Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the domain of science fiction. Instead, it’s rapidly becoming a dominant force in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that of digital transformation.
It’s likely that many owners of knowledge-intensive services businesses, such as IT services, media and marketing agencies or consulting firms, will be considering how AI fits into their strategy.
Further, those looking to sell their business in the future would do well to consider how AI might enhance their market position. Buyers are increasingly interested in acquiring knowledge-intensive businesses with these capabilities, which means those demonstrating the foresight to embrace AI sooner rather than later could expect to command a premium valuation.
By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq.
Knowledge-intensive services firms can achieve faster growth and reduce founder dependency through diversifying management roles, smart succession planning and equity incentive schemes. These steps support higher future exit values, better deal structures and increase the likelihood of achieving earn out targets if key people are retained and share in the earn out.
From the founder’s point of view, introducing equity incentives will probably be one of the largest investments the company makes so it’s really important to get this right.
Too often tax planning takes crowds out the more important process of designing a commercially effective scheme. Tax is important, but an approach that ensures the growth and exit vision is aligned by evaluating how much value to share, with who and over what time period should come first.
By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq
It’s now well established that millennials are changing the nature of the workplace and businesses need to respond. However, the extent to which millennials are influencing M&A activity – as well as how creating a culture in which millennials can thrive can drive equity value – is yet to receive the same level of recognition.
The importance of millennial views when it comes to M&A was underlined most recently by research from the consultancy EY. This found that almost three quarters (74%) of senior executives consider millennial attitudes and preferences when making M&A decisions.
With millennials a growing section of the workforce, they could be set to influence M&A activity further still. Those organizations that meet their needs and earn their loyalty will become more attractive to prospective buyers – who will naturally gravitate towards firms with an engaged and loyal workforce. That’s because engagement is a major driver of productivity, encouraging people to perform at their best, as well as central to retaining talent. All of these things are crucial to accelerating growth and driving business success.
Also, because a culture that meets the needs of millennials can also help boost engagement amongst the wider organization, focusing on business culture can be an effective way to drive equity value by motivating and engaging the entire workforce.
By Jason Parks, Director, Equiteq and Pat Webb, Director, Equiteq
Clients give knowledge-intensive services firms such as consulting, IT services and media agencies difficult and constantly evolving problems to solve. Markets change, competitors emerge and macroeconomics shift, all of which have an impact on what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to M&A.
That means buyers are attracted to firms with a clear value proposition that transcends service offerings and the capability to respond and deliver a relevant service portfolio in a changing environment. Simply put, a firm is worth more when it is bought for its strategic capability rather than just offering the buyer additional service capacity.
Achieving a relevant and effective service portfolio means more than investing in new service lines, because it’s also important for consulting firms to phase out what is no longer working for the future value of the business.
David Ogilvy explained in his “principles of management” (which took his firm from a start-up to generating billions) that dropping services that have become unprofitable must be driven by management:
“To keep your ship moving through the water at maximum efficiency, you have to keep scraping the barnacles off its bottom. It is rare for a department head to recommend the abolition of a job, or even the elimination of a man; the pressure from below is always adding. If the initiative for barnacle-scraping does not come from management, barnacles will never be scraped.”
There’s perhaps no topic more important for consulting firms than improving profits. Because of this, we recently ran two 30-minute webinars on improving margins. This week, we’re looking at questions asked during the first of these, which explored how to put margins at the center of your business.
If 20% EBIT is a good target for a consulting firm, would a firm achieving 40% EBIT be viewed as considerably more valuable?
At face value, a 40% margin business might appear more valuable, but it depends on whether the buyer considers this sustainable.
Some will interpret a margin of this size as indication that the firm has under invested in itself and will discount this. Because of this, we typically recommend that 50% of revenue be spent on the delivery of your services and 30% should be allocated for overheads – such as selling or marketing the business, admin costs or recruitment or IT fees – leaving the remaining 20% for EBIT.
Firm owners might be wise to consider investing any EBIT above 20-25% into growing the top-line instead.
By Penny de Valk, Associate Director, Equiteq
Leadership succession involving a transition from the founders has its own specific challenges. Founders leave a huge legacy in the business, which in one sense is extremely valuable but can also result in a level of dependency that introduces risk.
Governance roles will change at exit, when an owner/founder will typically move from an executive position. The challenge here is that the owner/founder will need to be conscious of their change in role and step back sufficiently to allow successors to create their own leadership identity, while still continuing to offer their unique skills and experience in a broader governance role.
If you’re a founder preparing for a transition, getting it right involves ensuring you set up the new CEO for success, while simultaneously moving away from the operational side of the business and continuing to add value.
The difficulty for founders is they are used to being in control and making decisions independently, which means trusting the new leader can be difficult.
If they do achieve this, it ensures value is not diluted. In fact, it can result in value being enhanced.
Read our six steps to help founders achieve a successful leadership transition and listen to our webinar on the topic too!
By Adam Blatchford, Associate, Equiteq.
Smart Scaling is all about growing revenues and profits while also building your equity value, as opposed to doing one at the expense of the other. Intellectual Property is central to that, it is a ‘win-win’ because buyers want it and it drives profitable growth in your firm.
Whether your firm generates revenues of $20m or $100m, IP differentiates you. It ensures clients buy your services, means you can deliver profitably, and makes investors love you. This blog will focus on how to achieve that in your firm.
What is IP?
In simple terms, intellectual property is any knowledge recorded and maintained as a usable business asset. In most consulting firms, this means ‘trade secrets’, such as process maps, methodologies, training systems and software tools, rather than just copyrights and trademarks.
There are three main types of IP:
- IP to market the business
- IP to deliver business
- IP to run the business
All three are important, but in the context of Smart Scaling we will focus on delivery IP. See here for a deeper discussion of the three types.