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Helping Owners When They Don’t Want Help

Submitted by John Brown on Fri, 04/16/2021 - 1:58pm

“I’m selling my business!” That sentence is too often an advisor’s first clue that one of their clients has decided to sell their business. This call, text, or email usually contains some variation of, “I have a letter of intent (LOI) that looks great and pretty simple, but I’d like you to review it and get back to me with your thoughts by tomorrow.”  

How do you respond? You’re not a deal advisor, yet your clients reach out to you for help. 

The Typical Advisor  

Justifiably most advisors are unwilling to offer advice on LOIs because they lack knowledge, they fear making a mistake if they do give advice, and they don’t know the advisors who could help their clients. 

The Typical Business Owner 

Even when advisors are able to recommend transaction advisors (e.g., a deal attorney, business broker or investment banker), owners are frequently unwilling to retain them because owners have decided to negotiate transactions on their own. They don’t want or see the need to involve deal advisors before they have reached agreement on key transaction terms. 

Owners refuse (or are hesitant) to involve specialized deal advisors for at least one of these reasons.  

  • Most owners believe that they are great negotiators. After all, they’ve been successfully negotiating with vendors, customers, and prospective employees for decades.  
  • Owners are hesitant to involve professional advisors because they think that “lawyers and accountants mess up deals every day.”  
  • They are astounded at the fees deal advisors charge. 

In short, many owners don’t really want help. 

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Act Early, Act Often 

Once owners take action to sell their companies to third parties, our best arguments for hiring experts fall on deaf ears. Owners don’t typically pause or reverse course, which leaves advisors one course of action: We must act before owners decide to act. 

We suggest that you take a few steps today—before you receive that call, text, or email from one of your clients—to prevent your clients from the consequences of a bad decision.  

  1. Ask your owner-clients when you next meet if they are thinking of exiting, specifically selling to an outside party. If they are, assess whether a sale to a third party will satisfy their financial and other goals.  
  2. Educate yourself. Learn about the sale process and how to prepare a business to sell for top dollar. It would also be extremely beneficial to familiarize yourself with the common Deal Killers you may run into during the sale process and know how to overcome them.  
  3. Educate your clients about the sale process, especially the pitfalls of forging ahead without preparation. Provide relevant content to owners and other professional advisors in your network on a regular basis via email and other channels.  
  4. Introduce clients who might be open to a third-party sale to appropriate deal advisors now. If you don’t have one already, form a team of advisors that includes deal advisors such as an M&A attorney, audit CPA firm, and transaction advisor (investment banker or business broker.) Members of your team should be willing to meet with your clients initially without charging any fees. If you have a team supporting you, you do not have to be the expert on third-party sales. Instead, you can and should be the “go-to” advisor for owners seeking to sell because you have established relationships with experts in the field. 

If you wait for your clients to contact you—assuming that they even contact you about a possible sale —it will likely be too late for you to help. 

The Problem 

Inquire/assess, educate, and introduce are actions that we take almost instinctively in our respective practices, yet few advisors take these steps related to the one event that is inevitable in the lives of our business-owner clients: their business exits. Why? Most advisors don’t know how. They are not confident inquiring, educating, and introducing because they fear they could make a mistake. Rather than make a mistake, these advisors take the safer course—safer only for themselves, of course, not their clients: They do nothing. 

The Solution 

Advisors who come to BEI for training want to do everything they can to protect their clients from the consequences of third-party sales that fail to achieve their clients’ goals.  

Educate yourself! Do it for yourself and do it for your clients: Become the advisor who plays an active—rather than reactive—role in the biggest financial and emotional event in your client’s lives. 

Takeaways 

  • You don’t have to be on the receiving end of the “I’m selling my business, so get back to me with your thoughts by tomorrow” email if you take action today.  
  • If you represent business owners, don’t let the fear of making a mistake prevent you from being an invaluable resource. 
  • Do something! Gain the knowledge necessary to advise your owner-clients during the biggest financial event of their lives.  
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