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Buyer Comfort

Buyers tend to assuage their discomfort with deal structure.  When negotiating with buyers, it is prudent for the seller, guided by a seasoned M&A Advisor, to consider what the underlying issue is, discomfort, instead of addressing the result of that discomfort, a specific deal structure. Huh, you say? Let me dive a bit deeper.

Buyers of businesses use deal structural devices to cure many issues or concerns. Let's take a second to illustrate the most typical elements of a structured deal. While the following encompasses the most common deal structures, it is, by no means comprehensive.

Cash at the closing table is obvious and needs no further illustration. A seller note or seller financing is also fairly simple. The seller essentially serves as a lender to the buyer. The attorneys draft a promissory note, perhaps a stock pledge agreement and incorporate them and potentially other documents in the definitive agreements. The buyer pays off the principal of the note and interest over the course of a few years.  Seller notes don't tend to be contingent upon anything other than the solvency of the entity backing the note. They are deferred. Rollover equity, often known as Seller Rollover, Rollover or simply Roll, occurs when the seller maintains a position in either the existing business or Newco. In some circumstances, a seller may sell 80% of the shares in his or her company while in another, that seller may sell 100% of the shares in her business and simultaneously reinvest what amounts to 20% of the proceeds in Newco. This is generally a cashless exercise. It is critical for the seller to engage seasoned advisors to assist in structuring the rollover in the most tax-efficient manner. The final typical structural element of a deal is an Earnout. Where the seller note isn't contingent upon performance, an earnout is. Earnouts pay out a prescribed dollar amount over time as certain agreed upon and defined metrics are achieved. While these tend to be quantitative metrics like EBITDA and Revenue, they can also be tied to qualitative measures like maintaining key customers or employees or integrating technology. In addition, earnouts can be tied to maintenance or growth.   

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As I hinted at earlier, buyers use these structures to cure their apprehension. What is behind that discomfort or apprehension? Many things but at the heart of most of those is the oft-cited, yet misunderstood concept, risk. Risk, in a business context, is the chance for an unanticipated outcome. Risk can be specific to a business, to an industry, to geography or more global. Risk isn't inherently bad, thus the risk/reward model, but it needs to be accounted for in decision making. Buyers, in their initial diligence, aim to understand the underlying risks and determine their tolerance for said risks. When structuring an offer, they seek to allocate and incorporate those risks.   

Some buyers seek out businesses that are very easy for them to understand, have very predictable financial performance and robust operational teams.  Those types of businesses, if proper controls are also present, will garner simple offers with a high percentage of the deal in the form of cash. This is a low-risk deal. A business with more volatile performance introduces incremental risk. A buyer may still be interested in the business but may shift cash at close to an earnout. If the business is growing rapidly, but that growth hasn't been consolidated in the buyer's eyes, that earnout may be linked to the growth of earnings or revenue. Perhaps the buyer will apply a three-year average to EBITDA to incorporate the volatility into the valuation.  If the seller wants to be paid on the recent growth, a buyer may use an earnout to bridge the valuation gap. A buyer willing to pay 5x EBITDA in an all-cash deal may pay 8x or more if allowed to incorporate structure, thereby mitigating their risk.

If the seller is adamant that he or she won't accept an earnout, it behooves an M&A advisor to dig deeper into where the actual buyer's discomfort lies.  Rather than fighting the earnout, might it be a better strategy to uncover the underlying issue and solving that? The earnout is the solution, not the problem. Why might a buyer incorporate an earnout? There are several possible reasons; 1. Earns reduce the cash required to close the deal.  2. They create alignment between buyer and seller post-close, thereby ensuring the seller continues to act like an owner even when he longer is an owner. 3. They confirm their diligence. Can these concerns be addressed in other ways? Of course, they can. If the earnout is moved to a seller note, no additional cash at close is required of the buyer to fund the deal. Both two and three can be addressed through a seller roll. If the buyer wants to ensure the seller acts like an owner, make him an owner. Rollover allocates some of the risks to the seller in both an earnout and rollover equity. Perhaps an employment contract signed by key employees would provide the buyer some comfort? Many deals incorporate an options pool, Management Incentive Program (MIP) or Profits Interest as additional ways to create alignment post-close. 

The central idea is this. Rather than focusing all of your attention on the proposed structure of a deal, attempt to think through the concerns the buyer is trying to sooth with that deal structure. Solving for the actual underlying problem rather than the buyer's proposed solution may lead to better outcomes for both parties.

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14 M&A Cartoons That Will Brighten Your Day

All images may be subject to copyright.

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Five Things I Wish Business Owners Knew Before Engaging Us

1. No one can control the market.

You can know it. You can be smart about what it will do, how it will react. But you cannot control it. The nearer into the future you look, the more of a feeling of control you can have. But the longer a business owner wants us to look into the future, the less valuable the insights. Things change. Interest rates move. Sectors fall in and out of favor. If you want me to try to control the market, please act quickly so that we are dealing with the current market, not some future version of the market.

2. There is no perfect buyer (or seller).

Everything in life involves tradeoffs. Your business, like the ones we will bring to you, has imperfections. I’m here to convince buyers to take a favorable view on your business – to trade off its defects against its outstanding features in a way favorable to you – AND to help you uncover and evaluate the buyer’s defects and favorable features. So … please don’t expect your business to be perfect and don’t expect us to bring you perfect buyers. One of the main reasons our business exists is because buyers – and sellers – are imperfect. If that were the case, you’d not need us.

3. Your priorities will change over the course of the company sale process.

This is not a bad thing. It’s a marvelous occurrence that is very satisfying to observe. It is an unintended consequence that will be of great benefit to you. What makes it problematic is when you don’t realize its happening AND when you don’t tell us its happening. As your broker, we are out there trying to achieve your objectives – as you’ve explained them to us. If we don’t know what you’re after, we’ll be after the wrong thing.

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4. We’ll give you plenty of feedback but we need feedback also.

We will start by proving you some feedback from our internal knowledge base and experience. We will then give you feedback from specific buyers and the market in general. In order to get the best result for you, we need that feedback loop to be a two-way street. We want to know what you think of each buyer, of our service, of your own business, of the market in general, and of the process. Both our process and the market are highly flexible and changes can be made to meet your needs and expectations, but only if we know they need to be made.

5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Too many clients come out of the blocks at full speed. Many also tend to think the signing of a letter of intent is the beginning of the end but it is just the end of the beginning. Running out of gas is a big problem when it comes to getting deals closed. Some parts of the process require significant time and energy from you and others do not. In order to hit your goals, we’ll need you well-prepared for those stages where your input is crucial. The deficiency we most often see emerging during the process is not one related to energy or time but rather emotions. This is understandably a stressful process. It should be and we build our service model around that fact. And that emotional aspect of the process is the hardest one to deal with over the course of the lengthy process.  

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How Do I Know If I’m Ready To Retire?

Retirement is a significant decision that you have waited your entire life to make. Most people retire between the ages of 60 and 70, but everybody faces a different set of circumstances that dictate when they can retire. So how do you know if you are ready?

The most important factor in retirement is whether your financial situation will allow you to do so with security and peace of mind.

Do you have enough money saved? You want to live comfortably and maintain the standard of living to which you are accustomed. The last thing you want to do is retire and then realize you don’t have the means to live the way you are used to and end up having to downsize your dreams.

Are the markets in the right place so that you maximize your investment returns? Maybe your portfolio took a little bit of hit recently. Giving it a little time to recover can be a wise strategy. Consider where the markets are and where they are forecasted to be in the upcoming months. If you time it right, you can make the most of your decision.

Are you debt free? It may not be the smartest move to retire if you still carry debt you must pay, especially if it is significant. Retiring when you are debt free means retiring when you are worry free.

Do you need a plan to cut down on potential expenses? If you have a strong desire to retire but feel that you are not as financially confident as you would like to be, you can devise a plan to reduce your monthly expenses and ease some of the burdens.

Of course, there is more to the decision than just financial factors. You must consider whether you are mentally and emotionally prepared for retirement.

Are you no longer interested in pursuing career opportunities? If you are still hungry to attain work-related goals or you feel that you haven’t achieved everything you set out to achieve, then maybe retirement is not for you just yet. You do not want to retire and then feel that you are missing out or that you didn’t reach your full potential.

Do you find yourself thinking about recreational and social activities more than you are thinking about work? If you find yourself standing on the golf course, wishing you could spend more time there, then it may be a good time to consider retirement. Sometimes getting out before you are completely checked out is in the best interest of you and your business.

Do you have a plan for how you want to spend your time? It is not unheard of for people to retire only to become overwhelmed with boredom and a lack of purpose. Having a plan in place can help you stay busy and feel that you are achieving a new set of goals in life.

If you are retiring with your spouse, are you equally ready and on the same page when it comes to how you will spend your time? If you are in this together, make sure your plan is truly in sync. If one of you wants to travel the globe and the other one just wants to spend time with the grandchildren, there could be a conflict that you didn’t even realize you would have to address. Plan your vision for retirement together.

These are all critical questions to ask yourself when deciding if you are ready for retirement. But there is one more crucial question that you must address.

Do you have an exit strategy for retiring from your business? An exit plan is essential because it ensures that your business will make a successful transition into its next phase of ownership. Also, an exit plan will help you boost the value of your business so that you are prepared to sell at the ideal time.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?
A proven strategy for success regarding exit planning is to partner with a trusted advisor, such as Benchmark International. We can help you find the right buyer, maximize value, and craft a dream exit that leads to a happy and satisfying retirement.

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10 Things Most People Don’t Know About The M&A Process

1. Most M&As Fail
According to collated research and a recent Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for M&A is between 70 and 90 percent. To effectively complete a deal, there must be a clear strategy and open communication among all parties.

2. Expect Due Diligence
Experienced buyers conduct meticulous due diligence. They want to know exactly what they are taking on, and that includes factors such as obligations, liabilities, contracts, litigation risk, and intellectual property. As a result, sellers should be prepared to provide very thorough documentation.

3. Priorities Change
Your company may be a good strategic fit today, and in a year from now. But people are fickle, and priorities can change, so a good offer today could be a non-existent offer later.

4. Employees Will Have Questions
In any sale of a business, employees are going to have questions about how the transaction will affect them. Also, the buyer will want to know how specific issues are handled. Will there be layoffs? Have confidentiality agreements been signed? What about any stock options? How will management be changed? These are just a few questions that should be anticipated.

5. Don’t Overlook Technology
These days, virtually every industry is impacted by technology. In the M&A process, it is important to think about how IT platforms will be consolidated or integrated, how technological changes can affect inventory, and how cloud management will be used, among many other factors.

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6. M&As Are Often Funded by Debt
Low interest rates on loans encourage M&A. In 2015, acquisition-related loans worldwide totaled more than $770 billion, the most since 2008.

7. Competition Will Result in the Best Deal
The more bidders there are on a sale, the more favorable the conditions are for the seller to negotiate a higher price and better terms. Even if there is only one serious bidder among several, the perceived level of interest can lead to brokering a better deal.

8. Synergy is a Must-Have
For an M&A deal to succeed, vision and strategy need to be synergized at the executive level and communicated to all management. M&As can fail due to a misalignment of vision for the culture, the industry, each company’s role, and more. The cultural fit of two companies can be crucial to how successfully they meld.

9. It Can Take Awhile
From beginning to end, most mergers and acquisitions can take a long time to be completed, usually in a period of around 4 to 12 months. The length of time depends on how much interest the seller has generated and how quickly a buyer conducts due diligence.

10. You Need an M&A Advisor
An experienced M&A advisory team can help ensure that the complex process of selling or buying a company goes smoothly, addressing all of the issues mentioned above on this list.

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What Is A Strategic Partner?

A strategic partner is another business entity with which you form an agreement to share resources with the mission of growth and mutual success. There are different types of strategic partnerships.

  • Horizontal Partnership: Businesses within the same field join alliances to improve their market position. Example: Facebook and Instagram.
  • VerticalPartnership: Businesses team up with companies within the same supply chain (suppliers, distributors and retailers), often to stabilize supply chains and increase sales. Example: LiveNation and Ticketmaster.
  • Equity Partnership: An investor acquires a percentage interest in a business, providing needed capital and sharing in profits and losses.
  • Joint Venture: Two or more businesses form an entirely new legal entity in which the profits and risks are shared, and the original companies continue to exist on their own. Example: Microsoft and NBC’s creation of MSNBC.
  • Merger: Two companies agree to go forward as a single new company and the original companies no longer exist. Example: Exxon and Mobil, now Exxon Mobil Corp.
  • Acquisition: One company takes over another company and establishes itself as the new owner. Example: AOL and Time Warner, now Time Warner.

Why Do I Need One?

A strategic partnership can be an extremely powerful tactic that gives your business a competitive edge. According to a study by the CMO Council, 85 percent of business owners believe partnerships are essential for business success.There are several reasons why it is a commonly relied-upon growth plan.

  • Expansion into new markets
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Product line extension
  • Access to new customers
  • Improved supply chain performance
  • Added value for existing customers
  • Acceleration of innovation
  • Strengthening of weaknesses
  • Sourcing of capital

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A successful partnership must be built on a solid growth strategy and make sense from a capabilities perspective. The goals, values and culture of all partners should be aligned. You also need to have the right infrastructure in place. And the timing of the venture can be critical depending on the market. A partnership is a major endeavor and you absolutely want to get it right. Unfortunately, most organizations are not armed with the proper connections, resources and management capabilities to maximize the potential of a partnership. According to a report by the Business Performance Innovation Network (BPI):

  • 43 percent of business partnerships have high failure rates.
  • 45 percent are unable to maintain long-term, successful relationships.
  • 42 percent of partnerships are not well leveraged.
  • 67 percent of companies that agree to work together lack formal partnering strategies. 

How to Get It Right

The smartest way to ensure that you are entering into a successful partnership is to seek the guidance of an advisor such as Benchmark International. We have the connections, experience, data-driven analytics, and knowledge to help you devise a carefully crafted growth strategy that is built on confidence and captures the most value. If you are a founder, an owner, an entrepreneur, or part of the leadership of an established company, we encourage you to reach out to us and start the conversation about how a strategic partnership can benefit your business.

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