Thursday, 13 June 2013

Consider Your End Goals When Completing Your Tax Return

Minimizing income taxes - short term strategy or long term mistake?

Many business owners and their accountants are absolutely fixated on minimizing taxes by showing no income.  But this can be misguided planning for trying to get top dollar when selling  the company. 
Business owners need to realize valuation is usually determined by a multiple of identifiable cash flow and that banks make acquisition loans based on tax returns. 
Not paying taxes can be a short term strategy that might not pay off at the end!

Do you have small business questions you would like answered about this article or others?  Please visit or call 519-903-7807. 
William Sivell is the Owner and Broker of Record of Liberty Business Brokers of Ontario; his blog appears every Tuesday.



Tuesday, 21 May 2013

4 Oversights That Make Your Business Less Valuable

Don’t wait until you decide to sell. Set your business up right with these critical steps

We've all heard at one point or another that in order to get the best price for your business, you should maximize sales, identify new growth opportunities, build cash flows, differentiate between your key competitors, and minimize the owners role.

Taking these steps improves management practices, and can improve the desirability and marketability of your business.

But there are other critical steps that, if overlooked, may cause your ideal buyer to discount the selling price, or worse, simply walk away.

1. Transitional training

If you've set a hard and fast end date you may alarm quality buyers.

No one knows more about your business than you. Buyers assume that the outgoing owner will assist in training and the transition of leadership with current staff, suppliers and customers.

Buyers get scared off when the training doesn't match up with the complexity of the business and the experience they bring to the table. Ask your prospective buyer up front about their expectations—and try to understand why they're worried. Share your experiences with training new incoming employees in the past, as this is often an indication of the learning curve.

If you're open-minded and realistic you'll settle on a training period both parties are comfortable with.

2. Cash deals

You need to show all your results on the books and be open, honest and accurate about all things.

Growing up I could never figure out the saying, "You can't have your cake and eat it too." It was only recently, when I met a retailer who was experiencing double-digit growth for years but not showing it on the books, that I came to understand the saying.

He was disappointed that he could only secure an offer based on his "official" books, not the dusty ones he kept in the credenza behind the desk. Not to mention the line-up of buyers who quickly passed on the deal, wondering what else wasn't recorded on the books.

Buyers don't trust results they can't verify. The documented financial performance of the past three year's cash flows will be the basis from which price and terms are determined.

If the results on the books won't get you the offer you want, you may want to think about whether now is the right time to sell.

3. Lack of a long-term lease

If location is important to your business, you should secure a long-term lease before selling.

The lease terms can be a major consideration for a buyer. A restaurant with a long-term lease on a good location can be attractive. Plus, an expiring lease could spook buyers worried about possible rent increases.

On the other hand, a long-term lease can be a detriment for a business that needs more space to grow. When it comes time to negotiate a new lease, think carefully about your plans for growth and expansion, your marketing strategy, operating costs AND potential plans for exiting the business. Preplanning in advance can go a long ways towards a successful transaction.

4. Failure to diversify

Buyers know the impact of losing a customer that represents 20% or greater of your overall sales could be devastating. Yet, a lot of companies do have a single customer or a few large customers that dominate their overall sales. Nobody wants to turn down business! But when it comes time to sell the company, this becomes a huge problem.

Find a way to diversify your customer base BEFORE you ever decide to sell their business—a few years in advance.

Start by nurturing the relationships with current customers who represent a much small percentage of your overall business. Generally a small volume increase with a handful of good smaller customers will mitigate the impact of one large customer.

From budding entrepreneurs to sophisticated strategic acquirers, the opportunity to buy an existing company can be very rewarding. It can also be very frightening. That's why it's so important not to spook quality buyers. Even when everything is set up properly, it can be months before you attract the ideal buyer with the finances and skill sets necessary to buy your business. The last thing you want is lose the sale because you overlooked something that you could easily have addressed ahead of time.

Do you have a small business question you would like answered about this article or others?
Bill Sivell is a Business Broker with VR Windsor Inc., which sells businesses to buyers across Canada and around the world. His 14-year career includes diverse senior management positions in marketing, advertising, sales management and operations management. He blogs about selling businesses at



Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Business Owners Must Take Advantage of the New Technologies

Yes, it's overwhelming.  There is so much new technology invading our world it can be hard to understand and realize its impact.

Business owners have to figure out what might help their businesses grow. 

Whether it be email campaigns, social media, e-commerce, more functional websites, cloud computing or new equipment, business owners need to embrace it.   Businesses that do not keep up with the new technologies may find their companies difficult to sell!
Click here for an excellent article and 4 broad steps marketers need to take if they hope to meet customer demands and grow market share. 

Do you have small business questions you would like answered about this article or others?  Please visit or call 519-903-7807. 
William Sivell is a Broker at VR Windsor Inc., Business Brokerage; his blog appears every Tuesday.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Critical Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Business

If you are considering a decision to buy a business, and you just so happen to have found the perfect opportunity here are a few questions to help to ensure that you will be happy with your decision.

The broker will set up a meeting with the seller once you select a business you are interested in. This will give you an opportunity to speak candidly with the seller and find answers to your questions.

A popular question you may consider asking is, “why are you selling”. Ensure you are comfortable the answer, make sure it is honest and consistent.  This will put you in position to dive much deeper into the interview.

You will ALSO want to ask questions about:

The product and service mix, are there opportunities for additional services or new products in the pipeline with the existing customers?

The customer mix, do they have any 1 customer that represents greater than 10% of the overall gross sales?

The competitive environment, who is the largest/strongest competitor, what is your competitive advantage?

The key employees, what is the role of the owner and which employees are critical to the operation of the business?

The cash flows, how do you bill customers, up front, during or after a project is complete?

The sales and marketing, what is the current strategy, are there any changes necessary in the future.
Just to name a few.

If you are still interested in purchasing the business after a discussion with the owner, the broker will help you draft an offer based on the price and terms you feel are appropriate.

The legal language that makes up a professional business brokers letter of intention will be thorough. In fact, two of the most important clauses in our Offer make the transaction contingent upon your lawyer reviewing the legal language of the Offer and your accountant's analysis of the seller's financial statements.

Once these contingencies have been satisfied, the broker will carefully manage the rest of the transaction to make sure that all the conditions of the Offer are satisfied through the closing.

Do you have a small business question you would like answered about this article or others?
Bill Sivell is a salesperson with VR Windsor Inc. [] 519-903-7807, which sells businesses to buyers across Canada and around the world. His 14-year career includes diverse senior management positions in marketing, advertising, sales management and operations management. His blog appears every Tuesday.


Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Hard Truth: What Your Business is REALLY Worth

The danger in thinking your business is worth more than it is—plus tips to increase its value

Equipment and inventory are tangible assets required to generate sales and earnings. They are certainly critical to many business operations. But when it comes to determining a business' value, the hard truth about hard assets is that they make no difference.

What really matters is the cash flow generated from these and other operating assets. Yet, so many business owners believe there is some mysterious process that will allow them to add the value of these assets to their grand total when it comes time to sell.

The danger with setting an inflated asking price is that your business may be passed over by good, qualified buyers. The longer it its on the shelf, the less appealing it becomes. You also open yourself up to experienced buyers leveraging an inflated price to get the upper hand during the negotiating process.

Why the "add on" philosophy doesn't make sense

Consider the following examples of two businesses.

The first is a trucking company with $500,000 in trucks and dispatch equipment, all of which it needed to run the business. The second is a roofing company with a small number of employees and only $45,000 in inventory and equipment.

The trucking company generates $200,000 in cash flow, whereas the roofing business earns $800,000. Even though the trucking company has more hard assets, most buyers would find the roofing business much more attractive because of its far stronger cash flow.

Proponents of the "add-on" philosophy would argue that if the above two businesses each had a cash flow of $300,000, the trucking company would justify a higher price. But this doesn't make good business sense. Ask yourself, would you pay more for the same level of earnings?

Knowledgeable buyers are interested in cash flow and cash flow alone. They will insist that the assets needed to generate that cash flow are included in the sale price.

The level of inventory will have virtually no impact on value. Business owners often try to rationalize this "add-on" logic because their inventory fluctuates throughout the year. Unfortunately, this method increases the risk for any given business. The inventory at closing may not be enough to support the cash flow, thus requiring the buyer to invest within to support the business.

At best, adding inventory to the price of a business increases the risk that the buyer won't get their expected rate of return on their investment. At worst, this method could lead to business failure because the firm will be undercapitalized and unable to acquire additional funds to buy the necessary inventory.

The reality for many businesses is that there aren't significant variations in the amount of inventory that they carry throughout the year. Those businesses that do tend to see those fluctuations only during a few months of the year, such as holiday seasons. It's not that difficult to determine the inventory that should be included in the price to support the annual gross sales and cash flow.

Exceptions to the rule

There are some situations in which assets are considered in valuing the business. Equipment, inventory and other assets are considered when a company is being sold under less-than-ideal conditions, such as when it has no profits or cash flow. In those cases, assets would be used to determine the value of the business. Problems then arise in establishing the worth of those items. Typically, buyers aren't interested in these businesses because the seller already has proven that the company hasn't made a profit.

But for the most part, cash flow is crucial to building value.

Three ways to increase cash flow

1. Stay active and focused: Countless owners have watched profitability slip away as they became more interested in the next stage of their life. Get active in the development of key employees, because they will be the catalyst for driving sales, operational efficiencies and customer satisfaction. Plus, stay focused on limiting your role in the day-to-day operations of your business. The less customers need you personally, the better the chance for growth.

2. Build a bigger mousetrap: Size matters. Find ways to add sales volume. By opening new geographic markets, you may be able to take advantage of organizational synergies and build a larger volume of customers and sales. Alternatively, look to introduce new products or services you may sell to existing customers and build some depth with folks with whom you already have a relationship. Finally, similar to many businesses, you may find building market share by adding new customers as the most logical step for sales growth.

3. Operate on the cheap: There is little glory in finding more cost-efficient ways of doing things, but these often deliver the quickest road to prosperity. You should regularly review and challenge your suppliers to ensure you're getting competitive pricing in areas such as rent, insurance, utilities, wholesale goods and office supplies. Remember: a dollar saved on operating expenses goes directly to cash flow.

Buyers are looking for businesses with positive cash flow. By focusing your efforts to build value through improved cash flow, you will improve the day-to-day operation of your business, enjoy a higher selling price and improve the likelihood of a successful transaction.

Do you have a small business question you would like answered about this article or othersBill Sivell is a Business Broker with VR Windsor Inc., which sells businesses to buyers across Canada and around the world. His 14-year career includes diverse senior management positions in marketing, advertising, sales management and operations management. He blogs about selling businesses at