Are You Thinking of Selling Your Business in 2012?

by Alliant Brokers on December 28, 2011

Is it 2012 yet? From where I sit, the Great Recession has felt like the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray relives the same miserable day over and over again. For those of us waiting for the business-for-sale marketplace to turn the corner, 2012 brings a number of reasons for hope, many of which are addressed in a just-published New York Times article. While the decision to sell your business should be entered into with careful thought and planning, here are five reasons you may want to get a deal done by the end of 2012.

1. Expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts.

As the article spells out in detail, the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts could have a significant affect on the after-tax proceeds of a business that is sold after 2012. While you’re getting your books in order and scheduling a year-end meeting with your accountant, make a note to ask about the tax savings associated with selling your business in 2012 versus waiting another year or two. If you’re on the fence, the answer to this question may point to a decision.

2. This was a good year for many small businesses.

I have spoken with several small-business owners whose sales and income numbers have finally returned to pre-recession levels. Businesses in the construction, leisure and entertainment, and Internet industries saw a solid upswing, to name a few. With expenses cut to the bone in an effort to survive the past three years, many businesses are lean, mean and ready for buyer scrutiny.

One thing to keep in mind is that small-business valuations are not what they were. “Don’t make the mistake of asking pre-recession prices,” said Mike Handelsman, group general manager for BizBuySell and BizQuest, in a recent article. “Buyers will often have no problem paying for a strong business, but they will still scoff at overvalued listings.”

3. There’s still plenty of money on the sidelines.

The buyers are out there! Corporate buyers and private equity groups in particular are sitting on record amounts of cash and looking to put it to use through strategic acquisitions and investments. Meanwhile, many owners of middle-market businesses (defined as having at least $2 million in pretax earnings) have been waiting until the economy improves to go to market. Bolstered by stronger management and more access to capital than their Main Street counterparts, many of these businesses have remained robust throughout the recession. If you own a healthy and profitable middle-market business, 2012 will continue to be a seller’s market for you. Even at the Main Street level, my firm represented more individual buyers looking to leave corporate America behind and purchase an existing business in 2011 than ever before. The problem for Main Street continues to be the availability of traditional bank lending for small-business acquisitions.

4. The market may be flooded soon.

With Baby Boomers retiring en masse over the next 15 years, a lot of  business owners will be heading for the exit. There are predictions that this will put a damper on small-business valuations, as the supply of businesses will outweigh demand. Whether or not you sell in 2012, you should start planning now to position your business for sale in what could become a crowded and competitive marketplace.

5. It may be time to get on with your life.

Many business owners who were looking to sell over the last three years have had to put their lives on hold, shift into survival mode and weather the economic storm. For these folks, the opportunity to cash out at a decent price and move on will be more than welcome.

While 2012 may be a good time for many business owners to sell, that’s not to suggest that you should try to market-time a sale, something merger and acquisition professionals like Gary Brooks — president of Exit Plan Pros — caution against. “Those sellers who tried to time the market were completely surprised at how quick the market dried up in 2008,” said Mr. Brooks. “I have a client that turned down an offer for $11 million in 1999 because he thought that expansion would go on for a few more years. We had another offer for $6.5 million in 2007, and now the business is worth $2 million or $3 million.”

Whether the coming year breathes fresh air into what has been a stagnant market remains to be seen. If you do plan to sell, keep in mind that it typically takes about a year to complete a transaction. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get a deal closed by the end of 2012.

Are you thinking of selling? If so, how does the market look to you?

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