What to do if you can’t sell your business

Selling a business is never easy, but it’s especially hard when the process drags on and on without ever going anywhere. In that situation it’s easy to feel like you might never find a buyer for your business, which can make it that much harder to continue trying to find one.

However, it’s important not to get down-hearted or give up. Just because you haven’t managed to find a buyer doesn’t necessarily mean that your business is unsellable or not attractive to potential acquirers.

Sometimes it’s important to look at the way you’re going about the sale. Thinking calmly and rationally about your sales process can help you see where you might be going wrong and to make the changes that could lead to you making a successful sale.

Here are a few tips to consider if your business sale has stalled.

1 – Look at your asking price

If you’re a business owner, even more so if you’re also the founder, you will of course value your business very highly. However, this may not reflect the economic reality and too high a price will put potential buyers off and be prohibitive to a successful sale.

It might be hard to consider selling your business for less than what you value it at, but setting your asking price too high can lead to a drawn-out sale which ultimately costs you money, even if you do manage to attain your valuation.

Thinking rationally and calculating your asking price based on something like a sales multiple or with reference to the price of deals for companies similar to yours can help you to come up with a more realistic asking price.

2 – Hire an advisor

If you don’t already have an advisor in place, then getting one is an absolute must-do in order to get your sale back on-track. An advisor with relevant knowledge and experience conducting business sales in your sector can provide invaluable guidance on how to go about the process.

A good advisor will, of course, come at a price. But they can more than demonstrate their worth if they successfully guide you to a sale. Furthermore, if they are able to help you negotiate a quick sale for a good price then this will more than offset the cost of hiring them.

3 – Consider alternative buyer options

When you entered into this process it might be the case that you already had the ideal buyer in mind. Perhaps someone not too dissimilar to yourself, who shared your vision and hopes for the company and had the financing upfront to buy your business.

Unfortunately, the business sale market doesn’t often pan out this way. If you’re spending time waiting for the perfect buyer, you might miss the right buyer. If you’re concerned that you’ve set your parameters for who you want to buy the business too narrowly, then considering other types of buyers could be the thing to turn your sales process around.

Selling a business to an employee or employee ownership trust (EOT) may not get you a big fee up front, but it can be a quick way to find a willing buyer, someone who already knows the business inside out. If this is a possibility for you, then selling to employees can be the right decision. If they continue to oversee success then you’ll be more than properly remunerated in the long-term.

Alternatively, while you might flinch at the very idea of selling your business to a rival, a competitor can often represent the ideal buyer. After all, these are companies that know your sector well and are likely to make a success of your company going forward.

4 – Explore seller financing

Similar to selling to an employee ownership trust, offering seller financing as a way to acquire your business can open the bidding up to a far wider array of potential buyers.

It may be somewhat risky and, as with an EOT, you might not get the price you are looking for up front, but it can be a good way to find a willing buyer. And after all, the right buyer might not necessarily be the one who has the capital to pay up on the spot.

5 – Consider whether this is the right time

Of all the advice offered in this blog, the suggestion that you might be best served by shelving your plans for a sale may be the hardest one to swallow. However, if the process is going nowhere then frustration can build and might lead to your rushing into a quick and ill-advised sale. That might sound tempting now, but it’s something that you could come to regret later on.

It might be that it simply isn’t the right time for your business to be sold. That might be for economic reasons, if the market is struggling, or for reasons to do with your company, after all, if you’ve just come out of a tough financial year, then you might find bidders are coming in with bids that don’t come close to meeting even an objective valuation of your company.

It may seem like a difficult thing to do to pause a process you’ve poured so much time and effort into, but holding off until the conditions are more favourable for a sale might be the best thing to do. This may at first make it feel like your process has failed, but waiting to the right time will ultimately lead to a greater success.