Typically the first question I hear from a prospective client or Seller is; How long does it take to sell a business? The outline I have prepared below is an extremely optimum time frame and would require a very well prepared Seller, highly desirable company, a qualified business Buyer and may not include the transition time to ease out of the company post sale. All in, count on 3-5 years. Yes it can be quicker but and it’s a big but, you really have to be prepared, cooperative, have a great business and be really lucky.
The timeline of events for selling a business can vary depending on many factors such as the complexity of the business, market conditions, and the specific requirements of the buyer. The steps to selling a business are fairly consistent. Here is a general timeline that outlines the key steps involved in selling a business:
Owner Preparation (6-12 months before sale):
Determine Your Objectives
Clarify your reasons for selling, establish your goals, and define your ideal outcome.
Conduct a thorough evaluation of your business’s financial statements, assets, and liabilities.
Determine the value of your business through the services of a business value consulting professional. See our blog on business valuation to better understand the various methods of conducting valuations. Such as market comparisons, asset-based valuation, or income-based valuation.
Gather all necessary documents, including financial records, contracts, leases, licenses, and legal agreements.
Engage the services of a professional intermediary, local business broker, M&A consultant or sale advisor who can help market your business, identify potential buyers, and negotiate on your behalf. They will be the quarterback and manage all the business selling team members.
Assemble a Team
Consult with an attorney, accountant, tax expert, financial planner and other relevant professionals to guide you through the process of selling a business and ensure legal and financial compliance. Make sure they all have relevant business selling experience.
4-6 Weeks Preparation
- 2 Weeks to gather the required information. The Intermediary will work with you to gather necessary information and to gain an understanding of the business (Information gathering is mostly a Seller responsibility.)
- 2 weeks for the Intermediary to compile the necessary Teaser and Confidential Information Memorandum documents (Mostly an Intermediary responsibility.)
- 1-2 weeks to review and finalize representations (Joint responsibility of Seller and Intermediary.)
- 1-3 Months for Soliciting Interest from business Buyers (duration is very variable) · During this time the Intermediary will mostly be talking with prospects, answering questions, feeding more information to them.
- Much of the effort during this phase is the Intermediary or local business broker working with prospects, trying to figure out who are serious and who are not, filtering and moving them along. Making sure that only serious, qualified prospective Buyers get to meet and talk with the Seller.
- The Seller may be required to provide ad-hoc ancillary reports. Mostly accounting type data or answer questions.
- The Seller will be required to meet with prospective Buyers (1:1, duration and frequency is variable and should be based on seriousness of Buyer and comfort of the Seller).
Receive a Letter of Intent (LOI) to Proceed
The prospective Buyer will issue a LOI. The Seller will be required to negotiate and accept the LOI terms (Review by Sellers’ legal counsel is mandatory. ) The typical LOI would contain terms about the deal, payment schedules, vendor notes and post transaction employment / contracts, but it can have all kinds of terms and considerations that will form the basic terms of the future transaction.
Accepting an LOI is certainly a significant go/no go point in the process. The Seller gets to make the final determination at this stage.
2-4 Months Buyer Due Diligence Process
(This is a fairly intense period of time )
- The Buyer will provide a list of expected items that they wish to review. A M&A Due Diligence checklist.
- The Seller will need to work diligently and expeditiously to respond and provide this information in a timely manner. Responses could be piecemeal over a few weeks. This for most sellers is the hardest part of the work required since there could be considerable asks, lots of documents to gather and create and lots of meetings to review and discuss.
- Depending on the answers to the above there could be further requests, conversations and meetings. The Intermediary will assist you during this period. But this is largely dependent on the information request, and what role the seller would like the Intermediary to play and what access to information would be provided to the Intermediary.
4-6 Weeks Legal Process
(Time required to read & review docs)
- Legal begins once Due Diligence completes and this typically lasts a 4-6 weeks or more. The variability depends on the legal complexity and detailed Seller & Buyer review of clauses and specific wording.
- Emotions will be running high at this point, so patience is required if you really want the deal to close!
- Deal Done! Total elapsed time from identifying a viable business Buyer to closing the sale: 8-12 months but most of the Seller effort was during the Due Diligence phase
Exercise – Questions
- What would be your ideal timeline for starting the process to completely exiting with you having no further involvement with the business?
- Is it realistic?
- Why is this your ideal timeline?
- What about the above timeline do you think does not fit with your personal situation?
In conclusion, selling a business is a complex process that requires careful planning and preparation. It involves multiple stages including owner preparation, financial analysis, business valuation, document organization, team assembly, buyer solicitation, receiving and accepting a letter of intent, due diligence, and finally, the legal process. Typically, the entire process can take anywhere from 8-12 months, or even up to 3-5 years in some cases. Therefore, it’s essential to start early, remain patient, and engage with experienced professionals to ensure a smooth and successful business sale. Remember to tailor the timeline to your personal situation and be prepared for unexpected occurrences.
Are you asking yourself how long does it take to sell a business? Or should I sell my business? What are the steps to selling a business and how much do I sell my business for? What is EBITDA and EBITDA margin? Do I need a business value consulting professional to calculate value of a company? If you’re looking for tips for selling a business and increasing your customer base, from someone who specializes in family business coaching and consulting, you’ve come to the right blog.
As a trusted business advisor and sale advisor providing sell side advisory services I appreciate the opportunity to share my years of experience working with Owners just like you who have demonstrated their entrepreneurial spirit for years. In fact you may want to consider our online program ‘Sell Your Business 4 More.