When Working with Relatives, Plan for the Unexpected

By: James Cassel
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Family members can be great assets in a business, but to make it work, you need to face some harsh realities.

Family owned businesses, when run correctly by the right family members, can be wildly successful. But when they’re dysfunctional, family businesses can be a real nightmare for everyone involved – and even destroy families and their financial well being.

There’s no question that our own flesh and blood can offer a level of loyalty, trust, commitment and vested interest in the business’ long-term success that’s not usually given by those who aren’t our family. On the flip side, things can quickly get ugly with family members who feel jealousy, resentment, entitlement, greed and other emotions that can get in the way of sound business judgment. When problems occur, the more family members involved, the worse things can get. Moreover, family businesses can also chase away great non-family talent if they are not sensitive to their needs.

While family owned businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, many family businesses fail or are sold before the next generation has taken the reins. I watched firsthand the third generation of two families kill a business. It could have been avoided if they had been more rational or had proper legal documents in place.

Having spent decades counseling owners of family businesses in all sorts of industries, not to mention having worked very successfully in several businesses with my own family members, including at Cassel Salpeter, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Here are a few important things I’ve learned that are critical for those who want to sustain healthy family owned businesses and healthy family relationships:

1. Plan ahead. Simply put, you have to put in place the equivalent of a “business pre-nup.” Work with qualified legal and financial advisors to develop appropriate written agreements such as shareholder or partnership agreements that include succession plans and buy-sell provisions. We all know couples that have built fabulous businesses together – only to see those businesses fall apart at tremendous financial and emotional expense when they divorce. Same goes for siblings who fight turf wars after the parent who owned the family business passes away or retires, and one sibling wants to run the business while the others want to sell or take out money. Too often, these matters end up in court because people failed to plan in advance. It’s important to have plans in place when dealing with family so everyone knows where they stand and agrees in advance to what can and cannot be done.

2. Communicate. In fact, over-communicate. Most families don’t do this very well or often enough. It becomes difficult to handle issues because the family members don’t know how to discuss their opinions, reach consensus and make decisions efficiently. So talk it out. Lack of communication is one of the main causes of litigation and failure in family businesses.

Need help? There are plenty of business psychologists and coaches who specialize in helping family businesses. Don’t wait until things go wrong to consult professionals.

Years ago, a couple contacted me for advice regarding their plans to sell their business. Although they had spent years grooming their very capable son to eventually take over the business and he was doing a great job, they decided to begin entertaining buyout offers without consulting him.

I reminded them that if they sold the business without their son’s involvement or consent, they might burn their relationship with him and his wife and never get to see their grandchildren. I recommended they discuss their plans upfront with their son, bring him into the process and, if they still wanted to sell the business, offer to sell it to him first rather than anyone else. A few weeks later, they sent me a bottle of champagne and a note that read: “Thank you. You saved our family and our business.”

3. Be picky. Recognize that not everyone is good for the business or should be in the business. Yes, even family members must understand that the “there’s always a place for you here” school of thought may not be in everyone’s best interest. Some companies are populated by next-generation members who failed in other businesses or spent the early part of their careers as aspiring athletes, artists, ormusicians before ascending to leadership positions as unprepared 40-somethings – clearly not a good business model. Finding the right positions for the right people is crucial. Not everyone is CEO material.

4. Implement safety measures. Require training and implement a screening process for new family hires and promotions. When possible, ensure that new family hires have obtained solid industry experience before they join the business. This will help ensure that only dedicated, qualified relatives join and lead the firm. I know families who “traded” their children to get experience at other businesses before the children joined their own families’ businesses.

Additionally, some family run businesses appoint independent members to the board of directors along with family members and/or a family council, which functions like a board of directors and handles the important, potentially divisive decisions. Some have lawyers develop proper succession plans for use after retirement, death or disability. Measures like these can help prevent many of the common headaches that occur when it comes time for the second or third generations to take the reins.

5. Think creatively. Many family businesses are run for decades by the same leaders, often making it difficult to implement creative solutions or necessary changes like new technologies, business models and schools of thought. Don’t let this be the case for you. Young family members may have great ideas.

Years ago, I watched a business owner successfully devise a clever escape route from a touchy family situation. One sibling had taken over the family business and grown it to unprecedented levels. Thinking they needed extra support after sales skyrocketed, they invited another sibling to assume a leadership role. They soon learned this was a big mistake, as everything this new sibling touched turned to ashes. Rather than cause more turmoil by booting out the problem child, they offered to double his salary in exchange for staying home. He wisely accepted, and the business got back on track.

Most important, don’t be afraid to say “no” or terminate problematic or unhappy family members. No matter how tricky or delicate the situation might seem, it can be in everyone’s best interest. Having done this personally, I can tell you firsthand how hard it can be. Many family businesses suffer unnecessarily because they over-extend their resources to accommodate every family member who wants a piece of the pie. By putting the right systems in place, you can minimize the potential for trouble and maximize the potential for success while retaining everyone’s priceless peace of mind.

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment-banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies.

What Does Affordable Healthcare Act Mean for Business?

Making the right choices now could go a long way toward protecting your bottom line later.

By: James Cassel

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MIAMI, Florida, July 22, 2012 – With all the debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act, one could easily get lost in the rhetoric and lose sight of the issue that’s important now: The law is here, whether you like it or not. Clearly, the new or expanded coverage slated for millions of additional people will bring more costs – whether in the form of a tax or penalty. No matter how you feel about that fact, it’s time to set aside politics and take an objective look at the implications of this new law for your business.

One of the most frustrating challenges that middle-market business owners will likely soon face is continued uncertainty. While some people say that the Affordable Healthcare Act will save a substantial amount of money over time and others say it will do just the opposite, nobody knows the ultimate implications because this law is still new. Even the threats ranging from slight modification to repeal of this law will probably remain unknown until after the November election and beyond.

Although it’s impossible to predict the future, we know at least one thing is certain: Because some provisions have already gone into effect and other provisions will be phased in during the next three years, companies will have to redesign their current plans and/or offer new plans to employees.

The time to begin studying this is now. If not managed properly, the issues associated with this law could hurt the bottom line for businesses. For example, automatic enrollment provisions for businesses with more than 200 employees make it critical for businesses to gauge how many of their employees are likely to opt out and to develop appropriate strategies.

Some key points to keep in mind:

• Many businesses that currently provide employee group coverage at reduced premiums may face higher costs. If this happens, some business owners might feel motivated to simply pay the penalties for not offering health insurance to their employees, which was not the intended effect of this law. On the other hand, some believe that insurers may end up competing for your business, bringing down premiums (although this seems highly unlikely).

• Businesses that provide the top-tier plans for certain employees may face higher costs with a 40 percent excise tax tagged onto those “Cadillac” plans if the values of those plans exceed $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for family coverage. To help prevent this from happening, you should examine your current policies and determine if you will be subject to the new tax. If so, you might want to modify the benefits.

•  Another issue facing the business community: the non-discrimination provision in the new law. Businesses will not be able to continue to offer top-tier “Cadillac” plans to some employees while offering others more basic coverage. Offering the same coverage to all employees can be a costly proposition for many business owners. Some small-business owners who cannot afford to offer the same high-quality coverage to all employees worry that this could motivate senior talent to look for jobs at bigger companies that offer better coverage. It is possible that supplemental coverage will be available.

• Owners of some smaller businesses may benefit from tax credits aimed at helping to reduce the costs of providing insurance. However, make sure to understand the fine print, as there will be certain restrictions based on income and other criteria. For example, businesses with 25 or fewer employees who pay average annual wages of less than $50,000 and provide health insurance may qualify for asmall business tax credit of up to 35 percent (up to 25 percent for nonprofits) of the costs of their premiums. Starting in 2014, some small businesses could qualify for tax credits as high as 50 percent. This might sound good, but how many businesses will actually qualify?

• Businesses with employer-based health insurance plans that cover retirees between 55 and 64 years of age can now obtain financial help through the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.

• It’s said that businesses with fewer than 100 employees may be able to shop for insurance in anAffordable Insurance Exchange, a new “marketplace” where individuals and small businesses may look for affordable health benefit plans. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are said to be exempt from new employer responsibility policies and don’t have to pay an assessment if their employees get tax credits through an Affordable Insurance Exchange. There are still unanswered questions, however, about if and how these exchanges will be established.

Some additional key points relevant to coverage:

The new law makes it easier to obtain insurance for children and adults with pre-existing conditions, many of whom have historically been unable to afford or obtain coverage. It also requires insurance companies to cover certain types of preventive care, including things like screenings and immunizations, without requiring you to make co-payments or co-insurance or meet your deductibles. Starting Jan. 1, 2014, the new law will do away with the dollar limits on benefits that had been previously imposed by many health plans, meaning that health plans can no longer cap their yearly or lifetime spending for your covered benefits.

Again, it’s difficult to know with any certainty either how the new law will affect middle-market business owners or how middle-market business owners will respond. For example, this new law could motivate some businesses owners to do more outsourcing or use temporary labor through third-party providers. Companies in medical and biotech industries, for example, could benefit from provisions in the law that allow for intellectual property protection.

The bill is highly complex and exceeds 2,000 pages. The bottom line: every business has unique needs, and it’s important to consult with qualified insurance professionals who can provide a detailed analysis of all the implications of this law to your business and help you consider all your options. Making the right choices now could go a long way toward protecting your bottom line later.

James S. Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment-banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies.www.casselsalpeter.com

Obtaining Equity Capital in Today’s Market

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There are several types of investors and equity securities from which to choose. However, they won’t all be a good fit.

By: James Cassel

MIAMI, Florida, July 1, 2012 – Growing a company is seldom easy, and today’s economic environment doesn’t make it much easier. However, even in today’s economy, there are ways to raise equity capital.

But first, put yourself in the place of a potential investor. While investors are by nature willing to take risks, they generally will not just give you money without terms and conditions. Keep in mind that money comes with strings.

When seeking equity capital, there are several types of investors and equity securities from which to choose. However, they won’t all be a good fit. In many situations, the company’s stage of growth and amount of equity financing sought will determine what type of investor, equity, and terms and conditions will be available and most appropriate.


To navigate these waters, here’s a look at the types of equity investments and investors.

Angel Investors: Although angel investors may be friends and family, in most cases they are the type of investors who come after friends and family but before venture capitalists for early stage companies. Angels are people with money and an appetite for risk. These investors may potentially: bring a wealth of experience to this process, have significant relationships with key individuals or companies, and provide valuable management advice. They also may be willing to provide seed money, i.e. startup money, which can become expensive because of the relatively high risks associated with starting a business. Bottom line: Angel investors can be an attractive option for higher-risk, small businesses poised for rapid growth at favorable valuations.

Venture Capitalists: With a more formalized vetting process, venture capitalists invest in a small percentage of the deals they review, as they tend to be extremely selective. Their risk tolerance is often high, and therefore, so is the required rate of return. When they do become interested, it’s usually early in a company’s life. This is usually the first investment by institutional investors. They add expertise, contacts, advice and money. They invest with a planned exit event, such as an initial public offering (IPO) or sale.

Private Placements (of equity): Private placements can include debt, equity or both. While raising money quickly is possible from a legal and structural basis, finding investors of any kind takes time. Private placements can be a good option for growth companies, mature companies looking to expand, and those that want to expand without going public. This money can come from individuals or institutional investors. There can be great flexibility in both the structure and valuation of the deal.

One consideration in private placements is the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS), signed into law in April. The bill basically removes the prohibition on general solicitation and advertisement by issuers relying on Rule 506 of Regulation D (Reg D) under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended. In other words, thanks to Reg D, you may, subject to certain rules and regulations, advertise for investors. The SEC has yet to issue the required regulations under the JOBS Act.

IPOs: Going public for most companies provides an infusion of capital as well as the ability to use its stock as currency for making acquisitions. While IPOs can be expensive, and becoming a public company involves much higher levels of accountability and regulatory requirements, IPOs can also bring many benefits. Although generally thought of for large, established companies, they can be good for small, highly visible, rapidly growing businesses. IPOs take all kinds of shapes and forms. One of the recent notable IPOs, Facebook, was clearly not a particularly well-executed offering. Although its success has been debated, it undoubtedly provided an effective exit strategy for some of its private investors and raised substantial funds for the company.

Private Equity Funds: Private equity (PE) funds are professionally managed funds that invest or purchase control of a wide variety of companies. These organizations usually want majority control, though some funds might be willing to only purchase a minority stake. Some prefer mature, stable companies that can show significant growth opportunities, while others like distressed businesses. PE firms focus on multiple factors such as industry, size and geographical location. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that these organizations can provide access to capital beyond what a traditional bank would finance, as well as strategically assist a company. However, companies considering private equity funds must plan long in advance, and they must be ready to withstand the scrutiny of the due diligence of the PE firm. And remember, the investors will impose many restrictions and conditions.


There are a variety of equity securities from which to choose. Depending on the type and situation of the company seeking growth capital, several choices may make more sense.

Common Stock: Common stock represents a form of ownership in a corporation. The common stockholders own the economic benefit of the company. They are inferior to the rights of preferred shareholders. They receive the profits as well as losses of the enterprise.

Preferred Stock: Preferred stock, like common stock, is an equity security. It can take many forms and have lots of flexibility. It can provide for, among other terms, special voting rights, preference on liquidation, dividends, conversion into common stock and certain restrictive covenants.

Warrants & Options: Warrants are a derivative security that represents a privilege or right to purchase securities at a specified price within a certain time period. Warrants are long-term instruments that typically last several years, but will lapse if the right isn’t exercised during the specified time. The intrinsic value of a warrant is found by comparing the price to exercise your right (also known as the subscription price) with the market price of the stock. If the price of the stock increases in value, the warrant represents an opportunity for an investor (option holder) to profit by exercising his or her right.

Mezzanine Financing: Mezzanine (mezz) financing is debt capital that can be convertible and gives the lender the right, if he or she so elects, to convert to an ownership interest in the company. Many times mezz financing is coupled with warrants. Generally, they are not control investments, and because it may be treated like equity on the company’s balance sheet depending on the structure, it might be easier to get bank financing. However, while mezz financing is less expensive than pure equity, it is still more expensive than debt.


Whatever path you choose, the following tips can help:

• Don’t underestimate the power of relationships, introductions, and good advice from those in the business, like lawyers and investment bankers.

• Be realistic about your business, the valuation of your company, and the amount you seek.

• Conduct due diligence on your investors, as they will check out you and your company. All money is not equal. Make sure you are compatible with the investors because they will own a part of your company and may partake in important business decisions.

• Think about the timing. It will take longer than you imagine. Don’t make rash decisions.

• Consider seeking the counsel of seasoned lawyers, as well as an investment banker.

Tips for Picking the Right Business Loan

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The size of your business, the purpose of the loan and how you operate your firm play a big part in the type of loan that’s available and right for you.

By: James Cassel

MIAMI, Florida, May 21, 2012 – Thinking about taking your business to the next level, or simply sustaining it through challenging times? You’ll need effective management, stamina and, most importantly, money. However, accessing funds for growth capital, cash-flow shortages, an acquisition, or because your lender cut you off can be a complex and daunting challenge. Let’s ignore equity for now. Loans have different risks and costs, and the size of your business, the purpose of the loan and how you operate your company play a big part in the type of loan that’s available and right for you.

Many owners “bootstrap” their businesses — looking to personal savings, credit cards and their regular income as a source of capital. But, when those options are exhausted, where can an entrepreneur turn for cash? Getting to know your options is a good first step. If you’re seeking to borrow in excess of $5 million, you can turn to an investment banker who can identify sources of capital and evaluate terms of a deal. Regardless, every business is different, and all business loans are not created equal. Remember, with money comes strings.

Friends and family: If you’ve thought about friends and family as a source of financing, you’re not alone. However, don’t assume these loans are “free.” Even when working with friends and family, the deal should be an arm’s-length transaction (although this is not always the case). Therefore, the interest rate, loan-to-value, and terms must reflect — or nearly reflect — market rates, no matter what the relationship between lender and borrower.

Pros: Since these loans are based on relationships, not necessarily credit worthiness, they can be good for business owners with less-than-perfect credit or collateral. In addition, if you are running short on time, you can often get a loan more quickly than from banks or other financial institutions. You might also be able to get lower interest rates and less-restrictive terms, even in the context of an arm’s-length transaction.

Cons: Every loan carries risk, and if your ability to pay back the loan changes, then your relationship with the friend or family member could be jeopardized. Plus, when you borrow from friends and family, there are often strings attached, including unsolicited business advice, feelings of entitlement and expectations of continued involvement after the loan is paid off.

Cash-flow loans: As the name implies, cash-flow loans are generally unsecured loans, whereby the lender looks to anticipated cash flow to repay the loan and requires certain financial and nonfinancial covenants be met. With this type of loan, you take advantage of the reliability and regularity of your company’s revenue stream. Traditional commercial banks and certain finance companies frequently make these loans. For smaller businesses, the lenders will generally require personal guarantees.

Pros: Cash-flow loans can be useful to fund an acquisition because you can use the cash flow of the company you are acquiring (in addition to your own) to repay the loan. If you have a stable credit history, as well as predictable and growing cash flow, cash-flow loans provide a fairly flexible source of funding.

Cons: Small and mid-sized companies with fewer customers, smaller contracts and less-reliable income may have more difficulty obtaining these types of loans. Similarly, companies with shorter operating histories may not be able to demonstrate the necessary consistency of cash flow to secure a loan.

Asset-based loans: Both small and large businesses can consider asset-based loans, which are based on the value of hard assets, receivables and inventory for determining borrowing limits. The amount of money available to borrow is generally based on a formula.

Pros: Asset-based lending is flexible, since you can use accounts receivable and inventory as collateral. If your company has less-than-perfect credit, asset-based lending could be for you — especially if you find a lender who specializes in your industry. You may also be able to access capital more rapidly than through a loan based on operating income and other financial measures.

Cons: One of the drawbacks to an asset-based loan is the formula. One example: If you are only allowed to borrow on accounts receivable less than 90 days old. If you are not paid by then, you will need to pay back that portion of the loan anyway. In addition, if the assets reduce in value, you may owe more than those assets are worth. Plus, lenders discount assets when determining how much they will loan your business. For example, a lender may not loan anything against foreign receivables, 50 percent of the value for work in progress and perhaps 80 percent of the value of U.S. receivables.

Factoring: Factoring, or selling your accounts receivable for cash, provides your business with working capital. However, the value of your receivables will be greatly affected by your customers’ payment history. If you have had a hard time collecting from customers, the factoring company will likely have a difficult time as well. Accordingly, the amount of money you can expect — and the cost of that money — will be reflected by this. Factoring can be with or without recourse. There may also be certain holdbacks on the purchase price.

Pros: Instead of waiting for clients to remit payment, you’ll have faster access to money owed to your business. Also, since factoring focuses on your customers’ credit worthiness and not yours, you can access capital without the lender scrutinizing your business’ credit worthiness.

Cons: Factoring can be expensive. Factoring companies charge fees and buy the receivables at a discount (the equivalent of interest). They charge a premium for the risk of nonpayment by your customers.

Other Options for Small Businesses: Even in today’s post-credit-crunch environment, business owners might perceive that lending options are scarce. In addition to what I have mentioned, other available types of loans include purchase-order financing, international accounts receivable financing, and mezzanine financing, as well as hard-money lenders.

The fact is, commercial lending is more plentiful than it has been in several years. Banks and other financiers have lots of cash to lend. So, always consider your primary banking relationship as a viable source of capital.

In addition, companies have access to resources, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA guarantees loans issued by commercial banks and has a variety of programs based on your company’s size, industry and stage of development. This can enhance your credit worthiness. And, don’t let the word “small” fool you. The SBA defines small businesses differently from what you may think.

Today’s entrepreneurs can also use the Internet to find loans. There are a growing number of sites trying to assist with both debt and equity. Try Boefly.com for loans or examine “crowd-funding” sources. Microloan financing destinations like Kiva.org may be able to provide businesses with the financial boost they need.

Aside from evaluating loans, you should also compare lenders. Look beyond interest rates at terms, fees and costs. Also, consider how much experience your lender has in your industry and its willingness to stick with you over time. When you think you have found the right lender, examine how it addressed past crises and current media attention. And, no matter what you decide, never finance a long-term asset with a short-term loan.

With an honest evaluation of your borrowing potential, you will be set for the next stage in your business, whatever that may be.

Family Business Sales Can Be Emotional

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Decisions about the future of a company can be a source of great stress and family conflict.

By: James Cassel

MIAMI, Florida, April 15, 2012 – Between 80 and 90 percent of all U.S. companies are family businesses, according to the Family Business Review. Over the course of the next decade, more than 40 percent of those companies’ top executives will retire, making family business succession a major issue for thousands of enterprises and thousands of families.

With this massive change on the horizon, it’s safe to assume many of these companies will address succession by selling the family business or transitioning to the next generation. In addition, many family businesses contemplate a sale for myriad other reasons besides succession. Regardless of the motivation, selling may not be the right choice. And for those business owners who choose to sell, the process can be a source of great stress and family conflict.

Here are five questions to help your family-owned company navigate the prospect and process of selling.

1. Why are you considering a sale? 

It’s important to identify the reasons why you want to sell the business, because the motivation for a sale can have a large impact on the best course of action to take. For instance, if there’s not another family member or generation in line to take over the business, then a sale may be the best way to monetize your asset. By contrast, market opportunities may be the driving force, making the urgency for a sale more present. Other criteria could include divorce, death, family members’ seeking alternative career directions, or tax and estate planning considerations.

2. Is an outright sale the best choice?  

Before hanging the “for sale” sign, consider strategic alternatives. In this regard, consult with your accountant, your attorney, or an investment banker. Depending on your goals, there may be a number of other options available to meet your family’s objectives.

For instance, recapitalizing the company could provide cash to the exiting generation (or exiting family members) while allowing the remaining family members to continue in management roles. If liquidity is not an issue, then identifying non-family members for executive management positions can address succession issues while allowing the family to retain ownership (and therefore the cash flow). And of course, if a sale does make sense, then be certain to engage the appropriate professional advisors to ensure you realize the greatest possible value from your family business as early as possible.

3. Are your decisions driven by emotions or good business sense? 

Despite the prevalence of family members that work together, few can avoid the potential divisiveness that money and business dealings can have on their relationships. Whether it’s a case of siblings facing off with each other, cousins in conflict, or parents and children disagreeing, the emotions of a family quarrel can lead to bad decision-making that can have catastrophic economic impact on a family business. I have seen this more than once: As a result of ego clashes or a lack of common sense, much money is left on the table. And once again, one of the best defenses a family can take is to engage the right assistance. A corporate psychologist, family therapist, or professional mediator can often prevent emotions from hijacking a family business’ potential and ensure that equity and “cool heads” prevail.

Emotions can also affect owners’ sense of what a business is worth. While your business is your baby, prospective buyers are often uninterested in the characteristics you consider most significant. Many buyers are extremely disciplined in their approach to value. Look to your advisors to provide an accurate valuation and to negotiate without bias.

4. Are family members on the same page?  

Families sometimes struggle during a sale because some members are risk takers and others are more conservative. One owner (or group of owners) may want to hold out for a premium price while another owner may want to take the first offer. As a seller, the investment bankers representing your company should engage all of the selling parties before going to market to ensure that everyone is on the same page, speaking with one voice and mindful of the same goals. Sometimes it might even be better if one family member buys out the other if that person will be an obstacle in the sale process.

5. Are you ready for what comes next?  

The excitement of a deal and the lure of what looks like a windfall can distract business owners from the reality that, after a transaction, they will no longer own and control their family business. What will you do with your proceeds? What will you do with your time? Many successful small business owners aren’t ready to wind down after selling their companies, and they sorely miss the stimulation of running a company. They still want to be in the game. For other family business owners, a sale can mean their children, siblings, or spouses are left without a job. Still, for others a sale can mean their legacy becomes uncertain.

It’s helpful to contemplate and visualize how you and your entire family will move forward after the sale of your family business.

10 Tips to Consider Before Selling Your Business

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By: James Cassel jcassel@casselsalpeter.com

MIAMI, Florida, February 19, 2012 – As an investment banker who represents clients during the sale, merger and acquisition process, I frequently hear comments from those who regret not planning more carefully — or not planning early enough — for the sale of their businesses.

A common mistake is to wait until the day you decide to sell your business to begin preparing, and by then, you may have lost a great planning opportunity. So, if you plan on selling today or any time in the foreseeable future, here are a few tips.

1. Hire a professional team. Assemble a team of advisors to navigate the sale process from personal tax planning to valuation and marketing, through negotiations and closing. Your team should include an investment banker or business broker (depending on the value of the business), a financial planner, a lawyer (perhaps a team of lawyers), and an accountant.

Tip: Remember, the advice you get before you go to market with your business can be just as valuable as the advice you get during negotiations. So engage your advisors early.

2. In connection with family, talk to yours early on in the process.Failing to involve your family at the front end can spoil a deal on the back end, especially when a second or third generation is involved, and they expect to take over or profit from the family business. I frequently advise potential sellers who haven’t discussed the situation with their family members to come back after they have the conversation. And, not surprisingly, family members have strong feelings that may affect the owners’ decision to sell.

Tip: When selling a family business, determine who will have a say in the deal and who will not. Even minority owners should be consulted to avoid acrimony.

3. Consider if you want to work after a sale and for how long. Do you want to exit immediately, or do you want to keep working for a few years? For many, age and lifestyle dictate this decision. For instance, a 75-year-old business owner may be ready to retire, but a younger owner might need a regular income to augment revenue from the sale. Many times it is more than age: The business owner’s personality helps shape the company, so selling is difficult. Sometimes the personality of the business and the owner’s personality are alike. Your desires will affect how you position yourself.

Tip: In the event of a successful sale, be prepared to continue working in some capacity during the transitional period.

4. Consider the best ownership structure. Each of the business ownership structures, such as C-corps, S-corps, limited partnerships, and limited liability companies, offer various advantages and raise different considerations during the sale process. Be cognizant of the potential for lower overall tax rates and the state-level tax implications.

Tip: Ownership structures have long-term implications that can dramatically affect the net amount of money you realize from selling your business. Planning well in advance of the sale may permit you to modify the structure to be the most tax-advantaged.

5. Organize corporate documents, including financial records. Organized record keeping makes good business sense in any circumstance. Getting the books and records in order now will keep you from scrambling for documents when potential buyers conduct their due diligence. Having an up-to-date corporate book is important; making sure your financial records and tax returns are available is a must.

Tip: Ensure easy access to financials, vendor contracts, and customer contracts. What you owe and what is owed to you will have a direct bearing on the value of your business.

6. Decide how you will keep the process confidential. You don’t want to scare away important customers who may be afraid that a change in ownership will threaten their level of service. You do not want to give your competitors something to use against you. There is always concern with how and when your employees will be informed of a possible sale. Likewise, you may want to present the company to the largest number of prospective buyers.

Tip: Your employees are an asset, so the loss of key personnel can hurt a sale. In this regard, carefully consider whether to disclose the possibility of a sale to your most important team members (and the timing of when you will do that).

7. Determine whether you want a partial or total exit. Financial buyers such as private equity firms are both control and minority buyers. Your intended exit strategy will impact transfer of ownership differently. For a total exit, you will maximize the consideration you receive. For a partial exit, there are many social issues to consider that might be equal to or more important than what you receive.

Tip: Your financial advisor can help you determine your necessity for ongoing income in the context of your overall wealth, including sale proceeds.

8. Be realistic with your expectations of value and understand how a buyer will calculate it. In our current economic climate, a multiple of earnings or EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) are typically the most accurate measures of a company’s value. The higher your earnings, the more you can expect a buyer to pay for your business. What multiple a buyer will pay will vary greatly depending on numerous items, such as size, industry, capital and working capital needs, and future projections.

Tip: In addition to earnings, look at the diversity of your customer base. If your revenue is concentrated with one or two clients, this will hurt your valuation. While the seller wants to be compensated for the future, the buyer wants to pay for past results.

9. Identify your company’s most attractive feature. Figure out what characteristic or asset will help you best sell your business. Perhaps you have a steady stream of recurring revenue, a sought-after client, real estate assets, or valuable intellectual property or processes.

Tip: Work with an investment banker to put together a sales memorandum and management presentation. This is the sales document that will tell your story and put your best foot forward.

10. Be prepared for newfound liquidity. Most sales of businesses include purchase considerations such as cash, stock, or both. They can also include additional consideration in the form of earn-outs and non-compete agreements. Make sure you have an investment plan to address the investment of your new wealth. Likewise, contemplate the tax liabilities before transacting a sale.

Tip: Seek the advice of an estate planning attorney to ensure that your assets remain protected from generation to generation. Remember that you generally will not replace your current income with the proceeds of a sale.

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment banking firm headquartered in Miami that works with middle market companies.

Small Business Owners Should be Aware of ‘Lender Fatigue’

Small businesses have a responsibility to evaluate their lending relationships and to look for signs of lender fatigue.

By: James Cassel

To view original article click here.

MIAMI, Florida, January 16, 2012 – Earlier this month, it was reported that Bank of America capped credit lines and restructured repayment plans for an undisclosed number of its small business customers. The move came as a complete surprise to some of these business owners. After all, the capital market is supposedly rebounding, and economic forecasts for 2012 have been encouraging. So, could these small business owners have predicted a falling out with their bank?

Perhaps. Small businesses, more vulnerable and considered more risky by lenders, have a responsibility to evaluate their lending relationships and to look for signs of lender fatigue – signals that their ability to borrow capital may be threatened. I have identified some of the reasons why your bank might consider changing its relationship with you. Some may be the result of what you do, and some may be out of your control. Stay aware of these signs, so you’re not caught by surprise.

Sinking revenue: Smaller businesses have a smaller “capital cushion” to deal with lean times. Even as the economy recovers, your business’ revenues may be lower, and they may not be keeping pace with expectations. Your bank can interpret your revenue challenges as signs of operational issues. In the past, the bank may have been patient, but now they may feel pressured to talk action.

Depreciating collateral: In a crunch, assets – and therefore collateral – may take a hit. Perhaps the value of the property you used as collateral for your business loan has declined in value. If the value of your collateral falls precipitously, your lender may look twice at your credit line, ask for more collateral or pull the plug altogether. Here’s a tip: Think twice before mortgaging an additional property. It may satisfy your lender for a while, but it may hurt you in the long run.

Poor communication: Have you been out of contact after making promises that did not come to fruition? You may lose credibility if communication breaks down between you and your lender during financial troubles. An open line of communication can go a long way.

Lack of customer diversity: If your business works with only a few large customers or clients, especially if your revenue is concentrated with a finite number of sources, your lender may consider this a liability.

Certainly, all small businesses cannot predict their lenders’ moves, but they can be proactive about finding alternative sources of funding. Every year, you should examine your access to capital and your lender’s portfolio.

If you are unhappy with your loan, make a move to change it. Don’t wait until you’re in trouble. Money is available, particularly from local banks, and small businesses are the key to economic stabilization in the United States.

Lenders (and I’m not only referring to big banks) want to put their increased liquidity into potentially profitable small business loans. After all, lenders and banks make their money by lending money.

To make the most of these opportunities, business owners need a diverse approach to sourcing capital. Sometimes, that means calling in the help of an intermediary like an investment banker, and sometimes it’s as simple as knocking on the doors of community banks and credit unions or finding lenders’ business cards in your desk drawer. Regardless, when it’s time for tracking down new money, keep these tips in mind:

1. It’s not just about the interest rate.

When shopping for a loan, compare more than interest rates. Be sure to determine what, if any, prepayment penalties exist, and on what basis your lender can demand full payment. Look at the loan covenants to make sure there is sufficient leeway to prevent a minor glitch from causing a default. Grace periods, notice and right to cure are crucial.

2. Look for a lender who works with small businesses.

When you research lenders, look for ones with a healthy balance of small businesses and large companies in their portfolios. This means they are willing to work with more than just large loans and “safe” options.

3. Take a closer look at the diversity of lenders’ portfolios.

Ask how much exposure the lender has in your industry. It is not uncommon for lenders to reduce their concentration in an industry by asking borrowers to find a new lender.

4. Wait on an independent valuation.

Paying for a valuation – before you have a lender – is a waste of money. Wait to get a bank in the process. If you appraise first, you will end up requiring a second appraisal. Many times, they will examine the collateral internally.

5. Embrace alternative capital sources available to middle-market companies.

Don’t forget about capital sources that can fund operations until you can secure funding from a bank, like factoring (the purchase of receivables), purchase-money financing, and asset-based, non-bank lenders.

While finding a lender always requires some “heavy lifting,” this year you will also face more funding sources in your community and a friendlier lending market.

Also, don’t forget that sourcing capital can require outside professional advisors, such as investment bankers or even fellow middle market business owners. Even if you’re not looking for a loan, you should make a resolution to evaluate where you stand with your bank – and look at those “warning signs” – so that you can make an informed decision.

If your lender calls your loan or sends you a default notice, it is important to contact a lawyer before you sign anything or agree to the terms of a forbearance agreement. Don’t despair if your bank severs ties or restricts your existing line of credit – at least you’re not looking for a loan in a credit crunch. Smaller companies are invigorating our economy, and they need capital to continue. It’s up to you to find out where they are – or enlist a professional to help you do it.


A ‘Wish List’ to Spur Growth of Small Businesses

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the nation, however, they face innumerable roadblocks that stifle growth, and in turn, stifle the overall economy.

By: James Cassel

To view original article click here.

MIAMI, Florida, December 18, 2011 – Turn on cable news, and it’s not long before a political candidate or a pundit tells us how small business growth is the key to a healthier economy. Well, they’re right. That’s because more Americans work for small businesses than large companies, and small businesses create 65 percent of new jobs in the United States.

But what is a small business? The term itself means a lot of different things to different people. When we hear the term “small business,” most of us probably think of a single-location boutique, a mom-and-pop restaurant or an auto repair shop. However, check with the Small Business Administration (SBA), and you’ll find that companies in certain industries have hundreds of employees, earn tens of millions of dollars in revenue, and are still considered small businesses.

It’s this amorphous definition that causes so much confusion. Let’s keep it simple. For the purpose of this column, we can consider small businesses any company with less than a few hundred employees.

These firms are truly the lifeblood of our nation, however they face innumerable roadblocks that stifle growth, and in turn, stifle the overall economy. In order for small businesses to thrive in a more sustainable way, they require streamlined regulations at the local, state and federal levels, as well as a little TLC. More specifically, I’ve put together the beginnings of a “wish list” on behalf of America’s small businesses that would position them for real, achievable growth, because I believe this is who will solve America’s employment problem.

• Continue health insurance reform, but ensure small businesses can more easily benefit from the intended advantages.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a number of elements designed to encourage small businesses to offer health insurance to their employees. However, notwithstanding the availability of tax credits for these businesses, only one-third of companies with less than 50 employees even considered whether they were eligible for these new tax credits, according to a 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

But why? The new rules haven’t been adequately explained to these business owners. Or, despite the intent, the rules exclude many of the companies the Act intended to help.

In addition, health insurance pricing continues to favor larger companies where risk can be spread across more people. We need to pool risk so small businesses can obtain affordable health insurance with acceptable benefits. Raising premiums and lowering benefits won’t work. Neither businesses nor their employees can afford it. We need to find a way to control the increasing costs.

• Revise rules and regulations to level the playing field.

Government regulation — while sometimes quite necessary — is disproportionately burdensome to small businesses, especially when it comes to licensing fees, permitting fees and the like. Both small and large businesses require the same time and resources to address these regulations, but the opportunity costs to small businesses are much greater when we consider their size. Therefore, regulations need to be streamlined and the process expedited.

Moreover, the very threat of additional regulation creates uncertainty for small businesses. Will a permit be too costly to obtain? How many inspections will be required? The unknown nature of impending regulation diminishes small businesses’ willingness to invest, to hire, and to grow.

• Provide hiring incentives for small businesses.

Given the fact that small businesses are so plentiful, incentives that specifically target small business hiring would serve to kick start overall job growth. Large companies have benefited from stimulus and incentives, but they have failed to put their profits into job creation here in the U.S. Sure, they’re hiring, but the job creation is outside our borders.

Many states dangle large amounts of money and tax breaks to have businesses move from one state to another. This tactic helps one area while hurting another, and states should better use these incentives to encourage existing businesses to hire and grow.

Look at economic policy enacted to repair the job market – the vast majority is really only relevant to big businesses. Perhaps that’s why large corporations are sitting on more cash now than at any time in recent history.

Help for small businesses doesn’t have to come in the form of stimulus, although meaningful tax credits would help. Why not more strenuously encourage lending from our recently fortified banking community? In this regard, banking regulators should stop penalizing community banks for lending to small businesses. Instead, why not expand the scope of the SBA to educate and advise businesses about their capital options? Easier access to credit for small businesses would bolster confidence and provide the necessary capital for these companies to expand their workforce.

• Recognize the growing impact of international economic turmoil.

Whether you’re selling hotel rooms or hair care, circumstances on the international stage may have an effect on your business. But, we are frequently far more focused on the weather. The fact is, our world is growing increasingly flat, and the uncertainties in Europe, Asia, and Latin America have immediate and physiological impact on all businesses, regardless of size.

• What small business owners can do.

Nice wish list, but how can we make these wishes a reality? Start with these simple tips:

Use HR consulting firms. Any additional expense can seem like a waste, but HR consulting firms not only carry the burden of your human resources tasks, but reduce your liability, streamline staffing, and most importantly, capitalize on regulations designed to help small businesses. If your company doesn’t qualify for these incentives, professional employment organizations can dramatically reduce the cost of providing benefits through outsourcing models.

Budget for regulatory compliance, and be prepared for regulatory delays.For the moment, bureaucracies are not going away — so accept the reality that compliance with various local, state, and federal regulations will require time and money — and plan for it.

Take advantage of the availability of capital. Money is available for all sorts of companies. As a small business owner, you may need to tap into the resources of investment banking firms to raise significant amounts of money. This may start by establishing a solid relationship with your current bank — and if you’re not getting the results you want, look for another bank. You can also seek the assistance of the Small Business Association.

Diversify your customer base. Whether your business is local or international, the global markets will affect your bottom line. Therefore, take advantage of new markets, seek variety among your customers and explore new revenue streams.

For this country to begin fixing the unemployment problem, we need to encourage, nurture, and support small business growth. We barely know the rules as they stand today, and the disagreements over future legislation and tax policy only amplifies this uncertainty. Lack of clarity and lack of compromise lead to lack of confidence — it’s time Washington got its act together and worked together to provide real solutions.

I’m looking at this issue from an investment banking perspective. What changes do you recommend to stimulate small business?

James Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. The investment banker’s specialties include mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; corporate finance; and public offerings. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/18/v-fullstory/2548374/a-wish-list-to-spur-growth-of.html#storylink=cpy

Buyout Firms Expand and Prosper in Florida’s Environment

By: James Cassel

To view original article click here.

MIAMI, Florida, November 20, 2011 – Leveraged buyout firms, private equity firms — call them what you want — these companies have dug their heels into the South Florida sand. Certainly, 2011 has seen volatile market swings, and the general state of the economy pretty much stinks. Nevertheless, South Florida has attracted a growing roster of private equity firms that have identified our turf as fertile ground for their operations, and that means more options for Florida-based companies contemplating a sale or recapitalization.

Buyout firms raise capital from deep-pocketed investors — or leverage their capital — using equity along with borrowings to purchase or invest in companies that have the potential for growth. In addition to these companies with growth potential, buyout firms are looking for undervalued or underperforming companies, businesses with strategic value to other companies in a firm’s portfolio, or companies in financial distress or bankruptcy. Many of these companies are capital constrained.

After a firm purchases a company, it may rely on existing management or regime change (new management) to grow the company and ultimately sell it for a profit, typically after a period of five to seven years. The profits get distributed back to the investors, and a portion, along with a management fee, goes to the private equity firm itself.

South Florida’s oldest private equity firm, Trivest Partners, has operated here since the 1980s and has handled high-profile transactions such as Aerobed, Banana Boat and Polk Audio. It also has the good company of other legacy firms based in South Florida including HIG Capital, Brockway Moran, Sun Capital, ComVest, Palm Beach Capital, Pine Tree Equity Partners and Boyne Capital Partners. Newcomers to South Florida include Empire and Huntsman Gay, to name a couple.

What brings private equity firms to South Florida? As simple as it may sound, many come here for the same reason as tourists and snowbirds — the lifestyle! Come January, it’s a heck of lot nicer to do a deal on the beach than on Wall Street. The strategic value of our location means private equity firms can attract sun-starved talent from the northeast as well as investors who enjoy a yearly meeting in the subtropics. Since most travel regularly, a good hub airport is a must.

There are solid financial reasons as well — the tax benefits. Florida’s low corporate income tax and absence of state individual income tax are notable draws. Plus, Florida has many entrepreneurs, a magnet for private equity firms operating in the state.

Perhaps most significant is that Florida — and South Florida in particular — has grown up. South Florida has a growing finance community. As the fourth-largest state in the nation, and with a more sophisticated international business community, private equity firms have come to recognize that South Florida is a viable alternative to New York, Boston and California.

Whether your business has revenue of a few million dollars or over a hundred million dollars, it’s good for you to have an army of eligible buyers right outside your door. Business owners no longer have to travel to New York to find someone high-profile to sell to or to recapitalize.

This applies to distressed companies as well. Sun Capital and HIG have been two of the most active buyers of distressed and healthy companies in North America and Europe over the last few years.

There are other firms with established specialties, such as MBF Healthcare Partners, which focuses on investments in healthcare, and Trivest, which specializes in family-owned businesses. Firms have honed their expertise to suit particular segments of the Florida business landscape.

Entrepreneurs can benefit from this enhanced investment activity. Venture capital is available to high-risk and early-stage companies.

During the first two quarters of 2011, businesses in Florida had more funding opportunities. We saw increased investments in small and mid-size businesses, increased inquiries from business owners seeking to acquire firms, and, best of all, increased buzz.

We anticipate merger and acquisition activity in 2012 to expand to a wider range of companies, with many deals involving private equity firms. Specifically, we will see more acquisitions in industries like technology, healthcare, distribution and manufacturing.

The growth of buyout firms in Florida spills over into lots of other industries, including sectors like my own, investment banking. We also see commercial lenders, the legal community, and the accounting industry benefiting from the increased deal activity these private equity firms generate.

If you’re a business owner, watch what’s happening here — what businesses are being bought and sold, who’s joining forces, and what new firms form. Private equity firms in Florida made national headlines and drove a lot of attention our way this year, and they are poised to continue to do so. Also, keep in mind middle-market firms, distressed companies, and family-owned businesses are the specialties of several Florida firms.

And if you are in the market to sell right now and want to get the best deal, try the direct approach by calling a firm directly or getting an introduction from a law firm. When trying to sell or raise capital, don’t forget that competition is good — it generally gets you better terms or a better price.

James Cassel, an investment banker and co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., specializes in mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; corporate finance; and public offerings. His column runs monthly.

Is it the Right Time to Sell Your Business? James Cassel Gives Factors to Consider

Now may be as good a time as any to sell a company. But know what buyers want — and why you’re selling.

By: James Cassel

To view original article click here.

MIAMI, Florida, October 16, 2011 – With talk of a double-dip recession, continued high unemployment, and a schizophrenic stock market, business owners contemplating selling their businesses might think they would be better off closing the doors and throwing away the key. However, now is as good a time as any to take a serious look at selling your business. By waiting, you may not get a better price. Or worse, you may not be able to sell at all.

Right now, money is out there. Companies have squeezed more productivity from workers and refrained from hiring (unfortunately keeping job numbers dismal). In the process, they have accumulated lots of cash. As a result, many companies are sitting on capital, and they’re ready to invest in acquiring other businesses.

Debt is available for quality opportunities, too. Despite what the U.S. Congress and the White House have been saying, debt is not always a bad thing; and the Federal Reserve agrees. The Fed’s policies have dramatically increased the availability of money for banks to lend, at least through the middle of 2013. In addition, banks have spent the past two years cleaning up their balance sheets, and now they’re poised and ready to lend. That means buyers can obtain the financing to acquire your company.

What’s Hot

How can business owners know if their company will sell? Buyers are attracted to profitability, opportunities for growth, a diverse customer base, and the potential for a competitive advantage among others. In terms of specific industries, at the moment buyers are paying lots of attention to health care, manufacturing, social media and technology companies. However, any business that has successfully weathered the recession can be an attractive target to buyers. These companies have proven their stability.

Know your circumstances

Before a business hangs a “for sale” sign, though, owners should take a good look at their circumstances to clearly understand their reason for selling. That will help you and your advisors determine the best deal structure, identify the right buyer, and command the highest price.

Sometimes life circumstances beyond the business owner’s control force a sale. Illness and death are two common examples. Likewise, divorce can lead to a sale. (Just ask the owner of the L.A. Dodgers.) Often in these situations, selling is not “optional,” so you may have to make certain concessions on price and deal structure.

When divestiture is less urgent, there are more options to consider. For instance, when business owners want to cash out of their company — either to gain liquidity or to minimize risk — they may opt for a sale or partial sale.

Keep in mind, a partial sale brings outsiders into the business, and that comes with risk as well as strings. Owners may want a buyer with in-depth knowledge of their business, someone who can carry on the legacy of the company and grow the brand. Also, recognize that the new owners may change the status quo, especially as it relates to employees and customers.

Negotiating Price

Buyouts in the middle market typically don’t produce enough proceeds for the seller to replace the income generated by the business, unless it happens to be something like Facebook. If the business produces $1 million a year in cash flow, an owner would need to receive a net sale price of approximately $20 million to replace this annual profit (assuming your financial advisors can earn annual investment income of 5 percent). However, a business generating $1 million is rarely sold for such a large sum. Companies in today’s economic climate usually sell for four to eight times earnings.

If the seller of a business expects a higher price than the buyer is willing to pay, then an earn-out can provide additional funds if (and only if) the business achieves a certain level of earnings or revenues. The valuation gap between the seller and buyer can also be addressed if the seller retains a small stake in the business to generate future income — and maintain some control.

Owners can also negotiate an employment agreement where they stay around to lend expertise and experience to the new owners. Just be prepared to adjust to a different management style and no longer sit in the boss’ chair.

What Next?

If you decide a sale is right for you, you will need to have several documents readily available in preparation of the sale. Sellers will be asked to provide interested buyers with accurate financial reports in a timely manner — such as profit-and-loss statements as well as customer contracts, inventories information and lease agreements. Don’t even begin marketing your business until you can produce the necessary documentation.

Many owners have no idea what their business is worth, and finding the right price is essential. Unlike the sale of a home, the seller typically doesn’t have a true asking price, so hire financial advisors with specific experience in mergers and acquisitions. The right team can help market a company confidentially and structure a favorable deal that helps you achieve your goals.

Today is the debut of Minding Your Business/Inside the Deal from J ames Cassel, who is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. A veteran investment banker, Cassel’s specialties include mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; corporate finance; and public offerings. The column will appear once a month.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/16/v-fullstory/2455322/is-it-the-right-time-to-sell-your.html#ixzz1c740npOv