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It’s Not Personal… It’s Just Business

I spent four years as a Business Broker helping small business owners maximize their exit, and learned quite a bit putting these business acquisition deals together. Now I’m on the buy-side leading the Acquisitions Team at Versured, an insurance brokerage headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. Every deal is different and there are things to learn from every one of them. Below I share some of the insights I have gained to help you navigate the world of business acquisitions. 

We are all familiar with the saying: It’s not personal… it’s just business. 

But based on my years of experience… that sorta depends on who you ask, doesn’t it?

This attitude may fit a corporate CEO whose sole purpose is to maximize shareholder value for a Fortune 500 — but I have met very few small business owners who feel that way.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Have you ever met an entrepreneur who doesn’t take their business personally?

Entrepreneurs know that the heart and soul of the U.S. economy is centered around small businesses that are birthed from an idea, and nurtured with tenacity, long hours, missed family dinners, mistakes, hard-won successes, and tough decisions. As a Business Broker who has sold small companies across the U.S., I have noticed that when you finally decide to sell the business that so much of your blood, sweat, and tears has gone into the building, the stakes tend to feel all that much higher. Selling your business can be one of the most significant transactions of your life.

And over and over again, I am having to share this hard truth — nobody cares.

Sorry — but a lot of what you think is important, buyers don’t.


Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

The more you can view your business from a buyer’s perspective, the more prepared you will be for your company’s acquisition.

Buyers are concerned first and foremost with minimizing risk and maximizing return, and so the way that they look at your business often presents a disconnect to the way you view it. Buyers will look at the history of your business to make informed guesses about the future, and then determine what that means for them. Will they make money? Will it be a good fit? Is this the right investment? Is it a project they should take on?

When you begin speaking with prospective buyers about your business, they will see zero value in your long hours (in fact, that can hurt your value), your passion, your missed soccer games, or even your brilliant ideas (unless they’re well documented and easily replicated). Below are five key points to consider when you are trying to think like the buyer. 

  • Buyers seek cash flow that will pay them back for their investment in a reasonable time, and the amount of time buyers tend to find acceptable varies by industry — think of this as an average of 2–3 years.
  • Buyers prefer acquiring companies that do not depend on the seller for revenue. When I tell the story of your company, the less I can say about you, the better. I would even go as far as to say,  if your customers don’t know who you are, you’re in the best possible position.
  • Buyers want a diversified and sticky customer base.
  • Buyers seek well-written and clear employee agreements, customer contracts, independent contractor agreements, and lease agreements. They also want them to be assignable.
  • Buyers seek well-documented company records for financials, customer database, sales, and customer support procedures.

Photo by Oli Dale on Unsplash

Naturally, as you prepare to disentangle yourself from this entity that you nurtured over the years, you want a few things to go right:

  • If your business supports the livelihoods of several employees and their families, you want to protect them the best you can.
  • You want to find a buyer who won’t trash the brand or neglect your customers that you worked so diligently to acquire.
  • You want to maximize the proceeds that go into your pocket when the transaction is all said and done. You worked hard to create this business and deserve to be rewarded for it.

And do not, for one second, underestimate the emotions that are likely to come up — and they may surprise you. It can feel extremely liberating and empowering to sell your business — or it can feel like you are handing over your child to a stranger. That’s normal. The business acquisition process can be a long road and one littered with some challenges, but so was building your business. For many this process is both personal and business, embrace what’s next.

Karen Rennick runs acquisitions and channel partners for Versured, a rapidly growing insurtech company. Her expertise spans M&A, real estate, and insurance finance.

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