How Long Does It Take To Sell My Marketing Agency?

When you finally say to yourself, I want to sell my marketing agency, you may think that things will move quickly. But the reality is that the waiting can be long and is often the hardest part. Normally – the process in its entirety is 3-4 months. However, knowing exactly what happens before, during, and after the sale of your marketing agency should provide the needed transparency to help you manage the process. Ensuring that the process is followed and handled professionally will make sure that counting the days was worth it in the end. Here, we help you understand the necessary steps – and the expected timeline attached to each of them – so that you can get a clear understanding as to how long it takes to sell your marketing agency. 

Sanity Check

First things first. Before you jump into the deep and run the risk of amping up the expectations, you may want to ensure that you are ready to sell in the first place. Has your agency been showing sustainable growth, year-on-year? Are your margins raising eyebrows or just red flags? Are you delivering an EBITDA of $500k and up? If you need a quick reality check and a reminder of what an agency buyer will be looking for in the first place, take a look at our article dedicated to just this here

The Timeline to Triumph

While there is some flexibility around the exact duration of each element required to make the sale of your agency a success, the process that will take you there is very defined. Normally – the process in its entirety is 3-4 months. Here is the step by step:

  • Initially, there is a valuation period before any agency owner enters the circle of sellers. This period requires the vetting of financials to get an accurate picture of what’s on offer. Once a price is agreed upon, the listing agreement is prepped and signed before a listing goes live. Expect this readying stage to take up to 1 week. 
  • Once your listing is live, it’s showtime. We do our homework on who would make the perfect fit before we scour the network to align your positioning and performance with a buyer’s long-term goals. We give this stage a solid month to generate enough leads in order to begin issuing a first term sheet.
  • Once there is a genuine offer in place, expect a further two weeks to transform those initial leads into a detailed LOI. 
  • Finally, turning a serious buyer’s intention into a closed deal will take…well, it will take the time it takes, really. The due diligence timeline is correlated with a buyer’s thoroughness and a seller’s previous processes. As a benchmark, we attach an expected duration of 45 days – but that can move in either direction. Expect to be able to improve on this timeline with more sophisticated buyers that have gone through this before. In addition, the required paperwork to close a deal will be produced during this 45-day window, which takes into account a small buffer for the required back and forth.

Timelines Vary

Depending not just on the experience but the type of buyer, the pace of the process can move in either direction as well. Strategic buyers with an eye for an operational fit will typically move faster while entrepreneurial types will take more time as they are likely entertaining more options. Financial buyers will put their targets through a Quality of Earnings report (think of this like a mini-audit), which can add another 3-5 weeks to the process.

Beyond getting the alignment right, which is something out of a seller’s hands, a seller can help shorten the timeline as well. If a buyer and seller remain in agreement with the initial closing docs, and if a seller is well-organized and on top of his operations and financials during the due diligence process, this will help drive up confidence and drive down duration.  


How To Sell Your Digital Marketing Agency For The Best Price

12 Tips To Sell Your Digital Marketing Agency For The Best Price

As you contemplate the decision to sell your digital marketing agency, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of what to expect. Digital marketing agencies can sell from anywhere between 1.5X – 12X EBITDA, depending on a multitude of factors. There are some obvious factors that determine how much your digital agency is worth, like the size and revenue structure (project vs. retainer based). Outside of those, there are steps you can (and should) take to get top dollar for your digital marketing agency. Keep reading for our step-by-step guide.

1 – Streamline & Document Wherever You Can

As you get ready to sell your digital agency, take some time to streamline your systems to reduce waste, organize the company’s technology assets (like a CRM) and optimize your organizational and personnel structure. If you don’t already have thorough documentation of your the ins and outs of your agency processes, this is the right time to get those in place. Sophisticated buyers willing to pay top dollar for your digital marketing agency will want to see a well-oiled machine that has proven systems and processes implemented company-wide.

2 – Make Your Biz Dev Process A Well-Oiled Machine

The biggest hurdle buyers often have when purchasing an agency is the business development process. What happens to the new business pipeline when the founder is gone? Even if the founder is willing to stay on board after the transaction, buyers still don’t like to see agencies without a clear business development system in place. For larger agencies, this should be a dedicated person or team that manages the inbound or outbound leads your team receives – ideally the founder isn’t involved in securing new business at all. For smaller agencies where this isn’t a possibility, the founder should have a reduced role in bringing on and securing new business. This is a big one!

3 – Get Better Contracts

Agencies with long-standing, foil proof contracts sell for a significantly higher multiple than those that are project based. If your agency can implement recurring revenue with retainer contracts – do it! If you can make those contracts for 12+ months without a 30 day clause, even better! This small change can be the difference of a lot of money at the closing table.

4 – Get Your Financials In Order

You need to have an accurate picture of your agency’s financials in order to sell your business for the best price. Seems obvious right? In order to convince a buyer your business is the right purchase for them, you need to know exactly what is coming in and out each month. Now is the time to take your mother-in-law off payroll and remove your business credit card from your Amazon account. Basic Profit and Loss Statements for 3 years and a current Balance Sheet should be enough to move you on to step 5.

5 – Find A Quality M&A Advisor To Sell Your Digital Marketing Agency

This could be the difference between selling your digital agency for the best price and not. A quality advisor who understands your niche and industry (this is key) will be able to give you an accurate valuation, produce professionally designed marketing materials and most importantly, tap into their network of ready-to-go buyers. A great advisor will be worth their weight in gold at the end of this process and will absolutely help you sell your digital agency for the best price. If you need to connect with us, you can do that here.

6 – Figure Out What Your Agency Is Worth

Now that you have a clear understanding of where your company stands financially, it’s time to give it a valuation. An agency is only worth what the market is willing to pay for it, but there are some tried and true factors that go into a successful valuation. The agency’s revenue & profits, operational structure, years in business, supporting technology, growth opportunities and the current buyer pool are just a few of the factors that go into determining a valuation of a business. This is where it gets a bit tricky, and a good advisor is going to have unparalleled knowledge to price your business just right to sell. (We can help, schedule an intro call here). Remember, 80% of businesses listed for sale never get sold. Why? Poor valuation formulas and old-school marketing tactics. More about the latter below.

7 – Develop A Marketing Strategy To Sell Your Digital Marketing Agency

Once you know how much your digital agency is worth, it’s time to tell the world about the opportunity to purchase it. There are thousands of businesses that get listed for sale every day, making it imperative that your digital agency is positioned correctly in the marketplace. To get in-front of the right buyers, a unique, full-court-press marketing strategy must be implemented. Think email campaigns, press releases, direct contacts, click-funnel campaigns, paid media, search engine optimization, content marketing and most importantly, relationships. Unsurprising news flash – existing relationships with a pool of seasoned buyers is still the absolute best way to sell your digital agency for the best price.

If you’re using a business broker or M&A advisor, make sure to ask about their existing relationships with buyers in the marketing space. They should have solid, and long-standing relationships with seasoned entrepreneurs and buyers who are always on the look-out for their next opportunity. At Barney, over 80% of the digital agencies we sell get sold to an existing buyer in our database. We can’t stress this enough – these relationships are crucial!

8 – Develop Marketing Materials

While some businesses are purchased by first-time business owners, most are purchased by seasoned entrepreneurs & strategic buyers who are approached with dozens of businesses each week. Sending a potential buyer a traditional Executive Summary just doesn’t cut it anymore. Make sure you have a professionally designed Business Prospectus, which is essentially a presentation overview of your company in PDF format. A Prospectus is generally 15-30 pages long and is visually stunning, helping your digital marketing agency stand-out from the crowded marketplace of businesses for sale.

9 – Thoroughly Vet Interested Buyers

This is where things start to get interesting…and fun. You’ve put in all of the hard work in order to properly value your digital agency, a marketing strategy has been developed and all of the necessary marketing materials to get your digital agency sold for the best price have been designed and produced. If everything up to this point has been done correctly, you should start getting buyers interested in your digital agency almost immediately.

In order to sell your digital agency for the best price, it’s imperative that all potential buyers undergo an incredibly thorough vetting process. The screening and vetting process confirms the buyer is qualified to purchase and own your business and that they are the right fit for your particular industry and organizational structure. This often overlooked step is so, so important.

Here’s why:

Once a buyer submits a Letter Of Intent on your digital agency and you agree to the offer, you almost always enter an exclusive due-diligence period, in which you as the seller are generally not allowed to discuss the sale with other potential buyers. If the first buyer was not properly vetted and ends up not being the right fit for purchasing the business, you very easily could have missed your window of opportunity with another group of more qualified, better suited buyers.

10 – Get Creative With Negotiating & Terms

Once the vetting process is complete with a buyer and you feel like they would be a great fit as an owner of your digital agency, you’re in a wonderful position to start negotiating the Letter of Intent (LOI) submitted by the buyer. The LOI includes the price the buyer is willing to pay and the terms in which the amount will be paid.

Buyers almost never come to the table with all-cash deals or with offers that are 100% of the asking price. More than likely, your buyer will make an attempt to negotiate on asking price and offer terms that mitigate their risk, maybe suggesting a percentage of owner financing, an earn-out or a staggered purchase overtime.

In order to sell your digital marketing agency for the best price, at the best possible terms, it is imperative that you have a thorough understanding of why the asking price is what it is. How was the valuation determined and why is your digital agency worth what you’re asking? Understanding this will give you tremendous negotiating power with the buyer and will certainly help you sell your business for the best price.

In addition to negotiating the purchase price, you’ll need to negotiate advantageous terms. Who wants to sell their digital agency if you don’t get paid for years? It helps if you understand all of the unique ways to structure a business deal so you can make choices in structure that are advantageous to you, not the buyer. When in doubt, use a quality business broker or M&A advisor to help with this…it could be the difference between you selling your digital agency for the best price and you not.

11 – Set-Up A Training Schedule While In The Due-Diligence Phase:

Unlike when you sell real estate, buyers and sellers of businesses almost always have to work together for at least some predefined period of training and transition. Getting on the same page about the training agenda, timeline and expectations as early in the process will help you manage expectations and also show that you are a seller who is dedicated post-sale. If the buyer sees something he or she doesn’t like during the due-diligence, knowing that you are committed to a smooth transition and that you already have a plan in place could be the extra push they need to get across the finish line at top-dollar.

12 – Use A Business Attorney For A Final Review Of Documents

There are a lot, and we mean a lot, of documents that go into the sale of a digital agency. In order to sell your business for the best price, and protect your interests after the sale is complete, it is imperative to utilize a business attorney to review all legal paperwork.

In Conclusion…

If you decide to start and eventually sell an agency, there are things you can (and should) do to help prepare your agency for an exit. We can act as a resource along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions! Connect with us when you’re ready!


Digital Agencies Are Selling For Record Breaking Amounts

From 2015-2019, the number of acquisitions of digital marketing agencies doing $2M – $10M in revenue annually surged up nearly 122%. Last year alone, the median sales price of digital marketing agencies increased a whopping 38%. The reason for the gains in acquisitions and sales price is simple. Buyers are catching on to the lucrative – and relatively low risk – industry of digital marketing agencies. The result? The traditional multiples used to value digital marketing agencies are being completely shattered.  Entrepreneurs who started digital marketing agencies just a few years ago are walking away with major paydays. To put it simply, we’re seeing that digital marketing agencies are selling for record breaking amounts. Can you tell we’re excited about this?

Buyers Were Slow To Take The Leap Into Digital

As traditional media companies and ad agencies scurry to adapt and stay relevant in a rapidly changing market, digital marketing agencies have blossomed as the pulse of future advertising. However, in the business world, digital agencies are still a relatively new business model. Most digital agencies have lacked the sophistication that is found in older, more established industries. In world of buying and selling businesses, digital agencies have long been considered a major risk that only the ultra tech savvy were willing to take.

In the past, first-time business owners have opted for something brick-and-mortar – a business that’s more traditional and comfortable. For seasoned entrepreneurs and private equity groups, digital agencies have lacked any real intellectual property, which is generally needed to attract tech-driven buyers that go for the “risky” investments. In addition, agencies have never had the traditional employee structure or long-standing financial history, ruling out mainstream PE Firms or family offices. The result – a scant and underwhelming pool of potential buyers.

As digital agencies began to get more sophisticated and established, and buyers realized the industry was here to stay, the dynamic of buying and selling digital agencies dramatically shifted. What once was an acquisition for only a strategic competitor has become a breeding ground for everyone outside of the digital marketing space racing to get a piece of the pie. Buyers have jumped in head first, but without the supply to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand, the prices have skyrocketed. In fact, the prices of digital marketing agencies have increased more than any other industry year-over-year.

An Attractive Purchase

Buyers love that most digital agencies are able to be managed from anywhere in the world. This lack of location requirement has opened up the buyer pool to include a vast array of strategic, financial and entrepreneurial buyers. Other agencies looking to expand their vertical or geographic stronghold can make a strategic purchase of a smaller, more nimble firm, regardless of physical location. Private equity firms looking to add to their profit-centric portfolio also aren’t bound by geographic location. Entrepreneurs are not as fearful of finding talent outside of a geographic area during an expansion.

Did we mention profit margins? A digital agency bringing in over $8M in revenue boasts an average profit margin over 18%. For smaller agencies, the profits can be significantly higher, sometimes even reaching 60%. Compared to other businesses of the same size and risk portfolio, digital agencies are CRUSHING it when it comes to profits. Needless to say, buyers love the high-profit margin, low risk industry of digital marketing.

Getting To Payday

For even small agencies, a slight difference in valuation can mean hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars difference in the ultimate payday. Yet, arriving at a definitive dollar figure can be a painstaking effort that encompasses a raft of factors. These valuation factors fluctuate based on everything from the current buyer pool and market conditions to cash flows and team structure.

The discussion does have to start somewhere, though, and there are guidelines. We’ve compiled the ones below from research, our experience and hundreds of interviews with buyers, sellers and financiers. Read on to learn what we’ve found.

Revenue

A lot of discussions around a digital agency’s valuation start with a multiple of its revenue. In today’s business climate, digital marketing agencies tend to sell for between .9 and 1.9 times revenues. Generally, this revenue number is taken from the previous, or “trailing,” 12 months.

Profitability & Its Proxy, EBITDA

EBITDA, short for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization,” measures how much money is left after the “real” expenses  — things like salaries and office rent  — are paid but before any financial and tax wizardry that can make the reported income, a.k.a. the bottom line, look quite different. Most digital marketing agencies with revenues over $8M sell for about 8–12x EBITDA. Agencies with revenues under $8M generally sell from about 1.5X-4X EBITDA.

Sophisticated strategic buyers look much deeper. They want to know not just the current EBITDA as a percentage of revenues, but also what they might do to improve on it.

Can they cut expenses from combining back end operations like bookkeeping or human resources? They might look to see what new profits they can add through new revenue streams.

Growth

Another reason digital agencies are selling for record breaking amounts – the RAPID growth that agencies can experience with minimal overhead and risk. For digital marketing agencies less than five years old, a revenue increase of 30–50 percent per year is considered a reasonable benchmark.

But those younger agencies also tend to put their retained earnings into expansion, hiring more staff and adding services in order to increase revenue growth. Higher growth then means lower profitability, which can lead to some intense discussions during the buying process and even foregoing certain types of potential acquirers looking mainly at immediate financial returns.

Type of Revenue

Certain varieties of revenue tend to add value in acquisitions – from a half-percentage point on up in the multiple:

  • Recurring revenue and retainer based contracts show an audience is willing to pay, and pay consistently. Often times the cash comes before the service is delivered, helping to finance upcoming operations. (Financial professionals call this type of cash “pre-revenue.”) Recurring revenue is also more predictable than project based revenue (think website design agency). Project based agencies don’t have as much control over their cash flow, turning away some buyers.
  • Multiple streams of revenue are better than 1. Revenue from different verticals or with different services show buyers that you have a diversified agency. For example, an agency that offers project based content marketing services to law firms won’t be as attractive to buyers as an agency that offers retainer based content marketing across several industries.

Management Structure

Buyers want to be sure that once the seller or founder exits the company, there won’t be an implosion. For sellers that are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of various aspects of the business, expect buyers to make offers on the lower end of the standard multiples. An owner who is involved in strategy and overall business decisions but isn’t involved in technical or business development work is an ideal set-up for buyers – meaning they will pay a premium.

Why Owners Decide To Sell

In general, sellers fall into three different categories. We say these respectively and as an owner, we believe you’ll appreciate the candor:

  • Fatigue, boredom and pursuing the next challenge. “This was fun and now it’s not.”
  • Highly profitable or quickly growing revenue. “This thing is flying and we want to strike while iron is hot.”
  • Loss of revenue, profit, both or key team members. “We no longer have a path to grow and would like to find some value for what we’ve built.”

Your reasons for selling your digital agency are never judged but important to understanding how things should be evaluated and viewed as a proper channel for purchase. The best prospects are those that are open, honest and direct with their expectations and the “why”.

Looking Ahead – Digital Agencies Are Selling For Record Breaking Amounts

With the low overhead and barrier to entry, the ability to carve your niche as a digital marketing agency has opened the flood gates for entrepreneurs to capture their share of this booming market.

With interest from 65 countries around the world, the success of digital agency acquisitions points to a growing market for many years. If you’re contemplating selling your digital agency, now is the time! Digital agencies are selling for record breaking amounts. The demand is high, the supply is low and owners are walking away with more than ever before!