M&A Transaction Tips: How To Ace An Intro Call With A Buyer

M&A Transaction Tips: How To Ace An Intro Call With A Buyer

You’ve done your research, prepped your financial materials, honed your elevator pitch, and now it’s time to connect with a potential buyer! Meeting prospective buyers is an exciting part of an M&A transaction, but it requires thoughtful preparation in order to ensure a productive conversation for both parties. Use these tips below as a checklist before preparing for your next call.

M&A Transaction Checklist: Buyer Intro Call

  1. Minimize Distractions: It seems obvious, but find a quiet place with a good internet connection. If you work from home, buyers understand some limitations, but eliminating distractions and noise will help you make the most of your time! Ensure that your background and surrounding environment look professional. 
  2. Leave a Lasting Impression: Enter the conversation with an infectious, positive attitude, and let your personality shine through! Buyers want to connect with you as a person and potential professional collaborator, not just a business entity. So, lead with charisma during the call to leave a lasting impression that resonates. 
  3. Dive into the Details: A little research can go a long way. By demonstrating your knowledge and enthusiasm, you'll captivate the buyer and create a compelling case for collaboration. Make sure you know who will be on the call and what their role is specifically within the organization. 
  4. Harness the Power of Preparedness: Arm yourself with essential documents that hold the key to success. From crucial financial metrics to client data and team information, ensure you have everything at your fingertips. Your M&A advisor can lend a hand in ensuring you're well-prepared to answer the buyer's inquiries and follow up after the call to close the loop on anything that you were unable to answer.
  5. Curiosity Fuels Success: Similar to a job interview, the buyer will likely set aside 10-15 minutes at the end of the call for your questions. So, before the call, brainstorm the information you'll need to make an informed and assured decision for your business. Your thoughtful queries will demonstrate your dedication to facilitating a successful M&A transaction.
  6. Active Listening: During the call, actively listen to the buyer's needs and concerns. Show genuine interest and empathy, and ask open-ended questions to encourage them to share more information. Remember, this is more than an M&A transaction you're trying to close, it's a relationship you're fostering. By staying engaged, you'll be able to customize your pitch and recommendations to precisely match their unique requirements.
  7. Overcome Objections: Equip yourself to gracefully handle objections or points of concern. Rather than brushing them off, embrace objections as stepping stones to provide thoughtful responses that ease concerns. Utilize persuasive techniques, such as presenting compelling evidence or sharing glowing client testimonials. These approaches will instill confidence in a buyer's decision to proceed in an M&A transaction with you.
  8. Reflection: Take time after the call to summarize your thoughts while they are fresh in your mind! Be sure to note the aspects of the conversation that you enjoyed and anything that gave you pause or concern. Share these takeaways with other key players, such as your M&A advisor, and be sure to get their feedback on the conversation as well. 

Most importantly, remember to keep an open mind during any conversation with a potential buyer! Sometimes the conversation can take a turn that surprises you and lead to an incredible future partnership.


5 Terms To Know Throughout the M&A Process

5 Terms To Know Throughout The M&A Process

The M&A process can be a transformative opportunity to increase market share, drive operational efficiencies, and unlock growth opportunities. However, embarking on this journey requires more than just ambition. Having a clear understanding of the process and key terms used in the space allows for informed decision-making to drive a successful transaction. 

Key Terms To Know Throughout the M&A Process 

EBITDA: The abbreviation for Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization; a calculation used to express cash profit. Essentially, this is your net profit plus additional expense adjustments that a prospective Buyer would not incur. When valuing an agency, Barney utilizes a multiple of EBITDA to determine your agency's total enterprise value.

Letter of Intent: A non-binding letter that outlines an introductory commitment to do business with another entity. The LOI serves as the blueprint for the transaction between two parties and defines the purchase price, structure, and deal terms. The Barney acquisition team will help guide you through these offer letters and negotiate the most ideal terms on your behalf.

Deal Structure: The financial terms, conditions, and obligations of both the buyer and seller to guide a smooth transition of business ownership. The funding mechanisms outlined in a deal structure are the buyer's tool to “bridge a valuation” gap between the total enterprise value and the available cash they have on hand. Most deal structures will include some combination of the following components - cash at close, seller’s financing, earnout, rolled equity, and phantom equity. Barney’s role is to advocate for your preferred deal structure which usually includes the highest amount of “guaranteed funds” - cash at close and seller’s financing.

Working Capital: The difference between an entity’s current assets and current liabilities; overall the amount of money needed to run the day-to-day operations of a business. Buyers will typically ask for 2-3 months of operating income post-transaction so that the ownership transition does not hinder business operations. Barney will help guide you through all of these house-cleaning steps at the end of the due diligence process.

Earnout: This is the potential portion of the purchase price where payment is contingent upon the company achieving predefined milestones within a set period of time following the transaction. Typically, performance metrics tied to top-line revenue are more advantageous for a seller than those tied to EBITDA. The Barney acquisition team will ensure you are well-informed regarding the obligations of any proposed earnout period and advocate for terms that align with your financial projections and transition timeline. 

The M&A process doesn’t have to be  daunting! With guidance, advocacy  and support from a qualified advisor, it can be an exciting opportunity to launch an agency and its founder into a new chapter of opportunity.


Optimizing Agency Accounting With Fractional CFO Services

Optimizing Agency Accounting With Fractional CFO Services

Running an agency requires you to be intimately involved in the day-to-day operations and pulled in many directions. A fractional CFO is able to provide assistance on both the intimate details of financial reporting and accounting, as well as advisory and guidance on the overall strategy and direction of the business. This dual perspective is invaluable during the acquisition process to a) set you up for success in regards to having all of the necessary financial documents ticked and tied and b) to consider the big picture implications as you prepare to sell your business.

Four Ways Agency Accounting Benefits From Fractional CFO Services 

Cost

The cost of hiring a fractional CFO is significantly cheaper than the salary of a full-time CFO. Your agency accounting efforts will benefit from the financial expertise of an experienced CFO without the commitment and strain of a full-time employee. Buyers want to see clean books and records, so investing in this prior to starting the acquisition process inevitably saves time and headaches during the due diligence process.

Specialized Experience

Problem solving is an invaluable skill in the management of a small-business. A fractional CFO not only provides financial acumen and streamlined agency accounting, but extensive experience identifying issues and implementing processes to solve them. It’s important to identify an individual who has experience with agencies of comparable size to yours, as well as industry experience. 

Flexibility

The advantage of a fractional CFO is that their involvement can be tailored to the level of attention your agency accounting efforts require. In the case of preparing for a sale, this person can be utilized to ensure all of the necessary financials, including balance sheets and P&L’s, are prepared with the appropriate amount of detail. Having the ability to quickly pull various financial documents as potential buyers request them, helps to streamline the process and keep momentum.

Perspective

If your agency accounting efforts need enhancing, a fractional CFO can provide experienced counsel and a fresh perspective which can help optimize processes to make them more efficient and cost effective. Having clear systems in place is very valuable to prospective buyers and signals that the agency can run independently of any individual. While the process of selling your business may be confidential, it’s helpful to have another executive who is aware of the sale and can provide support and financial information as needed.

Take Action

Maintaining clean, cohesive, and organized financial statements are crucial to a successful sale of your business. Hiring a fractional CFO to guide your agency before and during the process is an effective use of time and resources to ensure a smooth exit.


How to Grow The Value Of Your Marketing Agency Without Raising Revenue

Top-line growth is only one end of the P&L statement. Agency owners that are not just sales-minded but understand operations just as well, know that their margins can be improved elsewhere too. Although an early-stage agency will need revenue to demonstrate traction and proof of concept, a company with enough track record – and one that is looking to sell – needs to do better than that. EBITDA will take center stage for a buyer looking under your financial hood – and there is plenty of ways to raise the roof on your EBITDA without having to drive sales. Especially in the current market environment that is still demonstrably shaken up by the ongoing pandemic, structural readjustments and remote work are redefining operations. If you are looking to drive up your bottom line as you line up a sale, we recommend you take a closer look at our five hacks to grow the value of your marketing agency without the need to raise revenue. 

Five Hacks To Grow The Value of Your Marketing Agency

The Roof Overhead is an Overhead

Office leases, in particular, are dead weight in the current market environment. Long leases are not integral to the business of most marketing agencies – something that is especially obvious since 2020 and the proof of remote work as a key component of agencies in the digital age. As tools to work remotely become smarter and employees become more accustomed to them, it is worth reconsidering if that office lease or that prestigious address on the business card are worth their costs. No less, co-working spaces, insofar as they are open for business, offer a smart and flexible alternative. Why not survey your team to see how many days a week they would be happy working remotely and scale down accordingly? 

Automate Where You Can

Automation and streamlining are essential ingredients to your margin improvement. Revisit your processes, workflows and operational architecture to check on where there is still room for automation improvements. Tasks that should raise the automation flag include tasks that involve compliance and audit trails, that require multiple people to execute or that are especially time-sensitive. 

From invoice generation to time tracking and from automated workflows to streamlined communication through project management tools with automated notifications, the world of process automation is yours for the taking. Things to keep in mind are that no tool is a cure-all and any tool is only as good as its implementation. Set goals, assign accountability and measure your results over time. Your reduced likelihood of error and improved productivity will work its way into your margins in the medium to long term.  

Improve Your Brand & Increase Prices

When was the last time your brand got a shake-up? Are your website and your logo still a little too close to when you first launched? It shouldn’t take a Fortune 500 company in the public eye to make rebranding relevant. Give your look and feel a lift that will strengthen your positioning as you gear up a sale – and that can help you justify giving your prices a lift along the way.  

Invest In Your Team

Most importantly, take a good look at your team. They will be the ones carrying your agency not only over – but past – the finish line as you execute on a potential exit. Who are the top-tier candidates that will shoulder your agency and drive the marketing agency at this critical juncture? Invest in these individuals and shed any excess weight as you close in on the valuation home stretch and grow the value of your marketing agency. 

Future-Proofing In Times of Crisis

It may be a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking note: there is opportunity in crisis. Even if you are not looking to make a sale just yet, these are things you can do to improve your operational resilience. Take advantage of the current reshuffle. Let it serve as an eye-opener as to how to cut costs and restructure your agency to help bring the value of your marketing agency to where it needs to be so you can turn it into a listing no buyer would overlook.


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 acquisition 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 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 acquisition 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!