Millions of people have large portions of their wealth tied up in small and midsized businesses. But as the baby boomer generation ages, what will happen to these enterprises? Will they be sold off, passed on to the next generation, or perhaps even liquidated? Rick Rickersten addresses those scenarios in his excellent book, Sell Your Business Your Way.
Throughout his career Rickertsen has helped owners sell their businesses. He's also managed a variety of private equity funds, including Pine Creek Partners and Thayer Capital.
His book not only covers the nuts and bolts of structuring a deal, but also addresses legal issues, organizational psychology, and wealth-management techniques. (After all, sellers need to make sure not to fritter away their windfalls.) For topics in which Rickertsen is not an expert, he enlists guest writers from top firms such as Goldman Sachs
Rickertsen covers the main types of acquirers: private equity firms, strategic buyers, and entrepreneurs. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, but when a seller remains ignorant of an acquirer's motives, results can be disastrous. It can be a rude shock for sellers to realize they've lost control of a company, especially because few get lofty valuations for their firms, much less all-cash transations. In many cases, the seller will need to take back a note.
Thankfully, there are more ways to get liquidity than by selling the firm outright. Owners can sell shares of the company to their employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which offers some key tax advantages.
Just like selling a house, there are also some smart things business owners can do to improve the valuation of their firms. Among other tips, Rickertsen recommends getting an independent audit of the financials. While this may cost $50,000 or more, it can help build credibility with prospective buyers.
Sellers should also find ways to reduce customer concentration, leaving their businesses less susceptible to disruption (or even bankruptcy). "Recognize early that any customer above 12% to 15% of sales is going to hurt your value, and start working like mad to add new customer names," writes Rickertsen.
In addition, it's a good idea to bring on board strong managers to help take the company to the next level. Rickertsen advises hiring a top-notch recruiter from firms such as Korn/Ferry
Rickertsen offers strong recommendations on wealth management, urging potential sellers to start planning before they begin the sale process. He points to the founder of Wal-Mart
For the most part, Rickertsen's book covers the main areas on selling a business. There's none of the typical dealmaking gobbledygook, and the author provides many useful examples and case studies. There are a variety of appendices with sample contracts for purchase agreements, letters of intent, and more.
Rickertsen writes that a business "has your DNA all over it. It has more of you in it than anything you have ever done in your life." For business owners looking to sell, the few hours it takes to read his book should be time well spent.
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Fool contributor Tom Taulli, author of The Complete M&A Handbook, does not own shares mentioned in this article. He is currently ranked 3,977 out of more than 60,000 total participants in CAPS. Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick. The Fool's disclosure policy would never sell out.