Selling Your Business

March 12, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Start preparing the sale of your business as early as possible because the process takes a while. The best time to sell is when your business is doing well and you’ve got enough energy and enthusiasm for the final push.

Oftentimes, business owners only start to consider selling during a downward trend – either they’ve run out of steam, the business isn’t going well or an event in their personal life has made work difficult. This makes the process unnecessarily stressful.

When planning, consider if you need to sell by a given date or for a minimum price. Also decide whether you’d like to act as a consultant to the new owner, or work for the business. This could improve your asking price and speed of sale and will also impact the type of buyer you can attract.

Preparing for sale
While you’re working hard to keep the business going, some issues inevitably get put off for another day. Now’s the time to gather up those loose ends and get your business in the best possible shape.

Focus on reducing financial burdens on the new buyer, freeing them up to take their own direction. Bring all costs back to short-term spending as much as possible – investing in long-term projects at this point could make a buyer feel obligated to go in a direction they weren’t planning.

You can make your capital position more attractive by reducing stock and tightening credit control. Any superfluous assets can also be sold off. Be careful with this – you only want to trim the fat, not force the new owner to start from scratch.

Improve your internal processes, documenting them carefully. You want to offer the easiest transition possible and a finely tuned machine will be very attractive. If a buyer asks for information, provide it quickly and accurately to generate confidence in your internal systems.

Your buyer ultimately wants to make money, so make sure the financials of your business are great shape. Time your promotions and large purchases with sales peaks and troughs to show a more stable pattern of growth. Be realistic with your sales figures, however – massaging the figures may drive buyers away.

The buyer’s perspective
The best approach to preparing for sale is to always think from the buyer’s point of view – what would you want to see if you were buying a business? In general, buyers will only be interested in a business with good cash flow, solid systems and potential for growth.

You’ve already been through the process of making the best possible case for your business in your business plan. Update this document and use it as your selling tool.

A business with only a few customers is a high-risk proposition for a buyer. Demonstrate multiple sources of income from a healthy customer base. If you only have a few key customers or suppliers, reduce the worry by locking them into longer contracts.

A buyer wants to avoid inheriting problems – especially legal ones. Demonstrate compliance with current legislation and if there are outstanding legal issues, do your best to resolve them quickly. Be transparent about them too – you need to earn your buyer’s trust.

Bringing in the experts
Seek expert advice on accurate valuation, properly accounting for the goodwill you’ve generated. Asking too much puts people off, but asking too little sends a poor message about the health of your business. Research what other business are going for and what is selling well to determine the right price.

Hiring a broker can smooth negotiations and free up your time to continue running the business as normal while they look for buyers. Make sure to interview several brokers – don’t go for the first one you meet or be overly tempted by wild promises of a high selling price.

Brokers can also help to protect your business by keeping your identity confidential. When selling a business, you want as few people to know as possible as it can cause unnecessary concern among suppliers and customers. A business for sale can also be misconstrued as failing so only tell those who need to know, such as your staff and professional advisors.

Your broker and lawyer can also protect your trade secrets by drawing up a confidentiality agreement to use during negotiations with potential buyers. Remember to also protect your intellectual property.

Finding buyers
Selling to staff members can be convenient as they already know your processes. It also eliminates the problem of protecting your trade secrets. Be careful not to go too far down this road only for it to turn sour – you and your successor will still need a good team to work with.

Your competitors may be interested in buying your business to acquire your competitive advantages and improve their market share. Avoid divulging trade secrets without legal protection, because they could pull out of the sale with all the information needed to make a play for your niche in the market.

Consider looking abroad for buyers as well. Your business may offer a great opportunity for an overseas company to break into the US market. A broker with international experience can help with this.

There may also be a distributor, supplier, customer or manufacturer who would be interested in having a stake in more than one level of the chain, as a way of increasing profitability. This would also help them to preserve the existing chain and protect the interest of their current business.

Choosing the right buyer
Avoid selling quickly to the first person who comes along. It may not be the best offer you’ll get and if they don’t have the skills to keep your business afloat, you won’t see the money from your sale.

You can use your lawyer and accountant to pre-qualify candidates before it gets to negotiation stage, but some key questions to ask might include:

  • Do they seem serious?
  • Do they have financial capacity?
  • Does their track record show the right experience?

Closing the deal
Once you have found the right buyer, their offer will be subject to due diligence – going over the finer details of your business and ensuring there are no surprises.

Your buyer’s accountant will want to review all the finances; the lawyers will check issues such as ownership of assets and current contracts. You may be asked to sign warranties and indemnities so make sure your lawyer reviews these documents.

Members of your team may need to help with this final stage, but it should be a formality. If you’re confident your business is in good shape, you could well have found your buyer.

Next steps

  • Put a plan in place to get your business in the best shape possible.
  • Get expert advice.


This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.
 

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Building an Online Revenue Stream

February 20, 2019 by Comerica Bank

There’s money to be made online, and it’s important your new business doesn’t miss out.

The trick is to know what your customers want so you can focus your energy and budget on features and content that have a much higher chance of attracting your audience and increasing sales.

Targeted strategies

Many business sites are now offering online shopping features, but it may not be for everyone. The key is to measure the market first to make sure your time, money and effort bring maximum returns.

Survey your customers

Ask them about:

  • Their online habits (websites they frequent, how often they visit and what they buy).
  • The words they search when trying to find products like yours.
  • Their purchasing decision-making processes.
  • How easy it is to purchase from you.

This last question is important because having a website with online shopping features means you are effectively open for business 24/7, can streamline sales processes and retain customers by making it easier for them to shop with you.

Easy web development

Website-building platforms and services have sprung up to significantly reduce the costs of going online for small businesses.

If you’re considering hiring a web developer to build your website, first check out the solutions provided by platforms like Shopify®, which can give you a customizable e-commerce site based on popular designs, quickly and at low cost.

Even Wordpress® – the popular site-building tool for bloggers – can be used to develop your own website at minimal cost.

If you think a web developer is essential, confirm that a customized site is something your business needs and something customers will actually value before you spend any money.

Make a good impression

Great websites typically have certain things in common.

  • A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. Visitors often browse through the answers before deciding to make a purchase.
  • Customer testimonials. If possible, and with their permission, show names of customers to add more credibility.
  • Clear explanation of steps a customer needs to take to complete a purchase.
  • A privacy statement (many sites have one that you can adapt to identify your practices) and evidence of credit card data security to reassure customers.
  • Easy navigation. Buyers can intuitively see where they need to go to find what they need, and don’t need to search for your business’s contact details.

Enhance your site

Whatever the focus of your site, here are some essential tips.

  • Get staff and a select few customers to test the site and report on usability. Try shopping on other sites and imitate the features that make the whole experience as seamless as possible.
  • Refresh content regularly. Keep adding new information and resources. Quality content that drives traffic will improve your search engine ranking.
  • Consider improving your site’s search result rankings by using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques. Talk to an expert for advice.
  • Measure the key metrics for your site to discover what needs to be changed to improve results. Get help from Google Analytics or similar services.

Explore other online opportunities

Once your business is up and running, you can:

  • Use the site to capture (with permission) customer details by inviting them to sign up for your e-newsletter, or access a premium section of the site with special resources.
  • Learn how to comply with the Privacy Act from the Marketing Association’s Best Practice Standards.
  • Consider affiliate schemes, selling through other websites and reciprocal links.
  • Start a blog to build interest in your business and position yourself as an expert.

Finally, treat a website as a work in progress. Create a budget for further development and updating the site to keep it fresh and worth visiting.

Next steps

  • Talk to your customers about the user-friendliness of your current website or what they would like to see on a new site.
  • Investigate options for building or upgrading your website. Talk to mentors and non-competing business owners who sell online and find out how satisfied they are with products or web design services they use.
  • Ensure you budget - in terms of funds and time - for researching and planning the website’s content, functionality, design and overall look.
  • Get inspiration from the websites of other businesses, but always keep in mind what is going to best suit your target market.
  • Get staff, advisors and a select group of customers to test and give feedback on your new website or new online shopping features before they go live.

 

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.  

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5 Elements of a Cyber-Secure BYOD Policy [Infographic]

January 2, 2019 by Comerica Bank

Between 80 and 90 percent of the U.S. workforce prefers to work from home at least some of the time, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The modern workforce craves flexibility, and the technology needed to provide it is more readily available than ever before.

However, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can't necessarily afford to give their entire workforce laptops, tablets and smartphones to facilitate working remotely or while on the go. Instead, many SMBs have implemented bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies that let employees get work done on their personal devices. Offering this option can actually be a competitive advantage, and not just for the work-from-home benefits. Employees can bring a laptop into the office, for example, that they feel more comfortable working on.

For a BYOD policy to be successful, it must make small business cybersecurity a priority. This means that employers need to establish security measures that protect corporate data. If, for example, a lost or stolen tablet or smartphone ends up in the wrong hands, the result could be a damaging data breach. How will your organization respond to this incident? Will it implement mobile device management (MDM) systems so that smartphones can be remotely wiped? These are the types of questions a small business must address as part of implementing a BYOD policy.

From keeping personal data and company data separate, to establishing an acceptable-use policy, to requiring user authentication and more, SMBs need to create a cyber-secure BYOD policy. This is key to protecting digital assets while empowering employees.

We discuss the fundamental components of a BYOD policy in more depth in the following "5 Elements of a Cyber-Secure BYOD Policy" infographic.

 

BYOD Infographic

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

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A Quick Guide to Import and Export Financing

November 2, 2018 by Comerica Bank

The world's economy is connected through global trade accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the litany of other agreements with foreign countries. Growth is made possible through the open exchange of international commerce, taking full advantage of human ingenuity to benefit societies.

While the cooperation of governments has allowed for access in the near and far reaches of the globe, actually tapping into these international markets requires importing and exporting services. Commercial ports are hotbeds of activity, with the busiest in California, Texas and South Carolina.

But frenetic ports would be veritable ghost towns without the financing to get equipment, products, supplies and raw materials from here to there.

That's where import and export financing comes into play. This quick guide will give you a breakdown of everything you need to know about import and export financing and why Comerica Bank can be your trade financing facilitator.

What are import and export trade financing?

Import and export financing, as their titles imply, pay for the accompanying expenses associated with receiving and shipping goods to and from companies in other parts of the world. From tariffs to freight rates, duties and fees, capital requirements run the gamut. Import and export financing provide the funding advances so the exchanging of goods can transpire.

How does it work?

There are at least three parties involved in the trade flow process: the customer receiving the goods (importer); the company selling (exporter); and the lending institution that's financing the operation. Once a sales agreement is reached between the two parties that are buying and selling, the financial institution makes the funds available for the transaction to proceed. Where the funds go - and how they're delivered - depends upon the nature of the loan. For export financing, where the exporter's bank is involved, the lender sends the appropriate funds to use as a deferred payment. For import financing, it's the importer's bank that pays the exporter, and the importer repays the lending institution the principal amount plus interest.

Countries may not always have the same monetary system, so the lender ensures that the funds align with the local currency.

Import and export financing fund the transaction itself, but financing can also be made available before it transpires. With pre-import financing, the lender provides the importer with a working capital loan, and approval is based on the borrower's credit history. With pre-export financing, it's the seller that's seeking an advance, so it can produce goods to sell, although the money may be used for other purposes, such as the transportation of goods and warehousing. Approval of the loan is measured both on credit history and a solid track record of buyers.

How Comerica Bank can help

Import and export financing isn't just an option; it's a necessity to keep up with today's increasingly transnational and transcontinental economy. That's why the ability to obtain competitive financing has never been more important for export/import services. It can make all the difference in the world when international trade is pivotal to cash flow.

Comerica Bank can be your financing facilitator. As the Leading Bank for Business1, with more than 30 years in the foreign exchange market, Comerica Bank brings businesses together on opposite sides of the globe. We're the international partner that helps you get results.


1Comerica ranks first nationally among the top 25 U.S. financial holding companies, based on commercial and industrial loans outstanding as a percentage of assets, as of June 30, 2018. Data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

 

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Automation 101: Technology is Expanding Financial and Banking Services

October 31, 2018 by Comerica Bank

Automated financial services have revolutionized the business and banking management experience. Convenience and speed are what people want most, and the ever-improving capacity of technology delivers on what individuals have come to expect, particularly from financial institutions, to accomplish their everyday tasks quickly and efficiently.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is fueling these advanced capabilities. It’s easy to consider AI as the wave of the future, but in reality, it’s the here and now. According to Gallup polling, 85 percent of Americans regularly use products or services that contain AI capabilities, a proportion of the public that's only expected to grow as the digital train gains momentum. With more service channels readily available, online banking is now the preferred method consumers use to take care of their account management errands, based on survey data from Accenture Research.

Business owners especially want these expeditious capabilities to keep pace with their competition and make the most of their human capital to help improve the customer experience. Legacy systems once had their utility, but with back-office operations more voluminous and time-consuming than ever - such as payables and receivables - they're no longer efficient, especially when advanced technologies are available to streamline payment processes.

Accounts payable automation solutions enable business owners to improve productivity by taking care of tasks that are important to handle without sacrificing human capital, which is better used in other more personalized capacities - the kind AI can't handle. Companies that invest in AI and human-machine collaboration have the potential to increase their earning power by 38 percent, according to calculations from Accenture Research. Boosts in revenue stand to be even greater among specific industries - as much as 28 percent growth in automotive, 34 percent in professional services, 41 percent in retail and 49 percent in health care.

Automated financial services come in many forms, but here are a few of the ways they can benefit your company from a perspective of payment processing:

Enhances speed

Manually processing paper-based invoices takes excessive amounts of time and energy, just to process one, never mind several as is usually the case for business owners, particularly in health care. Automation speeds up the process and saves time through paperless payments, which more companies are assiduously pursuing. According to the Association for Intelligent Information Management, companies that reported "actively seeking" ways to eliminate paper went from 9 percent in 2014 to 16 percent a year later.

Improves accuracy

As fastidious as your staff may be, they're bound to make mistakes or miscalculations when transcribing or using manual key entry. Robotic process automation and intelligent machines help to reduce the potential for error by rendering manual entry unnecessary.

Reduces clutter, disorganization

Work processes get bogged down when papers and invoices get misplaced. According to the ILM Corporation, when documents get misfiled, tracking them down averages an hour, and three hours if someone has to recreate it. Paperless invoices filed and logged electronically makes for easier access by reducing clutter and the potential for productivity delays caused by mishandling.

Strengthens compliance capabilities

Every industry is affected by compliance protocols, which can change at any given time. Accounts payable automation can give you and your staff the extra time needed to make the appropriate modifications when and if compliance regulations change, freed from the constraints and monotony of manual processing that automated financial services are capable of handling.

Whatever industry you happen to be in, from health care to dealer services, Comerica Bank has a complete offering of payable solutions that can help your business thrive. An experienced Comerica Bank Treasury Management Officer will evaluate your payables and receivables so that your method is customized to your preferred format. Using your company's own data helps to make customization possible. The all-in-one payment processing services available through Comerica Bank allow for a more in-depth, immersed degree of automation.

Comerica ranks first nationally among the top 25 U.S. financial holding companies, based on commercial and industrial loans outstanding as a percentage of assets, as of June 30, 2018. Data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.

 

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