Selling Your Practice Yourself – Penny Smart and Dollar Foolish
By Rod Johnston, MBA, CMA, Practice Transition Advisor, and Jim Vander Mey, CPA, ABI, Practice Transition Advisor
You’ve heard the stories of people doing their own electrical work on their house only to be electrocuted when they try fixing the bathroom light while standing in the bathtub full of water. Or the person who decides to fix his brakes on his car only to accidentally cut his brake line and end up driving off a cliff. They have awards for some of these mishaps. They’re called the Darwin Awards.
Deciding to sell your own practice may not give you a fate as extreme as the Darwin Awards, but it could cost you money, your staff, lose patients for the buyer, or end up in a lawsuit. That’s if the sale even makes it all the way to the closing table. I have been selling practices for 15 years. I keep thinking I have seen it all, but then something out of the blue pops up. For example, I was called as an expert witness to review agreements in a prior sale where the buyers were suing the seller. The buyers thought they were buying a practice and a building. They wanted to save money and not use a broker, or an attorney. The buyers showed up at the practice after closing only to find an empty space. It turned out, they just bought the building and not the practice. The agreement used was a real estate purchase and sale agreement and was not for a practice sale – a big and costly mistake on both sides.
Lenders and attorneys report that practices that are sold without a broker have a 50% chance of failing before the practice closes. I believe the failure rate to be higher than that. Reasons they fail include buyers losing interest, seller and buyer can’t negotiate a disputed item or clause, seller and buyer don’t know the steps to the transaction, and confidentiality is breached by one of the parties. A failed sale can disrupt a practice if the staff leaves knowing the practice is on the market.
When selling a practice, you need to wear a lot of hats and possess expertise in a wide variety of areas. Transition consultants need to be knowledgeable in law, accounting, tax, real estate, valuations, psychology, negotiations, design, equipment, technology, software, project management, sales, analysis, practice management, human resources, and mediation. In addition, you need to have a lot of extra time. On average it takes 200 hours to sell a practice a lot more if the sale is to a corporate buyer. That time includes gathering data to do the valuation. Putting the valuation together. Developing a prospectus or offering. Creating advertising, placing the ad, taking phone calls, meeting prospective buyers, doing background checks on buyers, talking with lenders, assisting buyers in due diligence, working with attorneys, negotiating bumps in the road, reviewing agreements, and more.
You also run a financial risk. You could undervalue your practice or get taken by a buyer who is good at talking and negotiating a good deal for themselves. If there is a corporate buyer involved, you need a broker even more. Brokers can assist in negotiating amongst several corporate buyers to ensure you get not only the best value for your practice but also the best terms. Corporate transactions require a lot more scrutiny, due diligence, negotiating, and time. Done right and with patience and you also can reap the reward.
Selling your practice on your own may not get you a Darwin Award. But, doing so comes with a lot of risks and requires a lot of time and expertise. Why risk the equity you have built up over the years to save money? Pennywise and dollar foolish could cost you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as non-monetary losses.
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