (TS), which often is more like a skeleton to be filled in later. The LOI is more detailed and focuses almost exclusively on the major business issues vs. the legal issues. Legal issues, business terms and conditions, representations and warranties are addressed in the definitive purchase and sale agreement that follows the LOI. The LOI can flush out major issues early that are going to be difficult.
  5. Determine how much time and effort will be necessary to realize the synergies expected from the acquisition. Ask yourself, is this a cultural fit for my company? Are we in alignment with common goals? Does this acquisition fit our criteria? What am I really buying?
  6. When you do enter into negotiations be constantly aware of inconsistencies during the process. Inconsistencies can be the root of future problems and could be a sign of trouble to come.

Deal-making is as much art as science. If you decide to walk, you’ve said “no.” And “no” is a very powerful word.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. By walking away from a potential deal, you’ll learn how much the other party wants to work with you. I’ve walked enough times that I’ve learned to appreciate the power of “no.” If the target is seriously interested in working with you, pulling out will force them to try to get you back. Or they’ll be relieved and let you walk. Either way, you’ll get resolution.

Gary Miller is CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., which advises middle-market private business owners how to prepare to raise capital, sell their businesses or buy companies. If you have questions, he can be reached at 970-390-4441 or gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com.

 

How to Negotiate Concessions to Close Better Deals

By Gary Miller, GEM strategy Management, Inc. | Axial Forum August 9, 2017

Strong negotiating skills are often the single most important differentiator between closing good deals vs. great deals — or not closing any deal at all. Negotiation is more art than science, as it involves creatively reading your audience, knowing when to dig in, and when not to. Often, I have been called in to help close a deal or save a deal. Many times, I have found that both buyers and sellers, engaged in trying to make a deal, are so locked in their positions that there is little opportunity for give and take. Feelings are strained, attitudes are entrenched, respective positions are hardened, and therefore opportunities for compromise are lost.

For any negotiation to work successfully, both parties need to feel they are getting a good deal. The deal can’t be lopsided for it to have any reasonable chance for success. Structuring deals means working towards a win-win outcome for both parties.

This brings us to the art of compromising with concessions.

Concessions are almost always necessary to complete any successful transaction. You have to be willing to make concessions to get concessions in return. But the process isn’t easy.

First, don’t assume that your actions will speak for themselves. Often, concessions go unappreciated and unreciprocated. Unless you establish that you have made a major concession, your counterparts will be motivated to overlook, ignore, or downplay your concessions. Why? They want to avoid the strong social obligation to reciprocate.

Emphasize the benefits of your concessions to the other side. My own research suggests that negotiators reciprocate concessions based on the benefits they receive, while ignoring how much others are sacrificing. One way for an owner to highlight the benefits he is providing is to contrast his offer with those made by similar firms (assuming they were lower).

Second, don’t give up on your original demands too hastily. Timing is important in any negotiations. Every deal has a life of its own. If the other side sees your first offer as frivolous, your willingness to move away from it too soon will not be seen as concessionary behavior. By contrast, your concessions will be more powerful when your counterpart views your initial demands as serious and reasonable. So when you give a concession, let it be known that what you have given up (or what you have stopped demanding) is costly to you. By doing do, you clarify that a concession was, in fact, made.

Third, demand and define reciprocity. Establishing the fact that you have made a major concession in itself helps trigger an obligation to reciprocate, but sometimes your counterpart is slow to act on the obligation. To increase the likelihood that you get something in return for your concessions, try to explicitly — but diplomatically — demand reciprocity.

Consider the following negotiation between an IT services firm and a client. The client suggests that the IT firm’s cost estimates are unreasonably high; the IT firm believes that the cost estimates are accurate (even conservative) given the complexity of the project and the short deadline. If the IT project manager is willing to make a concession, she might say: “This isn’t easy for us, but we’ve made some adjustments on price to accommodate your concerns. We expect that you are now in a better position to make some changes to the project deadlines. An extra month for each milestone would help us immeasurably.”

Notice that this statement achieves three goals:

  1. It establishes that a concession was made (This isn’t easy for us, but we’ve made some adjustments . . .”).
  2. It tactfully demands reciprocity (“We expect that you are now in a better position to make some changes . . .”).
  3. It begins to define the precise form that reciprocity should take (“An extra month for each milestone . . .”).

Remember that no one understands what you value better than you. If you don’t speak up and define what reciprocity means to you, you’re going to get what your counterpart thinks you value or, worse, what is most convenient for your counterpart to give.

Ideally, negotiating parties establish an environment where they do not nickel and dime one another throughout the process. Rather, each side learns about the interests and concerns of the other and makes good-faith efforts toward achieving joint gains. Unfortunately, this is not always possible because one side or the other is not negotiating in good-faith. When trust is low, or when you are in a one-shot negotiating scenario, I recommend clients make contingent concessions. A concession is contingent when you state that you can make it only if the other party agrees to make a specified concession in return.

Contingent concessions are almost risk-free. They allow you to signal to the other party that while you have room to make more concessions, it may be impossible for you to budge if reciprocity is not guaranteed.

A final negotiating technique I use is giving concessions in installments. Extensive research by the late Stanford University professor Amos Tversky and the Princeton University professor Daniel Kahneman indicated that while most of us prefer to get bad news all at once, we prefer to get good news in installments. This finding suggests that the same concession will be more positively received if it is broken up into parts and offered at different times in the process.

There are other reasons to make concessions in installments. Most negotiators expect that they will trade offers back and forth several times before the deal is finished. Installment concessions may lead you to discover that you don’t have to make as large concessions as you thought. When you give away a little at a time, you might get everything you want in return before using up your entire concession-making capacity. Whatever is left over is yours to keep.

The above strategies are aimed at guaranteeing that the concessions you make are not ignored or exploited. Effective negotiators ensure not only that their own concessions are reciprocated, but also that they acknowledge and reciprocate the concessions of others.

About the Author

Gary Miller is the CEO of GEM Strategy Management, Inc., an M&A business consulting firm, advising middle-market private business owners on how to sell their businesses for the highest valuation, buy companies and source capital for growth and expansion. He is a sought-after consultant/speaker on M&A issues, strategic business planning, business valuations, exit planning, what buyers are looking for in acquisitions & how to prepare for due diligence. He can be reached at 970-390-4441 or gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com

 

In negotiations, making concessions and reciprocating can lead to great deals

The Denver Post | BUSINESS

Posted on July 16, 2017, at 12:01 am

Negotiators should reciprocate concessions based on the benefits they receive

By GARY MILLER | GEM Strategy Management

Strong negotiating skills are often the single most important differentiator between closing good deals vs. great deals, or, not closing any deal at all. Negotiation is more art than science, as it involves creatively “reading” your audience, knowing when to dig in, and when not to. Often, I have been called in to help close or save a deal. Many times, I have found that both buyers and sellers are so locked in their positions that there is little opportunity for give and take. Feelings are strained, attitudes are entrenched, respective positions are hardened and therefore opportunities for compromise are lost.

For any negotiation to work successfully, both parties need to feel they are getting a good deal. The deal can’t be lopsided, for it to have any reasonable chance of success. I advise clients that structuring deals mean working towards a win-win outcome. This brings us to the art of compromising with concessions.

Concessions are almost always necessary to complete any successful transaction. While most business owners understand that negotiation is a matter of give-and-take, you have to be willing to make concessions to get concessions in return. But the process isn’t easy. Often, concessions go unappreciated and unreciprocated. Don’t assume that your actions will speak for themselves. Unless you establish that you have made a major concession, your counterparts will be motivated to overlook, ignore or downplay your concessions. Why? Your counterparts want to avoid the strong social obligation to reciprocate.

Emphasize the benefits of your concessions to the other side. My own research suggests that negotiators reciprocate concessions based on the benefits they receive while ignoring how much others are sacrificing. One way for an owner to highlight the benefits he is providing is to contrast his offer with those made by similar firms (assuming they were lower).

Second, timing is important. Every deal has a life of its own. Don’t give up on your original demands too hastily. If the other side sees your first offer as frivolous, your willingness to move away from it too soon will not be seen as concessionary behavior. By contrast, your concessions will be more powerful when your counterpart views your initial demands as serious and reasonable. So when you give a concession, let it be known that what you have given up (or what you have stopped demanding) is costly to you. By doing so, you clarify that a concession was, in fact, made.

Third, demand and define reciprocity. By establishing the fact that you have made a major concession helps trigger an obligation to reciprocate; but sometimes your counterpart is slow to act on the obligation. To increase the likelihood that you get something in return for your concessions, try to explicitly – but diplomatically – demand reciprocity.

Consider the following negotiation between an IT services firm and a client. The client suggests that the IT firm’s cost estimates are unreasonably high; the IT firm believes that the cost estimates are accurate (even conservative) given the complexity of the project and the short deadline. If the IT project manager is willing to make a concession, she might say: “This isn’t easy for us, but we’ve made some adjustments on price to accommodate your concerns. We expect that you are now in a better position to make some changes to the project deadlines. An extra month for each milestone would help us immeasurably.”

Notice that this statement achieves three goals. It establishes that a concession was made, it tactfully demands reciprocity and it begins to define the precise form that reciprocity should take. While each of these elements is critical, negotiators often overlook the need to define reciprocity. Remember that no one understands what you value better than you. If you don’t speak up, you’re going to get what your counterpart thinks you value or, worse, what is most convenient for your counterpart to give.

One hallmark of a good negotiation is to establish an environment among the negotiating parties of not nickeling and diming one another through the negotiating process. Rather, each side learns about the interests and concerns of the other and makes good-faith efforts toward achieving joint gains. Unfortunately, this is not always possible because one side or the other does not negotiate in good faith. When trust is low, or when you are in a one-shot negotiating scenario, I recommend clients make contingent concessions. A concession is contingent when you state that you can make it only if the other party agrees to make a specified concession in return.

Contingent concessions are almost risk-free. They allow you to signal to the other party that while you have room to make more concessions, it may be impossible for you to budge if reciprocity is not guaranteed.

A final negotiating technique I use is giving concessions in installments. Research by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman indicates that while most of us prefer to get bad news all at once, we prefer to get good news in installments. This finding suggests that the same concession will be more positively received if it is broken into installments.

The above strategies are aimed at guaranteeing that the concessions you make are not ignored or exploited. Effective negotiators ensure not only that their own concessions are reciprocated, but also that they acknowledge and reciprocate the concessions of others.

Gary Miller is the CEO of GEM Strategy Management Inc., an M&A consulting firm advising middle-market private business owners. He can be reached at gmiller@gemstrategymanagement.com.