TAS Tips: Getting Your Business Ready to Sell

By Steve Michaels

The following is part of an ongoing segment detailing real life transactions between buyers and sellers in the telemessaging industry. This month we’ll tackle the following question: “I would like to sell my telephone answering service within the next two to three years. What should I do to prepare for the sale?”

It’s sad to say but many service owners who come to me wanting to sell are in a crisis. They haven’t kept up with the times and have outdated equipment and pricing that is below industry standards, and are up to their eyeballs in debt. One thing to keep in mind is that when you do something to enhance your service, it will have an impact on the eventual sale of your business.

Here are a few things to consider when getting your business ready to sell:

  • Equipment: If you were six months away from putting your service on the market than I would not recommend purchasing new equipment or upgrading your software. You will not make back your investment in that period of time. The buyer may also prefer a particular brand of equipment or may buy only your accounts. You would then have to sell your equipment on the used market, which usually brings only pennies on the dollar. If you are two to three years from selling and have old equipment, then by all means buy newer equipment. This enables you to keep up with your competition by offering the same or more enhanced services.
  • Rate increases: Annual rate increases are recommended. One of the most important formulas I use in evaluating a business is determining profitability, which comes down to rate structure. I recently sold a medical service for more than 14 times its monthly billing and the reason it sold for that multiple was the way the services were priced. It was very profitable, averaging $365 per client. The service had only 140 accounts but billed more than $50,000 per month, producing a net profit margin of more than 38 percent. Do not increase your rates just before selling your business to boost your monthly billing. A potential buyer will want to see a reasonable conversion history for the rate increase. I would also recommend switching to a 28-day billing structure. This will give you an additional one month’s billing per year, which should increase cash flow along with your annual revenue.
  • Automate: One way to cut down on your biggest expense, labor, is to automate some of the message taking and delivering functions. By delivering messages via email, fax, voice mail, pager, or cell phone, it will free up the time it takes the operator to deliver the messages in person. Some services offer an automated attendant feature, giving the caller a choice of where the call should be directed with instructions that if they have an emergency, the caller should press zero for an agent.
  • Cut the fat: Get your business lean and mean. Cut out all frivolous expenses and cut the dead wood clients. If you have clients who are non-payers or who do not produce a profit for your company, get rid of them.
  • Financial record keeping: Buyers are interested in businesses with a good profit margin of at least 20 percent, advanced equipment with updated software, solid management in place, and a history of growth. One of the first items buyers ask for after reviewing your listing information is a current financial statement, along with at least one previous year’s statement. This shows the prospective buyer how your business has grown financially in the past and its likely future growth trend.
  • Clean your financial history: Make sure that you have clear titles to your equipment and other assets, and that all your federal and state taxes are paid, along with being current on your payroll tax deposits. Buyers will do lien searches on you and your business, so if you have any skeletons in your closets, clean them up before placing your business on the market.

Of course location, cleanliness of the operation, and a reliable, well trained staff, all have something to do with how salable your telephone answering service will be, but the above points are critical to getting your business ready to sell.

Steve Michaels and TAS Marketing have been serving the TAS industry in the mergers and acquisitions arena for over 23 years with over 220 businesses sold. His years of experience have widened his scope and experience in buying and selling businesses nationwide. He may be contacted at 800-369-6126, tas@tasmarketing.com, or visit www.tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2003]

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