HIRE A PROFESSIONAL TO WEAN YOU OFF WISHFUL THINKING: You're probably overly optimistic about how much your firm will fetch. Pay an accountant or a business valuator to come up with a realistic estimate so you can absorb the blow to your ego before the bargaining begins. And get an audit done (sophisticated buyers will want five years' worth of results) so you know the score up front. Some sellers have even discovered that they're more profitable than they thought.
DON'T TAKE OUT YOUR FRUSTRATIONS ON THE ACQUIRER: Although you shouldn't bottle up the stress you'll feel, you can't afford to alienate your negotiating partner. You'll need the purchaser's goodwill to cinch the deal, and maybe also during a post-sale transition of up to two years. Find peer or professional advisers who can talk you off the ledge as needed.
DEVELOP A THICK SKIN ABOUT ALL THE QUESTIONS FROM THE BUYER'S TEAM: They're not doing it to annoy you. Remember, if you were in their shoes, you'd have a slew of things you'd want to ask about before signing anything. You'll get less wound up by the incessant questioning if you meet with an adviser at least a year before putting your firm up for sale. That will give you plenty of time to assemble the reams of information that a purchaser will request.
FESS UP TO YOUR COMPANY'S WEAKNESSES BEFORE THE BUYER FINDS THEM: Frequent acquirers follow a due-diligence process so thorough they'll wind up knowing your business better than you do. They need to fathom your firm's flaws — and, sooner or later, they will uncover them. So, why not beat them to the punch? To identify your company's imperfections, think of embarrassing things you wish you had fixed two years ago.
REIN IN YOUR INNER PIG: Don't let greed rule your behaviour at the bargaining table. If you try to gain the upper hand in every clause, the buyers might walk away, or might wait to get back at you during the final phases of the deal, when the ball is in their court. But, if you're generous, treating the buyers as your ultimate customer, they'll likely reciprocate.
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