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How to approach an unsolicited offer for your business

You've been hard at work on your business for years, with your nose buried in spreadsheets and inventory and hiring. Then, one day, you get a call that could change your life. Someone wants to buy your business.

Dollar signs and thoughts of enjoying your retirement on a glistening California beach run through your head before you snap back into reality. Is selling and letting someone else into your tightly held company the right thing for you? This will take soul searching and some solid advice.

Start with the advice. You'll need to put together a team quickly to help you figure things out. You'll need an analyst to look at your brand and tell you what the company is worth. Is the offer a good one or a lowball? You also should be prepared to share your books and your three-year growth projections.

Still, before you can start talking acquisition, you have to figure out what you would want out of any business deal. Since these people approached you, you may not have thought about this. A solid cash offer is one thing, but there are many other things to consider.

For instance, how important will be the continued growth of the company you founded be to you down the road? Discover if the buyer will be a "strategic buyer," meaning someone who wants to merge your company into an existing family of similar companies and keep it growing.

Would you rather get your money from the buyer but still work in the company? That means you're working with a "financial buyer," which is someone who will look for a good investment that possibly can be resold in a few years. If that's the case, the buyer might be looking to keep you and your team on board.

After this investigation, you might decide you want to sell. The transaction won't close tomorrow. It could take as long as nine months, so it's your job to keep the company as vibrant as it was the day you received the offer.

And if you decide this isn't the right move for you, you've done a lot of research and will be prepared for the next offer that might come along. Make sure you have an attorney experienced in business acquisitions by your side to guide you on any prospective sale.

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