Are you considering buying or selling a privately held business? Below are a few stats that you might find surprising:READ MORE >>
Determining whether it is a good time to sell your business is one of the most challenging decisions a business owner has to make. There are innumerable factors that affect this decision and it’s important to not get overwhelmed. A few things to take into account are financial situation, the company’s future/outlook, the opportunity cost of time, and the type of deal structure being pursued.READ MORE >>
For the last several years, the saying has been “There’s never been a better time to sell.” Multiples have been high. Buyers have been plentiful. Debt has been cheap. Optimism has run strong. The truth is, it is undeniably still a great time to sell; it’s never been better. But …
It takes time to sell and for the first time since emerging from the Great Recession, certainty about whether or not the later part of the new year will be a good time to sell- the best ever – is down. Anyone who says they can predict these markets is a fool. But the probability of a turn is certainly high and increasing as we begin this year.
The good news is that the signs indicate not an immediate downturn but rather one that can still be beaten to the finish line. Selling a business should take six months to a year. Thus anyone moving out now on a process should be able to take advantage of these good times – if they get started fast and, more than ever, move diligently and place a higher emphasis on certainty of close when selecting their winning bidder.
The change in the tea leaves really began in November and accelerated throughout December. Some of the key indicators include:
- In a December Duke University poll, almost half of responding U.S. CFO’s stated that they believed a recession was likely to occur in 2019. Even more compelling, more than 80% of those CFO’s felt recession would strike by the end of 2020.Right or wrong; the respondents to this poll are the key influencers of the amount of M&A activity generated by strategic buyers – and those most responsible for bad deals. If the economy does sour, or they simply believeit is going to sour, they will not be sticking their necks out for adventuresome acquisitions at record multiples.
- The public markets provide several signs. The first is the relative comparison of the large caps, to the midcaps, and then to the small caps. The M&A market for privately-held companies can essentially be seen as a microcap extension of the public markets. While we all know the public markets did not do well last year, what most have not commented upon is that in the last four months of the year, according to the Wall Street Journal, (2) large caps were down 5.5%, midcaps were down 8.6% and small caps are down 16.4% going into the last trading week of the year.We’ve not yet seen the extension of this extrapolated line into the private markets but one must wonder how long the trickle-down effect will take. Smaller companies tend to do well at the beginning of an upturn and larger cap companies do better at the end.
- Debt is becoming a more attractive alternative for investors. This will be problematic to the sellers of businesses for various reasons. Most obviously, M&A buyers are large consumers of debt. They use it to buy companies. If they must pay more for their debt, they have less money left in their accounts to offer sellers. Less obviously but probably more significantly, the historically abysmal returns debt has offered for much of the last decade have led many typical debt investors, including insurance companies and pension funds, to provide equity to private equity funds. Flush with this extra cash, PE funds have been on a buying spree which is commonly stated to be the driving force behind today’s frothy valuations. As those investors shift back to the more normalized bond markets, private equity will have less energy and vigor for aggressive bidding.
- The financial press seems to be of the mind that the artificial boost to strategic buyers provided by the recent tax cuts has run its course. Is this a fair assessment or simply “Trump-bashing”? We have no idea but we all know that in the markets, sentiment is often more important than reality. Perhaps the fact that 2018 saw increasingly attractive results for sellers was a result of those tax cuts carrying the bull market on around for one last lap. Again, we are not talking certainties here, just indications and probabilities.
- The strong dollar has dampened the ability of foreign buyers to compete in the US markets.With yet another class of buyers lowering their activity levels, it may not be long before the laws of supply and demand kick in and the equilibrium point on the old supply and demand curves shifts down and to the left.
- China has largely gone home. As 2018 proceeded, the Chinese government tightened its grip on the export of capital. In the last half of 2018, the US government began to make Chinese investors feel unwelcome as well. Numerous high-profile deals were killed in a very visible fashion as a result of regulatory interference on both sides of the Pacific. These included, most notably, the purchase of Recurrent Energy Developments operations by Shenzhen Energy in August and then Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm. According to CNN Money, Chinese investment in the US fell by 92% between the first half of 2018 and the first half of 2017 – 92% - and has been declining steadily since the second half of 2016.Add to this the late 2018 US-China financial cold war and China’s slowly increasing realization that it has been splurging on debt that is now coming due and proving hard to pay down, and the spigot is now approaching the closed position.
- Forecasted growth of companies in the US public markets has taken a definite downturn. The S&P 500 saw collective growth of 7.3% in sales and 8.2% in profit year-over-year in the third quarter. The Wall Street Journal has been consistently predicting over the last three months that those same figures in a year will have fallen to 5.4% and 4.1% respectively.While the private markets are not the public markets, both are selling that intangible asset known as future cash flows and if buyers feel the big companies can’t continue to deliver outsized returns, they are likely to share at least some of that sentiment when it comes to the private markets.
- Divided government might bring an end to the pro-business approach demonstrated over the last two years. The people that matter state that decreased regulation, lower taxes, and a more tolerant enforcement environment have benefited their businesses and increased the prices they are willing to pay for companies. But a period of more compromise is now inevitable and the uncertainty of the 2020 elections will likely only grow and bring with it a sense of increased risk that will affect valuations.
- All good things must come to an end. We have enjoyed a ten-year bull market in M&A, both private and public. That qualifies as “long in the tooth” to be as polite as possible. It seems that 4% GDP growth is not sustainable. Unemployment can’t go any lower. Further tax decreases seem unlikely. The federal deficit and debt are growing. Interest rates are not likely to drop. Confidence and sentiment could not be higher than they were three months ago and are in fact a bit lower now than they were then.
The good news is that we’ve seen absolutely no indication that the market for private companies has yet been affected by these indications. Furthermore, changes in valuation, whether favorable or unfavorable, have not historically occurred rapidly. If there is to be a drop in multiples, it will be perhaps not gradual but at least measured. That said, the probability we now face is that we are more likely than before to look back from a spot twelve months in the future and say “I remember when it, was the best time to sell.”
The Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) process is exhausting. For most sellers, it’s a one-time experience like no other and a marathon business event. When done well, the process begins far in advance of the daunting “due diligence” phase and ends well beyond deal completion. This Seller’s guide summarizes key, and often overlooked, steps in a successful M&A process.
Phase I: Preparation – Tidy Up and Create Your Dream Team.
Of course, our own kids are the best and brightest, and bring us great pride and joy. Business owners tend to be just as proud of the company they’ve built, the success of their creation, and the uniqueness of their offering. Sometimes this can cloud an objective view of opportunities for improvement that will drive incremental value in a M&A transaction.
For starters, sellers must ensure that company financial statements are in order. Few things scare off buyers or devalue a business more than sloppy financials. A buyer’s Quality of Earnings review during due diligence is the wrong time to identify common issues such as inconsistent application of the matching principle, classifying costs as capital vs. expense, improper accrual accounting, or unsubstantiated entries. In addition, the ability to quickly produce detailed reports – income statement; balance sheet; supplier, customer, product, and service line details; aging reports; certificates and licenses; and cost details – will not only drive up buyer confidence and valuations, but also streamline the overall process.
Key in accomplishing the items above as well as a successful transaction is having the right team in place. Customarily, this doesn’t involve a seller’s internal team as much as his or her outside trusted advisors and subject matter experts. These include a great CFO or accountant, a sell-side M&A broker, a M&A attorney, and a tax and wealth manager. There are countless stories of disappointed sellers who regretted consummating a less-than-favorable transaction after “doing it on their own.” The fees paid to these outside subject matter experts is generally a small part of the overall transaction value and pays for itself in transaction efficiency and improved deal economics.
Phase II: On Market – Sell It!
At this stage, sellers that have enlisted the help of a good M&A broker have few concerns. The best M&A advisors are very hands on and will manage a robust process that includes the creation of world class marketing materials, outreach breadth and depth, access to effective buyers, client preparation, and ongoing education and updates. The seller’s focus is, well, selling! With their advisor’s guidance, a ready seller has prepared in advance for calls and site visits. This includes thinking through the tough questions from buyers, rehearsing their pitch, articulating simple and clear messages regarding the company’s unique value propositions, tailoring growth ideas to suit different types of buyers, and readying the property to be “shown.”
Most importantly, sellers need to ensure their business delivers excellent financial performance during this time, another certain make-or-break criterion for a strong valuation and deal completion. In fact, many purchase price values are tied directly to the company’s trailing 12-month (TTM) performance at or near the time of close. For a seller, it can feel like having two full time jobs, simultaneously managing record company results and the M&A process, which is precisely why sellers should have a quality M&A broker by their side. During the sale process, which usually takes at least several months, valuations are directly impacted, up or down, based on the company’s TTM performance. And, given that valuations are typically based on a multiple of earnings, each dollar change in company earnings can have a 5 or 10 dollar change in valuation. At a minimum, sellers should run their business in the “normal course”, as if they weren’t contemplating a sale. The best outcomes are achieved when company performance is strong and sellers sprint through the finish line.
Phase III: Due Diligence – Time Kills Deals!
Once an offer is received, successfully negotiated with the help of an advisor, and accepted, due diligence begins. While the bulk of the cost for this phase is borne by the buyer, the effort is equally shared by both sides. It’s best to think of this phase as a series of sprints and remember the all-important M&A adage, “time kills deals!” Time kills deals because it introduces risk: business performance risk, buyer financing, budget, or portfolio risk, market risk, customer demand and supplier performance risks, litigation risk, employee retention risk, and so on. Once an offer is received and both sides wish to consummate a transaction, it especially behooves the seller to speed through this process as quickly as possible and avoid becoming a statistic in failed M&A deals.
The first sprint involves populating a virtual data room with the requested data, reports, and files that a buyer needs in order to conduct due diligence. The data request can seem daunting and may include over 100 items. Preparation in the first phase will come in handy here, as will assistance from the seller’s support team. The M&A broker is especially key in supporting, managing, and prioritizing items for the data room – based on the buyer’s due diligence sequence – and keeping all parties aligned and on track.
The second sprint requires excellent responsiveness by the seller. As the buyer reviews data and conducts analysis, questions will arise. Immediately addressing these questions keeps the process on track and avoids raising concerns. This phase likely also includes site visits by the buyer and third parties for on-site financial and environmental reviews, and property appraisals. They should be scheduled and completed without delay.
The third and final due diligence sprint involves negotiating the final purchase contract and supporting schedules, exhibits, and agreements; also known as “turning documents.” The seller’s M&A attorney is key in this phase. This is not the time for a generalist attorney or one that specializes in litigation, patent law, family law, or corporate law, or happens to be a friend of the family. Skilled M&A attorneys, like medical specialists, specialize in successfully completing M&A transactions on behalf of their clients. Their familiarity with M&A contracts and supporting documents, market norms, and skill in selecting and negotiating the right deal points, is the best insurance for a seller seeking a clean transaction with lasting success.
Phase IV: Post Sale – You’ve Got One Shot.
Whether a seller’s passion post-sale is continuing to grow the business, retire, travel, support charity, or a combination of these, once again, preparation is key. Unfortunately, many sellers don’t think about wealth management soon enough. A wealth advisor can and should provide input throughout the M&A process. Up front, they can assist in determining valuations needed to achieve the seller’s long-term goals. When negotiating offers and during due diligence, they encourage deal structures that optimize the seller’s cash flow and tax position. And post-close, sellers will greatly benefit from wealth management strategies, cash flow optimization, wealth transfer, investment strategies, and strategic philanthropy. Proper planning for post-sale success must start early and it takes time; and, it’s critical to have the right team of experienced professionals in place.
The M&A process is complex, it usually has huge implications for a seller and his or her company and family, and most sellers will only experience it once in a lifetime. Preparing in advance, building and leveraging the expertise of a dream team, and acting with a sense of urgency throughout the process will minimize risk, maximize the probability of a successful M&A transaction, and contribute to the seller’s success and satisfaction long after the
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It is imperative that during an M&A transaction thorough due diligence is conducted, not least because it helps to establish the true value of a transaction.
Due diligence is a term applied to the work acquirers undertake after signing HoTs (Heads of Terms) and falls into three main categories: commercial due diligence, financial due diligence and legal due diligence. It is a review of the seller’s company and includes looking into areas such as potential risks and liabilities, the seller’s competition, middle management and employees, financial status, intellectual property, and assets.
It is not an easy task to conduct, so here are five tips on how to ease the process:
TIP ONE: IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO PREPARE
An acquirer will want to see an extensive list of documentation which can include copies of contracts with suppliers, intellectual property registration, computer systems and data protection, employment contracts and pensions, and much more.
It is wise to draw up a due diligence checklist anticipating what an acquirer will want to know – most will provide this when the time comes but a checklist early on ensures that these documents are prepared and up-to-date.
Being prepared with this information, before an exit is even on the cards, is important as it can help expedite the transaction and make the company look more attractive to potential acquirers – if information can be provided quickly, an acquirer will know the transaction is being taken seriously.
READ MORE >>
TIP TWO: USE A DATA ROOM
When the mention of selling your business comes up, you might feel a little uneasy about starting the discussion. Your business is your baby, and the thought of letting go can be overwhelming. The truth is; however, failing to plan is a plan to fail when it comes to your business exit strategy. You need to have an exit strategy in place for your business. Everyone thinks of their future, but they don’t always take active steps in the present to prepare for what they want tomorrow. There are many reasons why you should discuss when and how to exit your business. Here are eleven reasons to have the exit conversation now:
1) Anything can happen at any time – This is so true. We cannot anticipate what will happen unexpectedly. For this reason, you need to have an emergency exit plan in place. What will you do if you have something happen that requires you to step down from your business quickly?
2) Family obligations are taking more time from the business – Business owners run businesses and have families all the time, but depending on the size of your business and the size of your family, you may need to spend more time away from the business. If you don’t have a team in place that can run the business without you for a few days, exiting might be your best bet.
If obligations, such as an ill family member, or a lot of educational or extracurricular commitments for your children are taking from your time, you could experience a negative shift in the dynamic of your business. A strategic partner can help you free up some time for your family while still allowing you to take an active part in your business’s growth. This type of partnership doesn’t require an immediate exit from your business and allows you to discuss an end-goal for this exit strategy with the partner you join.
3) Personal health issues are pulling you away from the business – When your personal health is in decline, it can be difficult to continue running the business. A business owner doesn’t need the undue stress caused by juggling an illness and the company.
Furthermore, if you find your health declining, or the health of a close loved-one, your priorities might change. Your view on where your time needs to be spent might be more focused on your personal relationships versus constantly working on growing your business.
Again, spending your time away from the business will have a direct negative effect on your revenue and daily operations. This makes the goal of achieving maximum value more challenging. Therefore, having an exit plan is essential.
4) You don’t have anyone in place to take over the business – You’re a great leader, and you run your business like a well-oiled machine. However, what happens when you’re gone? You need to have a plan in place. If you find your children aren’t interested in taking over, or if you don’t have any children, or if you don’t have a manager in place to take over, you need to know what you will do when it’s time to leave your business behind.READ MORE >>
The thought of selling your business has been on your mind for quite some time, and now you have made the decision to sell. The business is ready to go and you have been working with your advisor to bring in a suitable buyer. The offer comes in and you have signed a letter of intent. The process is in motion, and this is what you have been waiting for, but what about your employees? Your exit plan has been on your mind, but your employees probably haven’t given much thought to what will happen if and when you exit the business. You have a couple options when it comes to sharing the news of your business sale to your employees.
Some business owners opt to not share the decision to sell with their employees at all. This option can be viewed as inconsiderate, but it does alleviate the risk of a mass exodus from the company. There are pros and cons to any decision, but not telling your employees right away and keeping information for yourself allows you to keep them from undue stress.
It’s important to protect the integrity of the deal and the company. This means you need to keep details under wraps. If you spill the beans to your employees, there is no guarantee that the information will stay within your company, and it could be concerning for your client base if they catch a whiff of the pending sale.
This doesn’t mean you can’t put things in place to protect your employees through a transition, of course. You just need to pay attention to their needs and ask your advisor what your options are in a sale. If you choose this route, you need to be prepared to extinguish any rumors and answer employee questions the best you can if they notice any changes taking place.
Keep Them in the Loop:
Some owners think the best policy is to be transparent with employees from the outset. The decision to sell has been made, and you are exploring options. So, you want to inform your employees what’s going on. You can be up front with employees and let them know of your plans to sell and your desire to find the right buyer for the company who will instill the same values you hold as a business leader.
This will need to be handled delicately, so your employees will remain comfortable throughout the process. You will need to drive home the initiative that you are doing what is best for the company as a whole and selling the business doesn’t mean the end of the business but rather the growth of the business. It is important to keep the conversation positive, so your employees will get on board with your plans.READ MORE >>
As stated on Benchmark International’s website, our perspective makes us different. We strive to help clients reach their maximum value for the sale of their business. To accomplish that goal, it’s important to also have good buyside perspective.
Buyers look at companies differently than sellers and some advisors. Certainly, a company’s financials are a common barometer for both sides to gage a company’s performance and success. And cultural fit is a must. Beyond those metrics; however, buyers prioritize characteristics to mitigate investment risk. These characteristics include, scalability, stability, resiliency, and the ability to grow.
Scalability is about a company’s ability to accommodate growth – to behave as a larger entity. Some acquisitions result in smaller companies becoming part of much larger organizations. The new structure sometimes brings new processes, systems, and reporting requirements. These changes in scale can introduce risk if personnel lack the bandwidth, appetite, skills, or resources to ramp up. Buyers seek assurance that the team is adaptable and capable of scaling.
Many investors also seek stability. The project-based business with wild swings in revenues or heavy seasonality, for example, presents significant challenges in performance, planning, and execution. For most investors, consistency is vital and this is often tied to a company’s revenue model. This is a key reason why buyers prefer recurring revenue models. For industrial services businesses, long-term or preventive maintenance contracts provide recurring revenue. Many equipment manufacturers have transitioned to providing a service rather than hardware. For example, some compressor manufacturers retain the physical asset and provide an “air as a service” guarantee for a monthly fee. And software companies achieve this by transitioning to a subscription, or software as a service (SaaS) model. Together with a “sticky” customer base – high switching costs or risk – these all provide a level of revenue stability that might otherwise be absent.READ MORE >>
You’re sitting at your desk eating your lunch and reviewing the emails in your inbox when your phone rings. You pick up, on the other end of the phone is an inquirer looking to purchase your company. You haven’t given much thought to whether or not you’re open to selling your business, and here is someone who is ready to purchase it right now. What do you do?
Engage the Right Support Team
First things first, congrats! You might not be thinking to sell right now, and that’s okay, but now you know there is interest in your enterprise. If this inquiry has sparked curiosity in you to explore the possibilities of a sale, you need to be prepared. How do you approach an offer for your business out of the blue? Well, you don’t go into it alone, that’s for sure. You need to have the appropriate team in place to assist you should you decide to explore your options. You will need a sell-side mergers and acquisitions specialist to help you navigate the waters of a sale and break down your options for you.
When it comes to selling your business, it’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. Having a mergers and acquisitions firm on your side can help you determine what the approximate value of your business is against others in the same market. Furthermore, you can discuss what your aspirations are for your business and what you hope to achieve from a sale.
What Do You Want?
A call that catches you off guard might have you thinking what the buyer’s intentions are, but you need to think about your intentions. If you consider selling your business seriously, what do you want from a sale?READ MORE >>
Know Why You Want to Sell
What do you plan to do after you sell your business? It’s important to know your purpose for selling, so you can appropriately plan what you want to do after the sale. Are you planning on a total exit, or do you want to stick with the business for a while? There are a few options at your disposal when deciding your reasons for exiting your company. If you are wanting to take a step back, but still want to have some involvement, you can keep a small percentage of the company and transition into a new role with lighter responsibilities after the sale.READ MORE >>
Your business is your baby, and the people who work for you are your family. A concern of many business owners thinking to sell is how they will care for their employees throughout the sales process.
Download our guide “If I Sell My Business, How Can I Protect my Employees?,” today!
In this guide, you will learn how to best communicate with your employees effectively, how to negotiate on their behalf, how to put their concerns at the forefront of your decisions, and how working alongside them can help alleviate their concerns.READ MORE >>
It’s time to dispel the myth that it’s better to use an industry expert versus a mergers and acquisitions expert for the sale of a business. At times, sellers are apprehensive about engaging with a mergers and acquisitions firm that doesn’t specialize in one specific industry, and they say they would rather use an industry expert instead. This isn’t the best strategy for a seller who hopes to gain the most value for his or her business.
The mergers and acquisitions cycle is constantly changing. That’s why it’s important for mergers and acquisitions firms to stay on top of industry trends and stay abreast of any new developments. At Benchmark International, we are M&A professionals who work in all industries. Our business is selling businesses, and we understand the industry specifics.READ MORE >>
Benchmark International is delighted to announce our expansion into Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville has become a hotbed of mergers and acquisitions activity, and it is one of the fastest growing cities in the US.
Additionally, Benchmark International is growing exponentially, with four new regional offices opened domestically and internationally. So, it was only logical for Benchmark International to expand to this territory and be a part of this growing business culture.READ MORE >>
There is still the chance for you to capitalise on the extremely low 10% capital gains tax rates which are on offer via Entrepreneurs’ Relief, whenever you fully or partially sell your company.READ MORE >>
Irrespective of the outcome and the eventual deal Britain strikes with the EU, there will be greater uncertainty for businesses in the near-term.READ MORE >>
‘To err is human’, it’s said … but for sellers and buyers alike, the M&A process is surely not a good time to make mistakes.READ MORE >>
Entrepreneurs, by nature, are people who spend a considerable amount of time looking for the next opportunity. And for them, 'the next opportunity' often includes a suitable time to sell their company.READ MORE >>