As you work with you business broker to plan the details of a sale, its good to have a overview understanding of how seller financing works because that is part of a majority of business sales.
If you are really interested in selling your business, then it is important to be mindful of the “competition” in the market for buyers. There are thousands of businesses for sale at any given time and many times a buyer looks at hundreds of businesses before finally choosing one. Though your business is unique, plan to have the terms of sale, and seller financing, be within the range of what a prospective buyer is seeing from other companies.
Amount of Down Payment
It’s not uncommon for a buyer to get a business for about 20% down, so if you considering seller financing, you should be as conservative as possible in asking for a down payment. It is typical to get one times your yearly earnings or seller’s discretionary earnings (“SDE” on the low end) to 50% of the purchase price down (on the high).
SDE is equal to the amount of “benefit” that you receive from the business each year. This number is more than the profit on your tax return or profit and loss statement. SDE is the total amount of money that you make or your benefit as the owner. A quality business brokerage firm can help you discover this number.
A seller financed loan can have whatever interest rate the parties agree to, but remember that you are not a bank. This is an investment to you. Expect a much higher return on your money than you can get in most other investments, usually ranging from 2% above Wall Street Prime but no less than 6% and not more that 12%. (At the time of writing this book, prime is at 3.5%.) The bulk of the seller-financed businesses provide a return of 8% to 10%.
Some sellers, however, prefer to go with a more traditional bank approach and use a “variable interest” rate. For example, the interest rate could be Wall Street Prime + 2%, adjusted monthly, quarterly, or yearly based on the then current Wall Street Prime interest rate. Often there is also a floor and cap on the interest rate, such as not to go below 8% or over 12%.
Term of the Note
The term of the note is the length of time that a buyer has to pay the loan off, the period that the loan is “amortized.” There are several ways to determine the length of the term. A skilled business broker can walk through a process of analyzing the business current profit, the buyer’s living wage needs, rainy day fund, reasonable funds necessary to grow the business, and the amount reasonably available to service debt.
When selling a business, both the seller and the buyer want as much money as possible reinvested back into growing the company rather than taking the money out and weakening the company’s ability to pay. Therefore, the best way to have a “win/win” situation for the buyer and seller is to have a loan amortized for 10 years. While the loan is amortized over 10 years, we typically set a balloon payment at month 61. Sometimes, according to the quality of the business and the condition of the financials, we will do a balloon payment at month 37.
Therefore (as you may already foresee), the bulk of the payments you receive for the first three to five years are in INTEREST. When the buyer makes the balloon payment, be it at month 61 or 37, it is not far off of the total amount being financed.
Depending on the type of business, it may be necessary to offer a varied payment schedule to account for a variety of business-specific variables. For example, if you are in a seasonal business like a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) company, it might be logical to have the payments due in the summer be higher than the payments due in the winter. Not only will this seem more realistic for you, but also it is important for buyers to be mindful of the ebbs and flows of cash for their business.
Try to arrange the seller note to be paid in the way and at the times that you know the business can be better positioned to pay it. You may actually tell the buyer that they make no payments for three months, but then you would spread out over the rest of the year or maybe schedule it such that during the height of the business season (when the coffers are full), they are actually making double payments.
Also, consider allowing the buyer to get into the business and “get their feet wet” before making payments. I usually recommend 60 to 90 days before the first payment is due. This will help the buyer “settle in” and deal with those various additional expenses that always occur after purchasing a new company, and build goodwill in your relationship.
Seller Earn Out
A seller earn out can be used AS the seller-financed portion or in addition to the seller note. An earn out is typically used in situations where the value of the company is really in the “potential” of the company rather than based on the “past” earnings of the company.
So, for instance, if you have a business that has just signed a multimillion-dollar contract right before closing, this might be a solution for you. In a situation where there is a seller earn out, the business has to make the money BEFORE the buyer is obligated to pay the amount. This type of loan is not amortized until the “target gross revenues” are met. So in the situation where you have already signed a contract for the “extra” earnings, this makes sense.
Seller earn outs are also used when we are trying to bridge the (sometimes considerable) gap between what a seller wants for their business and what the business is actually worth. Therefore, the business is sold on the “potential” of the future rather than the past. There are times when a business has signed a large contract or there is some other situation that will cause the business to grow in the future without the involvement of the buyer. This means that IF the business does grow and accomplish what the seller claims that it will, then the seller gets an “earn-out” payment. Therefore, the sale price of the business is really based on the projections of the seller.
This is also used in situations when a business has had a downturn in profitability. In this scenario you, the seller, have the confidence that this is just a slight downturn due to external factors (or factors that you have taken care of). We put an earn out in place for the express purpose of getting the buyer to pay what the company was worth, all the while giving the buyer the confidence that the downturn was not long term and you are standing behind this claim.