How to select the perfect adviser to help sell your business

Chemistry, experience and people skills are crucial when selling a business, says Jo Haigh.

by Jo Haigh
Last Updated: 30 Jul 2015

Some professional relationships work well from the start, others take a while to warm up, and sadly some just break down - often through lack of understanding from either party. What works best is when the chemistry is right between the parties and there is complete transparency of what both sides expect.

Finding the right adviser for your business sale, be it a corporate financier or a lawyer is vital. Many of you will only ever do one transaction so you need to get it right from the start. Recommendation is always best - finding and engaging an adviser online could be amazingly successful, but that's highly unlikely.

Chemistry is all important as these people will be part of your life for up to a year. You need not only to trust and respect them, you also have to like them - and of course it helps if that's a two way process. I have made some of my closest friends by helping them sell their business. Often that happened as we spoke more frequently than we did with our respective domestic partners - but that's another issue. 

Recommendation is therefore crucial, but so are references. As much as you respect your adviser, if they can't do the job you want and need it’s never going to work, so always speak to past clients. Testimonials are all well and good there is nothing like talking to someone who has used their services.

Fees are always a sensitive subject for both parties, but by and large the 'monkeys and peanuts' theory is a truism. That isn't to say two things: one, the most expensive will be the best; two, there's no point in negotiating. The key is to talk about this sooner rather than later. Any adviser worth their salt will be more than able to validate their fees by the substantial added value that they can prove they can add.

Only engage the organ grinder. I openly acknowledge I am the best sales person in my business, but when I am engaged it’s on the basis that the client has hired me for the critical negotiation work in a transaction and not one of my able team.

They will, of course, be involved in the process, but the key matters will be dealt with by me. The same applies with the legal team: you want the partner not the associate online and in action when things get hairy. Make sure everyone is entirely clear about these requirements from the start: you need to understand who is doing what and when.
Advisory teams should be just that: teams. That means the lawyers should work with the corporate financier, accountant, tax advisers and indeed anyone else at the party, and not against each other in some sort of point scoring, antler waving contest. That might seem like common sense, but sadly not. It helps if the teams know each other and have done deals together in the past, at least in some circumstances this prevents an amount of unnecessary posturing.
Some clients believe that industry experience is essential, I am pleased to tell you that it really isn't. Selling any business, whether it makes widgets or sells services, is essentially the same process. However, deal sizes are relevant, and those advisers used to working on gazillion pound deals with teams of advisers on both sides will not easily understand an owner-managed deal where for the vendor this is a unique experience. The same applies vice versa of course.
So when choosing this vital link in your deal, choose with care. This arrangement may be short lived, but it helps if it’s a happy one. 
Jo Haigh is CEO of FDS Director Services and the author of The Keys to the Boardroom - How to Get There and How to Stay There.

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