Tag Archives: insurance brokerage

Should You Sell the Business — or Not?

If you’re thinking about selling your business, try not to make it a hasty decision. Take a step back and consider all of your options. Details like, if you should sell, if you should sell right now and what you need to consider before selling are just a few of the considerations to make before reaching a final decision.

So, is it time to sell your business? Here are some of those important questions to ask yourself to help figure out:

Is my business ready to sell?

Most businesses need at least two years of preparation before being listed on the market. This is to make sure your books are in order, tax returns are organized and the company is presented in its best condition to potential buyers. Trying to do these things in the month before you sell could reduce the selling price of your company or compromise the sale altogether.

How much is my business worth?

Many business owners wait too long before deciding to sell. Businesses should be sold before their technologies are outdated or they suffer a decrease in sales. It’s important to sell while operations are still strong, to get the best valuation.

What are the current market conditions?

Before deciding to sell, take a look at the market conditions for your industry. You may want to sell immediately, or you may wait out what you hope is a dip in the market so you can get a higher return a few years down the road. In 2006, for example, a carpentry company would have sold for three to four times as much as it would have after the financial crisis. Sometimes, even if your business is prepared for sale and with a good valuation, market conditions force you to rethink your plans.

Can I cope with the changes?

As a business owner, you have most likely poured yourself into your job. If you sell, are you personally prepared for the transition from business owner to the next opportunity on your horizon? This decision is primarily personal but is an important factor to consider in whether you should stay or go.

Am I willing to stay on if the buyer wants me to?

Sometimes, to ease the transition between owners, new buyers ask that the previous owners stay on in a consulting role for a predetermined amount of time, usually six months to a year. Having the prior owner stick around can help avoid any dips in business during the transition. For you, however, is it worth it? You should figure that out ahead of time so you don’t fold under pressure conditions when you just want to close the deal.

What are your deal breakers?

Would you consider alternatives to a cash sale? Who gets the rights of intellectual property created during your time at the company? Will the new owner keep your current employees? These are all questions to consider sooner rather than later so they can be resolved before you’re near a deal.

Ultimately, one of the best investments you can make when considering the sale of your business is to build a team of trusted advisers. Accountants, attorneys and insurance agents are just a few of the specialists who can be supremely helpful. These professionals have an understanding of each moving part and, more importantly, of how they all play together.

A successful exit or transition strategy takes preparation and a wealth of time. It involves taking inventory of all aspects of your business and personal life to form an integrated strategic plan.

After considering all of the questions, it’s time to come to a decision about whether the timing is right to maintain or sell your business. No matter what decision you come to, remember that preparation is the key to taking a successful step into the future.

The Adversity of a Desperate Market

In almost 25 years in this industry, I have never seen such desperation. One of the unfortunate results is that many good agencies that have worked hard, done things well, and are not grasping at straws, are still at a competitive disadvantage. It is much like the situation faced by the most responsible citizens bailing out the most irresponsible or incompetent (take your pick) individuals and companies.

The categories in which this is occurring are widespread. Here are some important examples:

1. Certificates of Insurance. The changes to certificates have caused widespread carnage, frustration, anger, and virtually every other negative emotion imaginable. One item that is not being discussed much publicly is the difference between agencies following the rules versus agencies that are not following the rules. In particular, the question is whether to issue certificates that violate contracts, copyrights, and regulations. There is no question some agencies are doing so knowingly or, if ignorant, they are living in a deep, dark hole.

Neither companies nor associations nor many regulators (the Wisconsin Department of Insurance is a notable exception and there may be others of which I am not aware) have done much to correct the abusers. The result is that sometimes the agency willing to violate the rules, contracts, and copyrights make sales they would not otherwise make. By being silent on this issue, companies, associations, and some regulators are assisting the irresponsible — and the responsible are paying the price.

2. Premiums payable. An even more verboten subject is whether all companies and brokers are truly requiring all agencies to pay premiums on time. My theory, based on my experience, is they are not. I understand that many companies are so desperate to hang onto whatever premium they can that they would prefer to work this out rather than lose their premiums. But the best agencies lose as a result because this amounts to a handout.

3. Giving away free services. The debate that is occurring between agencies and brokers and even among regulators on whether it is ethical for agencies to give away free services such as loss control in order to get accounts is eye-opening.

The average agency makes zero dollars of profit on a commission basis per the last Growth and Performance Standards (GPS) study by the National Alliance Research Academy. So how do these firms plan on increasing their costs without going broke? Free services require significantly good management and good cost accounting methodology, which are severely lacking in most agencies and even large and supposedly sophisticated brokerages. I suspect many of these accounts will cost the agency much more than it makes — either that or the free services being offered are not that real.

More than one agency/brokerage advertises services they don't deliver. Sometimes they don't deliver because they don't actually offer the service. Sometimes they have the service but the producers won't deliver it because the producers have to pay for it through a lesser commission.

On the other hand, the desperation of this market has clearly changed buyers' perspectives of what they are buying. They understand better now that the insurance policy is only one aspect of their purchase. So moving forward, it is no longer an issue of whether these services need to be offered to adequately complex commercial accounts. Burying your head in the sand while thinking important clients will never demand these services is pure denial of reality. The real issue is what price an agency will charge for these services.

4. Companies buying into agencies. Companies cannot figure out how to grow themselves, but they are convinced they can grow agencies so their strategy is to buy into agencies. Insurance companies may not be able to grow, but they have a lot of excess cash and are desperate to invest that cash, just like they are desperate to grow. It is too early to know, but the question worth asking is whether an agency owned wholly or even partially by a carrier will treat all carriers equally? Will they treat other agencies equally?

5. Rising rates in a poor economy. Most people in this industry have never experienced a hard market in a poor economy. Customers will shop harder than ever when rates rise. They will be susceptible to promises that they don't need limits and coverages. They'll be susceptible to buying insurance from poorly rated carriers and ignorant agents. The question is, what are you doing to protect yourself and your agency when the market turns hard in a poor economy?