Is it a good time to buy a business?

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated many business owners’ plans for succession and exit. For some, this has meant putting their businesses on the market for sale. 

Subsequently, business owners looking to expand their offering, or branch into new services, are ‘spoilt for choice’ by the range of businesses for sale. But the decision to buy must be met with caution; is it in fact a good time to buy a business?

When a buyer has identified a business to buy, one of the initial tasks is to perform due diligence on the target business. The extent of this exercise is dependent on what drove the buyer to make the offer in the first place. 

In a time when many businesses have been severely affected by the pandemic, areas of particular scrutiny should include employees, including those furloughed or requiring adjustments to their contracts. 

Likewise, force majeure clauses in supply chain and material contracts are carefully scrutinised, as well as business insurance policies, following the Supreme Court ruling on business interruption policies.

In some cases, the effects of the pandemic have uncovered other matters that would form part of this due diligence exercise. 

Many business continuity plans have stretched to their limit.

Many business continuity plans have been dusted off and stretched to their limit. Rather than being a theoretical supposition as to how the business may respond to a crisis, buyers can assess a business’ true resilience to long periods of mass uncertainty.

When acting for a buyer, one priority is to assess the client’s attitude to risk. This is determined by market factors and how the purchase will be financed. With interest rates at an all-time low, a buyer may be more inclined to access third party financing to fund the acquisition, retaining existing capital for a rainy-day fund. 

Various government initiatives including furlough and CBILs have also helped businesses bridge the financial gap caused by a downturn in revenue, while also freeing up capital for strategic purposes.

At the end of the transaction process, and in the case of acquired businesses experiencing an increase in business, we are seeing buyers engaging with previous owners on a consultancy basis for operational support after the transaction is completed.

For customer-facing businesses that are closed or with a reduced footfall, this presents an opportunity for new buyers to integrate the business quickly and effectively, therefore enabling for a smoother transition.

While numerous potential business purchases came to a halt in the first national lockdown, there is now a definite appetite in the market for growth, with many firms experiencing their busiest time. As the pandemic continues, longer than most anticipated, many businesses are certainly responding to the national message to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and forging ahead with their growth plans.

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