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How Much Time Will The M&A Process Require Of Me?

As a business owner, you may be curious regarding how much of your time you should expect to invest in the process of a merger or acquisition from start to finish. First and foremost, it is important to recognize that any M&A deal will take time. This can be anywhere from several months to years, depending on various circumstances such as the state of the current market and the type of business. The good news is that if you hire an experienced M&A advisory team to handle the transaction, it will not require much of your time at all in the early stages.

The Preliminary Phase

A quality M&A team will handle the vast majority of the necessary work required to facilitate a transaction with the understanding that you have a business to run and you need to stay focused on doing just that. This early phase of work includes:

  • Compiling due diligence documentation
  • Studying the market
  • Assessing the data
  • Creating a solid marketing strategy
  • Vetting potential buyers

Of course, you should constantly be kept informed of all developments in the process, but you will not need worry about doing all the legwork and dealing with time-consuming details. An M&A team will guide you through every step, making sure that all communications are clear and concise, and that you can stay focused on your day-to-day life with some peace of mind.

 

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There are many reasons why enlisting an M&A advisory firm as your partner offers you a major advantage in a deal. You could try handling a sale yourself, say with the help of your lawyer or CPA, but it is a complicated process that makes it very difficult for a business owner to juggle running their business while dealing with all the minutia involved in an M&A transaction—especially when you have no prior experience in selling a company. Think about how much you really know about corporate and antitrust laws, securities regulations, and where to even find a buyer. Not to mention that experienced buyers will recognize that you are in unchartered waters and will not hesitate to take advantage of your lack of practice. Keep in mind that it is firmly established that the majority of mergers and acquisitions (70 to 90 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review) fail. This makes it even more crucial that you have an experienced team working on getting you results. Experienced M&A advisors know how to get deals done because they do it every day.

But there is more to it than that. Selling your company is an emotional journey. Your personal feelings can easily cloud your judgment regarding a sale. It is incredibly helpful to have a team in your corner that is looking out for your best interests while being able to assess buyers on their true merit. A good M&A advisor will have empathy for you during this difficult process and know how to help you through it while getting a high company valuation and the results that you deserve.

 

The Later Stages

Once you agree to an offer, it will require a little more participation on your part, but in a way that you should welcome, because this great milestone is finally nearing completion. You will be introduced to prospective acquirers and presented with their letters of intent. Contract negotiations and financing strategies will be underway. Your M&A deal team will work with you to evaluate the top bidders and narrow down the options, and get you across that coveted finish line to an exit strategy that is designed specifically to fulfill your unique aspirations for the future. Once you have decided on a buyer, you will need to work together to formulate integration strategies for the ultimate success of the business.

Thinking About Selling?

Even if you have not made up your mind to sell, it can still be fruitful to have a conversation about the possibilities for your future. The M&A experts at Benchmark International would love to discuss your options and help you gain insights into what and when is right for you, your company, and your family. If you choose to sell, our proprietary methodologies and global connections will help you find the right buyer and get the maximum value for the business you have worked so hard to build.

 

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How To Look Good To Clients

In any industry, it is always important to look good to clients and to live up to their expectations. When working with clients you should always try to go above and beyond what they expect, which will help your firm look good. Regarding mergers and acquisitions, impressing clients is key when it comes to selling their businesses. From the onboarding process to the closing of the sale, looking good is essential. There are many ways to look good to a client but focusing on the firm’s professionalism, knowing your client, and building relationships with customers are a few keys ways to look good to your clients.

Professionalism

Looking good to clients starts with a first impression and how professional you appear to a client. A firm handshake, an appropriate suit, and a friendly greeting can help impress a client, but professionalism is ongoing and will continue throughout the process of selling a company.

A few ways to maintain professionalism are:

  • Well-rehearsed presentations
  • Constant communication
  • Proper business etiquette

Clients want to be respected and treated appropriately in a business setting. Clients will expect professionalism, so it is important to go above and beyond their expectations. Providing well-rehearsed presentations about the client’s company, market, and industry will help you stand out against other firms.

Constant communication and updates on the status of the client’s file are key to impressing the client. Clients will be impressed by proper business etiquette how well you can articulate an understanding for their industry and particularly their business structure. 

Know your client

Knowing your client is about more than just understanding what they do and whom they serve. There are many aspects to a business, and clients will be impressed if you take the time to understand the ins and outs of their company.

Businesses are multidimensional and no one knows the business as well as the owner. Before you meet with a client make sure to know some of the important aspects of their businesses. Some key things to research before your initial meeting with a client include:

  • Details of services and products provided
  • The markets they operate
  • Customer review

Understanding and knowing your client starts before the initial meeting in person. Complete your research on the company prior to the meeting, note public information about the markets they operate, and their customers.

Building Relationships

Selling a company can be a very emotional process for business owners and building a relationship with the sellers is key to looking good to clients. Clients want to know that you are taking the time to understand what they are expecting to get out of selling their business. For some this can be monetary, for others it can be retirement or a change in their careers. Regardless of the reason, it is important to take the time to understand what they are looking for and understand those key aspects.

Some crucial ways to build and maintain relationships are

    • Always be available
    • Be open to listening to concerns and honest with responses
    • Be realistic, do not over-promise

Clients want to know they are being taken care of when it comes to selling their businesses. It is important to build a relationship, establish trust, and let your client know you will be available through every step of the process. By building relationships, you will look good to clients and help them feel at ease throughout the mergers and acquisitions process.

When it comes to looking good to clients, there are many ways to be impressive. However, professionalism, knowing your client, and building relationships are fundamental. When you can provide professional materials and a true understanding of their company and industry, you will look good to clients. Diving deeper with your clients and showing an understanding on more than a basic level will set you apart from competitors and impress the clients. Building relationships and maintaining those throughout the process will also impress clients. While there are many ways to look good to clients, showing clients that you are professional, understand their business, and want to build a strong relationship with them will help you look good to clients.

 

Author
Madison Culberson
Transaction Support Analyst
Benchmark International

T: +1 615 924 8950
E: culberson@benchmarkintl.com

 

 

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7 Key Considerations When Selling Your Business

You have poured your life into building your business. Selling it is not only a very emotional process, but it can also be a monumental task that involves many intricacies. Careful planning and preparation before a merger or acquisition can translate into your efforts being rewarded with a high value deal. While there is quite a bit that can go into preparation, the following seven considerations are key to arriving at a successful deal in the end.

1. Protect What’s Yours

Intellectual property can be a company’s most significant asset. It differentiates you from your competition, is an important marketing tool, and can provide revenue through licensing agreements. It is also a major driver of value in a merger or acquisition. Any intellectual property that belongs to your business (proprietary technologies, copyrights, patents, design rights, and trademarks) must be legally protected. Enlist your legal counsel to ensure that all the proper paperwork is filed and current. If you are considering a cross-border transaction, you will want to make sure the property is protected on an international level as well as a local level, as different countries have different laws and requirements.

2. Get Your Finances in Order

It’s never a good look when a prospective acquirer asks for financial documentation and you are scrambling to put it together. This can also delay the process. Before taking your company to market, you will want to compile all of the proper financial and contractual records and have them organized and ready to turn over. Having your finances in order also means that you should seek to resolve any outstanding issues where possible before trying to sell. For example, if you know you have a situation you can probably resolve, getting it straightened out ahead of time can eliminate unnecessary complications during the due diligence process. The due diligence process is also going to require an audit of your assets. A buyer is going to want a complete picture of what they are acquiring. Intellectual property is an important element of due diligence but the process also includes areas such as equipment, real estate, and inventory.

3. Maintain Business as Usual

Going through the lengthy process of selling a business can certainly provide its share of distractions. No matter how easily it can be to become sidetracked or consumed in the details of the sale, now it is more important than ever that you stay focused on the daily operations of the business and ensuring that it is running at its best possible level. This includes keeping your management team focused. Deals can take time and they can also fall through. Every aspect of an M&A transaction hinges on the health of your company at every stage of the game and you need to make sure the business does not lose any value.

4. Think Like a Buyer

As a seller, you obviously don’t want to leave money on the table. That is why it can be helpful that you look at your business from the perspective of a buyer. This will help you avoid being fixated on a sale price the whole time. Think about why they would want to buy your business and what opportunities it affords them in the future. If you can improve your business and develop it as a strategic asset before you try to sell, you can increase its value and get more money.

5. Predetermine Your Role

Sometimes after the sale of the business the original owner executes a full exit strategy and severs all involvement with the business. You need to decide up front what is right for you. To what extent do you plan to relinquish control of the company? Do you wish to remain an employee or a member of the board? How much authority do you plan to retain? You should think these options through before going to market so that you can find a buyer that supports your intentions for the business.

6. Have a Post-Sale Plan

Consider what life will look like following the sale of your company. Think about what your financial picture will look like. How will you invest the proceeds to maintain your financial health? How much cash will you take at closing? How long should the earn-out period be? What about stock options? And don’t forget about tax liability. How much will be paid immediately and how much will be deferred? These are all important questions to ask yourself when anticipating the sale of your business.

7. Retain an M&A Expert

Selling a business is a complicated process and a seller should never go it alone. You may be an expert at your business, but chances are you aren’t an expert at selling businesses. Enlisting the partnership of a M&A experts can not only help you get a deal done smoothly but can help you get the maximum value for your company. M&A advisors know what to expect, they know how to avoid common pitfalls, and they have access to resources and experience that can be game changers for your deal. They can also help you work through some of the difficult decisions mentioned above. Of course, they come at a price, but a price that is worth it when you consider how much their involvement can increase the value of your sale and the chances of the deal being closed.

Ready to Sell?

When you are ready, so are we. Reach out to our M&A advisory experts at your convenience to talk about your options and how we can help you sell for the utmost value.

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Avoiding M&A Integration Failures

Successful integration strategies are crucial following any merger or acquisition. Knowing how to execute integration the right way means knowing what failures can be avoided.

Not Seeing the Big Picture
When a deal is underway, it is common for the focus to be on external strategies such as gaining market share and creating growth. But internal focus and maintaining continuity need to be just as important during this time as well. The long-term vision for the company is paramount, and this vision should be aligned between all parties involved throughout the M&A deal process and following completion of the transaction. By not sharing a big-picture strategy for the future, leadership puts the health of the overall organization at risk. All areas of the business are able to work together fluidly when all team members understand the goals for the company moving forward—goals that should be firmly outlined and clearly communicated by management. This should be planned before any M&A deal is completed, not after.

A Lack of Planning
Speaking of planning…the lack of it is a major reason for post-M&A integration failures. And planning applies across the board to pretty much every topic and scenario that can affect day-to-day operations, from HR to project management to revenue projections. Everyone should know his or her roles and responsibilities. All systems should be prepared to keep running smoothly. Proper planning can bridge the gap between a singular focus on the bottom line and daily operational matters, bolstering the odds that the business will run efficiently and prosper. This becomes especially important if the integration is happening cross-border and both cultural and regional issues need to be thought out.

 

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Botched Due Diligence
M&A integrations are prone to failure when the due diligence process is not well executed, which is why deals should never be rushed. Without the necessary due diligence measures, any deal can fall through. The right oversight and research increase the chances of success for a transaction before, during, and after it is complete. Due diligence is critical to uncovering any potential issues so they can be addressed before a sale. It also provides an accurate picture of the inner workings of the business, which aids significantly in the process of integration. Due diligence is hugely important to any merger or acquisition and should never be overlooked or pushed through just to get a deal done.

High Costs of Recovery
Leading up to integration, it is possible to run up high costs that become an issue. This comes back to the topic of planning but deserves to be called out because it can be disastrous. You should be sure that you have adequate resources and bandwidth that can withstand the potential costs of integration. When faced with a challenging integration that could span several years, it can be difficult to recover costs in the long term.

Culture Clash
Cultures within the workplace can vary greatly, especially in cross-border transactions. It is an enormous factor in getting the integration process right. When culture is not accounted for in the integration, it can be both costly and a massive headache. Ideally, the cultures should be similar enough to integrate as smoothly as possible. The merging work environments should be carefully analyzed prior to a deal to achieve an understanding of how the two parties will mesh following the deal. This also means that the leadership team needs to grasp any cultural differences, no matter how minor, in order to be sensitive to any issues that may arise post-integration.

Inadequate Capacity
Deals that involve expansion have certain integration needs of their own. There must be proper assessment of the organization’s capacity to integrate and scale up. This means having enough resources so they can fill in any gaps without being over-extended, leaving you with no room for future growth. These resources include people, time, money, equipment, and space.

Time to Make a Move?
If you are a business owner considering an M&A strategy, our team at Benchmark International would love to hear from you. You can count on us to put our global connections and superior resources to work for you, and our award-winning advisors have the experience to help you avoid any pitfalls and get the integration process right.

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A Beginner's Guide To Finding An M&A Advisory Firm

Entering into a merger or acquisition is one of the most important decisions a business owner can make, so finding the right M&A advisory firm is equally important. In the news, we frequently hear about massive M&A deals happening between big corporations. Big investment banks typically broker these large-scale deals. These same banks usually cannot be bothered to represent companies in the lower to middle markets because it’s not enough of a moneymaker for them.

Why Do I Need an M&A Advisor?

While you are an expert in your area of business, you likely do not have access to the connections and experience to identify opportunities that will result in the best strategic M&A solution. Partnering with an M&A expert will afford you many advantages. Selling a company is a complicated process and you will be relieved by how much they will tend to the many details and constant requests. A high quality M&A firm will:

  • Have established networks that will get you access to the right type of buyers.
  • Be skilled at managing expectations on both sides.
  • Know how to improve your business and market it appropriately.
  • Maintain the highest levels of confidentiality throughout the process.
  • Know the right timing for taking a business to market based on experience in that sector.
  • Appoint legal and financial services where needed.
  • Perform comprehensive due diligence and data management.
  • Conduct extensive negotiation and create a competitive bidding environment.
  • Finalize a fair and premium valuation of the business to get you maximum value.
  • Structure the transaction in terms of legal issues, payments, contracts, shareholders, debt restructuring, warranties, and indemnities.
  • Keep you informed at all stages of a deal while keeping you out of unnecessary minutia.
  • Assist with any necessary strategic decisions regarding integration, employees, timing, and announcements.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Finding Quality M&A Representation

As an owner of a small to mid-size business, where do you start when you are seeking M&A representation? After all, this is a major life decision and you absolutely want to get it right. M&A advisory services range from big investment banks to small boutique firms. You need to assess what is right for you in several aspects. These are some key considerations for your search:

  • Many M&A advisory firms do not have varied expertise that spans local, regional and global levels. Look for a firm that will expand your options through the farthest geographical reach.
  • It’s okay to be discerning. Talk to multiple firms and create a shortlist. This is going to be a long process so you should feel comfortable and have a liking for the people you are working with, while you should also feel confident in their abilities to get the deal done right.
  • Study the reputations of the M&A firms and look for one that is well known for getting maximum value in deals. Look at what types of deals they have done in the past and if their experience is applicable to your business regarding markets, products, services, and regions? Also, seek out any available testimonials from their clients and look for a firm that has proven strong relationships.
  • Pay close attention to the initial discussions you have with them. Do they seem aligned with your goals and motivated to get you exactly what you want or do they seem stuck on going their own direction? You want your M&A advisors to be as aligned as possible with your vision and aspirations for the future. You should feel confident that they are in your corner and not just there to make a buck.
  • Assess their ability to create a competitive bidding scenario among multiple parties. Are they known for doing this? Do they have a large enough network and the right resources to make it happen?
  • Consider how their fees are structured. Some firms may take a percentage based on deal size. Some may have upfront fees, monthly fees, and registrations fees. You don’t want to be met with surprise costs. Make sure they are transparent about their fees and that their justification for them makes sense. While you do not want to get ripped off, you should also keep in mind that selling your business is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you want to get it right, so this probably isn’t the time to cheap out.
  • Look for an M&A advisor that you know will work with you as a true partner. A good firm will offer you constant engagement and welcome active contributions from you. They will make sure you do not miss any details and that you never feel left in the dark. They will also make sure that zero communications are sent to a buyer without your consent and input.
  • Make sure you are getting an M&A advisor and not just a business broker. A broker is less likely to offer a comprehensive partnership that details long-term plans and integration strategies that are important to the process.

Are You Ready to Sell?

If you are seeking an M&A partner, we kindly ask that you include Benchmark International in your search. We believe that our award-winning team can offer you all the qualities you desire while getting you the most value possible for your company. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Key Tips For Building A Great Management Team

Effective management is essential to the growth and success of any business. This is especially true following a merger or acquisition. Through analytics conducted by companies such as Google, we know that certain characteristics and behaviors have been proven to make all the difference in leadership’s ability to get results for the business.

Good Communication & Collaboration
Quality leadership entails listening to staff as well as sharing information with them. Talent that feels both heard and informed also feels included, valued, and motivated. When employees think that their feedback does not matter, or that they are being kept in the dark, they not only feel underappreciated, but they can also lose trust in their leaders. That’s never part of any playbook for success.

Clear Vision and Strategy
Clarity provides the direction that is critical to getting things done, which correlates to the valuation of the company. Management should fully grasp where the company is going and how to get it there. Vision and mission statements are helpful but the leadership team needs to actually believe and uphold what they say.

Adaptability
Leaders of businesses are frequently faced with changes and new challenges. They must be able to adapt to these circumstances quickly in order to be successful. This is especially true in this day and age when technology brings about change more rapidly. Effective leadership will not view change as an obstacle, but rather as an opportunity. When championed by management, this philosophy can be contagious throughout the ranks.

 

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Supportive of Development
It is important that employees understand how they are performing and are given paths to self-betterment. Management should help talent set goals, create timelines to achieve those goals, and regularly evaluate performance. Research shows that 69 percent of high-performing businesses rated company-wide communication of goals as a leading tool for building a team that is loaded with top performers. Also, achievements should be celebrated and rewarded. Even small gestures can make a difference.

No Micromanagement
Building trust, respect, and quality relationships between management and employees means avoiding micromanagement. When staff is micromanaged, they tend to feel the opposite of empowered and it can directly affect morale in a negative way. This also means that your leadership must have the ability—and willingness—to delegate.

Strong Decision Making
When you picture a great leader, you picture someone with strength and conviction, not someone who cannot make up their mind. Leaders need to be productive, results-oriented and have confidence in their choices. They must be able to balance reason with emotion, and know when the timing of a decision is critical to its results.

Empowering Coaching Mentality
Management should foster an inclusive team atmosphere that shows concern for the success and wellbeing of employees. This involves being supportive of staff, finding ways to help them grow, keeping promises, and providing an encouraging work environment.

Relevant Technical Skills
Studies show that technical skills fall at the lower spectrum when it comes to ranking leadership qualities. However, in order to help advise the team, the leadership should possess the proper skills and knowledge that apply to the business. If employees feel that management does not know what they are doing, they will see right through it and will struggle to take leadership seriously.

Time to Make a Move?
If you feel that a merger or acquisition is key to your future, please reach out to our M&A dream team at Benchmark International to arrange a deal that will turn your dreams into reality.

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7 Steps To Finding The Perfect Business To Acquire

Purchasing an existing business is a far less risky alternative to starting a new business from the ground up. In fact, more than half of start-up companies fail within the first several years. Some research even reports that a whopping 90 of new businesses fail within four to five years.

By buying an existing business, you are acquiring all of the positive aspects that it already possesses, such as the customer base, infrastructure, supplier relationships, and brand recognition. You will also be taking on its shortcomings as well, and that is another element you will need to factor into your search. So, when looking for the ideal business for you to acquire, where do you start?

7. Consider Your Value

When embarking on your search, think about how you can bring value to the table. Consider how your particular experience, skills and areas of expertise can improve the company and strengthen its weaknesses. It is a logical step in finding the type business that makes sense for you. It also aids in making your case to the owner as to why you are the right person to carry on their legacy.  

6. Focus Your Passion

If you are going to go all in on a business, it is more likely to succeed if it something that you feel passionate about. If you have zero interest in producing or selling trombones, then a trombone company is probably not the best choice for you. Seek out a business that you naturally feel gravitated toward helping flourish. Because you are going to need to dedicate a great deal of time to this new venture, it will help that you feel inspired by your mission.

You may even come across a business that interests you that is not on the market. Don’t be afraid to ask the owner if they are willing to sell. Even if they say no, they could change their mind down the road so make sure to give them your contact information.  

5. Leverage Your Network

Reach out to your colleagues, friends, and family members to see if they are aware of any companies on the market. This can be a simple path to finding a good lead, especially if you already have a connection to the ownership, making for an easy introduction. Also keep in mind that this route can also lead to prospects that may not be serious or may not be the best fit. Just because you know someone who knows someone who wants to sell, it does not mean it is the right opportunity for you.    

4. Search Online

There are several online marketplaces that list small businesses that are for sale. This is a relatively effortless way to access key information such as location, asking price, revenue, inventory, and have access to global listings. Just be aware that these sites may list high company valuations. Also, these types of sites can be flooded with listings, which can be a major waste of your valuable time. You may also come across sellers that are not actually serious about selling. 

3. Consider Lifestyle Impacts

When purchasing a business, you are taking on a massive responsibility and it is important that you make sure your lifestyle can accommodate all that it will entail. Think about how taking over a company will affect your time, your family, and any other obligations you may already have. How much of your time are you willing to invest? Will you need to relocate? Are you going to be losing sleep over any debt? Avoid over-extending yourself for your sake, the sake of your family, and the sake of the company.

2. Know Your Budget

Before even attempting to buy a business, it is important to establish what you can afford to invest in the endeavor. Be sure to ask yourself the right questions, such as how much you have on hand, if you will need financing, and how much debt you are able to take on. Also, if you have a reasonable idea of what you are willing or able to spend on an acquisition, you can avoid wasting time looking at companies that are outside of your ballpark.

1. Work With M&A Experts

By working with a mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, you will have access to exclusive information about businesses that are for sale that you will not be able to find on the street or the Internet. These experts will also have superior resources and proficiencies in matching quality businesses with the right buyers. Going this route also means you can be sure that you are dealing with serious sellers only—not someone who is just toying with the idea of selling. These many benefits are proven to translate to a more efficient and fruitful experience overall.   

Looking to Buy?

While we specialize in sell-side M&A, our talented team at Benchmark International can also help to effectively match buyers with the right businesses. Visit www.BenchmarkIntl.com/buyers/ to create your buyer profile and learn more about the merits of working with us.

 

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Stock Deals Versus Asset Deals

Many first-time buyers acquiring businesses in the United States are unsure of how to structure their offer in terms of a deal to buy the equity of the business (i.e., the stock, membership interests or partnership interests) or the assets of the business. The below FAQs should help point you in the right direction or at least allow you to have a meaningful conversation with your advisors.

Which do sellers view more favorably, stock deals or asset deals?

Typically, a seller’s initial reaction is to prefer a stock deal to an asset deal. They lean this direction because the first thing they have been told is, “Your tax bill will be smaller on a stock deal.” But there are actually a number of other significant considerations and the conventional wisdom on taxation is not always correct. Even still, when all is said and done and sellers are fully educated, they will almost always seek a stock deal as opposed to an asset deal.

How does this decision affect the definition of the “seller”?

In a stock deal, the owner of the business is the seller. He or she is selling her equity in the business. In an asset deal, the company itself is technically the seller. It is selling its assets to you.

Are the implications of securities laws different?

Yes, federal and state securities laws apply to a stock sale but do not typically apply to an asset sale. This benefits the buyer because of Rule 10b-5 issued by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) pursuant to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. This regulation holds sellers responsible not only for material misstatements in the sale of securities but also material omissions in such sales. With asset deals, the default US rule of caveat emptor applies (unless the purchase agreement says otherwise). Buyers therefore gain a bit of extra protection with both civil and criminal penalties when acquiring via stock deal. However, it is important to remember that Rule 10b-5 applies to both the sale and the purchase of securities so the higher standard applies to both parties to the stock transaction.

What about the meat of the deal? Does it change?

Absolutely. In an asset deal, the buyer and seller must agree which specific assets are being acquired and which are not being acquired. Similarly, they must specify which liabilities are assumed by the buyer and which are left behind. In a stock deal, all assets owned by the company and all liabilities owed by the company move along with the sale unless specifically called out in the purchase agreement. We most often see asset deals in situations where the parties have agreed to leave all or almost all the liabilities behind and stock deals where the reverse is true.

What about those tax issues?

This is often the crux of the difference of opinion between buyer and seller. Though the issue can arise in an infinite number of variations, the most common occurs when the seller has used accelerated depreciation under the Internal Revenue Code and an asset deal occurs. In an asset deal, the parties must mutually agree on a purchase price allocation for tax purposes. All purchased assets are either specified items or “goodwill.” After the acquisition, the buyer can depreciate the value assigned to each specific item but not so with the goodwill. Depreciation creates a “tax shield” that results in the business kicking off more cash for the buyer in the years following the acquisition. The higher the percentage of the purchase price allocated to specific items, especially quickly depreciating items, the more appealing the asset deal is to the buyer and its future cash flows. But the IRS does not like buyers to depreciate assets that the seller already depreciated. In such an instance, the IRS would lose (and we all know that can’t happen). So the IRS has something called “recapture tax.” Suppose a seller bought a machine for $100 and depreciated it quickly down to $15 in its tax books. The result over that time was $85 of expenses that resulted in lower taxes. If the buyer and seller then ascribe a value of $100 back to that item, the buyer will—in future years—get to depreciate that item back to $15 again. “Not fair,” says the government. The recapture tax says, essentially, that if they agree to allocate $100 to that item, then the seller has to pay taxes for the “over-depreciation” it took while it owned the machine. So the buyer wants high value on the specified items and low value on the goodwill, a built-in conflict making deals harder to close.

This is but one of many tax issues that, almost always, tends to pit buyer against seller. Generally speaking though, for most circumstances, the tax issues in a stock deal result in significant reduction in the degree to which buyer and seller are diametrically opposed on tax issues.

Is a stock deal sometimes inevitable?

Yes, it is. When the company being sold has a large number of contracts that require the third parties’ consent to assignment, asset deals can be almost impossible to pull off. This is why larger deals are rarely structured as asset deals.

Most contracts include what is called an “assignment clause.” When a business sells its assets and assigns it liabilities to another company, its contracts are “assigned” and the assignment clause must be consulted. These clauses often require the consent of the counterparty prior to any assignment. Asset deals require assignments; stock deals do not. Obtaining the consent of 4,000 clients and five landlords can often push the buyer and seller to a stock deal regardless of any other consideration.

Some contracts also have “change of control clauses” that essentially state that any change of control of one party will be treated as an assignment. Thus, structuring as a stock sale is not a panacea to this consent issue.

Permits and licenses can pose similar restrictions on the parties, pushing them towards a stock deal. Similarly, in an asset deal, employees must be fired and rehired and must be tied into the buyer’s or new company’s benefits plans.

Is an asset deal sometimes inevitable?

Yes, it is. We see this happen when the company being sold has significant pending litigation, problems with its history, poor documentation, or other defects that make the equity interest in the business unmarketable. Though buying substantially all of the assets can lead to successor liability in some circumstances, asset deals provide fairly effective ways to take the desirable aspects of the business and leave the offensive pieces behind.

Which deal structure moves more quickly?

Stock deals tend to move much more quickly than asset deals for a number of reasons. Buyers can rely on the protection of securities laws so diligence tends to be less involved. Fewer third party consents are required. There are fewer tax issues to debate.

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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How Long Does It Take To Sell A Business

Selling a company can take several months to even years, depending on factors such as the state of the business, the industry, the market, and the economy. At Benchmark International, we have created an efficient process that we use as a framework to guide any merger or acquisition from start to finish. While not every deal will follow this timeline exactly, it is what we strive to adhere to and what you can expect from the process, keeping in mind that when several parties are involved, timing depends on when they each do their part.   

The 120 Days Prior to Going Live: Strategy Development & File Preparation

First, in order to determine the “go live” date (when we take the business to market) we carefully assess your needs and priorities as the business owner, the completion of audits and taxes, the harmonizing of the business’s external image, and the M&A market calendar. 

In the 120 days prior to “going live” with your company, we will go through a preliminary preparation period. This period begins when you and your Benchmark Deal Team sign the engagement and we deliver a data request list to you in order to obtain the relevant information we will need to facilitate a deal. The initial delivery of these documents to us usually takes about two weeks. Then, two weeks after that, we conduct a Q&A session with you regarding the financial data to resolve any outstanding topics. This is when we dig in and do an even more thorough assessment.

A few weeks later, we have our first meeting with you for the presentation of any issues that we found, we request any additional data, and we conduct a preliminary discussion of a marketing strategy. In another 20 days, we have a second meeting to verify the completion of the harmonization of the company’s public image, finalize strategy, and recap any additional data still needed.

Then, in about three weeks, our deal team delivers drafts of the company Teaser and Confidential Information Memorandum (CIM). In the week subsequent to that, we will meet to finalize materials, we prepare market intelligence, and then we are ready to go live.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Two Months After Going Live: Solicitation of Candidates & Expression of Interest

Now that we are ready to go live, we move into the next phase of the process. We start by approaching prospective buyers. We begin obtaining non-disclosure agreements and screening candidates. Within about three weeks, our deal team delivers an interim candidate report to you, classifying candidates into three categories. We then meet to determine authorized recipients of the CIM out of the candidates delivered. Following this meeting, we deliver CIMs to a second round of prospects. You can expect us to be one month into this process when we deliver a finalized candidate report to you, which again classifies the candidates into three categories. Soon after, our team will meet with you to determine the authorized recipients of the CIM out of these candidates. Following this meeting, we deliver CIMs to a second round of invitees. By day 60, expression of interest is due from these candidates.

Two to Four Months After Going Live: Evaluation of Candidates & Offers

Now that we are two months into the process of having gone live, your Benchmark team presents the expressions of interest on behalf of prospective buyers to you. Next, you instruct us as to which candidates should be invited to bid. We then confirm each invitee’s continued interest and they are provided access to a preliminary data room.

At about three months in, letters of intent are due to us from the bidders. We revert to them with any questions raised by the letters of intent. Next, our team presents the letters of intent to you and follows up on any questions you have for the bidders. At this stage, around Day 107, we work closely with you to reevaluate the top bidders, and negotiations begin with one to three bidders. By Day 120, the letter of intent is executed and the counterparty is granted access to the complete data room.

Ready to Sell?

We’re ready to help. Contact our M&A advisory experts at Benchmark International to formulate effective strategies to grow your business or plan your exit strategy and sell your company for the highest valuation possible. 

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How To Get More Results Out Of Selling Your Business

1. Improve & Grow
Investors seek to buy companies that increase cash flow year over year. Obviously, the more profitable and healthy your company is, the higher valuation it will garner. This means that retained earnings (the amount of profit left over after all costs, taxes and dividends are paid) are an important factor, including how they are reinvested in the business as working capital. It also means you should be focused on lowering expenses and increasing revenues, as the efficiency of your operations is going to be a key driver of valuation. Look at the last three years to see if cash flow is trending upward. If not, you should take measures to get the company on the right course. Companies sell for higher prices when they show that they can continue to grow. Your future growth depends on your ability to identify new markets, adapt to changing technologies, and keep your workforce trained. Buyers look for businesses that have goals and a solid plan for achieving them.

2. Value the Power of Marketing
How marketing is defined when it comes to selling a business is twofold, and both are incredibly important. 1) Effectively market your products or services to customers and 2) Effectively market your company to potential buyers.

Create and retain a diverse customer base that creates recurring profits. Evaluate your marketing plan to determine strategies to boost sales, tap into new markets, get a competitive edge, and increase customer loyalty. The more diverse your customer base is, the more protected you will be if you lose a major customer. This insulation is important to buyers.

When you do the first part correctly, you will be in a stronger position to showcase your company’s strengths to acquirers. In order to best market yourself to buyers, it is smart to work with an M&A advisory firm that has the marketing experience and resources to make your company as appealing as possible.

3. Foster a Strong Team
A large amount of value in a business lies in its people, especially if it has few tangible assets. A prospective buyer is going to want to have faith and confidence in the existing leadership team and that they will remain there after your exit. They will also be more interested in a business that is known as a great place to work. Your key talent beyond management is also critical to the success of the company. They should be motivated, informed, and feel that their futures are in good hands so they are not tempted to jump ship because they are nervous about a possible sale. This is why it is crucial that the details and confidentiality of a sale and are handled very carefully. Employees need to be informed and feel included, but they should not be told about a sale until the proper time.

4. Have Detailed Recordkeeping
In order to sell your company, you will need to have all financial records and contracts related to the business for the due diligence phase of the transaction, and this extends beyond tax returns. Shoddy recordkeeping signals to buyers that there could be problems and that the business’s financial performance may not be portrayed accurately. Being transparent and thorough indicates to buyers that you are serious and more likely to be trusted.

5. Remain Invested
Just because you are planning to sell, do not lose sight of the fact that your business still needs you. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the M&A process, but you must keep the day-to-day operations running smoothly. Continue to improve and invest wherever possible and you will not only strengthen the overall value of your business but also demonstrate your commitment to its future success. Buyers want to see that you are doing what’s in the best interest of the company all the way up until your exit. At the same time, a business should not be reliant on any one person. While you should remain engaged through a sale, the company should be able to continue to operate successfully AFTER your exit, as well.

6. Get M&A Guidance
You have worked so hard to build your business and its sale may be the most important milestone in your life. You deserve to have the transaction done right so that you get the maximum value possible for your company. Experienced M&A advisors can not only make sure that the process goes as it should, but they have specific strategies and know-how that will get you as much as possible while adhering to your goals for your future and the company’s. Additionally, savvy buyers have solid knowledge of the M&A process and what to look for. Working with an advisory team will demonstrate that you are a serious seller while protecting your interests and getting you the amount you deserve.

Talk to our Experts
If you are considering selling your company, contact the M&A advisors at Benchmark International and tap into award-winning solutions and unparalleled expertise.

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Benchmark International Donates 400 Pizzas to Local Tampa Hospital to Feed Frontline Heroes

There is great need all around us. During COVID-19 and this time of social distancing, many local businesses are considering ways of how to give back and do their part to support their local communities and businesses.

Benchmark International founders Steven Keane and Gregory Jackson showed their support to the community by purchasing 400 pizza pies over a two-day span from their favorite pizza place - Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in Tampa, FL to be able to feed the healthcare professionals at Tampa General Hospital (TGH).

Steven Keane and Greg Jackson hand-delivered the pizzas this past Tuesday and Wednesday to provide food to the frontline healthcare workers who are selflessly working each day to provide help and comfort to thousands of in-need patients.

As a team, Benchmark International and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria was able to set a few new Grimaldis records.

The records consisted of the following:
• The most pizzas to be in the oven at any one time
• The largest single order – 200 pizzas in one order
• The largest single order two days in a row – Totaling 400 pizzas

Benchmark International was honored to be able to provide this contribution to their local community and also the healthcare workers at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) and would like to thank Jeff, Rick and the Grimaldi’s team who work so hard to help make this happen.

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So, You’ve Decided To Sell Your Company. Now What?

After you have poured your life into your business, there comes a time when you start pondering retirement and planning an exit strategy. Whether you want to assume a smaller role in the company, transition it to a family member, or sell outright to an investor, it is not a process to be taken lightly. Readying a business for sale is a daunting task and an emotional journey. Which is why the first thing you will want to do is partner with an experienced M&A advisory team that is going to understand your goals and your needs, and have empathy throughout the process.

Ultimately, you have two high-level goals for selling your company: for the process to run smoothly, and to get the most value possible. There are many stages that go into making these two goals attainable, and at Benchmark International, we have perfected this process down to both an art and a science. This includes selling at the right time, which is why getting started as soon as possible can be critical to the results.

Our mergers and acquisitions advisors will take a deep dive into learning everything there is to know about your company. (Chances are, we already are very knowledgeable on your industry.) We will be straightforward with you regarding our assessment and what you can do to make your business more valuable and appealing to a prospective buyer. This includes third-party research that vets your company’s reputation in the public space and how to address any concerns.

We will also use our proprietary technologies and global resources to identify the types of buyers that are right for your business, and then create a plan to effectively market your company to these buyers. This gives you a huge advantage as a seller. There are many steps that go into these processes that we can later detail for you to a greater extent should you decide to sell. And don’t worry—everything is handled with the utmost confidentiality and you can rest assured that any buyer is going to be closely vetted. We will never ask you to meet with a potential acquirer that is not suitable and that we don’t believe is in your best interest.

Another important undertaking that our experts at Benchmark International will handle is the due diligence for buyers. Obviously, they are going to want to know a great deal about your company. Buyers also expect to see scrupulous recordkeeping regarding financials, legal issues, and items such as contracts. Our team is here to help you compile the proper documentation, and we can even create a Virtual Data Room to store it securely and conveniently. This includes ensuring the protection of your intellectual property such as trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and the like.

We will coordinate all meetings and discussions between you and a buyer, always protecting confidentiality. When a buyer makes an offer for your company, we will present it with honesty as to whether we feel the offer is appropriately valued. We are committed to ensuring that you get everything that you deserve.

When you decide to move forward with an offer, your dedicated deal team will handle all of the negotiations following your instructions at all times. This includes structuring the sale clearly so that all parties involved know their roles moving ahead with the transition of the business. We handle all contracts with full compliance and proper documentation. Not a single piece of paper or communication will go to a buyer without you seeing it first. You can also expect regular contact at all times until an acquisition is complete.

Selling a company is a complicated endeavor and needs to be handled with expertise in order to achieve the right results. Having the right team in place can make all the difference in the success of your exit.

So, the answer to the question, “Now what?” is quite simple: contact us.

Our award-winning M&A analysts are waiting for your call to talk about how Benchmark International can help you sell your company for its maximum value. Reach out to us today and we can embark on this exciting journey together.

 

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Growing Your Business Is Not As Difficult As You Think

As a business owner, you already know that running a company is not a simple task. But growing that business does not have to seem quite as hard as you might think. There are many steps you can take to drive growth without making yourself crazy.

Acquire Other Companies
A quick way to create growth is to identify competitors or businesses in other industries that are complementary to yours and purchase them. An experienced M&A advisory firm can help you easily identify potential opportunities to look at that are worth your time and money.

Know the Competition
Take a close look at who your competition is and what they are doing. Are they doing anything differently? Is it working? What message are they putting out there? What are their weaknesses and how can you take advantage of them? How can you stand out better than them? There are online platforms that can help you uncover the digital advertising strategy of any company. You should also sign up to receive their mass emails and follow them on social media. If you find something that is clearly working for your competitor, it should work for you, too. This strategy does not mean copying whatever they do, just gaining inspiration for your own strategies and being fully aware of what you are up against.

Focus on the Customer
You can use a customer management system (CMS) to track your business’s interaction with existing and potential customers and in turn improve relationships overall. There are many types of CMS software that you can choose from to manage multiple channels. This includes creating an email database to stay directly in touch with customers. Having a CMS can also help you create a customer loyalty program to increase sales. It is far easier and cheaper to retain existing customers than it is to obtain new ones. Offering a clear incentive to choose your company can be a significant method of boosting your sales.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

Go Global
Consider expanding your business internationally as a way to generate growth. By moving into new geographic markets, you can take your existing offerings and scale them to other countries if it makes sense for your type of business. Initially, it can seem costly do to so, but it can also pay off in a major way. If this type of expansion is not physically or logistically possible, you can employ digital global B2B platforms to expand your borders without having to actually go to another country.

Consider Franchising
If you are looking to quickly grow a well-managed and thriving business, a franchise model is a way to accomplish this. Yes, franchise costs can be pricey, and the process can be rather complicated. But if you have the marketing savvy and your company qualifies for franchising, you can drive growth quite rapidly.

Look Into Licensing
If it’s applicable to your type of business, licensing is one of the fastest and most effortless methods of growing a company. By licensing intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, or copyrights to others, you can immediately draw on the existing systems built by other companies and get a percentage of the profits sold under your license, which can add up rather quickly.

Expand Your Offerings
What other types of services or products can your business provide? In what other ways can you create value for your clients or customers? Do you have the right team members in place to maximize these opportunities? It can be very helpful to take a step back and look at your business in a different light. Just make sure that you can focus on any new venture without distracting from your core competencies or spreading you or your staff too thin.

Create a Strategic Alliance
Merging with another company is a solid way to reach more customers in a shorter timeframe. You just have to make sure that the partnership makes sense, so you will need to identify businesses that either complement or are similar to your own. Working with an M&A expert can help you recognize the right opportunities and take the proper steps to ensuring the merger is a success.

Let’s Discuss Your Business
Reach out to our M&A aficionados at Benchmark International to talk about how we can help you grow or sell your company. Our unique perspectives can give you a serious advantage in the low to middle markets and help you craft a highly prosperous future.

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About “CARES Act” Loans For Small Businesses And M&a Transactions

The United States federal government has released the application for the $349 billion in forgivable loans that small U.S. businesses (under 500 employees) may obtain under the recent CARES Act. These federally guaranteed loans are designed to help businesses continue to pay employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two types of loans available: Paycheck Protection Loans (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). While you can apply for both loans, you cannot use funds from each loan for the same expenses. The PPP loans give 2.5 times your monthly payroll expenses, up to $10 million. The EIDL loans provide up to $2 million for working capital needs such as payroll and fixed debt. Because there is a cap on this round of funding, you should not wait to apply if you need one of these loans.

What Sellers Need to Know

If the loans are used for qualified payroll costs, rent, utilities, and interest on mortgage and other debt obligations, they should be forgiven. They have a maturity of two years, and the interest rate is 0.5%. Terms are the same for all borrowers.

There is no reason why taking one of these loans should impact the value of your exit. We encourage you to immediately look into whether this loan makes sense for your business, with one caveat: if you are currently under letter-of-intent or nearing that stage, you should consult with your potential acquirer prior to applying for the loan.

Every business is different and a loan may not be right for your company based on other issues, but please do not needlessly delay or assume that, because you are selling, you should not apply. In fact, when it comes to selling your business, acquirers may actually look favorably upon the securing of a CARES Act loan. Here’s why.

  • If the loan enables you to keep a higher employee headcount, it is an asset because when life begins to return to normal, good labor may be in short supply.
  • If it helps you to avoid drawing on other debt, it can protect your balance sheet from impact and keep your interest payments down.
  • It will aid in clearly establishing and defending the quarantine-related add-backs to your adjusted EBITDA when the time comes.
  • It should help to paint a better picture of the quality of the management team, demonstrating that you took rapid action to preserve the health of the business and the welfare of the employees.
  • It is likely to foster employee loyalty, the absence of which is always a concern for buyers.
  • You will be in a better position to take advantage of business opportunities when quarantines end and help you get your growth curve back to where it should have been.

What You Will Need

The loan application is brief and your current lender should be able to assist you in completing the form. If your lender is not qualified to participate in this program, please contact our experts at Benchmark International and we will share the names of qualified lenders that regularly provide SBA loans to our clients’ acquirers.

You will need some financial and tax data. In the event you do not have access to that data, it may have already been shared with your Benchmark International deal team. Feel free to enlist us in using our virtual tools to help you gather and share (with your lender only) any relevant data we have. Even if we don’t have the data, our virtual tools could be of assistance in the timely filing of your application. For example, we can make documents available in virtual data rooms and arrange teleconferences with your partners and/or lenders if needed.

What Will the Buyer Think and How Will This Be Handled at Closing?

There are no personal guarantees required for these forgivable loans, so in a stock deal, there will be no effect. As a seller, you may request a covenant from the buyer stating that they will comply with all actions necessary to have the loan forgiven. There is presently no recourse back to the seller due to the lack of a personal guarantee.

In an asset deal, all employees are terminated, so you as a seller should still be able to get forgiveness for all compensation, rent, etc., paid up until the closing. If you had borrowed more money, you would have to repay it plus the ratable portion of the 0.5% on that overage. Either way, if a deal is fairly far along, you should discuss results with your lender when applying.

For most sellers, the requirements to get the loan forgiven will be met prior to close. You should document where the loan funds are directed so that you can make the buyer comfortable in diligence that you met the criteria in the statute, especially for stock deals, as this will be something acquirers will likely be looking at for years to come. 

As long as you as the seller assume any risk in the purchase agreement for any pre-closing mistakes, the buyer should not view a CARES small business loan as a detriment. One exception may be in stock deals in which the buyer was planning on taking loans after buying the business. If you have taken the loan and saved the buyer all that payroll expense, the buyer may wish they could have saved that payroll expense post-close instead. However, this is for a window of only a couple of months when both seller and buyer would have been eligible.

Keep in mind, the alternative to a CARES loan is to draw on your line of credit and that must be repaid in full at closing.Unless falling under certain specific NAICS codes, only companies with less than 500 employees qualify for a CARES loan. The definition of “company” includes affiliates, so if a buyer together with its affiliates has more than 500 employees after making the acquisition, then there is a complication. The loans up to the closing date can be forgiven and those that were going to be used afterwards must be repaid at the 0.5% interest rate. This could be like many government set-asides where once a contract is awarded the company no longer must qualify as an 8(a) business. Even with the less attractive option, the downside is minimal.

On the plus side, if the buyer has more than 500 employees, they could not have gotten the loan so they will not be upset that the loan was “used up” by the seller. They may even get to “inherit” the benefit as discussed above. 

The loan only covers up to eight weeks of payroll plus 25% of that amount, and it only looks at payroll up to $100,000 annualized for each employee. So the most a company can get for any one employee is $19,230.77.

If employee headcount is cut OR payroll is reduced before forgiveness is sought, a portion of the loan will not be forgiven. February 15th is the start date for assessing headcount and payroll and this can be restored by June 30th in order to get full forgiveness. So, in an asset deal, this could be an issue, but remember the interest rate is 0.5%. So if you take a loan this week and close sale as an asset deal within eight weeks, all you need to do in the worst possible case is pay back the principal and 0.077% interest.

Similarly, if you take the loan and then shut the business down, terminating everyone within eight weeks, all you must do is pay back the same amount as above, the principal and the 7.7 bips. This is a worst-case scenario. 

On the upside, if you do not close in the eight weeks following taking the loan and don’t otherwise cut headcount or payroll over that time, at the end of those 8 weeks, you simply send a request for forgiveness to the lender along with proof that headcount and payroll were maintained for that eight weeks.

The application is brief and key information can be found using the following links:

Program Overview 

https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/paycheck-protection-program-ppp

Application 

https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Paycheck-Protection-Program-Application-3-30-2020-v3.pdf

Additional Details for Borrowers 

https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/PPP%20Borrower%20Information%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

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Businesses Are Just Like Classic Cars

Anyone who owns or has owned a classic car will attest that it’s a very special relationship and one not dissimilar to owning a business.

Classic cars and businesses are assets that relatively few have the privilege of owning, they take time to build or acquire, have personality, and generally represent a sizeable investment and very personal commitment for anyone.

At the outset of these relationships, our perceptions of what the experience will be like is dominated by excitement, passion and it is often a journey we have spent many years planning and saving for. The risks have been calculated and monetised yet despite knowing that as physical or metaphorical assets they do break, and cost money, we have an ingrained belief we’ll get through it and that value that will accumulate with time.

It is inevitable, unless one is fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium price for a pristine model, that the early stages of these ownership journeys are characterised by a series of unfortunate discoveries - usually requiring us to roll up our sleeves and invest both time and money to rectify. It’s something we readily do as this beast is now a part of us and with ownership comes responsibility.

Like classic cars, business ownership takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions that range from pride and joy to anger and despair. One faces a multitude of risks from accident to theft and even the collapse of a market for it. The sacrifices can be significant, yet from the outside others often perceive us as merely lucky and in viewing the finished product, do not have insight or appreciation for the all-consuming toil, sunk and personal cost that it has taken to get to this point.
 
 
Ready to explore your exit and growth options?
 
Driving the old stag was not possible without being approached by somebody wanting to acquire the car and whilst they’d all expressed an interest to buy, it was once the door to such a discussion was opened that they divert the negotiation from their motive and start to approach the transaction from a purely clinical perspective. It is at this point buyers begin quoting market-related metrics seeking to mitigate the risk of what will be their investment. Simply put, such an approach is common in business too as a seller the future value potential and emotional attachment can often outweigh the immediate cash consideration but yet we also fail to see the other side and balance the risk to a buyer. It is for this reason that the intangible benefits of a deal are often larger considerations than the price attributed.

Selling a classic car is a difficult decision. It marks the end of a very personal relationship and what has been an emotional journey - for some, it can be a process as difficult as picking a spouse for one of our kids might be. Price becomes important as it measures the worth we attribute to it, and the reward for the investment or sacrifices made. Equally, however in finding the right person who we can trust to nurture, protect, improve and care for our treasure, we’re achieving a value beyond compensation.

Central to the decision to sell a classic car is always the consideration of “what next”. If the transaction facilitates the acquisition of a more prized possession or the freedom to pursue a long-sought ambition, the decision becomes more palatable. The similarity in selling a business is that it is vital to plan for what comes next. For example, in the case of retirement, it’s key to have something to retire to, as opposed to from.

It is a commonly expressed view that anything is for sale at a price, but committing to the prospect of a sale is a fundamentally different process to being available to be bought. Knowing your asset, the buyer’s next best alternative, and the adventure you’d pursue next are all key to a successful outcome. Whilst experience, financial, analytical, and other corporate finance skills are minimum requirements for an advisor, someone who’s been there, done it, and who intimately understands the internal conflicts only a business owner experiences can certainly add value in navigating this journey.
 

Author
Andre Bresler
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +27 (0) 21 300 2055
E: bresler@benchmarkintl.com

 

 

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Valuing Companies – 7 Pointers From 30 Years’ Experience in the UK

Nick Hulme (Managing Director, Manchester UK) summarises his recent article, ‘7 Pointers from 30 Years’ Experience in the UK’, in this short blog.

1 - It’s Not Just About the Numbers!
Although the normal formula for valuing a company involves multiplying ‘earnings’ by a chosen ‘multiple’, a company is only worth what a buyer is prepared to pay for it.


The numbers are important, of course, but there may be more to the opportunity than the numbers show. Advisers need to take a ‘bird’s eye view’ and focus on those factors that will drive the highest value with the right buyer, not just on the numbers.


They should constantly focus their conversations and analyses on the opportunity, despite the maze of numbers that fly around.

2 – ‘Multiples’ are a Minefield
Desktop research, comparisons to quoted P/E ratios and the considered views of trusted advisers can create a myriad of distortions as to what might be the correct multiple for a company.


It’s easy to see how factors such as growth, a great management team, high margins and, nowadays, tech-enablement will not only deliver the best multiples but add to that the impact of both competitive tension and structure. Any first-time seller could quickly have their heading spinning.


Benchmark International’s Valuation Matrix is a great tool for showing clients a range of valuation scenarios based on different multiples and views of earnings. This is used to educate clients from the start, and to hand-hold them to making the right decisions when the time comes. It is normally updated throughout the process.

3 – There’s More to Earnings than Reported Profits
Getting a real understanding of underlying earnings will be far more important to any buyer than what’s recorded in the company’s annual accounts.


The term we use in the UK for a fair assessment of sustainable adjusted earnings is ‘Maintainable Earnings’. This will often take account of the adjustment of shareholder salaries to market rates and the elimination of true one-off costs.


Care needs to be taken when adding back depreciation. If there is a significant cash cost to a business of replacing its assets annually, a buyer will factor this cost into its assessment of maintainable earnings if adding-back depreciation.


The terms ‘Adjusted EBITDA’ (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) and ‘Historical EBITDA’ are often used interchangeably with Maintainable Earnings. I much prefer the latter as it’s a better reflection of the numbers and the story behind them, and is not laden with reference to the past.  


4 – You Can’t Add the Value of Company Assets to the Valuation
If assets are truly ‘surplus’ to the company’s operations then perhaps they can be added to the valuation, but if they are fundamental to the company’s ability to generate its earnings, adding them to the valuation would be double counting. As would be attaching a value to ‘goodwill’. Buyers tend not to be too fond of this!


The most common ‘surplus asset’ we deal with in the UK is what we refer to as ‘free cash’, the opposite of which is debt. It’s much easier for clients to understand why ‘free cash’ can be added to the valuation than it is for them to understand why ‘debt’ needs to be deducted. There are a couple of easy ways to explain to clients in the article itself.

5 – Complex Deal Structures Can Cloud Valuations
A buyer can make what looks to be a great offer but understanding how the deal is structured - when and how the money is paid – makes all the difference.


The most common types of ‘structure’ in the UK are vendor loan (or defcon, where some of the consideration is paid over time), earn-out (where future payments are made depending on performance) and retained shareholdings (where the seller might keep a stake in the company or in its new owner).


‘Structure’ is generally used to bridge the gap between seller and buyer views of valuation and a buyer’s ability to fund a deal. It’s rare to see offers for companies that don’t include at least some element of structure, so issues such as buyer credit status, interest and security are key.

6 - Beware Valuations Based on Net Asset Value (NAV)
On rare occasions, particularly with companies where expensive assets are fundamental to their operations, the value of the company’s ‘net assets’ in the accounts is higher than a fair valuation derived using the normal formula. This can create an illusion of higher valuation for some clients, especially when some experts produce articles listing three, four or more ways of valuing a company.


This does not mean sellers can find the valuation basis that gives the highest valuation and expect to be able to market their company on that basis. Whatever the size of a company’s overall net assets value, its market value will almost always be more closely linked to earnings and cash flow than the size of its balance sheet. That’s not to say we don’t do deals based on net asset valuations plus ‘something for goodwill’, but they are rare.

7 – Clients Often Know Enough Already
Sellers will normally know enough about their own company to make an informed assessment of how their company might be valued in their market, so advisers should hone-in on these instincts.

Any questions, please read the full article here.

 

Author
Nick Hulme
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +44 (0) 161 359 4400
E: Hulme@benchmarkintl.com

 

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Asset Sale Transaction Versus Share Sale Transaction

More often than not, the topic "asset vs share sale" has been discussed and debated at length. Although there are some aspects to consider, that could be beneficial to both parties and solely for the benefit of the other. Below are a few aspects to consider when deciding on a share/asset sale:

Sale of shares transaction:

In layman's terms, a buyer would be acquiring the incorporated business. This would include the assets and liabilities, goodwill, and inherent aspects of the business that would not have been capitalised.

The valuing of any business can prove to be a particularly complicated exercise. There are various aspects to consider as well as some key financial indicators. There may be sound reasons as to why specific objectives were not met in the past, but it is important that the buyer is aware of these permutations and understands the reasoning behind it. Likewise, a buyer would also be able to see opportunity/value in certain revenue streams, whereby the seller has been unable to secure orders in the past due to a variety of reasons. In a South African environment, Black Economic Empowerment status, vendor registration with key customers, integrated systems and technology, etc. are all aspects considered as intangibles and have been proven very difficult to value.  These are often subject to interpretation and most of the time the buyer would find reasons to reduce the company's value, purely because of personal interpretations and assumptions made.

In many cases, all shareholders are not always amenable to selling their share portion, as they might have alternative motives or plans for the business. To reach a successful outcome, it is important that all key stakeholders reach a consensus from the onset of the overall strategy and growth plan that they would like to achieve. The Articles of Association and/or the Shareholder Agreement may restrict shareholders from selling their shares.

Third party approval of the transaction is sometimes required, and this can often prove problematic and delay or even completely nullify the deal. An example would be a Landlord that often proves difficult when it comes to transferring the lease to a new owner. Their lawyers may require the buyer to come up with large deposits, provide personal guarantees, agree to a higher rental or require the new tenant to extend the lease term. This could prove detrimental to the transaction and there is a fine line to balancing the objectives of the respective parties.

From a seller's point of view:

  • The sale: A share sale would be regarded as the simplest way in disposing of a business. Subject to any arrangement/warranty commitment agreed between the buyer and seller during an agreed period, the seller would be relieved from his/her obligation.
  • Time: The seller may want to expedite the sale, however a purchaser will take his time when deciding on an acquisition. They would want to examine as much information as possible, extending the length of time to complete the transaction. Sale of share transactions typically takes longer to complete than the sale of asset transactions.

Furthermore, the buyer's legal team and advisors will insist on various protections for their client and would want the seller to provide warranties, guarantees and indemnities to limit any risk on behalf of the purchaser. The negotiating of these terms can also contribute to further delays in the successful completion of the transaction.

  • Personal sureties: Over the years, the seller may have offered personal sureties to various parties.

When selling a business, these parties will generally not want to release or waive any sureties that are in place or transfer them to the new owner. These loans/liabilities will generally have to be cleared by the seller if he wants to be relieved of his/her responsibilities under the personal surety

If the seller fails to remove himself as a surety, he/she will put themselves in an onerous position and is exposed to risk in the sense that he/she has no control of the business, once sold.

  • Professional fees: Share sales are more expensive when it comes to professional fees as there is usually more work involved, during the due diligence phase and the legal process.

From a buyer's point of view:

  • Tax advantages: Should there be an accumulated loss existing in the company, those losses can usually be carried forward to be written off against future tax liabilities.
  • Risk: Buying shares is a lot riskier for the buyer as they would be taking on all the business liabilities, and the true nature/cost of some of the liabilities may not be fully apparent until a year or two down the line. There could also be liabilities that the buyer had not discovered during the due diligence process.
  • Transfer: Generally, customers and suppliers' relationships would transfer over seamlessly. The business continues operating without any major interruptions and by acquiring the shares, the buyers become owners of the assets (tangible & intangible) and associated liabilities.

Asset sale transaction:

As mentioned earlier, the buyer would prefer an asset sale as opposed to a share sale. This is purely because the buyer would have identified the key assets to produce future income, not take ownership of any associated liabilities, and would limit their exposure to unidentified liabilities held against the company.

A buyer would be able to write off wear and tear allowances against the assets purchased, thereby creating a favorable tax structure for the acquirer.

In terms of an asset valuation, this can also prove to be very complicated as there are a couple of methods of determining asset value, with the following methodologies applied:

  • Value in use
  • 2nd hand value
  • Book value
  • Replacement value
  • Expected useful life (Overall state of assets)

A buyer would normally dictate the method to be used, however there must be a consensus between the seller and the buyer when determining a value.

A buyer would typically drive an asset value down as far as possible, but would need to substantiate this together with independent valuations, market trends and foreseeable production. Similarly, the seller would like to ensure his value is protected and supported by trade history and sound future projections.

Intangible assets such as patents, trademarks and customers lists are always difficult to value. However, when they are backed with a legal document that helps create barriers to entry or where a  service level agreements have customers tied in with long-term contracts, this assists the buyer in determining value and alleviates the seller from encouraging the buyer.

From a seller's point of view:

  • Better negotiating power: As buyers prefer to buy assets, the seller can often negotiate to get a higher net benefit for himself under an asset sale than a share sale. The seller is taking on the responsibility (and cost) of clearing the liabilities and would therefore require a higher reward.
  • Quicker sale: As there is less due diligence required for the buyer to perform in an asset sale, the transaction can often be completed more quickly.
  • Retained assets: The seller can choose which of his assets will be sold and which will be retained.
  • Taxation: Sellers will be exposed to CGT as well as withholding tax.

From a buyer's point of view:

  • The due diligence process is less cumbersome and far easier; Assets still need to be thoroughly assessed and the true value of the assets needs to be determined. However, less emphasis needs to be placed on creditors, as these assets will be unencumbered, once sold.
  • Tax advantages: The buyer will in many cases be able to attribute the purchase price as the base cost of the new asset, and accordingly be able to claim wear and tear allowances against a greater amount.

When the buyer purchases assets from the seller's company, they may agree on a value for the entire set of assets, however the assets could later be revalued, once recorded in the books of the acquirer.

  • Loss of customers: It is important to effectively communicate to all customers the change of control and ensure there is minimal disruption to any client relationships.
  • Suppliers: The same applies to suppliers, and the sale needs to be effectively communicated with each supplier to ensure that critical relationships are not hindered.
  • Assets transferred: Where there are numerous individual assets - there are different routes to securing the title and can prove to be a time-consuming exercise. For example, the transfer of a licence works differently than the transfer of a lease, which works differently than the transfer of patents.

For a variety of legal, accounting and tax reasons, some deals make more sense as share deals while others make more sense as asset deals. Often, the buyer will prefer an asset sale while the seller will prefer a share sale. The decision on which route to go will be imperative and forms as the crux of the matter for every negotiation required to conclude a transaction successfully.

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2020 Outlook For The Global Agriculture Sector

Geopolitical Factors

Mergers and acquisitions activity in the agriculture sector was bustling with billion-dollar deals in the years of 2017 and 2018. An M&A slowdown occurred in 2019 and spilled into 2020, largely due to uncertainty caused by global politics.

The trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, has lowered confidence and caused global repercussions. This dispute is slowly moving in a more positive direction, as the two nations reached a “phase one” deal in January of this year. Under this deal, China pledged to boost U.S. imports of agricultural products and manufactured goods by $200 billion over the next two years, and the U.S. agreed to cut in half some of the tariffs it had imposed on China. A "phase two" deal has been mentioned but timing and expectations remain unclear. Industry experts do anticipate large U.S. farms to experience 9.3 percent growth and income over 2019. 

Brexit is another factor that is impacting the agriculture sector under implications of a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared a goal to finalize a deal by the end of 2020. E.U. negotiators suggest that it is not enough time to secure the kind of complete deal needed.

Ag-Tech Opportunities

Even with the uncertainties that remain in 2020, there are significant opportunities for disruption and transformation within the agriculture sector. These opportunities are being driven by a shift towards a more high-tech industry that is expected to bolster agricultural capital investment.

  • Farmers are increasingly using apps to regularly monitor crops.
  • More localized weather data is helping farmers to better prepare for planting and harvesting times.
  • Social media is allowing farmers to better communicate directly with their customers, as studies show that 40 percent of all farmers are on Facebook.
  • A special material called graphene is being used to gather data regarding field and soil conditions to help plants survive better.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Automated agricultural equipment is also playing a major role in the global market amid a shortage of young, new farmers. New agricultural robots are being developed across all aspects of agriculture, such as imaging, navigation, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Drones are being used for deliveries, spraying, and crop and livestock imaging. Robotic harvesting equipment is being implemented for labor-intensive harvesting tasks. Large farms are collaborating with the companies developing these technologies to lower costs and maintain a competitive advantage. And as global demand for agricultural products grows (projected at 15 percent over the next decade), robotic automation is a key facilitator in meeting the demand. The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are all adopting various agricultural robots, giving North America the highest share of the robotic farming market.

Hemp Farming

More farmers are now growing and selling forms of hemp and hemp-derived CBD as part of their overall crop. Last year, hemp businesses that had vertically integrated their supply chains performed better than those that had not vertically integrated. In 2020, it is expected that small farmers, processors and entrepreneurs will exit the industry or seek out opportunities for consolidation and integration.

Growing Conditions

2019 saw adverse growing and harvesting conditions that resulted in a smaller supply of crops such as grains and oilseeds. There is hope that these conditions will improve in 2020.

In the U.S. alone:

  • Crop yields are expected to grow.
  • The majority of the 20 million acres that were unplanted last year will likely be planted this year, primarily corn and soybeans.
  • The USDA puts the 2020 soybean crop at 84 million acres, making it the fourth-largest soybean crop on record.
  • The production of red meat and poultry is projected to rise by more than two percent.
  • Milk production will reach a record-high 222 billion pounds and pricing is expected to continue to improve.
  • Overall livestock, poultry, and dairy exports are forecasted to reach $31.9 billion, $500 million higher than previously projected.

As long as the weather cooperates and growing conditions face fewer extremes, the world should also see similar improvements in agricultural output.

Ready to Make a Move?

We look forward to hearing from you and discussing how our M&A advisors can expertly help you grow your business, maximize its sale value, or craft your exit strategy.

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One Certainty about this Virus – Your Taxes Will Go Up

There remain innumerable uncertainties about the spreading pandemic. However, one thing became clear over the last five days – governments are opening their coffers to stem the economic dislocations caused by the many forms of “social distancing.” With air travel curtailed, stores closing, and events cancelled, central banks and executive branches are swinging into action by lowering interest rates, creating tax moratoriums, and spending whatever it takes. When we come out on the other side of this, whether that be in several weeks or months, government coffers will be empty and longer-term healing governments will feel obliged to fund and that will continue to stress public budgets.

The only answer to that stress will be higher taxes. Fortunately, unlike the measures we are seeing now, tax increases will require legislative action and legislatures don’t move all that fast. As a result, there will be a window when business is back to normal and taxes will remain at their current historically low levels around the globe. Will this be for weeks? Months? Certainly less than a year.

So for business owners looking to sell, there may very well be a slight window of opportunity. If things deteriorate further in the near term, buyers will begin shutting down their processes and will be sitting on idle cash when we emerge. They may well be nicely poised to run through a record number of deals between the medical recovery and the tax hikes.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

There are pieces of the company sale process that are best handled with some air travel and face-to-face meetings, but the initial stages are not those. If you were already thinking about starting the process before this all began, you may want to consider starting now and being ready for this window of opportunity. It often takes a year to sell a business, and the first three to six months of that process can easily be performed remotely.

In fact, at Benchmark International, we’ve been handling the “deal preparation” phase of or engaged remotely for years. Between online data rooms, email, video conferencing, and other collaborative tools including Benchmark International’s newly-launched SISU deal suite software, we have been and remain ready to take our sell-side clients from engagement to signing letters of intent without any need for clients, buyers, or our employees to meet face-to-face.

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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How Long Should The Seller Stay On After The Sale

When an individual buys a business, it may be assumed that the buyer will be taking over the leadership of that company. In these cases, we most often see the seller stay on for no more than six months, and also in a part-time capacity. In the less common situation, in which the individual buyer is not coming in to run the business, we see sellers staying on for two to three years.

These time periods can involve full-time or part-time commitments. Also, they are typically graduated with the timing commitment. Most often, shifting from employment to consulting after a third or half of the total time commitment, whether that be six months or three years.

The seller should have created some expectations for the buyer at some point in the process, typically as early as when the seller provides the initial teaser to the buyer.  However, we often see our clients change their views on this matter as their going-to-market process unfolds, and we see their views shift based on the comfort level they see with a potential buyer. Therefore, any written guidance should be confirmed in discussions before preparing an offer.

The more cooperation you are expecting to receive for the seller, the more capital you should be prepared to commit in exchange for that support.  Sellers will not agree to provide employment or consulting services post-closing without compensation. In reality, for the buyer, this salary or consulting fee is actually just another deal cost. The necessary amount of money can be set aside from your pool of funds, set aside from transaction costs, or viewed as an additional portion of your purchase price (though it may not be best to characterize it as such to them since sellers may not see it that way). Remember that everyone values their time and wants to be compensated for it.

Some key factors to think about when coming up with your request/plans in this regard include:

  • What key relationships will need to be turned over from the seller to you?
  • How involved is the seller in the day-to-day operations, based on what you've seen working up to the offer, versus what you've been told?
  • What experience do you have with running a business?
  • How much experience do you have with this industry?
  • How much assistance will the second tier of management be in those early days after the closing?
  • What kind of relationships have you been able to build with the management team leading up to the offer?(Often, the answer is: none.)
  • Is the business at a crucial junction in its growth, recovery, business cycle, or financial year?
  • When the seller is not available, who will you turn to for assistance, and how will you solve the really difficult issues that may arise?

It never hurts to have this discussion with the seller prior to preparing an offer. It is a point that the seller will have a keen interest in, and coming to the correct result will be a key factor in the success of your new business.

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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Why You Should Consider Buying A Business After Retirement

I had the opportunity to meet Linda and Frank this week at a networking event. What I heard from Linda was a reoccurring theme, “Frank has been driving me crazy since he retired in October. He needs to find a job.”

As M&A professionals, we often see people who retire from a career and decide that they can only play so much golf and need something to occupy their time. Buying an existing business is often a good solution because you can control the size of the company and have a flexible schedule to still enjoy traveling, golfing, and fishing.

Many businesses start from a passion that allows the owner to monetize one of their loves. For example, a restaurant is often founded by a person that’s passionate about cooking. Given the age of retirees, it’s often hard to start a business from scratch due to the limitation of our great resource, time. However, being able to purchase an existing business will provide the retiree with a continuous income and often allows the retiree to recoup their investment somewhat quicker than a startup.

Often, people fall into their career and then babies come so people stay in a stable career that provides for their family and family’s future. Once couples are empty nesters and have saved a nest egg for retirement, they can leave their stable career and chase their passion. We see retirees purchasing companies that they have an interest in learning but never had the opportunity to explore or know-how to get started. When an established business is purchased, the seller is available to be retained for a training period or as a consultant to help the purchaser learn the ins and outs of the business, beyond the due diligence period.

We often hear ‘use it or lose it.’ Many people are concerned that if they do not use their brain during retirement that they will become less sharp then they were during their prime career days. Retirees are seeking to buy businesses to keep various skills sharp. Whether that’s business, interpersonal, or specialized skills, owning a business will allow you to continue to challenge your mind.

A business is also an investment that can provide a good return depending on your goals. Many people prefer to bet on themselves instead of the stock market. Purchasing a business during retirement might cause a retiree to receive a return on their investment and cash flow for day-to-day needs.

Owning a business in retirement often helps with legacy planning. Many times, the business is a family business and there is a plan to pass the ownership on to the next generation. If this is one of your goals, purchasing a business in retirement might be a great option.

 

Author
Kendall Stafford
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 512 347 2000
E: Stafford@BenchmarkIntl.com

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The Anatomy Of A Letter Of Intent

In the exciting and jargon filled word of mergers and acquisitions, you may often find reference being made to a letter of intent. But what exactly is a letter of intent (LOI)? Given the importance of an LOI it is crucial to answering this question, as well as other common questions we come across when dealing with LOIs.

What is an LOI?
The best way to describe an LOI is to think of it as a roadmap to a transaction. An LOI typically outlines the terms and conditions of an offer from a buyer to a seller. Expressed otherwise, an LOI is a written expression of a buyer’s intention to purchase the business of a seller and together with its terms to the seller indicates the buyer’s intention for the transaction.

What is the difference between a binding and non-binding LOI?
Unlike most contracts, the terms of an LOI are typically non-binding unless the parties agree that the whole or certain parts of an LOI are binding.

It is therefore important for sellers to remember that the terms contained in the LOI may not always be the terms that the buyer and the seller settle on (assuming, of course, the parties agree that the terms are not wholly or partially binding).

What are the common terms of an LOI?
While each LOI will be different, certain recurring themes appear. The most common ones are:

1. The parties
Although this seems obvious, it is critical that the correct parties are cited. Large corporations tend to have various subsidiaries and affiliated companies, and it is important for both parties to understand who exactly they are dealing with.

2. Structure of the transaction
This part of an LOI will describe how the transaction will be concluded. Is the transaction a purchase of the shares, a sale of assets, or a combination of both? Depending on the jurisdiction in which the transaction takes place, the structure will have to be carefully considered to ensure that parties are aware of how exactly ownership will change.

3. Consideration
The consideration is the payment that the seller will receive from the buyer. There are various ways in which to structure consideration. For example, the buyer can agree to pay a portion upfront with the remaining portion being paid subject to certain conditions being met once ownership changes.

4. Purchase price adjustments
Purchase price adjustments are used to adjust the purchase price for movements in working capital accounts (such as accounts receivable, inventory, and accounts payable) between the execution of the LOI and the transaction being finalised.

5. Conditions to closing
This part of the LOI will include the expectations and obligations of the buyer and seller, which are specific to them. For example, a buyer may need to get approval from regulatory bodies prior to concluding a transaction.

6. Confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses
Following the signature of an LOI, a buyer will typically receive sensitive information from a seller regarding its business. In addition, a seller may receive sensitive information from a buyer. It is crucial to agree on what information may be disclosed, to whom the information may be disclosed (such as accountants and legal counsels) and for what period the information needs to remain confidential.

7. Exclusivity
LOI’s typically include an exclusivity provision in terms of which the buyer asks the seller not to negotiate with other prospects for a pre-determined time period. As a seller, it is within your best interests to ensure that the exclusivity period is as short as necessary and that the terms are well defined.

What are the benefits of an LOI?
A properly drafted LOI will address key terms, remove ambiguity and thereby benefit both the buyer and the seller as it often reduces the amount of time and costs spent on revisiting negotiating.

Many business owners will only sell a business once in their lifetime. When dealing with such a monumental event, a little more preparation today is certainly worth added value tomorrow. Advice from seasoned professionals can provide you with savings in costs and time in helping you sell your business. At Benchmark International, we are proud to provide world-class mergers and acquisitions services.


Author

John Lousber
Transaction Associate
Benchmark International

T: +27 (0) 21 300 2055
E: loubser@benchmarkintl.com

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Force Majeure is Coming and if You’re Selling Your Business That is Bad

Force ma·jeure /ˌfôrs mäˈZHər/ (1) "superior force", (2) unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.

Airlines are suspending flights and changing rules for refunding tickets. Cruise ships companies are in tailspins. Cargo ports are operating with reduced staff and reduced hours. Entire cities are being quarantined. The Coronavirus may or may not become a major global health issue. But the probability that the disease will have an impact on global business is far higher, if not approaching a certainty. This is safe to say not because there is a high probability that the virus will impact your company’s travel or suppliers or daily operations but rather because of the dreaded force majeure provision lurking in so many of your company’s contracts. These clauses are known as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to large-scale black-swan type macroeconomic downturns as parties typically rush to invoke them well in advance of any actual calamity striking. One of the unfortunate lessons from 9-11 was that lawyers are not shy about advising their clients to invoke the clause to escape performance obligations on unfavorable contracts. Of course, any contract that is unfavorable to them (whoever “them” is) is probably favorable to your business.

As a reminder, here is an example of a simple force majeure clause:

For this Agreement, an “Event of Force Majeure” means any circumstance not within the reasonable control of the Party affected, but only if and to the extent that (i) such circumstance, despite the exercise of reasonable diligence and the observance of Good Industry Practice, cannot be, or be caused to be, prevented, avoided or removed by such Party, and (ii) such circumstance materially and adversely affects the ability of the Party to perform its obligations under this Agreement, and such Party has taken all reasonable precautions, due care, and reasonable alternative measures to avoid the effect of such event on the Party’s ability to perform its obligations under this Agreement and to mitigate the consequences thereof.

The definitions commonly provide examples of the types of circumstances that qualify earthquakes, war, acts of God, change in laws, civil disorder, and even labor strikes. One aspect of the clause that allows it to be used well in advance of any actual natural event such as the arrival of an epidemic is that the definition commonly includes political acts as well as natural acts. As a result, the declaration of an area as one warranting extreme caution might qualify a government order to reduce the number of flights to an area or the number of visas it grants to people going or coming from an affected area (or quarantining travelers) might qualify.

Furthermore, it seems everyone has a global supply chain. So, any of these events happening “over there” might seem remote from your business. However, for anyone with a contract that wants to avoid the Butterfly Effect can be a siren song.

* * *

At this point, you are probably asking, “But surely people don’t write this term into their contract in a way that allows them to be abused, right?” Well, this clause is kind of an atom bomb. As one does when dealing with atom bombs, contracts are designed to prevent their use and mitigate their effects. The overarching check on the amazing power of the force majeure provision is that it only relieves the party’s performance while the circumstances remain in effect. It’s temporary. Parties won’t abuse it because it just gives them a short-term benefit and then they have to face the music.

So, in the ordinary course of your business, you have to deal with the fact that force majeure clauses may face lean times even when your local environment is perfectly normal. Parts may not be provided on time. Your call center might go dark. Your IT support may not be available. And anyone of your suppliers or customers may have the same problem. As an example, a company that collects fees for collecting, cleaning, and reissuing linens to other local businesses and uses an in-house local manufacturing facility in area with no odd circumstances occurring. Let’s say Miami at present (if there is such a company) may suddenly be hit with the clause because they service cruise ships and hotels or because their raw materials come from Egypt or parts of their detergent is manufactured in Germany from elements mined in the Philippines.

Businesses can survive a three-month or six-month calamity such as this in the ordinary course of their lifespan, so people don’t usually think twice about the wording of a force majeure clause. But your business is going up for sale. And when you go up for sale, everyone looks at your last 12 months' financial performance. The ­last thing you want is a hole that has to be explained. Even if your broker can come up with addbacks to create pro forma financials to show what “would have” happened absent the event of force majeure and how rosy that alternative reality would have been, it is better to not have to do this. More importantly, it points out weaknesses in your business. Buyer favorites include you are beholden to a single source of supply, you have too much customer concentration, your business lacks redundancies, your perfect line of decades of growth and healthy margins now appears more vulnerable than it did before. Whether they believe it or not buyers latch on to these things to justify their valuations and their lenders latch on to them to constrain the debt available to get the deal done (and thus impact purchase price).

We still find buyers asking to see clients’ financials from 2007-2010. Looking back more than five years is (or should I say “was”) unprecedented in M&A, much less looking back over a decade. But it is common at this point and we see little signs that that is ending. But that was the last force majeure type event most of our clients suffered and buyers want to see how the businesses weathered it…And they aren’t asking in hopes of finding some reason to raise the value of their offers.

All the better to have the next event of force majeure occur after your sale rather than before.

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkintl.com

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Effects Of Coronavirus On Business Owners And The Economy

As the coronavirus known as COVID-19 spreads to more regions around the world, it is making a major impact on world and local economies. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has already disrupted global travel and supply chains and affected businesses of all sizes in both China and abroad.

The true impacts of the virus for companies will depend upon how far and wide the outbreak spreads and its duration. If the spread is limited and relatively short-lived, the damage to many businesses could be somewhat minor and recoverable. The types of businesses that analysts warn will feel the worst impacts are hospitality chains, airlines, transportation groups, retailers and makers of luxury goods, as people postpone travel plans and avoid shopping centers. Hospitality businesses such as restaurants and hotels will also face the largest challenge at making up losses later in the year.

Supply Chain Impacts
How long factories in China remain closed is also another important aspect of the situation because of how it is affecting global supply chains, as a great deal of the world’s products are made in Chinese factories. Some industries could begin to run out of parts and miss their revenue targets, such as auto manufacturers and smartphone makers. Smaller businesses that import products from China, such as Amazon third-party sellers, could also face a shortage if factories do not begin to reopen.

Business owners should be proactively assessing their supply chains and mapping out strategies to maintain resources and address vulnerabilities. Do you have a backup plan? Is it possible to source materials locally? Getting ahead of the problem can be worthwhile if it is feasible. Once the virus is no longer an issue, factories are expected to recover and offset lost production. What that ultimately means for business owners depends on their type of business and how much of their inventory has been impacted. Companies that plan for strategic, operational and financial agility in response to future global risks will be more likely to react and recover.

On a somewhat positive note, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in China now appears to be declining, signaling hope that circumstances may be able to improve. Chinese scientists believe that the outbreak will be under control by the end of April.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

In the United States
The virus has stoked fears on Wall Street has caused markets to fall at near-record levels. Outlooks for revenue growth in 2020 are down. According to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in the country of China, nearly half of U.S. businesses based there are expected to lose revenues if the effects of the coronavirus outbreak persist after April 30th. The U.S. House and Senate are working on funding to respond to the virus. Part of this funding may include interest-free loans to small businesses hurt by an outbreak.

There is no expert consensus as to whether COVID-19 could cause the U.S. economy to fall into a recession. Any optimism is partially due to the strength of the economy, the role of the Federal Reserve Board to provide support, and the ability to contain the virus. Meanwhile, the virus’s trajectory remains unpredictable. The Centers for Disease Control issued containment guidance to businesses. And the major stock market indexes continue to react and enter correction territory as investors try to sort out what it could all mean for business owners in the long run.

Around the World
As for the rest of the world, the impacts remain contingent upon how much the virus spreads and how effectively it can be contained. It has reached more than 40 nations so far. Currently in Europe and Asia, many companies are asking employees to work from home or take leave and are assessing their emergency plans to prevent or limit an outbreak. Hospitality companies face the biggest obstacle in this sense because the vast majority of their employees cannot do their jobs from home. In Italy, entire towns are on lockdown and tens of thousands of people are quarantined. In Japan, all schools nationwide are being asked to close for one month to help contain the spread of the virus. In South Korea, confirmed cases are rising. In Iran, cases have also risen and many schools, public offices and businesses have closed. And Saudi Arabia is closing holy Islamic sites to foreigners.

M&A Deals
The impacts on M&A activity remain unclear. If the virus causes a decline in profits for businesses, it could affect M&A. Buyers may lower offers in reaction to market changes, while sellers are likely to expect their original prices. This disparity could reduce transaction volume. For now, it remains a matter of wait and see.

Contact Us
If you are ready to make a move with your company, please reach out to our M&A experts at Benchmark International to discuss how we can help you achieve your goals.

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2020 Global Outlook For The Marketing Sector

In a world of billions of connected smart devices, digital technology has essentially revolutionized the global marketing industry. From social media to content marketing, the market is massive and poised for continued growth.

The traditional ad agency model now includes a major focus on digital marketing, and digital marketing agencies continue to become more prevalent and provide a wider range of strategic services and specialized areas. And more and more companies outside of the advertising and marketing industry are also developing their own in-house digital marketing arms. 

In 2019, the global digital marketing market size was $300-310 billion. It is expected to grow to $360-380 billion in 2020.

On a global scale, the market size per region is:

  • $110-130 billion for North America
  • $120-130 billion for Asia Pacific
  • $48-52 billion for Europe
  • $6-10 billion for the Middle East/Asia

Online videos and mobile ad spending account for a large portion of the digital advertising space and continue to drive digital marketing spending, especially in Europe and North America. Digital out-of-home media is becoming more personalized and contextually relevant through targeted ad delivery, and location-aware and bandwidth-aware tech tools. And with the increasing emergence of 5G technology in 2020, phone streaming will reach incredible speeds and higher quality, opening up new possibilities for marketers. 

Content Marketing

2020 will be a big year for content marketing in several different forms. User-generated content will be in demand as the majority of consumers report that they find the opinion of users to be more influential than content promoted by the actual brand. This content includes anything from social media posts and blogs to web pages and testimonials.

Another huge component of content marketing is video content creation. More consumers are expecting to see video content from their favorite brands. Video also keeps audiences engaged for more time versus other types of content. Live streaming is also a growing trend, as consumers are reporting that they would prefer to watch live video than read a blog post.

 

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Social Media

Marketers are forecasted to spend $112 billion on social media advertising in 2020. 

Globally, North America continues to dominate ad spending in this digital marketing sector, with the retail industry as the leading ad spender in the United States. While search remains a preference of retail marketers, video, social media, and other display formats are growing in demand to increase brand visibility. Digital ad spending in the Asia Pacific region has surpassed that of Europe, with growth driven by China due to increasing investments on technology and digital platforms. The automobile, consumer goods, and telecom sectors are the leading marketing spenders in the country.

Print

Digital marketing has had a large impact on the commercial print side of the industry. This is causing service providers to offer more innovative value-added services such as data management and e-publishing. The demand for print services is largely driven by the retail, financial, publishing, and food and beverage sectors, especially for on-demand print materials, packaging, and other promotional materials. Additionally, increased digitalization and eco-friendly practices (such as using soy ink vs. petroleum-based ink) have lessened the printing industry's impact on the environment. Increased digitization will continue to result in more e-versions of print, such as annual reports and catalogs, and use of more online targeting channels such as email.

Direct Mail

The size of the global direct mail market is expected to reach $94–98 billion in 2020. The use of direct mail remains high in developed regions such as North America and Europe due to comprehensive customer database maintenance. At the same time, the increased use of e-mail and mobile marketing is lessening the demand for printed direct mail materials. In smaller markets that have lower Internet penetration, such as parts of Latin America and the Middle East, the direct mail sector remains strong with demand being driven by retail, travel, and real estate. To remain competitive, direct mail providers are offering e-mail marketing and other digital marketing services at lower prices.

Loyalty Programs

The global market for loyalty programs continues to grow due to increasing e-commerce, smartphone use, and online shopping customer behavior. The retail, financial, consumer, and food and beverage industries drive the demand for loyalty services, digital rewards programs, analytics, and business intel used for customization.

Mergers & Acquisitions

M&A activity regarding digital marketing and advertising agencies has high potential due to growth and high fragmentation within the industry. Traditional ad agencies and private equity firms target companies that offer solid growth opportunities. As digital advertising revenues increase, so does the global demand for more online content in an ever-connected world. Digital capabilities and relationships are a priority for traditional agencies and their holding companies as they have a need to grow their digital revenue and expand their portfolios.

Thinking About Selling?

At Benchmark International, our award-winning team of M&A experts would love to hear from you and discuss how we can help you grow your business or sell your company for maximum value. Feel free to contact us at your convenience.

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M&A In The Global Transportation and Logistics Industry

By investing in the transportation and logistics sector, global companies open up the opportunity to advance the flow of goods throughout the world. Businesses in this industry, both domestic and international, benefit from integrated supply chain networks that connect companies and consumers through multiple transportation modes within industry subsectors.

Industry Subsectors

  • Logistics services include the management of fleets, warehousing, order fulfillment, logistics networks, inventory, supply and demand, third-party logistics, and other support services.
  • Air and express delivery provide accelerated end-to-end package delivery services, as well as infrastructure for exporters. Growth in this subsector is greatly driven by the expansion of e-commerce.
  • Freight rail moves high volumes of heavy cargo and products long distances via rail network.  
  • Maritime includes carriers, ports, terminals, and labor involved in the transportation of cargo and passengers via water.  
  • Trucking  moves cargo over the road by motor vehicles over short and medium distances. 

The transportation and logistics industry is consistently a highly fragmented sector. This is largely due to the fact that most fleets are small and there are few barriers to entry when it comes to starting a small fleet. Another major factor is that larger carriers have difficulty retaining drivers and achieving organic growth. Owners are always looking to gain efficiencies, optimize routes and spread fixed costs across more operations. In order to do so, they must create greater scale. It is common in the transportation and logistics sector for acquisition strategies to revolve around broadening service offerings, branching out the customer base, and expanding geographical reach. 

 

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Economic and Industry Factors

Burgeoning economies drive demand in the transportation and logistics industry. More freight demand stems from strong consumer confidence and upward surges in manufacturing, resulting in more loads and vehicles on roads. When this climate is met with driver shortages, it increases transportation costs, which can reduce margins.  

The Impact of Amazon.com

Amazon has greatly raised global consumer expectations when it comes to rapid fulfillment. This demand has shifted distribution patterns, pushing companies to move warehouses closer to customers. Getting products to consumers faster increases the number of touch-points along the freight network.

Automation Technologies

The introduction and evolution of new technologies in the transportation and logistics industry are addressing over-the-road challenges such as driver shortages. Long-haul robotic trucks are being developed and tested. Driverless and remotely piloted deliveries are being incepted, such as aerial delivery drones. Experts expect it to be a very long period of time before these advancements face more mainstream use, but someday in the future, the possibilities they hold will be very real.

Data-Driven Tech

Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, data collection, machine learning, and blockchain are all being used within the transportation and logistics industry to gain major competitive insights and advantages, and therefore make better decisions that improve the performance of the company.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Transportation and Logistics M&A

In the 21st century M&A market, transactions in the transportation and logistics industry are often driven by specific demographic, macroeconomic, and regulatory factors.

Sellers are motivated by:

  • The desire to take advantage of a strong overall M&A market
  • Volume limitations due to driver shortages, tight labor markets, aging drivers and increasing hiring costs
  • Aging ownership without a succession plan in place (usually companies with <$50 million in sales)
  • Unease about industry regulations around safety, driver hour limits and logging devices
  • The use of cross-border deals to counter negative impacts on operations, access new markets, and protect supply chains, as remaining agile in a globalized market is critical

Buyers are motivated by:

  • Leverage of economies of scale in order to maintain profitability
  • Capitalization on domestic economies with strong growth potential
  • The need to hire drivers while facing tight labor markets and rising hiring costs
  • Acquisition of smaller companies that expand service offerings
  • Use of various asset models to free up capital and invest in better equipment

A high level of activity in M&A in the transportation and logistics industry is contingent upon suitable timing in a growing economy, low interest rates, and widely available capital. It usually takes up to nine months to complete an M&A transaction, so timing and forward thinking should be considered when deciding to take your company to market.

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Are you considering selling your company? Even if you are merely exploring the idea, our M&A specialists at Benchmark International can help you decide if and when a merger or acquisition may be right for you. We’ll work closely with you to ensure that you never have to compromise value or timing, and that you are only matched with the most suitable opportunities.

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10 Things About Buying A Business You May Have Not Known

1. It’s Easier Than You Think
When acquiring a business nowadays, many think of this as a very strenuous and long-term process. Though it is a large investment of time and money, if you already run a successful small business, there are plenty of transferable skills.

2. Synergy Is Key
The growth of a business through acquisition is statistically faster, cheaper, and less risky than the other methods of expansion. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that the synergy is there, and when companies are choosing to acquire or merge, the desire is for the sum to be greater than its individual parts.

3. An Acquisition Can Expedite Growth In Your Current Business
Once an acquisition is done, you immediately have access to a multiplicity of new (to you) assets and employees. Many challenges come along with combining two businesses, but this can give your current company the ability to expand to new areas and cross-sell services to existing and newly acquired customers.

4. Understanding The Value Of The Employees And Management On-Hand
Many deals come with a staff who has vast knowledge about the company and the day-to-day functions of the business. It is important to get to know the staff and ensure they have the same intentions as you for the business and the direction it is trying to take.

5. The Current Owner Is Likely To Stay In The Picture
Though many of our clients are looking to retire, it is never as simple as handing the keys over. The owner built this business, and they know the ins and outs of the company. Usually, the owner signs a contract with the buyer to stay on for a required amount of time to help the new owners/managers learn the entire process. This also gives comfort to the buyer and customers about the change of ownership.

6. Cultural Fit
Selling a business can be a very emotional process for a seller. The company is their baby, and they want to ensure the success of the company and the continued employment of the employees. Commonly, money may not be the primary motivation of a seller. They are concerned with bringing in the right fit, expanding the company, and keeping true to its roots. A good buyer would acknowledge the importance of culture and seek to maintain the culture that was created and fostered by the previous owner.

7. Businesses Can Be Relocatable
When acquiring a business, buyers are concerned with the real estate associated with the company. Many believe that some companies should be relocated for better success geographically, or to a space that has more room for development. Most businesses can do so, which buyers may be unaware of, and most sellers will entertain the idea of selling the real estate, leasing it back, or allow the buyer to break the lease altogether.

8. Funding Options
It’s often easier to fund an existing business than a startup since it already has a track record. Banks tend to offer more loan types for individuals than for established businesses. Right now, banks are lending aggressively and looking to deploy capital due to interest rates being low.

9. Time Is Of The Essence
Due Diligence is a time consuming and arduous process, so it is key to operate with a sense of urgency. Doing so inspires confidence in the seller and helps maintain excitement on both sides for the eventual transaction. Failing to maintain a sense of urgency and stick within the prescribed timeline could result in deal fatigue, a delayed closing, or even the deal coming unraveled altogether. It’s imperative to move as swiftly as possible during due diligence.

10. Using An Intermediary
The process itself is easy, but selling a business takes time and effort that business owners do not always have the time for or knowledge on. Bringing on an investment banker or business broker/intermediary can help with finding financially capable prospects, negotiating the deal, and get the deal closed without anyone finding out until the deal is done.

 

Author
Jack Chilcutt
Deal Analyst
Benchmark International

T: +1 615 924 8950
E: Jchilcutt@BenchmarkIntl.com

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M&A In The Ride Services And Autonomous Vehicle Industries

Two of the most transformative factors in the world of automotive and technological development have been the advent of ride-hailing platforms and autonomous vehicles. They each create various mergers and acquisitions opportunities both individually and in concert with each other in various capacities on a global scale.

Ride Service Companies

Ride services—also known as ride hailing and ride sharing—will continue to create opportunities for M&A in decades to come as their popularity around the world continues to increase. Uber, DiDi Chuxing, Gett, Grab, and Lyft are some of the leading firms in the market. As more companies emerge, the market becomes more and more fragmented. The right M&A transactions can help companies increase market share and improve service quality.

It can be relatively inexpensive to start up a ride-hailing company. After all, they depend on contract labor that does not rely on special skills or loyalty, and are powered by free mobile apps that easily bring their service to the public’s fingertips. While this makes it easy for more smaller firms to enter the space, it also creates ripe opportunity for M&A activity in an incredibly competitive industry that has been predicted to one day be dominated by only a couple of major players.

The ride hailing sector is not unlike other transportation industries, as it is subject to strict laws and regulations that can make M&A challenging, meaning that deals in this space require added due diligence.

 

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Autonomous Vehicles

A strong investment climate lies in the sector of autonomous or self-driving vehicles. Traditional auto manufacturers are investing billions of dollars and stepping up efforts to try to catch up with advancements already pioneered by the big tech companies. It is both faster and easier to acquire existing technologies than to try to reinvent the self-driving wheel. While they retain the advantage of being capable of the mass production of vehicles, it is expansion of their capabilities that is a major driver of M&A.

Companies at every level of involvement in the auto industry need to adapt their strategies, from manufacturers to suppliers to retailers. M&A is a necessary strategy for all existing industry players to maintain any foothold as newer digital companies transform the space. This includes rethinking business models and emphasizing innovation to establish themselves as a leader in the future.

Autonomous vehicles also present the possibility of major ramifications for other industries.

  • Law enforcement: With self-driving cars programmed to obey traffic laws, fewer police resources may be needed on roads and less local revenue could be earned from citations.
  • Insurance: With fewer accidents come fewer insurance claims, reducing the cost of insurance premiums.
  • Healthcare: Ideally, fewer traffic accidents can reduce reliance on emergency services.
  • Air & rail: Using autonomous vehicles for long-distance travel can mean fewer passengers on airplanes and trains.
  • Advertising: Withdrivers turned into passengers, their attention can be shifted from audio to visual, and advertising could be targeted by location.

Many companies around the world have demonstrated enthusiasm over the prospect of disrupting public transportation as we know it, and have been eager to invest in companies that are focused on bringing autonomous vehicles into this realm. This includes robotic taxis, driverless shuttles, electric car ride services, and taxis that are not equipped with steering wheels or pedals.

Countries leading the way in the development of autonomous driving technology include Norway, Singapore, the United States, Germany and Israel. 

Many challenges exist before the proliferation of autonomous vehicles on roads everywhere is a real possibility. While careful planning and programming goes into the technology that makes these vehicles both operational and safe, there are unexpected scenarios that are not easy to predict or take into account. These situations include other drivers’ errors such as going the wrong direction or making illegal maneuvers that can confuse the technology that a self-driving car relies upon. Essentially, the radar and high-resolution cameras in autonomous vehicles are able to detect and identify objects (such as a bicycle or pedestrian), but it cannot predict what those objects might do next.

These types of uncertainties, along with the strict regulatory environments surrounding self-driving vehicles, can also make the M&A market in this sector more complicated to navigate. It is prudent to consult with M&A experts regarding the opportunities in this area.

Contact Us

How can Benchmark International help you realize your dreams for your business? Give us a call and set up a meeting with one of our M&A experts. Whether you are looking to sell, grow, or formulate an exit plan, we are committed to helping you achieve what is best for you and your company.   

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Leisure Industry in M&A

The global leisure industry is comprised of restaurants, bars, hotels, casinos, sports facilities, travel agencies, tour operators and other customer-focused business segments. This industry is subject to some very specific influential factors such as geopolitics, weather conditions, natural catastrophes, fuel costs, and changing consumer habits and demands. Technology also plays a key role in how people plan their activities and choose to experience them. This presents new opportunities for growth, and at the same time, new challenges.

M&A can be used as an effective solution for vertical integration to fill gaps across the value chain and to offer more efficient global platforms in the leisure industry
and its subsectors.

Opportunities and Challenges

The impacts of new technologies can be beneficial to businesses, but they also present new obstacles. The good news is that people are never going to stop wanting to enjoy themselves. It’s just a matter of how they go about it that faces significant changes.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

  • Sports Venues: With large and complicated physical infrastructures, sports facilities aim to attract more fans, fill more seats, and maximize returns. Technology aids in getting fans to engage more and spend more money both in person and from their devices. The Internet offers viewers immediate access to scores, stats and updates. While this can enhance sports venues’ offerings, there is also the challenge of competing with home entertainment systems that allow consumers to create their own fan experience in the comfort of their own homes.
  • Travel Agencies and Online Booking: There was a time when booking a vacation meant picking up the phone and calling your travel agent. But today, people turn to travel booking websites and apps to plan their trips, leading to overhauled business models. Online travel agents are looking to expand, increase their geographic reach, and be more integral to their customers’ experiences. Additionally, in the world of platforms such as Expedia, Kayak and Priceline, there remains little differentiation among brands, keeping the segment ripe for consolidation.
  • The Gaming Industry: The loosening of sports-betting regulations is driving change in the gaming industry. People are increasingly able to gamble online in various capacities, and while casinos are adopting strategies to capitalize on these opportunities, there is still the prospect of less foot traffic that would have transferred to more money spent on in-house dining and other in-person gambling options. This sector is prime for consolidations and partnerships.
  • Restaurants: Once a very brick-and-mortar focused sector, new technologies allow customers to opt for food delivery companies and apps to bring dinner to them rather than dining out at a physical restaurant location.
  • The Cruise Industry: Cybersecurity is an important concern within this sector, as more people spend more time on their connected devices while they enjoy their cruise vacation. Personalized data-driven technology improves the passenger experience, but it also requires more integration so that more systems can share more information.
  • Hotels: Web platforms such as airbnb have changed how people lodge on their vacations, moving tourism traffic from concentrated urban areas to more residential neighborhoods.
  • Amusement Parks: Consumers seek out unique and immersive experiences through their tech. Theme parks are creating new partnerships to cater to these demands, and seeking out novel ways to tap into new markets. These partnerships can be less capital intensive and give businesses flexibility to adapt to changing trends.

 

Feel like it's a good time to sell?

 

Cross-Border M&A Considerations

Cross-border M&A transactions can involve several issues as political, cultural and economic environments evolve and regulations change. Certain due diligence factors should always be considered for these types of deals are expected to result in success stories.

  • Transaction framework: This involves careful evaluation of pricing (maximized value), timing, and certainty (public reputation and proof of funds)
  • Regulatory compliance: Focus on cybersecurity, foreign investment laws, national security laws, fraud, sanction violations, and money laundering
  • Antitrust and competition: This includes overlaps between brands, overlaps between operations, market concentration, and specific clearances
  • Technology and intellectual property: Thoroughly assess trademarks, domain names, IP rights, third-party licensing, existing claims, infrastructure, loyalty programs, data privacy laws, and databases

As with M&A transactions in any industry, there are several other areas that must be considered for due diligence and company valuation, including management agreements, financing, tax structures, employment issues, and other operational risks.

Contact Us

If you are thinking about selling your company, or would like to start exit planning, contact our M&A specialists at Benchmark International to start the process. We can help you understand your options and key factors for consideration, and get you on your way to a deal that works best for your vision of the future.

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Get To Know How Benchmark International Clients View Your Questions

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.”

 

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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.

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2020 Global Outlook For The Media Industry

The New Media World

The media industry has undergone several major transformations in the Internet age. Magazines and newspapers have been disrupted by digital publications. News consumption has been significantly altered by the existence of social media. Broadcast radio is now challenged by satellite radio, podcasting, and both free and fee-based music-streaming services. Television continues to undergo sweeping changes that come with more and more people cutting the cord, smart TVs, and the inundation of subscription streaming platforms on a variety of scales. And all of these sector trends affect how advertising dollars are being spent and how audiences are being targeted. 2020 proves to be no different, as these trends will continue to reshape the industry.

Streaming Wars

Companies and TV networks are faced with the task of inventing new offerings for delivering content in ways that facilitate direct relationships with consumers. New bundling and tiered options will be more in demand as viewers grow frustrated with having to manage various streaming options amid a crowded sea of subscription services that go beyond Netflix and Amazon Prime. Individual TV networks are offering their own on-demand services (such as HBO Now), and big industry players are getting in the game with their own digital networks such as Disney+. And the availability of tiered streaming platforms such as BritBox and Sling TV continues to grow. The major streaming networks will be faced with how to leverage an influx of competition. These options will also need to address how advertising is delivered regarding ad-free options and ad-supported video.

Podcast Popularity

There are currently more than 700,000 active podcasts, and research shows that the consumer appetite for podcasts continues to thrive. Podcasts are going to be seen as a new vehicle for content and will garner more advertising money, with predictions that the spending amount will surpass $1 billion by the end of 2020.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

For the Love of Data

As media companies compete for more audiences, data will become more imperative to achieving the goals of these companies. This means that the data platforms used by media companies and advertising agencies are going to become paramount. The gathering and processing of the third-party data needed to create more meaningful and personalized experiences and services for consumers will be essential to the ability to remain competitive.

User-Generated Content

In today’s social-media-driven world, users are able to generate their own content through various mobile applications such as SnapChat and TikTok. As more of these types of platforms emerge, larger parent companies (such as the Facebooks and Googles of the world) may be inclined to acquire them to diversify their offerings and expand their user bases.

M&A Opportunity

As media companies continue to need more diverse content and content delivery options, it creates significant opportunities for mergers and acquisitions. This M&A activity is expected to be on smaller scales than the megadeals that occurred in the last couple of years. This is because there are fewer opportunities for the major networks to consolidate, especially as there is a growing over-supply of third-party streaming applications and the content rights are being withdrawn. 

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If you think that it is time to sell or grow your company, or even start your exit planning strategy, please reach out to our experts at Benchmark International. We look forward to taking your future to the next level.

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Tips For Evaluating A Buyer’s Letter Of Intent

A Letter of Intent (“LOI”) is an expression of the buyer’s intent to acquire a seller’s business on specific terms and conditions.  It is considered a milestone in the transaction process, primarily because it is predicated on the concept that the seller and buyer have agreed upon the basic terms, assuming that due diligence supports assumed facts.

An LOI is generally non-binding as to substantive terms (price, transaction structure, and forms of consideration) but is often binding as to process items. These include access to seller’s information, cooperation by the parties, seller’s exclusivity obligations, seller’s obligation to conduct business in the ordinary course, governing law, confidentiality, and allocation of expenses.

Sellers need to manage their expectations and be aware that buyers can still walk away from the deal even after they have reviewed sellers’ sensitive information provided in due diligence.  If the buyer is a direct competitor, this can have unintended consequences for the seller, notwithstanding well-drafted non-disclosure agreements with limitations on use of the information.  For example, will a strategic buyer determine through due diligence that investing the purchase price in their own business is more cost-effective than paying an acquisition premium?  It is critical that the seller and his/her advisor carefully evaluate all offers and determine if the buyer has the actual intent and financial wherewithal to close the transaction before signing the LOI.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Here are some basic considerations for evaluating an LOI.

  • Is the deal too good to be true?Reasonable business practitioners do not offer consideration or terms well above the norm.  Such offers often end in re-trades or worse, in a long period of failed efforts to secure acquisition financing, during which time the seller’s business is off the market because of exclusivity.
  • How will the buyer finance the transaction? Cash at closing or bank debt. Third-party financing adds significantly to the complexity and timing considerations of the transaction.The seller should consider requiring satisfactory evidence of a financing commitment early in the process, with the ability to break exclusivity, and perhaps recover out of pocket costs if it is not provided in a timely manner. 
  • How will the seller be compensated? Will the seller receive the full purchase price in cash at closing?What indemnification provisions (how much for how long) apply?  Is rollover equity a component of the deal?  Is stock of the buyer a component of consideration?
  • Is the transaction cash-free/debt-free?If so, does the seller’s balance sheet indicate that a substantial portion of sale proceeds go to retirement of debt?
  • Does the transaction include a working capital adjustment?Assuming that value is based upon a stream of cash flows, a “normal” level of working capital (that historically facilitated the income streams used to determine value) will be required at closing.  Careful attention must be given to how this issue is treated in the LOI, and in the asset or stock purchase agreement, because working capital adjustments (based upon factors determined in a quality of earnings review) are often used as an effective re-trade by sophisticated buyers.
  • What post-closing involvement is required of the seller?Will the seller be required to continue in the business post-closing?  For how long and for what compensation?
  • What non-competition requirements are required?Most acquisition agreements include a non-competition provision that lasts from two to five years.  The points for consideration include geographic location, limitations on the type of business precluded, passive investment versus active participation, and the overall length of time the limitations are effective.

It is crucial to understand that an LOI is not the end of the transaction process, but for legalities.  It is, in effect, just the beginning. Due diligence and quality of earnings review, drafting the asset purchase agreement, and financing the acquisition are all yet to come.  The terms of the LOI can have a serious affect on the seller’s ability to realize his expectations through this process.

 

Author
Don Rooney 
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Rooney@BenchmarkIntl.com

 

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The Biggest Trends In M&A This Year

As we approach the end of 2019, it’s a great time to take a look back at trends in mergers and acquisitions activity that emerged around the world throughout the year. Overall, there was an increase in the number of reported M&A transactions and total deal value worldwide.

Four industries experienced significant increases in deal value from the first half of 2018:

  • Industrial (22.6%)
  • Energy and power (11.2%)
  • Health care (6.1%)
  • High tech (2.8%)

New M&A Motivation

A growing trend that is permeating all industries is the deal activity that is occurring as a result of companies needing to integrate technology into their offerings, altering the business landscape. Companies are being compelled to work with a much wider scope of partners to accomplish their tech-enabled goals. For this reason, we are seeing more non-traditional partnerships with different depths of cross-industry integration. These nontraditional deals include joint ventures and alliances, corporate venture capital investments, and the purchase of minority stakes. An example of these types of alliances in 2019 include Uber Advanced Technologies’ (their self-driving car unit) raising of $1 billion in funds from Toyota, Softbank’s Vision Fund and auto components manufacturer Denso.

First Quarter

During the first quarter of 2019, we saw relatively few cross-border megadeals. This could be because of fluctuating geopolitical factors such as increased trade tension between the United States and China. Amid this year’s early cross-border megadeals was the acquisition of Canadian company Goldcorp by Newmont Mining Corporation, a U.S. company. The deal was a stock-for-stock transaction valued at $10 billion.

In the middle market, M&A activity remained robust through the first quarter. Transaction volume was up slightly over the previous year’s period. Private equity funding and a high level of strategic buyer activity continued to drive deals significantly. Foreign buyer activity increased to account for almost 16% of middle-market deals. 

 

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Second Quarter

Megadeals heated up in the second quarter of 2019, especially in North America. Of the 21 megadeals announced in the first half of 2019, the highest in value included:

  • AbbVie’s $62 billion buyout of Allergan
  • Fidelity National Information Services $35 billion purchase of Worldpay
  • Saudi Aramco’s $69 billion majority-stake purchase of petrochemicals group Sabic
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion acquisition of rival Celgene
  • The $121 billion merger of United Technologies and Raytheon

The second quarter also saw an increase in deal volume in the middle market, up from the same period in 2018. Foreign buyer activity accounted for almost 14% of middle-market deals. 

Third Quarter

By the third quarter, global M&A activity dropped 16% year-on-year to $729 billion, the lowest quarterly volume since 2016.

In Europe, M&A activity reached $249 billion, up more than 45% over the same third-quarter time period in 2018. With a 6.4% share of global M&A and $177 billion worth of transactions, Britain was Europe’s biggest M&A market in 2019. This is due in part to the uncertainty regarding Brexit turning companies into bargain acquisition targets. Additionally, Ireland showed strong M&A activity through the first half of 2019 with deal value up 24% compared with the previous year, while later slightly slowing amid economic uncertainty.

Third-quarter megadeals in the U.S. included:

  • The $24.6 billion merger of drug giant Pfizer’s off-patent branded drugs business with Mylan NV
  • Media companies CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc.’s $20 billion merger in an all-stock deal

In the middle market, global third-quarter deals closed totaled $600 billion, remaining on pace with the first three quarters of 2018. The largest of these deals included Norwegian company Equinor ASA’s $965 million acquisition of U.S.-based Caesar Tonga Oil Field.

 

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High Tech M&A

The technology sector continued to be ripe for M&A transactions in 2019. However, we have witnessed a softening in tech M&A activity in the second half of the year. This could be due in part to enhanced scrutiny that tech companies are facing around issues of consumer privacy, regulations, and misuse of market power. Such scrutiny can be the source of some apprehension to invest in these types of businesses.

Among the notable mega tech deals of 2019 were:

  • Apple’s $1 billion purchase of Intel’s modem business
  • Google’s $2.6 billion acquisition of Looker
  • Nvidia’s $7 billion acquisition of Mellanox
  • Salesforce’s $15.7 billion acquisition of Tableau
  • Uber’s $31 billion purchase of their rival Careem

In the first half of 2019, the largest North American middle-market technology deals (each valued at $500 million) included:

  • JPMorgan’s acquisition of InstaMed
  • Envestnet, Inc.’s acquisition of PIEtech, Inc.
  • Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. takeover of OneStream Software LLC

Globally, the largest middle-market technology deals included:

  • Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Insight Venture Partners LLC’s acquisition of Switzerland’s Veeam Software AG
  • GEMS Education’s purchase of Ma’arif for Education & Training
  • TPG Capital/Insight Venture Partners’ buyout of Kaseya Limited

Is a Deal in Your Future?

If you feel the time is right to sell or grow your business, our team of M&A advisors at Benchmark International would love to hear from you. We look forward to partnering in your success and making extraordinary things happen for you and your company.

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Why Owners Call Benchmark International after M&A Firms and Business Brokers Fail

We recently noticed the fact that a significant number of deals we’ve closed this year involved clients that had been to market with other M&A firms and business brokers. This led us to look internally at our processes and to contact some of these former clients to identify a few of the key factors that drove successful outcomes for our clients that had been previously snubbed by the market.

Our approach to outreach. Benchmark International has always prided itself on having the most robust and broad outreach in the market. Each client’s team includes four outreach specialists dedicated solely to distributing teasers far and wide, securing executed non-disclosure agreements, and conveying those expressions of initial interest to their client. We’ve long known that this sets us aside from the competition and is a key to our success but what we didn’t know:

  • Other M&A firms and business brokers build a single buyer list near the initiation of the process.
    • They don’t have anyone dedicated to continuously update that list with new ideas and market feedback.
    • They don’t have an internal feedback loop that allows other team members assisting the client to easily offer new insights to the outreach professionals.
    • They build their buyer list too early in the process, before they actually understand each of the value propositions the client can offer potential buyers and they thus miss out on large categories of potential acquirers willing to pay top dollar.
    • Similarly, some do not get to know the client’s business well enough to identify all of those value drivers, regardless of when they “build their list”.
    • They have a “usual suspects” approach to buyers. We find this particularly problematic for our clients when they were with “industry specialist” brokers. Given our process, we find that the best buyers for our clients are actually very rarely the “usual suspects” but instead are buyers for whom we have identified a particular need which our client can satisfy for them. As they say, “You can’t find what you’re not looking for.”
  • Many lack the software and systems to conduct and execute a thorough outreach process.
    • Outreach can be mundane, there is no getting around it. For each hour spent on outreach, the broker will have more than a few doors slammed in their face. Accountability is thus key to achieving top results. Other M&A firms and business brokers typically lack the necessary hierarchical team approach and the software necessary to monitor and motivate outreach professionals.
    • Building a list using a variety of ideas arising from as many investment theses as possible for the client requires access to vast data bases of buyers. Benchmark International has built up a proprietary data base of buyers built over 30 years of experience in the market and over 1,000 closed deals. In addition, we pay significant license fees for the world’s leading M&A acquirer data bases. We ensure that our outreach professionals have access to these best-in-class resources and the training necessary to exploit them to their maximum benefit.
    • For any individual engaged in a broad outreach effort, keeping track of who’s been reached, who’s been left messages, who’s responded, etc… is a daunting task. It can’t be efficiently performed with pen and paper or even spreadsheets. Only an interface specifically designed for the task can ensure that all buyers on the list are contacted, follow ups occur at optimal times, responses are not only captured but also analyzed for insights into the outreach effort, and nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Lack of a global approach limits results.
    • There are actually very few clients that need a “local buyer”. Yet we learned that many of our smaller clients had been marketed solely via local contacts, country clubs and Rotary meetings, and local online portals.  But taking the US as an example, Benchmark International has sold clients from the smaller end of its portfolio from Miami to a buyer from Sri Lanka, and an “as-seen-on-TV” business to a buyer from France.
    • The key here is not just having access to a global buyer base but more importantly running the process with the philosophy that the buyer can and will come from any corner of the globe.

 

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Our handling of acquirers. Though they could not fully explain why, our clients stated that they noted a distinct difference in buyers’ interactions with both them and the broker when Benchmark International was the introducing party as opposed to their former broker. When describing the differences on their initial calls with buyers and, for those who had gotten that far with the prior broker, their negotiations with buyers; our clients referred to being treated by the buyers more as peers, having a more cordial relationship and being more comfortable, getting more quickly to the key issues, and seeing quicker term around times from buyers. To augment our clients’ insights as to the sources of these differences, we also then reached out to a few recent acquirers of our clients and, putting all the inputs together, learned the following.  

  • The markets have gotten more complicated.
    • We continue to see more complex deal terms and structures filtering down to smaller and smaller deals. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, many M&A professionals that formerly ran larger, perhaps publicly-traded, deals in the billions have moved “down-market” and are now doing deals in the millions. They have brought with them all their complex financial training and tricks. As a result, buyers have gotten sharper, and deals have gotten harder and longer.
    • Our clients tell us that their former M&A firm or business brokers weren’t up to speed on these new issues, couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with the sophisticated buyers, and even that they “didn’t speak the same language” as the buyers. Most significantly, they couldn’t bridge the gap between the seller’s understanding of the process and the buyer’s.
    • Getting deals done at today’s high multiples requires knowing how to use these new tools to find win-win solutions for buyer and seller. Our clients tell us that they saw their former M&A firm or business brokers utilizing the old-fashioned bazaar mentality of zero-sum-game negotiating and when they saw how Benchmark International handled the negotiation process, they could tell that our process was built on a different foundation.
  • The broker’s reputation with buyers matters.
    • Our clients described their former M&A firm or business brokers as aggressive, antagonistic, and even “churlish” when negotiating with buyers. That’s not our style. Our style is to build respect and goodwill with buyers. The respect is there to be preserved and used to allow buyers to make a leap of faith with us when necessary.  The goodwill is to be burnt strategical and only if and when required to get the client the right result.
    • Because of the number of deal teams we field, the quality of the clients we bring, and the experience buyers have had with us in the past, they take our calls and they read our confidential information memorandums. They know that we have great “deal flow” to show them, that we only bring serious clients, and that our clients are prepared for the process. Buyers have told us time and time again how important these three factors are to their decision to return our call first, open our outreach emails, and sign our non-disclosure agreements.
    • M&A firms and business brokers who burn their bridges on deal after (broken) deal aren’t doing any of their clients a favor. If the buyer can’t trust the broker – or even worse, won’t take their call – deals don’t get done.
    • Being a household name is important. But if your name is bad, its important in a bad way. Smaller M&A firms and business brokers aren’t a household name and many larger ones lack the quality control across their offices to ensure that the name is a good one. So say a few private equity funds Benchmark International contacted on this point.
  • Thinking like a buyer is important.
    • While Benchmark International is a sell-side only firm, many of our professionals have worked for trade buyers, private equity funds, venture capital firms, and the like. They are not only staffed on many of our clients’ sales but have also provided input into our processes and training to ensure cross-pollination of their insights. This allows us great visibility into their needs, their negotiating techniques, and their next moves. It also helps us relate to them, build trust, and (as mentioned above) truly “speak their language”.
    • While some brokerages provide both sell-side and buy-side services, serving in this capacity is not the same as being a buyer or having been a buyer. Unlike sellers, buyers are experienced in setting up and executing M&A transactions because, among other reasons, they do it repetitively. As a result, buy-side M&A firms and business brokers don’t typically get in there and get their hands dirty molding the clay of an introduction into the statue of a closed deal. They are more in the nature of “finders” or introducers, leaving the heavy lifting to their buy-side clients (i.e., the people many of our professionals used to be).
    • Empathy and emotional intelligence are important for managing the relationship that is formed during the sale of a business. Our clients have been telling us for years that they appreciated our attention to the personal side of the deal often manifested in family issues, a strong attachment to the business, the occasionally irrationality that pops up in this high stress situation, etc…. But undertaking this process of determining what distinguished us from other M&A firms and business brokers led us to realize that our emphasis on these aspects of each transaction has a spill over to the nature of our interactions with buyers. While they like to give the appearance of detached, entirely-rational Vulcans; they are in fact people too and bring their own subtext to every deal. Based on our conversations with acquirers, building a process that can absorb such unavoidable distractions – from both sides – is perhaps Benchmark International’s single largest distinguishing characteristic. They tell us its an intangible that would be almost impossible for other M&A firms and business brokers to match unless their firms were built from the same DNA as ours.

 

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Lastly comes a point we here at Benchmark International already knew. We hire people who seek challenges to overcome, the bigger the better. Knowing that a client has come to us disappointed by a prior process, whether they focus that disappointment on the market or the broker, fires us up.  Anyone can sell a business that is easy to sell for a normal multiple to a decent buyer. But true satisfaction comes to us only from selling the difficult business, achieving the aspirational valuation, or finding the perfect buyer. So the last answer to the question set out in the title above is  - we rise to the challenge.

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkcorporate.com

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How Proper Exit Planning Benefits Both Seller and Buyer

Value For Sellers

Proper exit planning is critical for any business owner that intends to sell their company. When you are going to sell, you must know the amount of money that you will need to have on hand in order to make a comfortable exit, which involves assessing your cost of living. You may need to formulate a plan to decrease your annual cost of living, for example, by downsizing your living arrangements or selling unnecessary luxuries such as cars, boats, or vacation properties.

Selling a company is a complicated venture. There are complex considerations from financial, legal, tax, estate, operational, personal, family, and legacy perspectives. Having professional assistance from a reputable M&A advisor can help you navigate these matters and ensure that nothing is overlooked. They can also help to make the process less stressful and give you peace of mind that your exit plan is a sound one. They will also help you maximize the value of your business in a sale and prevent you from making costly mistakes.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Also, once you know your number, you can take steps to increase the profitability of the business and make it more attractive. The more marketable your company is, the more prospective buyers you will entice, and they will be higher quality buyers. Another reason that having a solid exit strategy in place will make your company more appealing to buyers is because it shows them that you are serious and have been smart about how you run your business.

There are several options for your exit strategy. You can sell to an outside buyer, sell to an inside buyer, do a partial sale, pass the company onto family, or liquidate the business altogether or over time. Astute exit planning can help you figure out which course of action is right for you.   

Value For Buyers

Exit planning simply primes a business for easier transfer in ownership. An acquirer wants to know what they are getting into regarding how the business will operate after the sale.

  • How involved will they need to be?
  • How much work will be required on their part to grow the business?
  • Will existing customers and clients remain in the relationship?
  • What is the state of the management team and will it remain in place?

A buyer is going to prefer to take on a business that will continue to run seamlessly through and after the transaction.

 

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Smart for Everyone

When done properly, exit planning gives the seller a clear plan for their retirement and mitigates risk for the buyer so that both parties can feel good about closing a deal. The entire process is about setting concrete goals and following a timeline to keep your exit plan on track so that you can exit on your own terms. Failure to have this plan in place can result in disastrous circumstances, such as:

  • Being forced to sell at an unfavorable time by unexpected events
  • Having your business undervalued and leaving money on the table in a fire sale
  • Wasting time and money on transactions that fail
  • Failing to fulfill your retirement goals
  • Burdening family with matters they are unprepared for and undercutting your legacy
  • Paying more taxes than necessary

Is it Time to Plan Your Exit?

Even if you do not foresee retirement in the near future, it is never too soon to have a plan for the future. It is also extremely prudent and can protect you and your company from unforeseen circumstances. Take the time to do it right. Contact our experts at Benchmark International and begin the conversation about selling your company and your exit plan options. We will work at your pace to achieve your goals and lay out a blueprint for a future that you can feel wonderful about.  

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There is a Buyer for Every Business

“I am in a niche market space.” “Who would want to buy my business?” These are just a couple of the concerns that owners have when putting their business on the market for sale, which often leads them to limit the types of prospective buyers. However, business owners should not limit themselves to one particular type of buyer. The various buyer types often have different acquisition strategies and end goals. Receiving offers from each type enables sellers to explore the best of all options. Investment banks commonly group buyers into three main categories: Strategic, Financial, and Individual.

Strategic Buyer

Strategic buyers are typically the first group that owners will think of when deciding who will have an interest in acquiring their business. These are businesses that are similar to the seller’s and can include competitors. Within this category, horizontally-integrating strategic buyers seek to increase their market share through segment expansion, such as adding new regions, new markets, or a new customer base. This could be a buyer that is located on the opposite side of the country seeking expansion through acquisition to reach a new customer base. On the other hand, Vertically-integrating strategic buyers desire to expand their internal capabilities, such as bringing a portion of the supply chain in-house. For instance, a distributor may be seeking expansion by bringing manufacturing in-house. This allows the company to reduce costs and become less reliant on critical or high-risk suppliers. This works for all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the service provider. A strategic buyer can come in many forms, each with their unique set of goals for a transaction, which will drive deal value.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Financial Buyer

Financial buyers are the next main type of prospects buying businesses. The most common buyers in this category are private equity groups. Private equity buyers seek a return on the invested capital for their investors. A private equity group can bring resources that a strategic buyer may not have access to, such as growth capital, strategic management resources, and new growth opportunities. While some of these groups aim to grow the business for a period and then resell the expanded operations for a gain, others seek to buy and hold, with no plans to resell. Typically, these buyers will invest in industries where they have experience and can bring new ideas and opportunities to a business. Sellers often think that private equity groups only look at very large businesses to acquire but that is not the case. Private equity buyers often seek add-on acquisition of all sizes. The add-on can be any business that has synergies with their larger platform companies, which can expand operations, geographic coverage, or fill small gaps in the portfolio. For example, a private equity firm that has a large HVAC platform business may add on several smaller HVAC companies throughout the supply chain. The private equity buyer that is adding on to an existing platform has similar operations in place and can therefore be thought of as both a financial and strategic buyer.

Individual Buyer

The third category of buyers that play a role in the M&A community is an Individual Buyer. These buyers seek businesses to own and sometimes also to operate. Individual buyers span all industries and have various goals for the acquisition. There are many ways an individual can finance a transaction, including high net worth, commercial bank loans, SBA loans, and investment sponsors. When the individual buyer is an entrepreneur that uses funds from investors in order to search for, acquire, and personally operate one company, this is referred to as a “Search Fund” model.  Search Fund investment vehicles often have several operators, sometimes referred to an entrepreneur in residence, simultaneously seeking businesses in which they can take a day-to-day leadership role. The goals, value propositions, synergies and valuations of this buyer group varies significantly, and can often produce the best cultural fit for a departing seller.

There are companies, investors, firms, and individuals, both domestically and internationally, seeking to acquire businesses in all industries and of all sizes. Likewise, sellers have varied goals for a transaction and no single buyer type is guaranteed to align with those goals. There are countless prospective buyers and, by considering all types, a seller and his or her broker will uncover the right buyer.

 

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Contact Us

Contact Benchmark International today if you are ready to sell your company, grow your company, or explore your M&A strategies. Our team of M&A experts will guide you every step of the way and will make you feel at ease that you are going to get the best deal possible.

 

Author
Nick Woodyard
Associate
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: woodyard@benchmarkcorporate.com

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The Digital Marketing Industry and M&A

The trillion dollar advertising space is a rapidly changing industry with most of the action happening on the digital marketing side. As the world’s digital advertising revenues increase, there is a global demand for more online content. Lead generation, advertising, search engine optimization, and affiliate partnerships are major drivers of income in the 21st century marketing industry. This demand drives up the value of content-related businesses and digital marketing agencies in an era where everyone is glued to their connected devices. All of this screen time has caused traditional advertisers (print, TV, outdoor, radio) to shift their largest spends to digital marketing tactics and mobile internet advertising, even outspending television ads.

Worldwide digital advertising spending is predicted to reach $517 billion by the end of the year 2023.

The robust growth, sheer size, and high fragmentation of the digital marketing sector has led to healthy mergers and acquisitions activity involving digital agencies. Everyone from traditional advertising agencies to private equity investors is seeking target companies that offer growth benefits.

The establishment of digital capabilities and relationships has become a major priority for traditional ad agencies and their large holding companies as they look to grow their digital revenue and expand their portfolios. As conventional media continues to be displaced by digital marketing, the percentage of media spend on digital marketing on behalf of traditional ad agencies will continue to grow.

Evolving Technologies

In the digital marketing industry, there is also growing popularity of technologies that offer individualized features and more in-depth experiences. Brands are being pushed to invest and acquire these types of technologies while post-sales marketing has become a more prominent element along the customer journey.

  • The use of chatbots and personalized messaging is enhancing customer experiences.
  • Audio queries made possible by smart devices and digital assistants are driving voice search.
  • Online video advertising is a quickly growing segment.
  • Artificial intelligence analytics are helping to better target marketing strategies based off of real-time data. This data leads to meaningful insights that are used to improve customer interaction, and optimize media budgets and marketing strategies.
  • Social search is changing e-commerce and vehicles for product reviews and recommendations.

This industry is sure to see more and more future technologies that have yet to be developed, continuing to drive rapid change and growth, and create opportunities for M&A.

Large User Platforms

Giant platform companies such as Google and Facebook provide free digital products and services but are still able to profit because they reach such massive audiences.

The larger the platform, the more consumer data is collected. The more a consumer uses the platform, the more information is gleaned about them. And with more data, the platform can better tailor the content consumers see, and keep them on the platform longer. This results in improved customer experiences and more advertising capacity, which means better understanding of consumers, heightened influence, and more revenue from targeted advertising.

Affiliate Partnerships

Affiliate partnerships use affiliate websites to promote products or services that belong to another company. The valuation of an affiliate website depends on the specific terms of the affiliate program. These factors include longevity, product category and seasonality, commission tiers, high caliber content, and the link portfolio. Websites that fulfill these attributes often have the better earnings, margins and lifecycle, which are attractive to investors. For valuation purposes, advertising agencies are similar to affiliate businesses because they are dependent upon content and end-user action to produce revenue.

These types of partnerships that monetize content also apply to offline businesses that need new and better ways to generate access to audiences. Investors also tend to be drawn to this segment based on existing relationships that can be used to an advantage.

Exit Opportunities

Some digital marketing agencies are being established with the goal of selling in mind. There are extremely low entry barriers when it comes to creating a digital marketing firm, but there are also limited benefits to growth. Some brands do not wish to work with a huge firm. And low employee tenure means lower retained corporate knowledge in an industry where talent retention is already incredibly challenging.

An agency with strong historical growth and projected growth of more than 20% can lead to strong multiples. The purchase of smaller agencies offers opportunities for growth for the large advertising agency groups and an easy way to cash out for the leadership of the smaller agencies.

Contact Us

Please feel free to contact our M&A advisors at Benchmark International to discuss your next move. Our industry expertise and global connections are true game changers when it comes to selling or growing a company, and forming an exit plan.

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Webinar: How To Navigate A Deal With Private Equity Funds And Be Successful

For many sellers, the notion of selling the business they built from the ground up to a private equity fund is unimaginable. Many have heard horror stories from their friends, perhaps read books about the pitfalls of private equity buyers, and may even have some personal experiences. While dealing with private equity funds can be problematic for sellers, they often also are the best, most logical buyer. They are well-funded, so there is little risk the deal will fall through because of the inability to fund. Also, today’s private equity funds generally will leave their portfolio companies to operate free of interference, only offering support, guidance, and growth capital. However, if unrepresented by a capable M&A advisor, sellers can run into many problems in the midst of a transaction with a private equity fund. 

What are these pitfalls? Here are a few:

  • There’s a pronounced gap between what is expected from the fund as it relates to data and what is readily accessible from the seller. How do you bridge that gap?
  • Be aware that Private Equity math is very complicated. Will they bring leverage to the transaction? Where will that debt sit? Will it appropriately dilute their equity? What is a Net Working Capital Peg? How is it calculated? How can buyers use it to erode deal value?
  • How do you know that the deal being offered is competitive with what is out there in the market? PE Funds buy companies for a living, so they are very shrewd negotiators.
  • Due diligence in PE deals is very rigorous. While diligence is a fact of life in all deals, how do you know that a buyer's request is reasonable? How do you know that the timing of each diligence item won’t interfere with your business?

Fear not. An experienced and capable advisor can help you navigate through each of these obstacles. In this webinar, we will discuss the pros and cons of partnering with a Private Equity fund and pay particular attention to how best to handle the complexity these deals inevitably introduce.

Click here to Sign Up For the Webinar

Hosts:

Dara Shareef
Managing Director
Benchmark International

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Break Beyond Limitations – Become a Generalist

Although prior knowledge of how to approach a particular problem helps us to some extent, it can largely hinder our decision making process. Instinctively, the human mind causes us to succumb to second guessing ourselves and making a decision out of fear, rather than from intuitive knowledge. Additionally, the human mind also has a predisposition towards cultivating an inside-view during decision making. An inside view considers a problem based upon the surface level information of the specific task at hand, and makes predictions based upon the narrow set data points relative to the problem. Comparatively, an outside-view draws upon similar or even distant analogies to the problem at hand, by purposely setting aside information relative to the problem, in a conscious effort to minimize biases. 

We allow fear to control our actions and decision making. Sometimes, we may not even know it because we have done such a good job at convincing ourselves otherwise. We think of the future and obsess over adverse outcomes that can happen as a direct result of our actions. We are cautious and methodical, intentionally as to not make the “wrong decision.” This is how we involuntarily hedge our own personal risk. Often, this fear serves a constructive purpose, enabling us to safeguard our assets. But sometimes, this developed habit can act as a mental barrier to sound decision making when fear inhibits our ability to approach problems differently. Research suggests that approaching a problem with the same mindset developed from previous problems that are similar, may actuallyinhibit our ability to make the best decision or the correct valuation. Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? That’s because our brains are hardwired to draw upon our learned experiences when problems and solutions repeat. To approach a problem differently poses a risk, so naturally we develop a habit to approach the same problem in the same way despite how greatly the variables of each situation change. By critically evaluating past events, and applying previously learned knowledge gained from similar experiences, we are limiting our problem-solving abilities.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

The trouble in using no more than one analogy, particularly if it is a similar situation to the problem at hand, is that it does not help battle the inside view since we make judgement on the narrowed details that are the most apparent to us. The outside view is deeply counterintuitive because it causes the decision maker to ignore unique surface features of the current project, of which they are the expert.

In 2012, University of Sydney business strategy professor Dan Lovallo conducted an inside-view research study, to test the idea that drawing upon a diverse range of analogies would naturally lead to an outside view perspective and improve decisions. They recruited investors from large private equity firms who regularly consider potential projects in a variety of domains. The researchers believed that the investors’ expansive experience might have naturally lent itself to the outside view. The private equity investors were instructed to assess a real project they were currently working on and write down a batch of other investment projects they knew of with broad conceptual similarity. The results showed that the investors estimated a 50% higher return on their own project than the outside projects they had identified as conceptually similar. The investors initially judged their own projects, where they knew all the details, completely differently from similar projects to which they were outsiders. This is a widespread phenomenon – the more internal details you learn about any particular scenario, the more likely you are to say that the scenario you are investigating will occur. Therefore, the more internal details an individual can be made to consider, the more extreme their judgment becomes. The results of the study suggest that broad conceptual similarities should be considered when making a decision. In Range, author David Epstein argues that referencing distant analogies relative to the problem at hand, enables the highest rate of successful decision making. The outside view probes for deep structural similarities to the current problem relative to different problems. One way to achieve sound decision making is to develop self-awareness of the natural inclination to make self-proclaiming assumptions, and the limitations of becoming buried in details that may inhibit optimum decision making.

Additionally, possessing a diverse range of experiences enables the decision maker to be better prepared to approach any given problem with a broader mindset. With the work world changing faster than it did in the past, it is essential to broaden your specialty in order to optimize your decision making ability and expand your knowledge across a variety of domains. The people who make the biggest impact have a diverse background of prior experiences within their intellectual toolbox to draw upon when determining the best solution for a problem at hand. In 2016, LinkedIn conducted a study to analyze the career paths of 459,000 members to determine who would become an executive. One of the best predictors is the number of different job functions an individual had worked within a given industry. The study concluded that each additional job function provides a boost that, on average, is equal to three years of work experience. Therefore, to optimize your decision-making ability and create competitive advantage in the ever-changing workforce, take on new challenges and roles to strengthen your weakest abilities and become as well-rounded as possible. For us to be the best for our clients, we must approach each problem with a broad and open mind, while being cognizant of the transferability of our past experiences. Each experience has added value to who we are and has shaped our unique insight. The reward of learning a new skill develops new habits, strengthens the mind to overcome the fear of doing something new, and enables us to become the best version of ourselves for our clients.

 

Author
Jordan Stenholm 
Transaction Support Associate
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: stenholm@benchmarkcorporate.com

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How A Sovereign Credit Downgrade Might Impact M&A Activity

While still managing to avoid a downgrade in April, South Africa has found itself at a crossroads of uncertainty since Moody’s Investors Service’s bleak budget reaction that sparked junk status fears for the country.

The speculation about the credit downgrade has been amplified by the fact that South Africa is in the middle of an election year – a factor that has also been blamed for a decrease in foreign investors’ confidence in the South African market.

An analysis of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity pre-and-post downgrades in Brazil and Greece suggest that although foreign investment will not end, investors do adapt their investment portfolios to align to the parameters of their investment mandates. 

Government bonds and treasury securities become largely un-investable instruments post a sovereign downgrade. However, statistics suggest that while capital outflows are a reality, some funds do remain behind in these countries, and new funds do flow in. These investments will naturally seek viable and alternative high-return investment opportunities – options often presented by M&A. One theory that emerges from this analysis is that mature economies have more stable but lower growth rates. While developed economies also represent a seemingly lower risk, they do not offer sufficiently high returns.

In order to achieve the required overall return on investment in a risk-on environment following a credit downgrade, fund managers will inevitably still require some form of investment in emerging markets.

 

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In order to understand the impact a credit downgrade has on M&A activity in a country, we compared M&A activity as reported by Zephyr, a Bureau van Dyk company that offers a database of deal information.  

We compared M&A activity before and after a credit downgrade in Brazil, which has a similar economy to South Africa due to slow growth and political instability in both countries, as well as in Greece. The raw data suggests that a catastrophic capital flight is unlikely because the sums invested may be lower and the investment profiles between the countries are different. But opportunity abounds and returns remain strong as there exists a direct correlation between risk and reward.

According to Trading Economics, Moody’s was the first to downgrade Brazil in September of 2014 for political and economic reasons. Fitch Ratings followed suit with a downgrade in April 2015. In July 2015, S&P downgraded the country too.

The Bureau van Dyk / Zephyr data looked only at transactions where the targets were Brazilian companies and considered deals that were both completed and announced each year. The transactions analysed include mergers, acquisitions, institutional buy-outs as well as venture capital and private equity.

It is evident from the data that the volume of transactions was relatively flat after the first downgrade by Moody’s in 2014. The volume of transactions decreased by approximately one-third after the remaining agencies downgraded the country in 2015.

While the total value of transactions reported also decreased, it is evident that the average transaction value in 2017 was similar to 2015.  For example, the average value per transaction in 2015 was R973 million and R929 million in 2017. On a cursory view, transaction values held up well after the Moody’s downgrade.

Analysing the data for Greece, which was downgraded in 2010, the following graph illustrates the effect on both volume and values reported by Bureau van Dyk over a similar period to Brazil.

The data illustrates a clear downward trend in M&A deal values over the period of the financial crisis in 2008, 2009 and well into 2010. While there was an initial slump in volumes and a slight decrease in value immediately after the downgrade in 2010, it is only 2017 that has subsequently underperformed the deal values as they were similar to levels seen in 2010. Again, the average deal size in the period following a downgrade is shown to have increased.

In conclusion

The data analysed makes no currency or inflation-related adjustments. And the data, being Euro-denominated, indicates that the M&A sector remained resilient even after credit downgrade events.

Although Moody’s did not downgrade South Africa to junk, the data from Greece and Brazil does indicate that deal flow will not evaporate should this happen. Volumes may initially drop but average deal values can be expected to increase.

While we continue to work to avoid it and acknowledge the punitive impact thereof, the statistical reality is that a downgrade is not likely to be as detrimental for the M&A sector as otherwise perceived.

 

Author
Andre Bresler
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +27 (0) 21 300 2055
E: bresler@benchmarkintl.com

 

 

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