M&A Advisor Tip
Perks & Business Value
Business owners take a number of perks from their business, from the standards like auto expenses, memberships, and insurance plans to extras like entertainment, vacations, or an additional family member on the books.
Perks are a way for owners to be further compensated for their hard work. However, they can complicate valuing a business. When preparing your business for sale, your advisors will “normalize” your financials to account for these extras.
Be aware of providing products or services for cash – or perks that can’t be adequately tracked and proven in your books – can diminish the value of your business. When planning to sell, talk to your advisor about the tax benefits / value tradeoff of certain perks and consider where it would be better to drive cash to the bottom line.
Market Pulse Survey – Quarter 4 2021
Presented by IBBA & M&A Source
A seller’s market occurs when demand exceeds supply. There are more interested, active buyers than there are quality deals on the market. In a seller’s market, buyer’s compete in order to win deals. This typically translates to increased values and more favorable deal terms for the seller.
In Q4 2021, seller market sentiment rebounded, setting a new peak in all but the $5M-$50M sector.
“Business confidence and competition is high. It’s amazing how fast we rebounded to record levels,” said Dave Richards, President of Keystone Business Advisors. “This is the strongest upward swing we’ve seen in any 12-month period.”
M&A Feature Article
Small Business Values up in 2021
Business values increased in 2021, despite ongoing challenges from the pandemic, talent shortages, and supply chain disruption. Deal activity continued at an intense pace, with advisors across the country reporting increases in both incoming deal flow and completed engagements.
More advisors characterized this as a seller’s market than nearly any other time in the last decade, according to the year-end Market Pulse report from IBBA and the M&A Source. Buyer confidence is high, as is competition for quality deals.
Businesses with enterprise value of $5 million to $50 million earned an average multiple of 6.0x EBITDA (a survey peak), realizing an average final sale price at 113% of the internal target benchmark. Multiples remained at or near market peak throughout the Main Street and lower middle market.
Meanwhile, time to close shrank in nearly all market segments. Time to close was likely facilitated by the high rate of buyer competition as well as a push to get deals closed before year-end. Here at Keystone, we closed 40% of our transactions in the fourth quarter, and we’ve heard that trend was fairly consistent across the industry.
The year end is always a hot time to get deals done as buyers and sellers push to meet self-imposed deadlines. We also know a number of sellers entered the market in early 2021, planning to get ahead of potential increases in capital gains taxes. Many of those deals would have had accepted offers and been in due diligence by the time it became clear tax changes were not yet coming.
Main Street Activity
In the Main Street market last year, individual buyers accounted for 71% of business transitions. Of those, 40% were first time buyers and 31% were repeat business owners or what we call “serial entrepreneurs.”
Another 26% of Main Street buyers were existing companies. These are the strategic buyers acquiring other businesses as a way to expand or eliminate competition. A small percentage, just 3%, were private equity acquisitions.
While market definitions vary, businesses are generally considered “Main Street” if they have an enterprise value of less than $2 million. The majority of the transactions that happen in this sector are small, less than $500,000.
In 2021, the most active industries trading hands in the Main Street market were personal services (15%), construction (12%), business services (12%), consumer goods/retail (12%), and restaurants (11%). This represents a small drop-in restaurant activity, likely due to ongoing fallout from the pandemic.
Of those Main Street sellers who went to market in 2021, 53% were preparing for retirement. Another 11% were selling as part of a recapitalization. In a recap, the seller (or sometimes their management team) keeps some level of equity stake in the business while a buyer infuses new capital for growth. Other reasons Main Street sellers went to market included burnout, health issues, relocation, and family issues.
Lower Middle Market Activity
In the lower middle market, where businesses are valued between $2 million and $50 million, the buyer pool shifts. Here individuals accounted for a third (34%) of buyers in 2021, relatively on trend with past years.
The number of individuals buying businesses in 2021 is notable given the highly competitive talent market. It’s likely these buyers (and Main Street buyers, too) could have their choice of employment opportunities. And yet there remains a definite draw to being a business owner. People still want to build something of their own and control their own destiny, even in a job seeker’s market.
Existing companies accounted for 40% of lower middle market transitions in 2021. Generally, these companies have strong balance sheets and are looking to acquisition as a way to grow at a time when organic growth is difficult due to talent shortages.
Private equity continues to remain active in the lower middle market, accounting for 24% of all business transitions. Private equity buyers generate financial returns by acquiring businesses. They typically plan to hold a business for 5 to 7 years, often acquiring similar types of businesses to bolt on, before reselling a larger, more lucrative operation.
These financial buyers tend to focus their efforts on middle market opportunities of $50 million or more. But with competition for those larger deals running hot, we see many firms ticking their attention down to the lower middle market. Here it’s possible to find deals that are large enough to make a difference in their portfolio and yet small enough to go unnoticed by some of their competitors.
Buyers value your business based on risk (real or perceived) and future cash flow. Consider potential business risks. What could prevent your company from realizing your forecasted earnings? Think talent, customers, suppliers, competition, cash flow.
Strategize ways to reduce risk in each area, e.g. cross training, outsourcing, succession planning, customer diversification, backup suppliers, etc. The more you do to take away potential pain points, the more attractive your business will be.
Market Pulse Survey – Quarter 3, 2021
Presented by IBBA & M&A Source
M&A Feature Article
Creative deal structures and deal terms move to lower middle market
When selling your business, price is not the only important factor you’ll negotiate with a buyer. The deal structure includes a wide range of considerations from transaction type, ownership and payment structures, working capital, assurances, timelines and more.
What we’re seeing in the market right now is a rise in creative deal structures. These are non-typical solutions that help dealmakers bridge some sort of gap between the buyer and seller. If properly negotiated, these structures can make a lot of sense for both sides, but it’s critical for a seller to have an experienced M&A advisor and transaction attorney on their side to ensure they understand these more complex provisions.
An earnout is, perhaps, the classic example of a creative deal structure. Under these agreements, the seller receives additional payments provided the business hits certain targets down the road. Earnouts can be a great way to bridge valuation gaps, such as when the business is expecting a big performance boost in the near future – and the seller wants to be paid for those as-yet-unrealized gains.
Some creative deal structures are more common in the middle market M&A (transactions with values over $50 million). But as private equity buyers continue to shift into the lower middle market (business values of $2 million to $50 million), they’re bringing deal structures like these with them:
Reps and warranties insurance. When selling your business, typically you’re going to “represent and warrant” certain things about the business (e.g., you’ve provided accurate info, no known legal or customer issues pending). If something turns out to be not wholly accurate, the buyer can come back to you for a certain percentage of the purchase price.
In smaller deals, the seller will simply agree to a guarantee. But as transactions get larger, buyers may ask sellers to put that money in escrow. That money is then tied up for a certain period of time, not earning any returns.
As an alternative to escrow, the deal can include reps and warranties insurance. In this case, the insurance company does their own due diligence and agrees to take on that risk. The advantage for sellers is that they don’t have to hold that money in escrow anymore and shed the risk of covering a reps and warranty claim during the warranty period.
Premiums for reps and warranties insurance often start at around $250,000. Because of the cost and additional diligence required by the insurer, it was only common in larger transactions over $50 million. Now we’re seeing that move down into deals as small as $10 million in enterprise value.
In some cases, buyers are using reps and warranties insurance as a tool to win the deal. If competition is strong (and these days it often is), buyers may offer to pay for reps and warranties insurance. As sellers evaluate multiple offers, they might consider the opportunity to bypass escrow as a factor that tips them in a buyer’s favor.
338(h)(10). In these transactions, the deal is treated as a stock sale from a legal standpoint but as an asset sale from a tax standpoint. From a legal standpoint, this structure can eliminate the need to comply with time consuming and sometimes challenging customer contract “change in control provisions.” For the buyer, that means they can get a step-up in basis and re-depreciate the assets they just acquired.
F reorganization. An F-reorg is a tax efficient method to allow the seller to rollover equity into the new business (i.e. retain a small portion of the business ownership) without paying taxes on the rollover amount.
Without using an F-reorg, for example, the seller might sell 100% of the company and get taxed on that full amount before reinvesting some of their proceeds in the buyer’s new entity.
Deal makers predict an increase in these and other creative deal structures in the year ahead. The pandemic is one factor behind that. Businesses saw their operations disrupted, and that has created some business opportunities and some risks. Alternative deal structures are one way for buyers to mitigate valuation gaps, reduce seller’s taxes, and create win-win agreements between buyers and sellers.
Deal competition and private equity activity are also driving creative structures. According to a Mergermarket survey, private equity respondents indicated they were more likely to consider creative deal structures than corporate dealmakers (75% to 37%).
That may be because private equity firms simply have more experience with these structures. Or it could be that they have a stronger imperative to win deals, and creative structures provide more flexibility to do that. Regardless of the reason, by utilizing an experienced M&A advisor sellers have an opportunity to embrace these more complex deal terms leading to increased enhanced upside.
M&A Advisor Tip
Time Kills All Deals
More than purchase price or structure, time is the most likely reason a business sale will fail. Time breeds frustration and fatigue. From irascible attorneys to disorganized brokers and licensing issues, plenty of factors can bog down a deal.
Sooner or later one party or the other gets fed up and rationalizes, “It wasn’t meant to be.”
Your advisor should have a reasonable client load (no more than four or five is ideal) so they can give you the time and energy you deserve. Look for an office with a manager dedicated to closing details. You need someone organized and proactive, looking several weeks and months in advance.
Market Pulse Survey – Quarter 2, 2021
Presented by IBBA & M&A Source
M&A Feature Article
The happiest business owners know what’s next
I had the privilege of chatting with Bo Burlingham, former executive editor for Inc. magazine and author of several books, including Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top.
We talked about one of the key discoveries that led to the book, namely that so many business owners were unhappy after selling their companies. It didn’t really matter how much someone got for their business – some sellers were delighted while others were depressed and miserable.
What made sellers unhappy? Burlingham spent years doing interviews to find that out. And one of the biggest issues he found is that people didn’t have a place to redirect their passion and energy.
For many entrepreneurs, the business becomes their identity. It gives them direction. Without that outlet, some former business owners become unmoored. Suddenly, their phone isn’t ringing as much. No one needs them to make hard decisions anymore, and that can be troubling for some folks.
Burlington describes these owners as “wandering the desert.” They’re searching for that new thing to get excited about, and some of them take years to find it.
You might think a little wandering sounds fine, but retiree beware! There’s actually research that shows early retirement can increase your chance of early death.
A 2019 study conducted by economists at Harvard and State University of New York found that cognitive decline accelerated when people left work. Researchers contributed it to the loss of social engagement and connection that many people find in the workplace.
And yet business owners should not delay selling. Ironically, the best time to sell is when you’re engaged and excited about your business.
Buyers pay for the future cash flow of the business, and that means you’ll get the most value when you go out on the upswing. Buyers feed off your energy, so you want to show them someone who’s really truly passionate about where their company can go.
But the kicker is, you need to be passionate about your next steps, too. It’s important to know what you’re headed for, not just what you’re leaving behind.
When an entrepreneur’s identity is wholly tied up in their business, that can be a red flag. It’s a sign they might hold on to the business too long, past the point where their leadership is the best thing for the company and its value.
That’s why we ask sellers to go through a “bucket list” exercise. Think about what you want to be remembered for. What captures your interest and enthusiasm, besides your business?
Selling your business should be the first step in your best chapter ever. You’ll have the gift of time and money – and the opportunity to do anything with it you want. The best thing for your health, your happiness, and the value of your company is to know the next chapter you want to write.
Keystone Business Advisors is a full-service mergers and acquisitions advisory firm and leading business brokers in Los Angeles. We specialize in managing the sale of privately-owned California-based businesses with annual revenues up to $100 million. Contact us if you are searching for Business Brokers in Los Angeles, Ventura County Business Brokers, or Business Brokers in Southern California.