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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.

 

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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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5 Things Sellers Wish They Had Known Before Selling Their Business

You’ve decided to sell your business. Congratulations! Whether you are retiring, looking to embark on a new business adventure, or wanting to hand off the reins and take a different role in the company, the process of selling a business can be a trying one without the correct preparation and support. Fortunately for you, you can learn from other entrepreneurs who have been in your shoes and have shared the five things that they wish they had known before selling their business.

1) Neglecting to perform pre-transaction wealth planning can result in you potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. Before you sell, consider your family members’ wishes and concerns. Communicating with family members before the sale can help ensure smooth sailing through the deal negotiations. Effective tax-planning to support family members’ needs, philanthropic plans, or creating family trusts can help increase the value gained from the transaction.

2) Don’t underestimate the importance of a good cultural fit with a buyer. While the price is always at the forefront of a sellers’ mind, cultural fit can mistakenly be pushed to the back burner. One of the many things that you have worked hard to create in your business is the employee culture. Most likely, you want to see the close-knit “family” that you have built continue when you are no longer working there. Benchmark International understands that and will help you find that partner. We remain committed along with you to your goal of finding a buyer who will carry on your legacy.

 

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3) Skimping on your marketing materials does not pay off in the long run. With confidentiality being of the utmost importance, how can you engage buyers without them knowing who you are? Preparing a high-quality, 1-2 page teaser that provides an anonymous profile of your business is the tool used to locate a buyer confidentially. This is followed by the Information Memorandum, with an NDA that is put in place for your protection. Benchmark International will prepare these high-quality documents and put your mind at ease.

4) Sellers wish they had known how detail-oriented the process would be, how many documents would be needed, and how labor-intensive each phase would be. One of the most crucial pieces of advice that the majority of sellers wish they had known is that you need to have a team. Sellers need to continue running their business as they were before, or operations can really start to slow. The last thing you want is for the value of your company to take a nosedive because you are investing all of your time into a transaction. With the team at Benchmark International as your partner dedicated to the M&A process, you will be free to continue to focus on the growth and operations of your business. We will handle the details for you.

5) Finding a like-minded partner can give a seller a false sense of security that the transition from two companies to one will be easy. You need a trusted advisor that will help you navigate the complexities of integration, giving you insight on some of the other intangibles that need to be negotiated. Those intangibles include the details of your role after the sale, employment contracts, earnouts, etc. With Benchmark International’s vast knowledge and experience in M&A deals, we know what is usual and customary to request throughout the negotiation process and will bring more value to your transaction.

Congratulations again, this is an exciting time for you! With the right partner, it can be a smooth and profitable process as well. Benchmark International has a team of specialists that arrange these types of deals every day. We can answer your questions and help you determine what is best for you, your business, and your exit plan. A simple phone call or email to us can start the process today and move you one step closer to accomplishing your goals.

 

Author
Amy Alonso 
Associate
Benchmark International

T: +1 615 924 8522
E: alonso@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Should You Hire An M&A Advisor To Sell Your Business?

That’s an easy answer. YES! You absolutely should hire an M&A advisor to sell your business. Here’s why.

It’s Not Easy

The process of selling a company is guaranteed to be complicated. While an accomplished attorney or accountant can help, you are going to need a true expert intermediary to handle the entire venture if you are serious about selling and getting the best possible deal.

Consider the seemingly endless amount of work that needs to be done.

• Data and documentation must be produced and organized, stretching back several years to a decade. This is going to include financials, vendors, contracts, and so much more. Do not underestimate how overwhelming the paperwork will be.

• Potential buyers will need to be identified and vetted. A good M&A advisor has access to connections and a knowledge base that you would otherwise never have, opening up an entirely new realm of potential buyers. This process will include a fair share of phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings, all of which add up to be very time-consuming.

• You are going to need an experienced negotiator that knows how to maximize your business value and lay the groundwork for getting you what you want. This means knowing how to push a deal forward while providing you with peace of mind that things are on the right track. This also means creating a competitive bidding landscape.

Get Peace of Mind

Selling your business is not a process that should be taken lightly. Countless decisions will need to be made. Consider the reality of what is going to be required and embrace the fact that you cannot shoulder the burden and run your company. Make sure you can sleep at night. Find an M&A advisor that will find you the right buyer, deal with the minutiae, and get the job done—all while sharing your vision for the company, as well as your exit strategy.

They Can Get You More Money

It is also important to note that an M&A advisor is more likely to get you more money. Research shows that private sellers receive significantly higher acquisition premiums when they retain advisors, in the range of six to 25%. Additional research shows that 84% of mid-market business owners who hired an M&A advisor reported that the final sale price for their business was equal to or higher than the initial sale price estimate provided. After all, they know how to value a company properly.

Another benefit of having an M&A advisor is that it shows buyers that you are a serious seller. As a result, hiring an M&A advisor can help drive up your company valuation and get you more favorable terms.

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What to Look for in an M&A Advisor

Enlisting the guidance of the wrong advisor can be disastrous. The last thing you want is to end up in negotiations with someone who does not have your wants and needs in mind at all times. Even worse, they can slow down the process and cost you a fortune. When making this decision, know what to look for:

• You want an advisor that understands you, your company, and what you expect to achieve from the sale.

• Consider their experience in your sector, as well as their geographic connections, and how that can work for your business. Global connections are especially helpful. And do they usually work with businesses that are around the same size as yours?

• They will adequately prepare you and manage your expectations.

• They will work diligently to find the RIGHT buyer, not just the easiest or the richest.

• They should be honest, and you should trust them because they have demonstrated that they are worthy of it.

• Their track record will speak for itself. A quality business acquisition advisor is going to have a proven reputation, client testimonials, credentials, and accolades.

• Also, ask if they use any proprietary technologies or databases and how it helps them gain insight into specific industries.

Take your time in evaluating potential advisors. A good firm will patiently accommodate your process. You are going to be working closely with them through a grueling journey, so you will want to feel comfortable with their team and confident that they will work around the clock to get you the most favorable results possible.

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet On How To Sell Your Business

Once you have decided that the time has come to sell your company, you will want to be as prepared as possible for the endeavor. Being adequately prepared will pave the way for a smoother process, avoid unnecessary delays in the sale, and increase the value of your business. Use this cheat sheet as a guide to get your business ready for what lies ahead.

Know Why You’re Selling

An important part of selling your company is having a clear understanding of why you are doing it.

  • Do you want to exit the business completely and retire?
  • Do you wish for it to be under control by family or an existing employee?
  • Do you hope to retain a stake in the business as part of the sale terms?
  • Do you plan to sell the business to facilitate its growth?
  • Do you aspire to sell the business to fund other ventures?

These questions should all be considered so that you have a clear answer before initiating the sale process. By knowing why you are selling, you can look for the right kind of buyer to suit those needs and establish a clear plan of action.

Compile the Proper Documentation

Any buyer is going to expect to see the facts and figures on your business. The more prepared you are to provide detailed documentation, the more likely they will be to trust you. Items you should compile and have ready for review include:

  • Current and recent profit & loss statements
  • Balance sheets, income statements, and tax returns for at least 5 years
  • Leases and real estate paperwork
  • A business plan
  • A marketing plan
  • Accounts payable and client lists
  • Inventory and pricing lists
  • Insurance policies
  • Non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements
  • An executive summary and detailed profile of the business
  • Employee, customer, vendor, and distributor contracts
  • Outstanding loan agreements and liens
  • Organization chart
  • Letter of intent and purchase agreement

Feel like it's a good time to sell?

Inventory Your Assets

Your assets are a key factor in determining the value of your company, so it is important to have a clear picture of what they are and what they are worth. Create a record of these assets, including:

Physical assets:

  • Business furnishings, fixtures, and equipment, inventory, real estate, automobiles

Intellectual property assets:

  • Trademarks, patents, licensing agreements, trade secrets, and proprietary technology

Intangible assets:

  • Brand equity, business name, and brand identity
  • Processes and strategies
  • Trained employees
  • Loyal clientele
  • Supplier and distribution networks

Enlist the Help of an Expert

Selling a business is a complicated process, and it is not as simple as just gathering the items listed above. This is why most business owners opt to partner with a mergers and acquisitions firm to organize a deal. They do all the work and tend to all the details so that you can focus on running your business and keeping it thriving in the wake of a sale. This includes finding the right buyers, creating a competitive bidding environment, and making sure you get the most value for your company.

Advisors such as our experts at Benchmark International have specialized tools at our disposal that are proven to maximize value for our clients and get desired results. Give us a call and let us put our connections to work for you.

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9 Surprising Stats About Buying or Selling a Business

Are you considering buying or selling a privately held business? Below are a few stats that you might find surprising:

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Is It Time To Sell My Business ?

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.

Financial Situation

Usually, the first factor that business owners consider when making the decision to sell is the financial impact this will have on their lives. It’s important to analyze one’s current lifestyle and how a potential sale would change that – what the payoff would be. Unless a business owner is in a troubled situation, they’ll want to make sure that the decision to sell will not hinder their long-term lifestyle. A hasty decision here can have a catastrophic economic ripple effect. But, selling at a time that maximizes economic profit can potentially result in lifelong financial freedom.

 

Company’s Outlook

If an owner is at a point to even consider selling a business, there’s a high probability that they’ve put in a significant amount of time, effort, and capital into it. Pondering this decision generally stems from a plateau in company growth or changes in the industry landscape. When this stage is reached, one must determine if they are in a position to take the company to the next level or if it is better to move on after building it to this point. It’s important to understand that being aware of “when to get out” is not a slight on the owner. Rather, it is the recognition of an opportunity to pursue other goals. The business has been a large part of life, the employees are important, and the hopes of a successful future is why companies are built. So, the key is to make sure that the “hands” the company is going to be in moving forward satisfy the needs of all the key people that are going to be impacted by a
potential transaction.

 

Time

Letting go of something that has been such a large part of one’s life can be very daunting. The fear that this is “the end of the line” for a business owner is often what doesn’t allow an individual to make a decision with sound judgement. The opportunity cost of time needs to be taken into consideration – that is, what you can allocate time to in life that you were unable to do before. Perhaps an exit can allow more time with family or another business venture; all such options open up more once the full scope of a business sale is analyzed beyond the initial fear.

 

Deal Structure

The type of deal for a business sale is arguably the most important factor when making the decision to sell. The beauty about this is that deals can be structured in almost any way imaginable. Many owners think that selling a business is an “all or nothing” type of transaction. But the reality is that majority of business acquisitions are centered around partial sales and/or long-term seller incentives. It is perfectly reasonable for a founder/owner to retain ownership to “keep some skin in the game” or to have a management agreement that allows them to continue being involved in the company. Owners need to educate themselves on the kind of deal structures most suited for them and understand that the scope of deal types is far more customizable than people realize. 

 

As has been pretty clear, there is no cookie-cutter process behind making the decision to sell a business. Individuals need to take countless variables into consideration when doing something of this magnitude. A great way to begin this process is to narrow down what aspects of the decision are most important to the owner and then analyzing each variable individually. Most importantly, don’t forget that if a deal is thinkable, it is achievable.

 

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Is The End Near?

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.[1]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.
  1. 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.[1]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.[1]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.”

Author:
Clinton Johnston
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: 1-813-898-2363
E: Johnston@benchmarkcorporate.com

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A Seller’s Guide to a Successful Mergers & Acquisitions Process

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
deal closes.

Author:
Leo VanderSchuur
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (813) 387 6044
E: VanderSchuur@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Top Tips to be Due Diligence Ready

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.


TIP TWO: USE A DATA ROOM

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11 Reasons to Have the Exit Conversation

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.

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When Do I Tell My Employees I'm Selling?

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.

Share Nothing:

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.

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Upcoming Webinar: What to Expect When Selling Your Business

June 26th @ 11:00am EST
Register Now > http://bit.ly/2xZBVU8
 
Selling a business is perhaps the most complex exercise a business owner can undertake in their lifetime. Too often, attorneys, buyers, and others take for granted that the seller has an understanding of the steps, the risks, the timing, and the other aspects of the process. In this webinar we will lay out the key aspects of the sale process from start to finish in a format tailor-made for the uninitiated owner. This will be an entry level discussion requiring no prior deal experience, no legal background, and no knowledge of accounting.  Specifically: 
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Buyside Perspective

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.

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I’ve Been Approached by a Buyer, What Do I Do?

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?

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Things You Need to Know Before You Sell Your Business

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.

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Are you thinking of selling your business? How will you protect your employees?

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!

Download Guide

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. 

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You Need an M&A Specialist, Not an Industry Expert

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.

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Benchmark International expands in Tennessee

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.

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Considering the sale of your business? If so, then the time might be now!

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.

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Post-Brexit Benefits for Mergers and Acquisitions

Irrespective of the outcome and the eventual deal Britain strikes with the EU, there will be greater uncertainty for businesses in the near-term.

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The Five Most Common Seller Mistakes in M&A Deals

‘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.

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To Sell or Not to Sell: The Top Four Reasons Entrepreneurs Choose to Sell

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.

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