You finally got that phone call from the California venture capital firm that wants to buy your start-up for a couple of million dollars. You are eager to sell and use that money to pursue other projects and passions. The attorneys and accountants have been retained, and the Asset Purchase Agreement has been drafted.
But while the attorney drafted the proper asset descriptions and indemnification clauses, and the accountant has allocated the purchase price for the taxes, has your team addressed these five often-overlooked essentials? After all, the sale of a business is much more than just signing the papers and turning over the keys.
- Is the buyer hiring the existing employees? When transferring the assets of a business, one can easily overlook the employees who operate those assets and make the business run. Assuming that the buyer is buying the employees together with the business is a grave (and potentially costly) error. Most employees are at will and may walk out from their job if you spring a “surprise” acquisition on them one morning. This may especially be devastating in an industry like manufacturing, where qualified employees are difficult to find. To mitigate that risk, the buyer should provide offer packages to all current employees at least a few days before the sale. As a seller, it may benefit you to make a small monetary or personal gift to some of the long-time or more senior employees to thank them for their years of service and to throw a transition pizza party for the crew. Remember that the sale will be a personal and emotional event for those who work for you. While you are selling the machines and office furniture, the employees make the business run.
- Are any key services performed by a family member or by the seller him or herself? In small businesses, owners often rely on their family members (or themselves) to perform certain key services (like quoting prices or estimating inventory) without a formal employment relationship. The seller should disclose any key services done by family members so that the buyer can make adequate provisions to hire someone to perform those key services. After all, the goal is to keep the business going after the sale and to provide for as few delays as possible.
- What happens to the invoices and receivables received after closing? Continuing in the ordinary course of business, there will be both invoices and checks that the buyer receives post-closing. Who is responsible for the invoices for inventory received pre-closing? Who gets the checks for pre-closing product? And what about any open purchase orders – are those being assigned? To prevent future conflict, all of these topics should be addressed before the money is wired.
- What about the building? If the seller owns the building and is selling that building with the business, the transaction is relatively straight-forward. But if there is a lease, the seller must obtain landlord’s consent before assigning the lease. Alternatively, the buyer must enter into a new lease that starts on the day of the closing to ensure a smooth transition and continued operations.
- Have the customers been informed? It is a mistake to assume that the business’s customers will simply continue doing business with the new owner. Business is as much about relationships as it is about the numbers. The buyer and seller should discuss a transition plan with respect to existing customers and ensure that these valuable relationships are preserved going forward.
Of course, these are just some examples, and there will be other key topics specific to the nature of your business and to the transaction.