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How Do I Sell a Distressed Business?

As the Great Recession in the US starts to heal and spread through the economy, many business owners are looking to sell their business and regain control of their lives. For different reasons, the recession has been longer and deeper than many imagined, one of the main reasons why Chairman Bernanke at the Federal Reserve keeps saying he will not be raising interest rates for the ‘foreseeable future’ as he wants to make sure the growth in the economy is permanent and not temporary as happened during the Great Depression.

Despite the return to growth in the economy, a lot of business owners are unable or unwilling to hold on to their business in the hope of getting a better price if they sold. At the moment there are many buyers for certain types of businesses but I am seeing these buyers look for bargains. I am also seeing many business owners saying “Get me out, I am done.” They are highly motivated to sell rather than close the business as they want to see their business survive and feel a new owner with marketing money and energy can make it thrive and the price they want is extremely reasonable, that is, just the value of the assets.

If you own a business and want to sell because the physical, financial and emotional price is too great here are some steps to take.

The first step is probably the most important. It’s critical to step back from the business to be clear where it is at. If sales are declining rapidly then that business will be very hard to sell. If sales are flat then that is good. If sales are starting to increase that’s better. To help with this step, look at the cash flow. If a business has positive cash flow it has so many more options to a business that has no cash flow and/or no chance of this improving.

The second step is to look at the finance in place. If the business has no loans, that is great as the assets can be sold free and clear. If the business has loans from family and friends, it is time for heart to heart discussion about who gets how much. If the business has loans from a bank it can be well worth having a discussion with them. Take care with this approach as you need to be sure the bank will partner with you. Banks are in the business of lending so talk to their Asset Protection manager whose job is to protect the interests of the bank by getting bad loans off their books.

The third step is to move forward with selling the business. As I mentioned above, the sale will be around the hard assets. As the seller of the business you may be tempted to think there is value in customer lists, software, a website or the business phone numbers but the reality is these assets are not producing enough cash from the business sales. Do not get me wrong, a buyer will want them but they will not be willing to pay for them; only the hard physical assets or fixtures, furniture and equipment.

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