In times of recession there is pent-up demand by entrepreneurs to sell their companies. Even in good times investment bankers will tell a seller that the company must be positioned for sale to be successful.
Because of the relative unavailability — or high cost — of outside funding for business acquisitions, your company needs to be positioned for sale now more than ever.
What needs to be prepared to position a company for sale?
The seller must have his or her company financials in good order. This usually means reviewed financials at a minimum. Most sophisticated buyers, like a private equity fund for example, will require audited financials as part of their internal investment criteria.
You must have your corporate records and minute book in order. This includes your organizational documents, director and shareholder actions, stock register and other customary items. These items should be complete, signed and in the minutes book.
Make sure your contracts are signed, in writing (where applicable), and in one place with all amendments. This will help to expedite the buyer’s due diligence review and reflect favorably on your management skills.
You should also have offer letters or employment agreements, assignments of inventions and nondisclosure agreements in place for key employees, particularly if your business is dependent on key technology and personnel. If you have an HR function, you should have employee policies in place.
Determine the impact on employees if information about a possible sale leaks out to the work force. If that is an issue, handle all due diligence off site or online through a secure Web site and limit the buyer’s access to personnel until the latest possible time.
What legal issues might come up in the sale process?
There are obviously many legal issues that will come up, but here are just a few.
If you have been sued or are about to be, you should have your litigation counsel prepared to explain the status of the cases, the likely cost you may incur if you lose (or even if you don’t lose but have big attorneys fees), the effect on the company’s business, etc. This will surely come up in the buyer’s due diligence. There will likely be an escrowed amount from the sale proceeds to handle the cost of the litigation so as to shift some or all of the risk to the seller.
If you are in a regulated business, make sure you are in compliance with applicable rules and that your counsel can confirm this. The buyer likely will require a legal opinion from counsel to address this and other customary legal issues.
If you are in a technology business, be thinking about how you have protected your intellectual property, including trade secrets, and whether there are any infringement issues. This will be heavily negotiated in the purchase agreement.
How can companies stay on top of contractual matters?
Securing landlord or third-party contract approvals to a sale often takes weeks or longer to secure. If this is going to be an issue in your company, plan ahead and start the process as early as possible — recognizing that the deal may fall apart, so don’t jump the gun too soon.
Check all contracts for change of control provisions to ensure compliance with those provisions.
Start the process early with your lawyer to go over representations and warranties that are likely to be included in a purchase agreement. You will need to be thinking about scheduling exceptions to representations, insurance coverage, environmental matters, undisclosed liabilities, and numerous other matters that will be the subject of representations and covenants in the purchase agreement.
Start thinking about the letter of intent. Will it be binding or nonbinding? Will it go into extensive detail so you know upfront whether you will be able to resolve all material business points at the letter of intent stage? Will there be an earn-out? Will there be a financing contingency? Will you have to provide seller financing? How will the deal be structured? Will there be a standstill period?
Who should be involved in the process and what should be communicated to them?
Locate and engage suitable M&A counsel, accountants (if you do not already have one) and an investment banker to assist in the sale. If your golf buddy is your lawyer, chances are he may not be up to the task of doing an M&A deal. You will need a lawyer that specializes in M&A because it is complicated and part of the negotiations revolve around what are ‘market’ terms in the current environment.
There is often tax structuring necessary to secure a tax efficient sale, so engage tax experts early in the process. The M&A law firm you use will likely have this expertise.
Discuss with your investment banker (if you plan to use one) what they believe is the current market valuation for a company such as yours in today’s market so your expectations are met when the company is marketed. There are investment bankers who handle middle market as well as larger, or smaller, deals. M&A counsel can help you select a banker for your deal.
Even though you think you know all the buyers in your market niche, investment bankers have big rolodexes and have contacts with strategic as well as financial and foreign buyers. Although the investment banker will charge a fee, you can often get a significantly higher price using an investment banker. This is not essential but certainly something to consider carefully.