There are two types of buyers: strategic buyers and financial buyers. Commercial lenders, family offices, private equity funds, mezzanine funds, independent investors, and other capital providers are all financial buyers. Strategic buyers include everything else. It can be beneficial to entertain both financial and strategic buyers when you are selling your business. Still, it is important to understand how financial buyers think and what you’re dealing with as you work through conversations and negotiations.READ MORE >>
Now that you have found the perfect business for you to acquire, the question is, how do you finance the transaction? Most buyers will use a mix of debt and equity, but if you are a first-time acquirer, you may need help on where to go for the debt piece of the equation.
If you have never acquired another business before, the process of securing a loan for the acquisition might be challenging. Here are some things to consider when looking at your debt options.
Upon your initial conversation with a banker, be prepared to discuss your intent regarding the acquisition and your plans for the business’s future. You should also be ready to discuss your background and its relation to the company you are buying. In addition, you will want to understand the bank’s commercial loan options and which might be best for your goals. For example, you might need a traditional commercial loan or an SBA loan, depending on the acquisition size and details. While there are alternative financing options available, they could be much more costly.
Most financial institutions will underwrite the business and the borrower. If you own a similar business, they might underwrite both businesses as if they are one. Be prepared with documentation regarding your credit history, tax returns for all related entities (potentially including your personal tax returns), collateral options, and industry experience. The financial institution might request a balance sheet, profit and loss statement, projections, etc., for the business you are considering purchasing.
Lenders will provide you with their initial terms. Be sure to compare interest rates, fees, and other terms closely. Some terms you may want to consider are prepayment penalties and covenants that might affect the business. If there is real estate involved in the purchase, you will want to ask questions about the bank’s need for appraisals and various phases for the property.
After considering your options, you will then need to apply for the loan. Each financial institution will have its specific application and underwriting process. Depending on the loan size and the bank, the loan request may need to go to a special loan committee that meets periodically. This could add time to the approval process. You might want to discuss debt options with a bank with which you have a current relationship, as they will know you best given your existing history. If you have already received a loan from the bank, it could make the transaction process easier, which will make for a much better experience for you and the seller of the business you are looking to acquire.
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While you may be hearing that the M&A market is currently active, numbers speak volumes. A recent article from U.S. News cited that private equity (PE) has inked more than 2,300 deals for the first five months of 2021. Year-over-year, this is just over a 21% increase in deal volume. In fact, according to Pitchbook data, in the first half of 2021, PE firms closed on 3,708 deals worth a combined $456.6 billion. That’s almost two-thirds of the $711.6 billion deal value recorded in the entire year of 2020, and the two years prior. It is estimated that there is roughly $3 trillion of dry powder—also known as available funds—on hand for investment, with even a large amount of assets under management.
Historically low-interest rates and record levels of fundraising have left private equity with dry power that they must put to use. The combination of these factors has created competitive bid scenarios for many sellers. It appears that many private equity firms believe that this trend will continue for the coming months. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, roughly 7% of private equity firms believe that the investment landscape will deteriorate in the coming months.
You may be asking yourself, “What is private equity?” Private equity firms obtain capital to invest in private companies. They have a set period of time to make the investments with the goal of optimizing return for their investors. Their investors tend to be institutional investors such as insurance companies, pension funds, endowments, etc.
The firms typically invest in mature companies with predictable, steady cash flow and a need for operational changes or growth capital. Private equity firms will utilize their capital, connections, and expertise to help improve the managerial, financial, and operational aspects of the business. Their goal is to increase the profitability of the company as this will help drive the value of the company upon exit. The firms make investments with a ‘buy and build’ mentality.
Private equity firms realize their returns when they sell the investment. The firms tend to have a goal of roughly 20-30% return on their equity. Private equity firms will use leverage to help maximize their return. They also charge a management fee, typically a percentage of total assets under management, also known as AUM.READ MORE >>
Financial buyers are the companies we work with that are typically labeled as private equity (PE), a family office, a hedge fund, etc. In the traditional sense, a financial buyer is primarily concerned with the cash flow generated by a company or asset that they acquire. They think about investment opportunities (clients to us) through the rate of return they can obtain from years of bottom-line enhancement and an eventual resale of the asset at a premium, or much higher valuation, than when they bought it. Like trading stocks, but with more hands-on involvement, they wish to “buy low and sell high.”
There’s a strong chance, however, that many of the buyers you’re likely to see now as a seller in the lower-middle market fit the mold of what I call the “new-look” financial buyer. Your traditional private equity funds, for example, now tout an investment strategy with no timeline for an exit on their portfolio companies. This approach emphasizes the “culture” their respective firms bring to the table for the seller, and in a highly competitive buyer market vying for deal flow, this might make all the difference.
The new-look financial buyer focuses on employee retention, low-cost growth initiatives, management equity rollover, and various other incentives to promote an environment free from the traditional return-over-everything stigma. Go to the “About” or “Approach” section of many of these firms, and I am willing to bet you’ll see words like “collaborate,” “legacy,” “partner”—perhaps even with a chart comparing their firm side-by-side with the traditional PE model to demonstrate explicitly how they’re different. This is especially prevalent in the lower-middle market where our clients are often owner-operated, founder-led businesses cultivated across generations and spanning multiple decades.
A financial buyer must now separate itself from the competition, which is good news for our clients. As mentioned above, time horizons for financial buyers have increased in length as many PE firms now reorient as long-term investors. Many will make it a point to let our clients know they don’t intend to dramatically cut costs (including through personnel changes) as this would directly conflict with the evolving model.
At the same time, financial buyers (i.e., private equity groups and other institutional investors) can be lucrative partners for our clients through a variety of value-adding benefits that they bring to the partnership. These buyers, for example, often bring economies of scale through established and profitable portfolio (“platform”) companies and are therefore able to jumpstart revenue via access to untapped markets or unrealized customers bases. Furthermore, these platforms absorb back-office duties that might have previously slowed down the productivity of key employees, and even owners. Also, while exit strategies have become more relaxed from a timing perspective, financial buyers will not hold the asset indefinitely, and for sellers who maintain equity in the merged company post-acquisition, this means the opportunity to take a “second bite of the apple” upon exit.
When dealing with a financial buyer, be sure to ask some important questions:
- Are you a committed capital fund? It’s important that they have financing available instead of “shopping” the deal after locking a client into a letter of intent.
- Have you closed a deal before? Have you closed a deal in this space before? Note: a website with no portfolio page of active or inactive past deals can be a red flag.
- What does your capital stack typically look like (i.e., how much leverage will they use or how much debt will be placed on the balance sheet on the company)?
- How long has your fund been around?
- Do you have operating partners in the space?
- Why are you interested in our client?
- How do you plan to integrate our client into your firm or existing platform company?
- Culture is important to our clients. Can you speak to culture?
- How do you typically structure your deals?
- What is your timeline for a completed transaction?
- Am I able to speak with owners of previous companies for deals you’ve completed?
- My employees mean everything to me. What do you plan to do with them?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Seller questions to the buyer will, of course, become more specific as the deal progresses. However, the basic questions above are a good starting point and represent the beginning of a potentially meaningful and lucrative journey for sellers considering PE for the next phase of their company’s growth.READ MORE >>
When financial buyers think of HVAC contractors, they see an industry ripe for consolidation. The trend of HVAC consolidation started a few years ago and has not slowed down.
Throughout the United States, there are thousands of independent HVAC contractors. Financial buyers, such as private equity, see the opportunity to consolidate the independent firms to create a regional or national presence. The market is roughly a $20 billion industry that is fairly recession proof, especially throughout warmer states, such as Texas and Florida.
Private equity seeks opportunities to expand businesses through acquisition and organic growth. Once they have a foothold in the industry, they can add related services, such as plumbing services, to the roll-up strategy.
HVAC consolidations tend to be in high demand in markets that have a need for the services. Some focus on new construction, while others focus on servicing existing units that can be viewed as a recurring revenue model. The competition in the local market is key when an acquirer is looking at an acquisition. Is the HVAC target company a big fish in a small pond, or vice versa? What is the growth potential within the market? Cities and towns that are growing tend to be more attractive.
Additionally, HVAC contractors might specialize in commercial or residential services. Depending on the roll-up strategy, the acquirers might have different goals on what they are looking for in the consolidation.
The consolidation allows for a larger firm to take advantage of perks that a smaller firm might not have access to due to size or cost prohibition. For example, the roll-up might be able to build out software and accounting systems to help increase the efficiencies of the company or recruit top executives to add a level of professionalism to the company.
Having this type of option within the market allows for the seller to have options about their company’s next phase. Having a larger, growing firm complete the acquisition allows the seller and the company’s employees opportunities that the selling firm could not achieve on its own. The seller may stay on post-closing in a different capacity or retire and allow employees to step into the management role. In any case, mergers and acquisitions can be an ideal solution for companies in the HVAC sector.READ MORE >>
Many buyers, particularly those working at private equity shops and family offices, have experience in larger markets and, therefore, with more financially oriented, data-driven sellers. If this describes your background, it can be helpful to consider the following insights about sellers in the middle markets. You might be surprised by some of these realities
1. If they were pilots, they would fly by sight, not by instrument. They do not make decisions based on data. They do not need the data. They walk the floor. They see how many trucks leave the yards every week. They are in on the big sales call. Their stepson runs the IT department. You of course want the data, but they have not been spending the time or money to collect it.
2. They may not have fully developed back offices. Our clients are successful and their businesses have grown, often beyond their expectations. They are good at what they do and they enjoy being in control. It is common for them to go without hiring a CFO, add staff at certain positions, or turn departments such as HR over to an expert. This means that they may be a little behind in developing the back office. While you might be tempted to chastise them for this, please consider that studies of our clients indicate that this is the number one reason they have come to market.
3. They may not have debt. It is surprising how many businesses with revenues up to $100 million have never had any material amount of debt, especially not bank debt. So, when you speak to them about using leverage in your transaction, or them rolling over into a leveraged business, be prepared for unexpected responses. In addition, recall the mantra that debt imposes discipline. Never having debt, these owners may not adhere to strict discipline when it comes to financial reporting, timely disbursement of invoices to clients, and keeping an eye on the GAAP or IFRS version of “cash flow.”
4. They may view financial statements solely for tax preparation. It may seem a bit surprising, but studies of our clients indicate that the sole use many of them have for financial statements is to allow their accountant to prepare the business’s tax returns. With that in mind, you might see why monthly financials are not available or, if available, not overly reliable.
5. They may not focus on depreciation. Owner-operators are busy growing their businesses, not studying GAAP or IFRS. They may have some significant misconceptions about how depreciation works and why it matters. We do what we can to address this before you speak with our clients but, as they say, we don’t know what we don’t know. Please exercise care when interpreting anything a seller says about depreciation and when communicating these issues with sellers. For example, the difference between accumulated depreciation (on the balance sheet) and depreciation expenses (on the income statement) can trip up some conversations and knock deals off track. Similarly, the concepts of “capitalizing” versus “expensing” costs can get confusing in short order.
6. They may not use budgets or models. Many middle-market business owners started their companies when they were 18 and they never worked in the corporate world. They have worked successfully to this point without being exposed to the concept, or they have seen it just enough to view it as more of a hassle than a benefit. If you do not use budgets, you do not need to borrow money (see above), and you don’t need to build models. Without the historical data from budgets and elsewhere, it is difficult to even make a worthy model. Add to this the obvious issues with coming up with the two key valid assumptions—growth rate and discount rate—and there is simply no way to come up with meaningful models or projections, not to mention a reluctance to attempt to do so.
7. They may define CFO differently. The four terms “CFO,” “Controller,” “CPA,” and “Bookkeeper” are used interchangeably in middle-market companies. Each may have a preconceived meaning to you but there is a 75% chance that these businesses view these titles differently. Set aside your training and experience, try not to judge a book by its cover, and take the time to assess the person in that role (whatever it is called) before making any assumptions.
At Benchmark International, we are well aware of these circumstances. That is why our unique process is built to help you address them, to assist our clients in understanding your standpoint on topics such as these, and to help our clients better speak your language.READ MORE >>
These are customary in bulge bracket deals. And the middle markets are growing more sophisticated to become similar to larger markets. However, not every tool used in larger markets warrants transplanting. Benchmark International clients rarely offer management presentations and we have no plan to change that practice. Here are reasons why we take that view, and why you should welcome the decision as a buyer.
- Management teams at bulge bracket companies have seen management presentations. They know what to expect and what is expected of them. Yet, this is rarely the case in the middle markets. As a result, presentations on these smaller deals require significantly more preparation time, tend to be derailed, and rarely make it to the end of the anticipated content.
- There is simply not enough to talk about. Middle-market businesses often have single lines of business and single locations. They tend to lack vertical integration, complex supply lines, and paths to market. They do not typically use complex financial engineering that must be understood by buyers. And they simply do not have a slew of issues that require a structured introduction.
- Many middle-market businesses are owner-operated businesses and their owners are driven by intuition, not data. For that reason, they do not collect much data and, accordingly, there is very little for management to analyze and summarize in a presentation.
- The management teams are smaller so the number of team members brought “into the know” when a management presentation is given is typically very limited—sometimes even limited to one person, the owner.
- These management teams do not have the bandwidth to set aside the time required to develop a quality presentation. Many of these businesses are selling precisely because the owners have not invested in overhead. Spending a few days to prepare for management presentations means key employees are taking their eye off the ball and no one is backfilling.
- Deals are done in the middle markets for a far wider variety of reasons than you see in larger markets. Because buyers are coming from so many different angles (and they themselves have a more diverse range of M&A sophistication), developing a standard presentation poses unique difficulties and results in the audience sitting through a higher percentage of unproductive dialogue.
Understanding these realities, as well as your interest in learning as much about our clients as possible and doing so in the most efficient manner, Benchmark International takes the following steps to compensate for the absence of management presentations.
- We frontload much of the material that would be in the presentation into the Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM). We believe our CIMs are far more detailed than what you typically see for businesses of similar size and this is a big reason why.
- We set up online data rooms early in the process. We strive to get as much raw data into your hands as possible through this approach. This is not a feasible approach for larger businesses that have too much data for you to sort through (a reason why they summarize their voluminous data in management presentations). But given how manageable the amount of data is for most middle-market companies, it makes sense for you to get to the unvarnished raw data sooner rather than later.
- We encourage early and frequent informal conversations with our seller clients. In cases where the CIM and the raw data do not cover everything, these less structured conversations allow you to get straight to the point and fill in the remaining gaps.
With all this in mind, we hope you will agree that our approach is actually the most efficient for you. If not, we invite you to comment below and we will reconsider our position as we are constantly attempting to give buyers the best possible experience.READ MORE >>
Over the years, we’ve collected the questions acquirers most often ask about our relationships with our clients. We hope you will find working with us to be a beneficial experience and invite you to learn a bit more about our relationship with our clients by looking over these most frequently asked questions.
Do you ever represent acquirers? No, we are and always have been a 100% sell-side shop. Many of our team members have significant buy-side experience but we prefer to have a very narrow specialty and we take all our fees from the seller. We have, from time to time, been asked by serial acquirers to search for targets with specific criteria. We are happy to do this and when we do, we do not seek engagement by or fees from the acquirer. Instead, we work to sign up the seller as a client and then bring them to the inquiring potential buyer for a pre-market first look.
Is the relationship with your client exclusive? Yes, all of our contracts are executed on a sole and exclusive basis. The financial investment we make in each of our clients is far greater than the typical broker in the mid and lower-mid market. The process only works if we work on this basis. For the same reason, we do not co-broker with other sell-side brokers.
How are you compensated? We require a one-time retainer from all clients upon engagement and we have a success fee due upon (and at) closing. The one-time retainer is significant enough to ensure that our client is serious about undertaking the process but not large enough to muddy the waters as to our incentive. For us, the profit is in the success fee. Our success fee is a percentage of the total benefit our client will receive from you as a result of the transaction, subject to a smaller fixed minimum amount. Our contract states that it is to be paid at closing by the acquirer out of the purchase price (on behalf of the seller) on the funds flow memo.
What authority do you have? We never have authority to bind our clients in any manner. We have authority to release the teaser, which they will have previously approved of in writing, as we see fit. Following the execution of a NDA by an acquirer and our client’s written sign off on that NDA and acquirer, we are authorized to release the Confidential Information Memorandum and have wide latitude to discuss anything relevant to a potential transaction.
Are your clients tied to you for a fixed term? No. If one of our clients no longer desires to sell, they can terminate our contract by written notice. Termination is not valid if delivered while engaged in negotiations with an acquirer. In exchange for this right to come off market at any time and to defend the exclusive nature of our engagement, we have tails that we feel are industry standard.
What visibility do your clients have into the exact size of your fee? We will provide a pro forma invoice to our clients at any time. All they need to do is ask. This may be upon presentment of proposed letter of intent (LOI), upon execution of an LOI, upon review of the first draft of the definitive agreements, or even the day before closing. Our contract obligates us to do this and we believe it is the most productive way to handle the issue of fees. We encourage our clients to ask early and often. Our accounts department can typically prepare these within 24 hours of the request and they are, of course, subject to modification if and as the deal develops or changes.
What notification and information rights do you have? Our clients are obligated to keep us informed of their negotiations and provide copies of agreements relevant to the calculation of our success fee for any transaction for which we may be due such a fee.READ MORE >>
At Benchmark International, we work exclusively on the sell-side, so we would love to say, “The way to do a re-trade is to never do a re-trade.” However, when you have completed countless deals, there are times when we are tied so closely into those deals that we know the terms of the original offer do not stand up to the target company’s actual position following due diligence. In other words, we will admit when there is a legitimate reason to re-trade a deal term, including the price.
Our experience also tells us that these instances are rare when sellers have been through our process, and there is a right way and wrong way to do it if you want the deal to close. We encourage you to avoid blown deal costs by following these simple steps:
Step 1: Discuss it with us first. Yes, we are going to push back. Yes, we are going to support our client. But we will also be able to keep the deal on track by doing the following:
- In a best-case scenario, clarifying a misconception on your part that moots your need to re-trade
- Giving you a read on how our client will react
- Suggesting the best means of communicating the issue so that the reaction you receive best matches the severity of the actual change
- Providing our client our open and honest view of the change and the reasons for it before he or she has had a day or two to lock themselves into a position that may be based on less than the clearest picture possible
- Delving into our resources to convert what starts as a win-lose scenario to something closer to a win-not-lose-too-much scenario
Step 2: Have your data lined up. Very often we see re-trades supported by vague concepts and no numbers. These cause extra problems. If the amount of the re-trade can come over on the left side of the page with a numerical breakdown of the reasons for the re-trade on the right side of the page, and the seller can see that the two balance one another out—even if just figuratively—we are all in a much better position to get to the closing.
Step 3: Don’t wait. When you find something in diligence that looks like it is building to be the source of a re-trade, don’t save it all up and then dump it on the sell-side at the last minute. Conditioning the recipient of bad news is always the best way to get the most appropriate response to that news.
Step 4: Don’t overreach. Even in our smallest deals, we are not operating in a Turkish bazaar. There is no need to ask for $500,000 when you need $250,000. That type of negotiation works well in one-off trades but not when you are trying to build a relationship that is expected to hit additional bumps before the deal closes and likely needs some level of ongoing trust after closing.
Step 5: Be open to creative solutions. Regardless of how meaningful the problem is and how large a fix you need, your solution may not be the only acceptable one. It may not even be the best one for you. There are many ways to change a deal to address an unforeseen risk and provide the protection you need to offset that risk. The key to getting the transaction closed is often finding the amount of offset you need using the method of offset the seller can accept.
Benchmark International works hard with its client to avoid the need for re-trades. We collect extensive data on our clients prior to going to market. We run a very process-driven data room and often pre-populate it. We encourage our clients to get in front of disclosing detracting factors to avoid any surprises. We comb through every financial statement and tax return our clients can produce. In some countries, we are able to verify returns against official tax transcripts. Unlike many other brokers, we will even put known issues into our Confidential Information Memorandums. We attempt to place our clients with experienced M&A legal advisors. We understand—and make every effort to ensure our clients understand— that hiding an issue is not going to get them a better deal, may cost them a very good deal, and will never make it through due diligence.READ MORE >>
At Benchmark International, we see hundreds of letters of intent (LOI), term sheets, and heads of terms every year. And though the title of the document changes from location to location, we see acquirers making the same mistakes across the globe. These mistakes cause delays, lead to good LOIs not being signed, and lead to LOIs being signed but then resulting in nothing more than blown deal costs (and angry sellers). We would like to offer a little advice from the sell-side about how to make your offers come across in the best possible light.
1. Do not include an automatic extension to the exclusivity period.
When there are no conditions on an extension other than your sole discretion, our clients see that for exactly what it is. Unless either (a) they have some veto right over any extension or (b) it kicks in only if certain material and tangible milestones have been hit, extensions cause our clients to get a bit suspicious of the other terms in the LOI. Its one of the easiest clauses for an M&A novice to understand so if they feel weary of that clause, you can imagine the effect it has on their reading of the more complex sections.
2. Do include a sources and uses of funds table.
Missing the table is problematic for a few reasons. Our clients often have a hard time following the complexity of a structured offer and the table can clear up some things for them. In addition, when the client is rolling over an interest and you are using the target company (or newco) to undertake the acquisition debt, a clear picture of the debt is necessary to ensure the rollover is correctly valued and, more importantly, for us to best explain to our clients the magic of leverage. Our clients tend to be less comfortable with debt than you are. When they learn later in the process that the company will be taking on large amounts of debt, it serves no one's interests for them to feel they have been left out in the dark or that they are suddenly facing a riskier proposition than they thought—even when they are not going to retain any interest in the business.
3. Do not get too specific on the net working capital when the closing date is not yet known.
Our clients' business' have seasonality. Most of them don't have the same working capital in June that they have in October. With a two, three or even four-month window for the closing date, setting the target at the time of LOI is a recipe for disaster. Most acquirers have an adequate enough understanding of our client's business at the time of presenting an LOI to allow them to set the balance sheet line items to be included in the definition. But setting an amount causes extra pains both when trying to get the LOI signed and later if the closing date moves.
4. Put the total purchase price in the first paragraph.
Sellers look for the headline number. Why not put your best foot forward? Starting off with a nice sentence or short paragraph outlining the total benefit to be received by the sellers is a great way to get the momentum rolling for the offer. It is surprising how many acquirers do not put their best foot forward in this way.
5. Avoid being too specific on indemnification and other legal terms.
Sellers like our clients do not want to engage legal counsel at the time your LOI arrives. When an LOI comes in with the baskets, caps, timing limitations of indemnification and the list of the fundamental reps, our clients either (a) feel inclined to engage legal counsel—which slows everything—or (b) later hear from their counsel that they should not have agreed to such terms in the LOI, prior to engaging counsel. These extra details create a lose-lose proposition.
6. Send the offer to the broker first, not the client.
The error rate on sellers reading LOIs in the dark is astronomically high. Let us give your offer a read and come back to you with anything we think our client will misunderstand. As this is such an emotional and important process for sellers like ours, it can be difficult to get them unstuck from a misreading of your offer. It's best to do whatever is possible to get them started in the right frame of mind and we can (and are motivated to) help you ensure that happens. After we have had a chance to give it a once-over with our professional eye and provide some feedback, feel free to send it directly to the seller if that is important to you.READ MORE >>
Our seller clients know that we see quite a few offers come through every week, month, and year and they expect us to provide our input on the timeframes that are “market.” As this is a buyer-seller neutral point and a strong set of mutual expectations is productive to achieving a closing, we want to give you an idea as to what is happening on our side of the table.
Nobody is getting deals closed in less than 90 days.
Even well-funded, experienced buyers seem to require 90 to 120 days get from letter of intent (LOI) execution to close in the middle and lower-middle markets.
A request for more than 120 days is exorbitant.
A third of a year is a long time to be off the market for an owner who is committed to selling their business.When the time comes, there may well be good reason to extend exclusivity but we know that our clients more often than not regret any grant of 120 days or thereabouts. We can work with them to set up specific grounds for extending exclusivity beyond 90 days where a situation warrants it, but blanket grants of 120 days, or even 90 days with a 30-day automatic extension, are something we highly discourage our clients from accepting.
Diligence should start quickly.
We encourage acquirers to use the offer letter to inform the seller about diligence timings, especially when the initial diligence list will be sent and, if possible, when the initial diligence visit will start. All too often, we see LOIs signed followed by a long pause in activity and that drastically alters our clients’ attitudes toward the buyer and the offer. We encourage or clients to have this expectation set at the time of signing and expect that there will not be a pause but rather an aggressive start, even if that start only covers a portion of the scope of the overall diligence effort. When this happens, we see diligence lists arriving within a week of signing and the first onsite (or the next face-to-face meeting) within three weeks of signing.
First drafts do not wait until the diligence is complete.
We understand that acquirers may not want to incur the cost of engaging counsel based solely on the information in the Confidential Information Memorandum and a meeting or two. But we also understand that waiting two months to engage counsel and get first drafts out does not lead to a high close rate. We all know that drafts can be sent “pending finalization of due diligence.” Our successful deal closings have the first drafts coming out within a month of LOI signing. Our clients know that if they have not seen a draft by then, the deal is not likely to close.
The seller can really mess up the timeline.
Failure to provide prompt and complete responses to diligence requests, abnormal reservation of disclosure of “sensitive” issues until later in the process, going on vacation, or simply the lack of organized files are all things we have discussed with our clients prior to going to market (and again when the LOIs start to arrive). They know that they can be the problem when it comes to timing.
But if the seller does not mess up the timing…
Our clients know that time kills all deals. And they know that if they have been prompt and thorough, and the LOI signing date is approaching triple-digit days in the rearview mirror, things are not going well. Our statistics show that few deals die in the first 100 days after signing and few deals close more than 100 days after signing. This is something we share with our clients—both to set their expectations and to motivate them to be prompt and complete.
Questions should be responded to within three business days.
We instruct our clients that deals require momentum to close. Precisely when they are most exhausted by the process is when they must reply in an even more expedient manner. Being realistic, we feel that the seller owes the buyer responses to every question within three business days, even if the response is, “We are working on it. It’s been a bit difficult to get our hands on that data.” Similarly, we believe the acquirer should respond to the seller’s questions, and send their follow up questions, within three business days. Allowing sellers to feel that anything that has not yielded a follow up within those three days has a “soft close” around it and goes an immeasurable distance in keeping sellers motivated, focused, and responsive.READ MORE >>
Acquiring an existing business can offer great advantages over starting a new business from scratch, especially if the target business is thriving and holds more opportunities for growth. When considering the purchase of a company, you should take certain steps so that you can be confident that you are minimizing your risk and making a smart move. Use this comprehensive checklist to help you ask the right questions and guide you through the process.
☐ Is the Target Company Financially Healthy?
This is a question you must ask yourself before considering anything else about the business. You will want to carefully comb through the business's financial statements for the past five years (at least) to identify if anything appears out of the ordinary and to assess how the numbers compare with standard performance in that sector. Also, request to see the tax returns for the same years. This will help you determine whether the owner has put personal expenses through the company books and give you a more complete picture of the company's actual value. You also will want to know if you will be taking on any existing debt, and exactly how much.
☐ Will You Be Able to Generate Cash Flow?
It is crucial that you know whether you will be able to generate cash flow immediately upon purchasing the business. If not, are you in a position to carry the business until that time comes? No matter how attractive the company may seem, you must ensure that you are not getting in over your head. Take a thorough look at sales records to assess past and future performance. You must also find out if any existing clients or customers are planning to part ways and what you can do to retain their business.
☐ Does the Company Have a Good Reputation?
Doing a quick Google search can reveal quite a bit about a business. You will want to see how the company is perceived in the world. Does it have a lot of negative reviews or bad press? Are there any customer complaints, and do you know how they were handled? Get a comprehensive look at the business's reputation because you are going to need to see if you have work to do in order to turn it around. This could include a complete rebranding and marketing effort, which costs money.
☐ Have You Done Your Homework on the Staff?
When you acquire an existing business, you are also acquiring its management team and employees. You should know the skill levels and proficiencies of any staff you will be inheriting, and whether you are going to be faced with the task of replacing key staff members. Do all team members plan to stay with the company? Have they been made any promises by previous ownership that you will now be expected to fulfill? Is anyone retiring or planning to go on extended leave? Is anyone disgruntled about the sale? When you know the answers to these questions, you'll be best prepared to address any issues.
☐ What is the State of the Inventory?
If inventory is applicable to the business in question, everything should be itemized and given a carefully determined value. Will any inventory lose value with time, or only have a value at certain times of the year? Will it be adequately stocked for when you take over the company? When you are investing in a company, you're going to want to have everything you need on hand to generate revenue from its operation.
☐ What is the State of the Physical Property?
First things first: you need to know if the business owns the property on which it resides or if there is a lease agreement in place. Then seek out answers to the following questions. What are the details of the lease and the reputation of the landlord? How much is the rent, and is it due to increase? Is the property in good condition, or is it in need of repair? If the business owns the property, what are the real estate taxes? Is the property able to accommodate any planned growth? Is it legally zoned? Is the location appropriate? Are you going to need to make changes, or find a new location altogether? This is an area where you cannot be too thorough.
☐ Do You Have All the Legal Documents and Contracts?
This is another critical step in purchasing a business. You are going to need to have every last piece of paperwork that pertains to that business. This includes business licenses, copyright agreements, patents, trademarks, import and export permits, mining rights, real estate documents, etc. Basically, if something relates to the business in any way, you should have documentation of it. If the current owner has not kept good records, there is your first sign that you might want to think twice about moving forward with the acquisition.
☐ What is the Condition of the Business's Equipment?
You should assess the condition of all office equipment, furniture, machinery, and vehicles used for the business. What is owned and what is leased? What are the items' lease or purchase details, and are there maintenance agreements in place? You should assess the condition of all equipment to determine if anything will need to be replaced because this will be a factor in the purchase price of the business.
☐ Are You Familiar With the Business's Suppliers?
This is important because suppliers can have a significant impact on how reliable your business is able to run. You want to ensure that they are established and committed to providing superior quality and service. Find out if they fill orders on time and meet their obligations. Look into any contracts that are in place, so you understand the relationship. You also will want to ask if there are any expected price increases or factors that may impact the existing arrangement.
☐ Contact Benchmark International
If you are looking to buy a business, we represent highly motivated sellers in the lower-middle and middle market that may be the perfect fit for you. Contact one of our experts to discuss how we can help with target company searches.READ MORE >>
As we work exclusively in the mid and lower-mid markets, we see many deals succeed, and some wither. In an effort to have more of the former and less of the latter, we would like to share our core philosophies with the belief that helping you understand them will make working with us a more rewarding experience.
1. Time kills all deals.
Prudent and deliberate action are certainly also key aspects of getting deals closed but, in our experience, neither buyers nor sellers are inclined to be under-prudent or lacking deliberateness. Rather, unexplained and avoidable delays tend to stack up between the first meeting and the closing. Each delay shaves off a small percentage from the probability of closing. There are enough legitimate delays in the M&A process. When we see one that can be avoided, we will step in and attempt to get the ball rolling once again.
2. Transparency is the best antiseptic.
We’ve seen too many deals die because one side or the other has hidden something until it is too late. Long before you meet our clients, we will have already guided them on the value of releasing the troubling issues they might have at the earliest opportunity. Hopefully, you will already have seen some of this in our Confidential Information Memorandums. We lean forward into these issues because we believe that the sooner they are addressed, the more solutions there are, and the less likely anyone is to feel hoodwinked. We hope you’ll feel the same way with your own challenges (for example, lining up debt financing) as well as any you may see with our clients.
3. The emotional must be covered as well as the financial.
This may be somewhat unique to our clients as our process appeals to a certain owner type. As you probably know, we specialize in closely-held and owner-operated businesses. Nowhere is it more true that “every business is a family business.” Our clients have typically had 20- to 30-year relationships with their businesses and often equate the sale process to sending their son or daughter off to college. When we work with acquirers that understand the effects of this fact pattern, we see a much higher level of success. In fact, we have built our teams, our process, and our engagements around it. We will be more than happy to help you deal with this interesting aspect of our clients. Please just ask.
T: +1 813 898 2350
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The Complete Guide to Buying a Business
By Fred Steingold J.D.
Written by a Michigan Attorney who has extensive experience representing small businesses in several capacities, this book is a comprehensive resource that provides a thorough overview of the buying process with concrete examples. If you are looking to acquire a huge corporation, this is probably not the book for you. However, if you are seeking to purchase a small business, this book serves as a great guide to subjects such as financing, negotiating, comparisons of entities, and standard forms. It will also inform you of when you likely need to enlist the help of a professional broker or lawyer.
Buy Then Build: How Acquisition Entrepreneurs Outsmart the Startup Game
By Walker Deibel
Buying and growing an existing business is considered a smarter path to success than dealing with the pitfalls of start-up companies. This book outlines the ins and outs of becoming a successful acquisition entrepreneur, written by an investor who has co-founded three startups and acquired seven companies. It delves into beneficial topics such as spending less time raising capital, using ownership to achieve financial independence, discovering the best opportunities, and finding quality business brokers.
Buying a Business That Makes You Rich
By John Martinka
The author has of this book has more than 20 years of experience as a business buyer advocate, helping executives to abandon the corporate world to enjoy the freedoms of business ownership. In this book you will read about being smart when purchasing a business, including ways to avoiding overpaying and knowing the right questions to ask throughout the process. It offers smart methodologies and practical insights without overwhelming the reader with what can be a complex undertaking.
How to Buy a Business without Being Had: Successfully Negotiating the Purchase of a Small Business
By Jack Gibson
Case studies, practical advice, and simple terminology are all part of what make this book a great read for anyone looking to purchase a business. The author offers more than 30 years of experience helping entrepreneurs learn how to talk to sellers and brokers, with a focus on avoiding missteps. The book also includes commentary from business owners who wished they had known how to avoid common mistakes, as well as a useful study and discussion guide.
HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business: Think Big, Buy Small, Own Your Own Company (HBR Guide Series)
By Richard S. Ruback and Royce Yudkoff
This book is written from the perspective of professors at Harvard Business School as a guide to entrepreneurship for small business owners. The text was previously only available to Harvard students through the authors’ courses. It is a concise yet thorough resource that will arm you with important topics you should discuss with sellers, brokers and attorneys along the way when buying a small business.
Ready to Buy?
If you feel you are ready to buy a business, while these books can be helpful, Benchmark International can help ensure you are making the right move. Our strategists will use our insider knowledge and exclusive databases to connect you with the ideal match for an acquisition or growth plan.READ MORE >>
There has been a steep incline in private equity investors buying SaaS (software as a service) companies over the last five years with PE firms investing in, recapitalising, and outright buying numerous SaaS companies. In fact, private equity accounted for 2.5% of all private equity portfolio acquisitions in 2018.
So, what are the reasons for private equity firms investing so heavily into SaaS companies?READ MORE >>
CBInsights has published its annual survey on 2018 corporate venture capital (CVC). Globally, 2,740 deals were completed raising $52.95 billion. This equated to an increase in capital raised by approximately 47% over 2017 and deals increased 32% over the same period. The average CVC deal size reached an all-time high of $26.3 million.
Looking at quarterly trends, Q4 2018 saw the highest number of active CVCs ever, with 429 CVCs investing in the quarter. This number represents 59% year-over-year growth, up from 270 active corporate investors in Q4 2017.
By sector, CVC investments in internet start-ups and healthcare companies increased significantly. While deal activity also increased in Asia, the most noteworthy increase came in the United States with 1,046 deals completed in 2018.READ MORE >>
If you are considering selling your business, it is important to dedicate some thought to the type of sale that best allows you achieve your goals. Do you believe a full sale where you walk away from the company after closing is best for you? Are you the type of person who would work well with a strategic partner that, together, will allow for accelerated company growth? Is there an amount of time you would like to continue working after the transaction with a plan to slowly exit over time? Determining the type of sale that appears the most attractive (I only say ‘appears’ because many owners change their mind after learning what the market has to offer and will find a more attractive sale type than what was initially assumed to be the ‘best’) will also allow you to gain an understanding for the most likely type of buyer.
When selling your business, buyers typically fall into two main categories: strategic buyers and financial buyers. The best type of buyer for your business depends on personal goals you hope to achieve from the sale.
This type of buyer is more likely to pay a premium for a business because their reason for the acquisition is to add to their already existing business. A strategic buyer can be a competitor, supplier or vendor in the same industry. A strategic buyer can also be a focused on businesses of similar model that service the same sector. These attributes are commonly referred to as vertical and horizontal markets, respectively. Using what your company has to offer can help them either expand their footprint or break into a new market.
They are looking for synergies in a prospective merger or acquisition. Synergies are characteristics of the two companies that compliment each other, so that when they are put together, the sum equals more than the two parts individually. In other words, a strategic buyer wants to have a relationship that makes the resulting business more valuable than the two businesses when they stand on their own.
Finding a strategic buyer to work with your business will give you more options in a sale. You can decide to stay on with your business for a transition period, while the new company takes over and for an integration period, eventually allowing you to exit completely, or you can negotiate your continued role in the business as a key player in its continued development.
A strategic buyer can often outbid a financial buyer because of the synergistic relationship they are looking to create in your business. Your businesses together yield increased value, sometimes exponentially, in one way or another.
A financial buyer is looking to invest capital to get a return on their investment. Basically, they want to buy your business outright, make profits from it, and then sell it again to create liquidity. For this reason, a financial buyer is not typically willing to invest the same amount of capital they can invest into your business because they are not adding your business to an already existing company of theirs. Instead, they are buying your company as a whole and working with what you have in place already.
A financial buyer doesn’t have the ability to cut on backend costs that a strategic buyer does. They will need to buy a company with a good working structure and management team in place, since they may not be bringing a team of their own to take over all areas of the business. This allows owners to stay involved with their business to help it grow until the financial buyer decides it’s time to sell again.
The benefit to using a financial buyer is knowing that there is a high growth model in place for your business, and you will most likely play a role in its realized potential before it is sold again. This is a great option for a business owner who is looking for an eventual complete exit from his business.
Choosing the Best Fit
Now, there are some exceptions and looking at different buyers from a less seasoned perspective can make it difficult to understand exactly what type of buyer you are actually facing. For example, a financial buyer may have a portfolio of business that compliments yours which can allow for a synergistic fit, thereby allowing you to enjoy some of the benefits a strategic buyer brings to the table. It could also be that a financial buyer recognizes inefficiencies or ‘areas of improvement’ that will allow them to immediately increase the company’s profitability following an acquisition. On the other hand, a strategic buyer may only want to buyer your business to eliminate a competitor and has no real intention of growing your business after the transaction takes place. Simply put, they may just want to prevent your business from continuing to eat up market share whether that be by forcing the company to remain static or by closing the doors.When it comes to selling your business, it is important to consider all your options in a sale. You need to find a buyer that will bring what you are looking for to a sale. Selling your business for a high value is important, but is it worth compromising the culture of your business or your employees? You need to decide what is most important to you and let those values be driving factors in your decisions in a sale.
It is tough to find the best fit for your business on your own. That’s why using a sell side mergers and acquisitions firm like Benchmark International is essential. You will have someone on your side who can help you find the right buyer for your needs. You can also learn more about what you can negotiate in a sale and you can discuss what’s most important to you to make sure those needs are met in a sale.
If you are thinking of selling your business, Benchmark International is dedicated to helping business owners like you achieve what they are looking for in a sale.READ MORE >>
As M&A activity increases worldwide, unfortunately so does cyber-crime. Now whilst the two are in no way related, there is no hiding the fact that there has been a number of high profile incidents in recent times, with major companies such as eBay, Target and Yahoo! all being the victims of such crimes.READ MORE >>