This is a Guest blog post by Steve Pimpo and Bill Rossello of Greenhouse Consulting.
Common challenges we see and how to overcome them
Most business owners will come to the point in their journey when they feel it’s time to sell the company. They have spent a lot of time successfully building and growing their business, but most times are unprepared for the scrutiny and questions that they will face when being evaluated by a prospective “buyer” and their advisors. Based on our own experience and input we solicited from investment bankers, only about 10% of companies with owners seeking to sell are actually ready. Here are some of the reasons why:
Customer Diversity – A high percentage of company revenue comes from one client or contract. Unless a potential acquiring company is trying to “buy” into a market, buyers like to purchase companies that have a diverse client base or unique service or product offering.
Company Narrative – Some owners use the same sales pitch to pitch to prospective buyers as they do to customers. Communicating the value of a company to a potential buyer is different from selling services to a customer. You need to recognize what buyers want and articulate what is special about your company.
Financials – Sometimes there are accounting inaccuracies that can’t support “quality of earnings” or EBITDA adjustments. You need to ensure that financials are accurate and realistic and can stand up to the scrutiny of a potential buyer’s audit.
Quality of Contracts – Many prime government contracts are “set asides” or subcontracts and there is no clear path to transitioning them to a larger company. You should be prepared with a valid contract revenue waterfall, and a plan to transition set-aside contracts and relationships.
Management Commitment – Ownership hasn’t taken steps to ensure that the leadership and key players are “read in” and will remain with the company post-transaction. People are part of the “goodwill” and company “brand.” It is important to show buyers that there is a plan in place to retain these key employees through to the transaction and beyond.
New Business Pipeline – Buyers will hone right in on your pipeline looking for two things. Is the pipeline full of legitimate prospects and is your pipeline tracking system logical and consistent? If it does not consider reasonable estimates of gross and net revenue and probability of win, it’s not likely to pass a buyer’s sniff test. You need to be ready to justify the reasons you selected each big deal and why you think you have a good chance of winning.
Strategic Growth Plan – Many sellers lack the ability to articulate to potential buyers, a bona fide growth plan, one that paints a credible picture of where the company could go over the next 3-5 years with the power, resources and reach of a larger firm. You need to have that narrative ready to go when you put the company on the market.
Valuation Expectations – Often owners have an unrealistic expectation about the “multiple” of EBITDA or revenue a buyer will pay based on what their peers or friends have received in their transactions. Make sure you focus only on the value of your own business, what similar companies have sold for. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Will they really pay for a tool that does not generate repeatable revenue? Or take a huge risk of paying a high multiple for a company with some of the issues raised herein? Talk to transaction experts and, if you’re willing to pay for it, get a formal valuation prior to putting your company on the market.
Your Near-term Future – Some owners just want to retire or quit the business after the transaction. If you’re the person who manages the company’s client relationships, or you’re the chief technologist, or if there is a major upcoming re-compete, the buyer is likely to want you to stick around for a while after the deal is inked. And there may be an “earn-out” provision that ties some portion of your proceeds to achieving certain objectives over that timeframe. Before you put the company on the market, be sure to consider how you would answer a buyer if they ask you stay on.
Due Diligence Preparation – There needs to be sufficient organization and appetite toward due diligence. The process is inevitably painful, invasive and underestimated. Approach this as a client engagement or actual project and assign one individual to own/manage responsiveness and production.
Without question, selling your company will be the most important professional decision you will ever make. If you address these issues prior to formally starting the process, you will get more attention from investment bankers, dramatically increase the probability of a successful transaction, and likely increase your proceeds too. Most investment bankers don’t have the time or resources to help you address most of the things we have identified. Even worse, they might see you as an unsophisticated seller and probably turn down your business. So, commit the time, effort and resources to prepare 12-24 months before you call the bankers.
Steve Pimpo and Bill Rossello are Principals and co-founders of Greenhouse Consulting, a Washington, DC based business that provides management consulting services to help companies grow or prepare to sell. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.