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A Trip Back in Time: M&A 20 Years Ago

The year was 1999. The world was transforming thanks to new technologies, and society was bracing for what Y2K and the millennium bug might bring. The popularity of the Internet was skyrocketing, and home computers were becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. Napster, Blackberry, Tivo, and Bluetooth were introduced. The "Melissa" E-mail Virus infected millions of computers and caused more than $80 million in damage globally. The Euro currency was established in 11 countries. The cost of a gallon of gas was $1.22. Bill Gates became the wealthiest man on earth, and Jeff Bezos was named Time Person of the Year. But what about the world of mergers and acquisitions twenty years ago?

1999 M&A in Review

The year 1999 was known as the year of the hostile deal. Strategic refocusing of companies was at an all-time high. Companies were motivated to act quickly to fend off larger rivals. The philosophy was that the bigger a company became, the more dominant it would be in the market.

  • Total worldwide mergers and acquisitions grew from $286.9 billion in 1991 to $3.2 trillion in 1999, with a total of 24,436 transactions that year.
  • Also in 1999, worldwide hostile deals reached more than $473 billion in dollar volume representing more than 14% of all announced worldwide deal value.
  • There were 9,192 M&A transactions valued at $1.4 trillion in the U.S alone, including 15 hostile deals valued at $112.7 billion.
  • Deals valued at over a billion dollars increased from 13 in 1991 to 194 in 1999.
  • There were 47 transactions valued at more than $10 billion worldwide in 1999.

 

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Making M&A History

Several of the biggest M&A deals in history took place in the years 1999 and 2000.

  • Vodafone AirTouch of Britain negotiated the hostile $183 billion merger of Mannesmann of Germany. This all-stock transaction set a record for a corporate takeover.
  • Also in 1999, Exxon and Mobil merged to become an energy industry superpower.
  • In January of 2000, America Online's announced the $165 billion purchase of Time Warner.
  • The same year, Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert for $90 million, creating the second-largest drug company in the world.

These four deals are among the world's largest mergers of all time. 

Tech & Communications Revolution

The years of the mid to late 1990s were an economic game-changer. The tech and communications revolution certainly had a major impact on M&A activity. It stimulated the globalization of markets by improving cross-border communications and transactions, and it enhanced capabilities in modeling cash flows and structuring transaction scenarios. It also resulted in a boom in new business launches and the reimagining of established businesses.

1999 was the height of the Information Age, and the dot-com tech bubble was fatter than ever. Markets were booming. Dot-com startups were going public. Online shopping was becoming an actual thing. People were quitting their jobs to engage in full-time day trading and personal investing. We saw the rising popularity of online companies such as eBay, Amazon, Yahoo!, AOL, Match.com, and WebMD.

Of course, the bubble burst, leading to the early 2000s recession. Many online companies went under, and other major corporations lost a large portion of their market cap. Pets.com lost a whopping $1.75 trillion in value only nine months after its IPO.

Unfortunately, the dot-com crash also led to the telecoms market crash of 2001. Telecom providers over-invested in their networks, and mobile phone companies overspent on 3G licenses. The high levels of infrastructure investments were out of proportion to cash flow, and increased competition led many telecoms providers to slash prices for services, especially in the European market. Within one year, 100,000 jobs were lost in telecoms support and development across Europe.

Now vs. Then

The recession in the early 2000s cooled M&A activity for obvious reasons. The good news is that 2019 has actually been the most dynamic year for M&A activity since the year 2000, driven by a surge in North American deals. CEO confidence is on the rise, and investors are showing a willingness to take risks.

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Where Will Lower-middle Market M&A Be In A Year From Now?

The Current Market

The lower-middle market has remained positive for sellers in 2019, thanks to an abundance of buyers that are giving sellers the leverage to demand favorable terms. Most business sectors are seeing strong profits, and the bullish optimism of large-cap investors has spilled over into lower and middle markets. This has resulted in heightened interest and aggressive valuation and buying from private equity firms.

There are several patterns have carried over into 2019 from a very active year in 2018.

• M&A activity has been especially strong in the healthcare and technology industries.

• Acquisitions remain a popular strategy for companies needing talent to keep up with growth.

Buy-and-build strategies are proven to be working.

• Emerging markets are being attractively valued, especially in the Asia Pacific region.

• Competition for high-quality targets is intense, particularly for businesses that are owned by the rapidly growing retiring population.

• Small business confidence is strong, resulting in increased investment by owners.

What Lies Ahead

The world faces potential changes in the political landscape as the United States 2020 presidential election nears, Britain is under new leadership through the Brexit transition, and the global economy navigates significant political unknowns in the wake of trade deals and tariffs. However, the United States election takes place near the end of 2020, which could possibly stave off any significant effects on the economy until the year 2021.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

While no one can ever be certain what the future holds, we still see the benefits of a strong year midway through 2019, yet the lower-middle market has the potential to become more complicated in 2020. The current bullish market is strong but is expected to lose momentum based on the average amount of time that historical highs have been proven that they can be sustained. Many experts warn of a downturn in the economy next year, predicting that a recession is looming. In contrast, some experts expect M&A activity to remain robust regardless of the economy.

Obviously, uncertainty in the marketplace can impede M&A activity. But a recession does not necessarily mean that selling will be impossible. The variables that drive lower-middle market M&A include:

• Lending capacity: The less money a buyer can borrow, the less money they may want to spend.

• Cost of capital: The cheaper a buyer can borrow, the more money they may want to spend.

• Buyer access to equity capital: Strong profits and surplus cash motivate activity.

• Supply and demand for deals: Aging populations entering retirement and business succession plans, strategic buyers focusing on growth, etc.

In the lower-middle market, buyers and lenders both tend to stay much more disciplined regarding their willingness to lend, cost at which they lend, and returns they target. Buyers will be seeking targets with stability, limited cyclical exposure, a business model with recurring revenue, and a history of performing well through a recession.

Should You Sell Now?

The good news is that there is still time before a possible slump in activity and optimism. If you are looking to sell your business, you may have another 12 to 18 months to benefit from the premiums today’s sellers are getting. Keep in mind; it does not mean that after this time is over, you will not be able to sell. Companies are always looking to grow through acquisitions, and the market is always changing. You do not need to feel completely discouraged by any economic slowdown.

Consider how long you are willing to wait to sell your business if the market were to drop. If you do not plan to sell within around five years or more, you can wait patiently for the next market rebound. But if you are determined to sell in the next couple of years, it may be wise to get serious about your exit strategy while conditions are still favorable. Think about what is right for you, your business, and your family when deciding when to make a move.

Contact Us

Our business acquisition experts at Benchmark International can offer exit planning advice and help you plan a solid transition for your company. We will use all the tools at our disposal to get you the maximum selling price while preserving your vision for the future. We can also help if you are looking to buy a business. Contact us today.

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15 Smart Tips On Exit Planning

15. Decide the Company's Future

Before planning your exit strategy, you must decide the future course for your business. Do you plan to sell outright? Would you prefer that the company stay within family ownership? Do you want to retain a percentage stake in the company? Is there an employee that you would want to take over? Could a merger or an acquisition be the best move? This is a key decision to consider before embarking on your exit plan.

14. Set a Date

It's never too early to think about when you plan to retire. This need not be an exact date on the calendar, but you should establish a ballpark timeframe that you would like to put the wheels in motion for your exit. Having an idea of the timing will help you get the process started at the right time, whether it's two years from now or 20 years down the road, especially because most transactions take time.

13. Plan for Continuity

If your business will be changing hands when you retire, you should have a solid plan in place for maintaining the continuity of the company's operation. Both employees and customers alike will need to feel that the future is secure, and you should be able to reassure them through a clear strategy for the transition.

12. Use Diversity to Minimize Risk

The more diversity you have in your client and supplier bases, the more attractive and less precarious your business will be to potential buyers. They are going to need to have confidence that the business can grow, rather than falling apart if the sale results in the loss of one or two key clients.

11. Think Big Picture

It is not uncommon for a business owner to get wrapped up in the day-to-day details of running the company to the point where they lose sight of the bigger picture. It is a good idea to take a step back and consider where you want your business to be in the future, how you plan to get it there, and when your exit fits into that plan.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

10. Create Your Dream Team

Having a strong management team in place is crucial to any successful exit strategy. Whoever is taking the reins is going to be a significant factor whether you are selling the business to an outside party or bequeathing it to family or an employee. It will also help you rest easier about leaving the company in someone else's hands.

9. Get Your Financials in Order

Before you can broker a sale or transfer ownership or control, you will need to organize financial statements, valuation data, and other important documents about the business. If you are planning to sell, buyers will expect to see thorough documentation about the business operations, profits, losses, projections, liabilities, contracts, real estate agreements (pretty much anything and everything regarding the company).

8. Know Your Target

If you plan to sell your company, you are obviously going to want a buyer who has the financial capacity to take on your business. But money is not the only thing that you should be seeking. You want a buyer who shares your values and your vision for the company. They also should possess the right skill set to maintain the company's success and even grow that success. You should not waste your time with a prospective buyer that doesn't have the chops to take the business in the right direction.

7. Always Listen

Even if you feel it is too soon to sell and someone is reaching out to you, it is always wise to hear him or her out. It could result in a meaningful relationship that can be beneficial in the future. They could also reveal some things about your company that you have not yet considered, sparking new ideas and opportunities in the realm of business acquisitions.

6. Devise Practical Earn-outs

If you plan on getting additional payment as part of the sale of your business based on the achievement of certain performance metrics, be realistic about setting these goals. Falling short of these targets can result in less money for you and enhanced leverage for the buyer.

5. Get Your Tech in Order

Today nearly everything is powered by technology. You use it to help you get organized, but you also run the risk of letting things fall through the cracks. Think about all the logins and passwords that give you access to things that run the business. Establish a plan to streamline your tech while keeping it secure for a transition in management. There are enterprise cyber-security management solutions that can assist with these matters.

4. Know Your Number

Have you asked yourself, "What is my business worth?" When you understand the precise valuation of your business, you will be able to ascertain the difference between a fair sale and a bad deal, and get the money you deserve. This includes a company analysis married with a market analysis. You should enlist the help of an M&A expert to determine the valuation of your business accurately. It is worth it to ensure that you get your maximum value.

Feeling unfulfilled? Explore your options...

 

3. Put it on Paper

Having the proper paperwork drawn up for legal purposes is important in the event that something were to happen to you so that you can convey your plans and wishes for the business. The task of creating this safety net will also help you plan more clearly for the future. Sometimes there are details you may overlook until you go to put it all on paper. You should outline your plan and make sure any necessary signatures are on file.

2. Assess the Market

Markets fluctuate and can change at any given time. But if you carefully evaluate your industry's outlook and growth projections, you can time your exit strategy for when you can get the most value for your company. If the outlook is not trending toward optimism, you can take the time to consider how you can bolster the value of your business and make it more desirable in the future.

1. Partner With an Advisor

Valuating and selling a company is not easy. Neither is planning an exit strategy. Seeking the help of experts such as an M&A advisory firm can take an enormous weight off of your shoulders. It can also ensure that the exit process goes smoothly, stays on track, and achieves your specific objectives for both you and the company.

Benchmark International can help you establish your exit strategy and broker the sale of your company so that you get every last penny that you are worth. Call us to get the process started. Even if you are not 100% sure that you are ready to plan your exit, we can help you devise strategies to grow your business in the meantime.

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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.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

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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6 Books About Growing A Business That You Should Read

Growing a Business

By Paul Hawken

In this book, Paul Hawken explains how a successful business is an expression of the individual behind it, along with practical advice, common sense, and down-to-earth ideas. Even though it was written 30 years ago, it remains an excellent and very relevant read, backed by the fact that the author’s own companies are still successful after all these years.

 

Organizational Physics - The Science of Growing a Business 

By Lex Sisney

The author of this book spent more than a decade leading and coaching high-growth technology companies. In his work, he discovered that companies that thrive do so in accordance with six universal principles. The book covers a blend of important business and entrepreneurial topics in a manner that stands out from other business books.

 

Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine

By Mike Michalowicz

In this book, the author offers principles to simplify accounting and easily manage a business through analysis of bank account balances. The theory is that a small, profitable business can be more valuable than a large business surviving on its top line, and those that achieve early and sustained profitability have a better chance of maintaining long-term growth.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

Explosive Growth: A Few Things I Learned While Growing To 100 Million Users - And Losing $78 Million

By Cliff Lerner

This best seller provides step-by-step instructions, case studies and proven tactics on how to explode business growth. It reveals the detailed growth frameworks that propelled the author’s small online dating startup to grow to 100 million users while coupling humorous storytelling with concrete examples.

 

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

By Gabriel Weinberg

Traction is based on interviews with more than 40 successful business founders about their real-life successes. It covers 19 channels that can be used to gain traction for a business, and how to select the best ones for your company. The book discusses topics such as targeted media coverage, effective email marketing strategy, and online search optimization.  

 

Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact

By Ron Price and Stacy Ennis

Growing Influence is packed with relatable human experiences and practical advice on developing the right leadership skills. It chronicles two main characters’ growth as they applied the principles in the book, mixing solid business advice with a novel that is fresh, timely and inspiring.

 

Ready to Grow Your Business?

Contact us for help with unique growth strategies for your company and how we can partner for your successful future.

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Why Buy-and-build Strategies Work

What Is Buy and Build?

When private equity acquires a well-positioned platform company to acquire additional smaller companies, using the developed expertise in a specialized area to grow and increase returns, it is considered a buy-and-build strategy. This strategy is common with private equity firms with shorter holding periods of about three to five years.

Why It Is An Effective Growth Strategy

If a buy-and-build strategy is executed correctly, a great deal of value can be created when smaller companies are combined under the control of a new company.

  • This type of acquisition saves time regarding the development of specialized skills or knowledge, allowing for growth and expansion to other markets more quickly and successfully with lower production costs.
  • Creating a larger, more attractive company offers a path to exploit the market’s inclination to assign larger companies higher valuations than smaller ones.
  • It provides a clear plan when deal multiples are at record levels and there is a need for less traditional strategies.
  • Buy-and-build deals generate an average internal rate of return of 31.6% from entry to exit, versus 23.1% for standalone deals.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

Getting It Right

The buy-and-build acquisition is not simple to execute. The process demands meticulous planning and due diligence for the strategy to work. The best deals usually employ multiple paths to create value.

  • Synergy between the acquirer and the acquired is important to the outcome of the deal. Companies should target existing firms that will be a good fit as a team both tactically and culturally. The human element should always be considered.
  • The management team must be an appropriate fit and have experience with these types of transitions.
  • There should be a vision in place for where the company will be five years down the road.
  • The platform company must be stable enough to endure the process regarding operations, cash flow, and infrastructure (IT integration in particular).
  • Sector dynamics should also be considered. Avoid sectors that are dominated by low-cost rivals or mature, stable players. Focus on sectors with many active smaller suppliers and service providers. Consolidation should result in cost savings and improved service.
  • While no two deals are the same, there are patterns for getting it right. Those experienced with buy-and-build strategies are more likely to lead to a successful deal.
  • It can be difficult to identify private equity firms because of the nature of the way they do business. It helps to have an experienced M&A firm with extensive connections and a proven track record of negotiating successfully with buy-and-build-focused private equity firms.

These reasons are among several as to why it is a sensible decision to enlist the help of an experienced M&A firm such as Benchmark International for your vision for growth. Count on us to help you get your buy-and-build strategy done right.

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9 Ted Talks Every Business Owner Should Watch

1. Globalization Isn't Declining—It's Transforming
Arindam Bhattacharya

https://www.ted.com/talks/arindam_bhattacharya_globalization_isn_t_declining_it_s_transforming

Mr. Bhattacharya is a Boston Consulting Group Fellow, Senior Partner in their New Delhi office, and worldwide co-leader of the BCG Henderson Institute in Asia. Hear his interesting argument as to why globalization is not going extinct but instead is evolving due to cross-border data flow.

2. How to Build a Company Where the Best Ideas Win
Ray Dalio

https://www.ted.com/talks/ray_dalio_how_to_build_a_company_where_the_best_ideas_win

Mr. Dalio is the founder, chair, and chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. Learn how his strategies helped him create such a successful hedge fund and how you can use data-driven group decision making to your advantage.

3. Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals
John Doerr

https://www.ted.com/talks/john_doerr_why_the_secret_to_success_is_setting_the_right_goals

In this talk, engineer and venture capitalist Mr. John Doerr discusses the established goal-setting system "Objectives and Key Results," or "OKR," which is currently being used by companies such as Google and Intel.

4. The Global Business Next Door
Scott Szwast

https://www.ted.com/talks/scott_szwast_the_global_business_next_door

Mr. Szwast is the marketing director for UPS, and he has spent 25 years supporting the international transportation industry. In this talk, he explains how the image of global business is misunderstood and why businesses should stop hesitating to consider crossing borders.

Do you have an exit or growth strategy in place?


5. How to Break Bad Management Habits Before They Reach the Next Generation of Leaders
Elizabeth Lyle

https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_lyle_how_to_break_bad_management_habits_before_they_reach_the_next_generation_of_leaders

Tune in as esteemed leadership development expert Elizabeth Lyle offers a new approach to cultivating middle management in fresh, creative ways.

6. Business Model Innovation: Beating Yourself at Your Own Game
Stefan Gross-Selbeck

https://www.ted.com/talks/stefan_gross_selbeck_business_model_innovation_beating_yourself_at_your_own_game

Mr. Gross-Selbeck is Partner at BCG Digital Ventures, and he has 20 years of experience as an operator and a consultant in the digital industry. In this talk, he discusses the unique aspects of today's most successful start-ups. Also, he shares strategies for duplicating their philosophies of disruption and innovation that can be applied for any business.

7. How the Blockchain is Changing Money and Business
Don Tapscott

https://www.ted.com/talks/don_tapscott_how_the_blockchain_is_changing_money_and_business

Mr. Tapscott is the executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute. In this talk, he explains Blockchain technology and why it is crucial that we understand its potential to redefine business and society completely.

8. What it Takes to Be a Great Leader
Rosalinde Torres

https://www.ted.com/talks/roselinde_torres_what_it_takes_to_be_a_great_leader?referrer=playlist-talks_for_when_you_want_to_sta

In this talk, leadership expert Rosalinde Torres describes simple strategies to becoming a great leader, based on her 25 years of experience closely studying the behavior and habits of proven leaders.

9. How Conscious Investors Can Turn Up the Heat and Make Companies Change
Vinay Shandal

https://www.ted.com/talks/vinay_shandal_how_conscious_investors_can_turn_up_the_heat_and_make_companies_change

Mr. Shandal is a partner in the Boston Consulting Group's Toronto office, leading their principal investors and private equity practice. Hear his chronicles of top activist investors and how you can persuade companies to drive positive change.

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How Seller Due Diligence Maximizes Business Value

Selling a company is a momentous life event for any business owner. You have worked hard to build it and want to achieve the highest acquisition value possible when you are ready to sell. To do this, you should be fully prepared for any prospective buyer to conduct rigorous due diligence, which means you should be prepared to do your own.

What is due diligence? A comprehensive appraisal of your business to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential. 

If you carry out thorough due diligence before putting your company on the market, it will be primed and ready for the buyer to conduct their due diligence process. By being sufficiently prepared, your business is going to appear more attractive to buyers.

Planning Ahead is Crucial

First things first: plan ahead and plan early. Give yourself enough time to optimize the company’s value before putting it on the market. A carefully planned sales strategy is sure to garner better value than what appears to be a hasty fire sale. It is best to wait to sell until you have done everything that you can to maximize your company valuation. When you take the time to position your business attractively for the marketplace, it reduces the odds of a negative outcome.

Start by identifying the key value drivers for your business and how they can be improved. This will help you find obstacles to a sale before a buyer does, and give you time to address any issues. These drivers include:
• Skilled, motivated workforce
• Talented management team
• Strong financials and profitability
• Access to capital
• Loyal and growing customer base
• Economy of scale
• Favorable market share
• Strong products/services and mix of offerings
• Solid vendor relationships and supplier options
• Sound marketing strategy
• Product differentiation and innovation
• Up-to-date technology and workflow systems
• Strong company culture
• Research and development
• Protected intellectual property
• Long-term vision

It is common for buyers to be especially concerned with company culture and existing customer relationships. Make sure your employees and your customers know what to expect and share your vision. If there is misalignment in these areas, it can unfavorably impact the post-sale performance of the company.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?
Why Documentation Matters

Having all your documentation in order, ensuring its accuracy, and putting it all on the table is going to make you a more trusted seller and increase the value of the business. It will also help you avoid constant back-and-forth requests from a buyer, which can be a distraction for you while you’re trying to run a business.

Creating a secure and efficient virtual data room (VDR) for storage and review of documents offers major advantages. A VDR is a secure online document repository that enables efficient collaboration between parties in any location so they may share information at any time during the pre-deal phase. A VDR also makes it easier to compile and verify every document internally and avoid duplicating efforts. Plus, it offers exceptional security to safeguard against confidential information ending up in the wrong hands. Once you have your VDR completed and vetted internally, you can open the files up to outside partners. Overall, the VDR is your secret weapon in making sure all of your documentation is centralized and that you are presenting your company in the very best light.

You can learn more about the documentation you will need to compile here.

Timing is Everything

You want to sell at the right time based on the market, which is always changing. Being adequately prepared to sell means being ready to act when the time is right. And selling at the right time means getting more value for your business.

Something else you must consider is if you are truly ready to sell. This is not the time to be emotional. Once you’ve initiated the sales process, the last thing you want to do is change your mind when buyers are already involved in the conversation. This will give you a reputation of being disingenuous and not being a serious seller, scaring off potential buyers in the future and devaluing your company.

Professional Help is Key

If it sounds like preparing for the sale of your company is an exhaustive undertaking, that’s because it is. But you do not have to do it alone. If you enlist the expertise of a reputable mergers and acquisitions firm, they can lead the way and help you get the most value for your company. A good M&A Advisor will know better than anyone how to steer you through the due diligence process.

They will also know when the market is in the right place for a sale, and give you access to quality buyers that you can trust. It is also important to note that buyers are going to take you much more seriously when you have partnered with a highly regarded M&A firm.

At Benchmark International, we’re here for you. Our experts are ready to partner with you to exceed your expectations and make great things happen.

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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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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.   

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?
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.

 

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

 

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.

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

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

Ready to explore your exit and growth options?

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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