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Musings on business value, sale preparation, sale negotiations, sale structure.

Posts Tagged ‘What is my business worth’

The coming tsunami

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The thing with Tsunami warnings is that they appear over and over again following reports of earth quakes, but they seldom manifest in anything discernible to those on the shore. So with time, people, cities, and governments start to ignore the warnings. Frogs in warming water.

When the big event occurs. The unprepared citizens witness first hand entire towns being washed off the face of the coast, nuclear power stations being shut down, or not. And vending machines being left unlooted. This was once a real thing in a first world country.

My South African clients are giving giving vent to any number of local scenarios, ranging between two extremes:

  • Zuma will be out by Christmas, and in jail by the new year (Unlikely)
  • All is lost, the country has been entirely captured. Democracy is a myth in South Africa. Stock up on canned goods and buy Bitcoin. (Also unlikely, although I do find myself attracted by the notion of a finite issue, decentralised, non fiat, digital asset)

We all have our own expectations of the future, and our actions or inactions will be influenced by the current turmoil in the political, social, and economic malaise; but that malaise is the single biggest reason for so many of our clients retaining us in the last year.

As Stephen Grootes says:
“The next five months in our politics could determine the coming decade”.

As luck would have it for those approaching retirement in the near future; there is a growing number of investors looking to expand their own projects into business owners’ horizontals and, or, verticals. They are getting their own acts together for a strong upturn which is quite possible, once the madness is over.

  1. Horizontals – competitors, industry related, and complementary businesses.
    A franchisee in a successful chain of restaurants buys a store of the same franchise which becomes available on the other side of town, and also makes an offer for the new store being contemplated in the new mall.
    A hairdresser buys a nail salon in the same mall so that it can cross sell to both businesses’ customers.
  2. Verticals – in the same supply chain to an end user.
    A large group owning a logistics company, an abattoir, and a coffee bean importer, purchases a national chain of restaurants to enable spare capacity in the abattoir and the logistics businesses to be utilised, while securing a market for its beans.
    The supplier of beauty products buys both the hairdresser and the nail salon so that it can benefit from gross margins on a longer chain.

The potential investment situation is evidenced by the large amount of money sitting unused in large businesses, corporates, and in pension funds. It is the same money which Bell Pottinger might suggest is being held ransom by white monopoly capital (WMC) – an apparent thing – for defined performance by the ruling elite.

Psst… it is money being held back looking for decent investment. Stop being a box!

As a business owner entering the closing years of an exit plan, you have an unprecedented opportunity to tap into that enormous resource; but only if you play your cards right. PrepareYourBusinessForSale™. Get prepaired. The group or company which buys your business is not going to pay over the top. They will pay the value you are able to confidently demonstrate. It’s up to you to demonstrate that value. If you are not adequately prepared, you will leave money on the table.

Think outside the box for a while. Really; give it some serious thought:

  • Who would be interested in buying your business in the coming years?
  • What would they want to buy?
  • Does your business have the capacity to excite, simplify, or add security to a new owner?
  • How do you get things in the right “place” for them?
  • How do you maximise your own value, while enticing the acquiring person / business / group to see the greater future picture?

Those are the current and ongoing challenges for all business owners. Don’t neglect them.


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“Scientists have developed a powerful new weapon that destroys people but leaves buildings standing — it’s called the 17% interest rate.”

– Johnny Carson

An interesting concept – interest. It’s great when you’re earning it. It kinda sucks when you’re paying it. But either way, its compounding performance can be impressive when the rate rises to 10% and higher.

As far as the sale of businesses is concerned, a rise in interest rates, at the obvious value level:

  • From the buyer it is:
    • more expensive to borrow money to buy businesses (or to “leverage” the acquisition)
    • harder for buyers to convince banks that the deal is a good one
    • more attractive to earn interest with cash money in the bank than to risk it in a business

The result is that there are fewer buyers of businesses. Demand is lower.

  • For the business owner it is:
    • more difficult to do business as an economy slows down
    • more difficult to meet monthly interest payments which are higher
    • difficult to hear of more customers struggling to pay on time
    • an attractive option to exit the business and put the cash in the bank

The result is that there are more businesses on the market for sale, all chasing a shrinking number of prospective buyers. Supply is higher.

Economics 101:

Lower demand leads to lower prices

Higher supply leads to lower prices

Those two statuses lead to an interesting situation, where far from the basic economics of buying potatoes at the market, the buyers in the case of businesses, are risking a lot of money. The result is that they are more careful in a situation where they do not need to be pressed by the risk of losing any particular opportunity to a competing buyer. They have time to look at many other businesses for sale at the same or similar asking price. This puts pressure on the sellers. This leads to lower prices.

There is another compounding problem. When interest rates rise, expenses go up and profits fall. Lower profits are less attractive to buyers of businesses. Values of businesses fall.




Robot wars and the future of business

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It is being referred to as the third revolution in warfare – the development of artificial intelligence – after gunpowder and nuclear weapons. Think back to the Terminator movies – You know the way that science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact? That concept is now being warned about, by people vastly more intelligent than you and me. (Apologies to HG Wells)

Scarily, it cannot be far off now that a terrorist organisation or freedom fighter (depending on your leaning) flies a bomb laden drone into an unsuspecting target, controlling the weapon with a mobile smartphone in a luxury apartment on the other side of the world, while being cheered on by bikini clad infidels. Such is the pace of change in the age in which we fight for our crust of bread, cup of water and watt of power.

What seems like just the other day, but what in fact was almost two years back, I suggested that the coming and existing technology storm would make a big difference to business values.

It is laid out so very well in The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Read it.

This also presents a great challenge to small business. That’s you and me. The big guys have the funds to enable them to retrench thousands of workers, and resort to smart machines for their labour. We apparently don’t.

For a long time the imperatives of BEE have seen the smaller guys training up competent and outwardly loyal workers to be skilled in their jobs, only to have those workers poached by industry, along with the hard earned BEE points.

As the camera of politics pans across to the other side of the stage, we see big business talking to organised labour, and apparently coming up with workable solutions, for now, for surviving the coming economic storm in an environment of government lead ineptitude.

Left unattended in the wings is disorganised labour and small business – the ugly, shy and nerdy, with nobody to talk to at this dance for existence and survival.

Which brings me to an interesting question… What if the great unemployed were more interested in the dignity of having some sort of employment? What if the weight of the unemployed reached such a mass as to make things change, that this vast body realised that the unions do nothing for them, and do not even have their interests at heart? Why would they? The unemployed don’t finance the lifestyle of the average trade union leader! What if the great unemployed mass was to suddenly understand that the unions HAVE to ensure that they remain unemployed, so as to not dilute the bargaining power of the employed?

And (oh the horror of it all) what if the mass of unemployed were to suddenly understand that the labour laws are there to keep them unemployed and unemployable, in the interests of the luxury goods market, otherwise known as the communist ideals inspired; organised labour?

So, what if disorganised labour and unruly small business business was to have its own indaba…

{ed – wake up. You’re having that dream again}

Anyway, as I was saying…

If you want your business to grow in value, you can find ways of embracing ever more affordable smart technology. If you don’t, your competitor will. And before you reach for that tired old argument about 3d printing not having your material available for what you do in your industry, take a look at this runaway locomotive; 3d printing in glass:


Look, I’m no brain surgeon, rocket scientist or even concrete mixer, but I can see that if we have the ability, only a few years into this technology, to print with glass, then there is a lot more to come, and whatever your medium is, whatever your application, whatever your product – there is an opportunity here for your business.

Unless you want to hang around and wait for your competitor to make it a threat.

You do know that the competitor is still at high school, don’t you? You do know that he is on the internet via his smart phone, plotting your demise, right now?

Robot wars are coming.

Key value indicators

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The value of a business is, to a large extent dependent on its numbers – sales, gross profit, profit, and derivatives of those elements business owners will be aware of.

Most owners know that the real value is related by way of some formulas using those numbers in conjunction with multipliers, discounts and limits. But what are the latter all about? How are they decided?

In the spirit of all things graphic, as one does in the 21st century – apparently:

This short video illustrates very simply why strong businesses and weak businesses have different multipliers.

In the near future I will get more specific as to what exactly makes those differences, and the mechanisms behind them.

Shedding some load

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I was asked to attend a meeting of creditors with respect to the Ellerines business rescue in early August. There were hundreds of very grim faced people there, although I don’t know who was an employee and who was a general creditor, and so on. Judging by some of the questions from the floor, there are some small business people creditors, for whom this is their major, and possibly only customer.

The meeting highlighted for me the exposure small businesses tend to have in not spreading their wings to a much wider base of customers, as difficult as it is to do so. Prospective buyers of businesses are likely to be limited to industry investors in such circumstances; competitors with similar problems, looking to grow and spread their own risk through acquisition.

Unfortunately, in such circumstances, selling prices are always low. The alternative to selling is to cling on for as long as possible, and hope you don’t lose that one really big customer.

Anyway, back to Ellerines, which is reportedly shedding 500 branches this month, in order to make itself a viable entity. That is 500 fewer branches through which suppliers can expect their goods to reach the consumer.

Just another reason for you to look carefully at how many different customers you have, and which of them may be vulnerable to either becoming insolvent or moving to another supplier of whatever it is you make or supply.


BEE and value

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More and more, as we conduct valuations of businesses, we see this line item in the expenses: “Donations”. It has taken on a new meaning in our heavily BBBEE influenced way of doing business; it has become a way of easily buying some points towards becoming socially, politically and economically acceptable.

If a business services or sells to a large corporation, or one which in turn supplies a large corporation, this becomes more and more important. You’ll know if you fit into that group by whether or not someone up the food chain has called to ask about your BBBEE scorecard.

We have effectively changed an entrance fee to heaven, to something which is a charity event with a reward on this planet, now. The reward comes by way of being allowed to do business with “the club”.

So how do we treat this line item in a valuation of a business? In years gone by, a buyer would look at it as a possible addition to his own profitability, and calculate value accordingly. After all, it was almost certain that he was not going to sponsor the same mini league soccer side, or the same church as the seller. It was never anything to do with the furtherance of the business.

Now however, that line item has become more of a cost of doing business, dependant of course on whom one wishes to do business with. It is not a charity item which should be automatically taken as an extra profit item by a buyer. Your eventual buyer is looking for the best deal for himself, and he will test all these items very carefully. He will also want to keep your scorecard in place, and so will not tinker with the way you have made it work for you.

Cynically, the benefits the recipients of BEE hand outs are receiving, are the proceeds of a cruel investment their ancestors contributed to by being subjected to 300 years of brutal treatment. BEE in its various forms has had grotesque benefits for a few, and somewhat more humble benefits for some more. In many respects it has had very little, if any, benefit to the majority, and as suggested by the Institute of Race Relations, may have even damaged the prospects of a better life for us all.

  • One thing which is certain; if it works for you to get more business in, then it is a cost of doing business and adds to the value of your business.
  • Another thing which is probable; if you make donations because you are good guy, and not because you have to, then you will benefit when it comes time to sell your business because a buyer will be prepared to add that back to your bottom line, and therefore to the selling price in some way.

Make it work for you. Make sure you know why.

You will have to prove your numbers, and you cannot expect that a buyer will do you any favours in this respect. Getting things in order now, and getting into the habit of keeping them in order will add a few years’ resources to your retirement fund, at a relatively small investment. Understanding why you contribute those “donations” is part of the process.

Middle management cripples

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Last week I sat with a client helping him to assess the value of his business. His is a very smart retail operation. Successful retail stores go into the valuation process a few yards ahead of their similarly profitable manufacturing and wholesaler cousins because their risk associated with customers is hugely spread. In a popular shopping centre they are pretty much guaranteed a wide variety of clientele. All the better if the retailer is also part of a successful franchise group.

Retail customers are less worried about the socially engineered aspects of our society like skin colour of the owners and management, and more worried about the reality of quality, service and price. Mess with any of those definitives and the business has a problem which is soon seen in the income statement, and ultimately the core business value.

The downside of the retail trade is in the big suppliers; banks, landlords and franchisor masters. The typical new franchisee sees herself as stepping out into the world of entrepreneurship. Nothing can be further from the truth. Frankly, franchisors do not see their new franchisees as entrepreneurs. At best, the owner franchisee can hope to become a variation of the middle management level in a larger organisation similar to that from which she recently exited. The abuse is no less severe, except that there is no simple resignation, no CCMA dispute procedure and no early retirement. Once you’re in, it’s going to be for a while.

Abuse? Yip. “These are the rules, and they will be policed by mystery, faceless shoppers and the more overt local representatives”. Penalties are related in one way or another to the bottom line. And therefore the value of the business.

“The store will be revamped every three to five years, in line with latest marketing concept, and this revamp is for your account.”

The landlord presents quite another problem: He has a shopping centre to run, and expects to turn a profit. He knows that he has the franchisee locked in. So while there was a status quo which sold to the new franchisee and tenant five years ago, it becomes something of a movable feast. When it becomes obvious that charging for parking is a great way of gearing one’s investment in the property; well why the hell not? The South African consumer has proven himself extremely accepting of all sorts of salami takings from his disposable income. so charge for that parking!

With investment made in parking bays, ticket billing and the rest, more money can be made by getting them to work for longer. An empty parking bay at midnight is fairly useless, but a full one at 8pm is great. So let’s force shops to remain open to 9pm. The landlord makes more money from a few more parked cars for a few more hours, at very little extra cost. But not many people want their hair done at dinner time, nor do people generally want to have a dinner with their family at a coffee shop. But these guys have to stay open, pay staff, run up unproductive electricity bills on unwelcomed air conditioners, display lighting, music, televisions and so on.

For the small franchise owner, well she probably got into this mess by putting the family home on the line on day 1. In the five years since, that loan has been serviced and reduced, the interest having been a major expense. With that light of value gain and much reduced loan repayment fast growing at the end of the tunnel, she gets an unwelcome wakeup call:

While all other business types have been careful to sit on their profits over the last five years, cautious in the continued uncertainty of what the economy holds for us, the landlord, the franchisor and the bank need to generate cash.

The franchisor exercises his insistence on having the store refurbished. This will almost certainly be an expensive exercise. Probably in the region of R500,000. That is serious dosh for the franchisee. She knows she can access it with the renewed security of her home, but heck, what does this franchisor ever do for her anyway? The opportunities in defranchising suddenly beckon with a glint in the eye and a crooked smile.

So off to the landlord she gaily trips. The lease is up for renewal anyway, and the franchisor had nothing to do with negotiating the lease apart from finding the space.

“Absolutely no way”, says the landlord. “We want a franchise coffee shop in that space. If you defranchise, we will not renew your lease”.

Without a lease, any retail operation has no business worth anything at all .

So options and the future suddenly look bleak. If she parts company with the franchisor, the landlord cuts her off at the knees, and she loses the lot. To raise the required funds for the refurbishment means tying up her house for another five years. The franchisor is secure, the landlord is secure. The bank will be secure. She will work. Perhaps she can delay bringing in that new manager who would have allowed her some spare time…

Wait… What if she sells? Surely this place is worth something by now. Then she can buy a real business with the proceeds of the sale. But here too, are issues.

The broker who sells the business is going to be charging a commission for the job. Of course it’s possible to sell without an agent, although that often results in a below par price. Further to that, the franchise agreement revolves around two other ambush items: The franchisor has to approve the new sucker, and will charge what is called “key money” to him.

Then there is the continued question of that refurbishment. This still has to happen. So here’s the thing: Any buyer with any advice will have an idea of what the business is worth, and this value includes all costs of entry. So that R500,000 is in the value, and so is the key money. The buyer will look for a return on his entire investment.

While independent businesses are able to keep their powder dry, and decide when they intend to pay for new signs and livery, she has to pay for the flipping refurbishment, no matter which way she slices this cake.

Talk about being trapped in a job!

The reliance on suppliers this franchisee has, as a retail operation generally, and a franchise operation in particular is a crippling one. And this ladies and gentlemen, is a fairly typical story in the retail franchise game. When you line up to buy one, the best and greatest in the group will be wheeled out for you to oggle over – the top ten percent – because that is who you want to be compared against.

Corporate SMEs

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One of the biggest hindrances in selling a business is the ill preparation of documents, often coupled with exorbitant asking prices. This is most often the case at the lower end of the market, or in instances where there simply is no data available because the business has not been around long enough to generate any.

This latter instance is most often the case where someone has started a venture and seen within months that it is not going to work. Instead of liquidating, he tries to pass the bad deal on to someone else to recover some of his investment. He also hopes I suppose, to find a sucker to take over the three year lease which he has signed, and given up a personal surety-ship for! But that’s another story.

I was recently approached to give a valuation opinion on a business being targeted by an old client of mine. I suppose it is unfair to say that it was being actively targeted as such, because the target’s owner had really solicited the suggested sale with my client. After the usual non disclosure niceties were complied with from our side, we were sent a spreadsheet showing last year’s performance, and what I thought looked like an optimistic projection for the next five years.

There is nothing different here from lots of attempted sales we see in the example I mentioned in the first paragraph: Simple spreadsheet, optimistic reassurances for the future, and an asking price based on the future projections. The difference I suppose, apart from the asking price being in the tens of millions, was that the seller happens to be a listed company on the JSE!

At first there were no audited financials available. Reading through the email thread when the financials were eventually sent to me, it is clear that there was a concerted effort made by my client to get the financials out of the seller, which was complied with only on the eve of the deadline for the tender of offers from interested parties.

What did the financials show?

  • The business being sold is technically insolvent.
  • The business has only one customer –  the seller!
  • Key expenses have been left out of the spreadsheet.
  • The sales turnover has been slipping year after year.
  • And a whole lot of other nonsense.

In the SME market, all buyers would head for the hills on this one. In the corporate market we expect better behaviour. Do we get it? You decide.

The accused may be key.

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I don’t know about anybody else, but I am pretty much depressed and saddened by the Oscar Pistorius bail application. Can you imagine how we are going to grind to a halt when the trial proper finally breaks loose? Presumably by then an investigating officer will have had a chance to do some homework, with results that will stand up to cross examination.

As one wag put it on Wednesday, Hilton Botha’s poor performance under cross examination by Oscar’s defence counsel was an “Oscar winning performance”. So much so that Pistorius stopped crying for the first time in days. At least this joke is not at the expense of the runner. I won’t lower the tone with the, at least a dozen of those one liners that started doing the rounds within hours of the killing – I’m sure you’ve seen some of them.

But jokes aside – what about the effect on Pistorius’ “business”?

In another exercise I am involved with in respect to Suitegum Splinter, key man insurance is essential to most businesses with a shallow skill base. You know, if one of the key people in your organisation dies or is incapacitated in some way, the insurer pays an agreed amount of money to the business to use in the replacement of the key person. If not that route, the money is paid to the other shareholders so that they can buy the shares from the surviving spouse.

So that ties up with the current mess Oscar finds himself in. One could argue that he is part of a business that includes himself as the star performer, his agent, his public relation  people, his coaches, nutritionists, sponsors, attorneys, travel agent, liaison people, and possibly others.

Like yours, his is a business entity to a greater or lesser extent. And like yours, it has a key person, a specialist – Oscar. Someone without whom the business is all washed up. What would happen to your business in the event that your key person is accused of a serious crime tonight, and arrested tomorrow morning?

Let’s remember that this nightmare broke for Oscar and Reeva only one week ago. In that time Reeva has been cremated and the memorial service has come and gone. That is the most serious consequence of whatever happened that night. But for her boyfriend, DSTV tore down its Oscar advertising on giant billboards around the country on the same day he was arrested! They cancelled the Oscar month theme at the same time. That was the first lot of income that went down the tubes.

Nike at first said that they would stand behind him, but by the time City Press was finished with him a few days later, they and Oakley had given him up. Clarins followed on Wednesday.

People have jumped to conclusions at the evidence in support of a bail application. At the end of the first day, “experts” were shown on television, and sound bytes abounded of people convinced that he is guilty. This on evidence led by his own affidavit as to his version of events. It all seemed so unlikely. Just a jump to the left…

What chance does Oscar (Pty) Ltd have at this stage?

Soon into the second day of the bail application newspapers around the world were announcing him guilty. Evidence of  the existence of two bottles of testosterone had Tubby Reddy telling EWNsport the fact he even had this in his possession meant that action could be taken. Ken Borland suggested that this was “almost worse than the murder charge“.  This because it destroys everything he has achieved before the killing,  he continued.

Then Advocate Roux got stuck into Botha. By the lunch break a BBC journalist tweeted that he had heard a junior member of the prosecuting team say that they were in deep trouble:

  • The testosterone turns out to not having even been tested yet, but the label on the bottle suggests that it is not a banned substance at all.
  • The investigating team missed a bullet (an actual projectile) left on the scene and found by the defence’s team of investigators in the lavatory. No mention of whether or not it was nestled in the contents of Reeva’s bladder, which will become a central part of the eventual trial.
  • The crime scene was not properly protected – the chief investigating officer himself being the biggest culprit.
  • Reports of Oscar’s property in Europe was just “something he had heard”.
  • Evidence of foreign bank accounts included an account that has been dormant for ten years and has no money in it.
  • And more.

By mid afternoon Oscar was able to stare squarely into the eyes of his investigating officer. Clearly he felt a lot better. The day finished for him, but is by no means over. And a step to the right…

Perhaps there was a light at the end of the tunnel; and the Twitterati experts started believing.

At 17:19 on the second day Reuters tweeted that testosterone had been found in Pistorius’ bedroom. This, despite the fact the evidence had been discredited several hours earlier. Reuters’ associated web site is here. Perhaps it will be down by the time you get to it. Perhaps not; I don’t know how they deal with errors. As I write this it is more than 24 hours later, and the story remains in place. With your hands on your hips…

On the third day the prosecution were embarrassed as the story broke that their investigating officer has himself been charged with attempted murder. In desperation he produced a copy of “Sarie” as evidence, only compounding the derision. Not often that a murder is investigated by a criminal suspect who relies on that bastion of investigative journalism – Sarie – to support his evidence that Pistorius intends to go on the run to Italy.

No matter what, Oscar’s previously enviable reputation is in tatters, no matter what the eventual outcome of the trial and with it, the income stream of Oscar (Pty) Ltd. There is very little chance of a recovery from here.

So that’s all very fascinating, but I’m sure you have read and seen and formed some opinions about all that yourself. Having shown that Oscar’s life is effectively a business, and it is a business that for the foreseeable future is wrecked; what would happen to your business if one of the key players were to be accused of a crime tonight, and arrested tomorrow. Whether guilty or not, what would the effect of the arrest have on your business by next week? You bring your knees in tight.

It is not a fair process. Not in the age of instant social gratification. Not when most of Barry Bateman’s followers instantly retweet every comment, appending their own analysis to the one minute old semi-report. When Roux agrees with Botha, he’s awesome. When he disagrees, Botha is an unreliable witness. And 140 characters are multiplied millions of times over in the most destructive antiponzi scheme yet seen in our age. This is the terror that the accused deals with, the gross unfairness. If he is granted bail, do you think he will be able to work on that project with a clear mind? How would you perform in that ugly place?

How do we protect our businesses from this sort of event? An important employee? The managing director? The chief engineer?

  • What is your strategy?
  • Can we insure against this?
  • What damage control ideas do you have?

It may be an idea to discuss the scenario with your leadership team.


Recouping values

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About ten years ago a bloke took me to tea. He wanted me to sell his business. He intended to cash in and get out. Get out of the country, that is. He had very definite plans, and had everything booked for six months hence. So this wasn’t going to be a long drawn out affair.

As we sat down, he took out a little scrap of paper – one of those sticky Postit things. On it, he had the most basic information from his balance sheet and income statement. It turned out that he did not want to alarm his book keeper, so he avoided making a copy of the audited financials with her around. Instead he just made some notes and left the document back in her tray, or something like that.

Anyway… Over tea he proceeded to tell me that he would be happy to just get his net asset value. As I remember it, that was about R3M. I looked at his key indicators, and agreed to prepare a mandate based on that price. In the meantime, would he please get me copies of the last few years’ audited financials, and his management accounts.

I went away and prepared the mandate. He waited for his book keeper to go home, then quickly made copies for me to take when he signed the mandate. He is a good friend of mine in another country now, and we laugh about the turn of events. We also do things a little differently today, but that night I went and sat with his financials. There was no way the business would get only its NAV, or if we aimed for that, it would be a very quick sale. It had issues about it, which made it far more valuable. And so I went for it. He was a bit worried at first because he did not want any delays, but after a week or so he saw what I was up to, and why.

At one time during the process he went overseas for a week, while I continued to work on the various buyers we had interested. There were many of them. when he came back, I had prepared term sheets for three offers to be negotiated. We spent the next few weeks negotiating with each one in turn, trying not to act like used car salesmen (sorry Jacques!). I think we made quite a good team putting the deal to bed. We finally sold the business for almost twice the NAV. There were foreign exchange issues at the time, and suddenly he had more money available than what he was allowed to take out of the country. What a nice problem to have.

How would my friend have planned his life, if he had an accurate view of what the business was worth, earlier?

It works the other way as well, unfortunately. People believe that their businesses are worth more than what they are. Then when the retirement bus pulls up, they are left floundering and unable to reconcile their lot to reality. It is very sad. A few tweaks a few years earlier, with an accurate valuation and critique, may have made all the difference.

Then there’s the guy who tells me that his accountant says the business “owes him R3M”. The accountant knows full well that his client will never get the money, but this is the easiest way of getting him out of his office without committing to a value. So the poor guy wastes months of energy trying to sell something which will never sell at that price. We see that quite often. We are referred to many accountants’ clients to give them accurate market related valuations. No nonsense stuff. Sometimes it is very difficult. But there is really no point in not knowing where you are, when you are trying to go somewhere in particular.

Yesterday I sat with a seller and a buyer. The buyer is also aiming to sell his business, but has started the process of looking for a replacement business, He likes what he sees. So the seller tells her story, and then comes to the bit which made me sink lower into my seat. “And then Mark did a valuation, and told me I would never get that for my business. I needed someone to be honest with me, because now I’m making real progress”.

“Oh,” says the buyer. “He’s just started doing a valuation on my business”. They laugh uneasily. I try to look professional, squirming only a little bit.

“Good luck to you”, she says with a twinkle in her eye.

He’ll be all right. He has a nice business, and realistic expectations.