Nine steps for selling your consulting business successfully

 

Deal cropped

This blog will give you an overview of the nine steps involved in a quality sales process. Taking you from valuation to company disposal with minimum pain along the way.

To ensure the process runs smoothly and to mitigate any risks, as well as maximising the value of your firm, adequate planning and preparation is the key.

Step 1 – Initial valuation and market risk assessment

In the first instance, it is crucial to establish a target valuation and identify any potential issues that may affect your sale. To place yourself in a strong negotiation position with your bidders, it is important to have an understanding of the following factors:

  • Return on Investment (ROI) based on your current financial performance and growth prospects
  • Buyer risk factors that may cause them to downgrade your firm’s value
  • A market premium based on current market activity
  • A synergy factor based on your ability to positively impact a buyer’s business

Our Valuation and Market Risk Assessment process assesses the risk factors that may cause problems or affect the maximum value. Once identified, you can put a plan in place to mitigate or eliminate the risks and maximise the value of your firm in the process.

Step 2 – Maintaining business as usual

Ensuring there are sufficient resources to manage business as usual activities and the on-going growth of the firm, in addition to the sales process is another vital step. Failure to do so may cause delays in the sale or reduce the initial price of the firm. It may be beneficial to employ advisors at this stage to reduce the management load of the sale process.

Step 3 – Building the buyer list

Using the intelligence from your team and your M&A advisor, form a list of 40 or more potential bidders/buyers who may be interested in acquiring your consulting company. Categorise the list into groups based on a view of their potential synergy with your firm. Synergy factors can dramatically affect the price achieved so it’s important to develop a strong story about synergy, customised for each buyer group.

Step 4 – Preparation of sale documentation

Your M&A advisor will be required to collect and produce the appropriate documentation in preparation for the sale of your firm. This comes in three forms:

  • The ‘Blind Profile: a two-page marketing document containing the financial, operational, service and client details without disclosing the name of your firm. It will also highlight the buyers’ synergy with your firm and may be slightly altered to target different categories of buyers.
  • The Information Memorandum (IM): a 30-page document containing all strategic, financial and operational information. This includes financial history and projections, service line descriptions, clients and markets, staff and compensation, assets and liabilities, firm strategy and reasons for the sale.
  • A compelling management presentation needs to be produced that can be customised and used in initial meetings with bidders.

Step 5 – Lining up legal and tax planning experts

Engage lawyers and tax planning experts early to minimise or avoid any issues that may impact on organisational structure and remuneration, contracts, shares, liabilities or company incorporation. Your M&A advisor will be able to recommended a trusted expert if you don’t have access to one.

Step 6 – Engaging the buyer list

With all prior background work completed, you can now start contacting your buyer list to begin the sales process. As an initial step, send out the Blind Profile then follow up with a phone call or email to establish interest and pre-qualify buyers.

Interested buyers will then be invited to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) preventing them from releasing information to third parties and reducing the risk of them poaching your staff should they be unsuccessful in buying your firm. These buyers will also receive a copy of the IM so they’re aware of the benefits of their purchase.

Step 7 – Initial offers from interested buyers

Those that wish to progress further will wish to meet the Management team. This will provide you with the opportunity to impress bidders by highlighting the quality of your firm as well as the aligned synergy elements relevant to the buyer.

Offers will comprise a total value and the proposed structure of payment but pay attention to both the relative value of the offers as well as any contingent risks. They may not necessarily provide the maximum offer value but perhaps offer a higher value upfront with the remainder of the consideration in safer, non-contingent financial instruments such as bank-guaranteed loan notes.

There may be several meetings with each bidder before indicative offers are made and the competitive nature of this bidding process will help to maximise the value of each offer.

Step 8 – Heads of terms and due diligence

Once you’ve chosen a successful buyer, you will need to request a ‘Heads of Terms’ document which describes the detail of the offer subject to successful Due Diligence (DD). You then enter a period of exclusivity where you’re prevented from progressing a sale with another third party.

The buyer will typically have four weeks to perform their DD, which includes financial, legal and potentially commercial and HR. In most cases, the buyer will wish to speak to one or more key clients so you will need to manage this part of the process carefully as not to expose your relationship with the client.

Step 9 – Signing the sale and purchase agreement

Your lawyer will then draw up a Sale and Purchase Agreement, together with warranty and disclosure documents for signature. If you’re certain the DD will not expose any problems and you’re comfortable taking the risk on legal fees if the sale doesn’t progress, the legal and DD process can be done in conjunction with each other.

Unless you’re lucky enough to find a buyer prepared to knock out other potential bidders, the entire sales process will take around six to nine months. You will need to be aware of any external factors that may cause a delay such as a market collapse or a key client who ceases doing business with you. Additionally, the longer the sales process, the higher the risk that something will come out of the woodwork for you or your buyer so keep this in mind.

If you have any questions about this process, we have started a discussion in our Equity Edge LinkedIn Group. Our experts will respond to any of your comments or questions.

Leave a Reply