Many factors can impact middle-market M&A deal making, but one of the most significant issues that can affect closing is a valuation gap between the seller and buyer. This tends to be more common during a seller’s market because business owners with successful companies are inclined to wait for the best offer, versus a buyer’s market that occurs when there are fewer buyers, which motivates sellers to jump at an offer. Unrealistic expectations about valuation multiples often stem from the comparison of a mega deal to a middle market deal—a situation under which the same multiples are typically not going to apply.
There is also often a disparity between what a seller needs to maintain their retirement lifestyle and what value can be extracted at the time of the sale. There may be differences between a buyer’s offer, what they pay, and what the seller ultimately receives, as taxes are always a factor in a transaction. Additionally, the timing of the deal and the perception of risk regarding future growth and earnings flow for the business can play a major role in the size of the valuation gap. Selling a business is a highly complex process and it comes with great emotional implications for a seller. Emotional ties coupled with overt optimism can easily cloud one’s vision when it comes to the actual value. As a business owner, you put in a great deal of work starting your company and building it into what it is today. In contrast, selling that business is completely unchartered territory for most owners. When you are looking to sell, you need to be realistic regarding the company’s current value and its growth rate, and what the buyer will be getting out of their investment. Buyers are not going to recognize the hard work you put into starting the business in the same light that you do. All that work you did in the beginning is not on their radar—they are going to be focused on their returns.
Valuation gaps also result when private equity firms and strategic buyers compete for quality investments and relatively inexpensive financing is available. This can be both good and bad for middle-market business owners. Significant buyer interest creates considerable competition for quality deals, which is great. But at the same time, if the market is hot and demand is high, unrealistic valuation expectations and skewed perspectives can result in a valuation gap.
This is why a thorough evaluation of a business is so crucial to the M&A process. A good M&A advisor will take meticulous steps to best determine an accurate current business enterprise value, while also managing the seller’s expectations of a valuation range before going to market. So, if you are a business owner, and you plan to approach buyers without professional M&A representation, you need to understand company valuation gaps, your intrinsic risks as a seller, and how to bridge these gaps. This can require a great deal of education on your part and can be very time consuming. Or you can simply enlist professional M&A advisory expertise and have the peace of mind that the fate or your business is in the best possible hands. The best advisors will work diligently on your behalf to help you attain your goals for your business and your financial future. It requires a team with proven experience, resources, and best practices to successfully navigate the many legal, accounting, due diligence, and marketing considerations involved in arriving at an accurate and realistic company valuation and getting a quality deal done.
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