As an advisor, at the end of a career, your business is your masterpiece – it’s your Picasso. It’s one of a kind, and in today’s market, you will not have trouble finding someone who wants to take it off your hands and pay you for it. But, there is a huge difference in getting paid, and getting what your business is worth from the best possible successor for your clients. The majority of advisors will not obtain the best deal, and many may not even be selling to the best successor. There are four key obstacles standing between you and the best deal with the best buyer:
- Objectivity – you have spent 20+ years building your business. Your clients are friends and family who trust you to help manage their retirement. This attachment and desire to build a relationship and rapport with whomever your buyer is, will cloud your ability to negotiate. You do need to find a group of potential buyers who are all a good “fit” before discussing price or terms. But, the last thing most owners want to do is spend weeks face-to-face negotiating against a group of buyers, then close the deal and have any expectation of suddenly working collaboratively as colleagues.
- Perspective – without the perspective of what other deals look like, what has worked and what doesn’t, combined with the general “state of the market,” the concessions you will ask of a buyer will be merely your desires and preferences, and naturally the buyer will want the opposite in all cases.
- Experience – if you do it right, you will only sell your business once. This means you will never get good at it. Your buyer will either have bought a business or two previously, putting you at a disadvantage, or this will be new to both of you, putting you both at a disadvantage. Neither of these will lead to you getting the best value for what you’ve built.
- Resources – finding the right team to get a deal done is a challenge. You will have no shortage of folks wanting to help you, but each will have their own agenda and self-interests. A host of companies (broker-dealers, custodians, third-party money managers, etc.) have recently started building their own internal “succession” departments to help their advisors. Never forget who these folks work for – not you. The departments exist to help the firm recruit, and to make sure they keep your assets. They will be quick to connect you with other advisors in your area with the firm and give you some free templated resources, leaving you to negotiate a deal on your own.
The key to ensuring your Picasso ends up in the hands of a qualified buyer, and that you obtain the best value for your masterpiece, is to have an outside expert help lead the process to ensure no stone is left unturned. The role of an outside expert is to understand the needs of your clients and your business, provide reasonable expectations so you are well advised and can make every decision with full information, then find you buyers and negotiate a deal.
Finding interested buyers is not the challenge in todays market. There are on average, 45 buyers for every seller. The key is to leverage this demand, with an expert’s knowledge of the market, and familiarity with the buyers to narrow the field from 45 interested parties, down to the best four or five qualified buyers, then negotiate the best deal from each so you have great offers from great buyers. This process takes time, and requires knowledge of deal structuring, tax allocation, and financing strategies to ensure the buyer understands why and how the deal works for both sides (buyer AND seller). Even if you are a savvy negotiator, having an outside expert handle this (who subsequently goes away after the deal is done) helps ensure a healthy working relationship post-closing. It is critical to have the buyer feel they are getting a “fair” deal because both buyer and seller will work together post-closing for 12+ months, and sometimes as long as three to four years. As the seller, your biggest challenge will be selecting from four amazing offers, each from an equally impressive buyer.
You have created a masterpiece, and finding someone willing to give you money for your Picasso will not be a challenge. Only you can decide whether it is worth putting in the time and effort to ensure you have the best buyer and are getting the best deal for your masterpiece. Maybe you plan to give a “sweetheart deal” to your son/daughter or your junior partners who have served and been loyal for so many years. But objectively, whether for you, your family, or your favorite charity, you owe it to all of your key stakeholders to ensure you have evaluated the entire market of potential buyers, to ensure you are transitioning your business to the right person. The benefit of leveraging sell-side advocacy experts like Succession Resource Group is that they will screen dozens of potential buyers to ensure all options are evaluated. In addition to evaluating candidates, the truth is in the numbers regarding negotiating and closing the deal – advisors using sell-side representation obtained on average 33% higher values in 2017, an average cash down payment of almost 60%, and 11% more on the tax treatment as compared to deals that were self-negotiated. You should only sell your business once – and done right, you should not have to choose between the best buyer and the best deal, you deserve and can have both.
 Succession Resource Group, Inc. peer-to-peer transaction data for the calendar year 2017, representing $3.2 billion in AUM