How to attract the buyer that is right for you

Ramone Param, Associate Director, Equiteq recently led a webinar looking at how to attract the type of buyer that best aligns with a seller’s business strategy and future growth trajectory.

In the consulting sector, the majority of deals are undertaken by strategic buyers. One of the most prolific buyers, Accenture, completed seven deals in Q3 2017 alone. The involvement of private equity firms in the consulting sector has traditionally been cyclical, although recently there are many actively acquiring private equity investors within the sector.

When considering a sale, it is important to understand the differences in the way these two buyer groups approach transactions to ensure you are partnering with a buyer whose business strategy aligns with yours.

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2017 M&A trends

Steven Einstein, Equiteq’s newly appointed Vice Chairman, offers his thoughts on the trends experienced in the M&A market in 2017.

Despite a politically-charged global environment and the increasing number of regulatory hurdles, the high levels of M&A experienced in 2016 have been resilient in 2017 and we have also seen the continuation and evolution of a number of trends.

Looking at M&A broadly, we are seeing that regional differences are no longer as prevalent. In an increasingly global economy, acquirers from Europe and North America alike are taking an active role, canvassing the global market place for M&A opportunities that support their non-organic growth ambitions.

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Demand for acquisitions set to grow in 2018

Our fourth annual global survey of buyers of consulting businesses delivers current, actionable intelligence in the five segments Equiteq specializes in: Management consulting, IT consulting, Media & Marketing, Engineering consulting and HR consulting. Findings, published today, reveal:

  • Buyers expect to initiate 50% more acquisitions year-on-year
  • Convergence continues to be a key trend as buyers look to diversify
  • 55% of buyers think targets could be better at communicating their market proposition
  • 94% of buyers say it is important to retain management teams post-acquisition
  • Over 70% of targets do not make their IP apparent to prospective buyers
  • Three quarters of buyers expect at least 40% of a target’s clients to be blue chip
  • Deal structures are improving for sellers

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Build or Buy? Should you acquire?

In his three-part series, Build or Buy? Equiteq’s Adam Blatchford discusses the pillars for successful growth through acquisition. Adam begins by addressing the fundamental question: Should you acquire?

As a shareholder, you have set goals, both personally and for your firm.

Those goals may include building enough equity value to retire, start a new venture, or support your family; everyone is different, but most owners have a timescale and an amount in mind.

Acquisition could help you achieve those shareholder goals; it can add value to your firm if it is carefully and clearly aligned to your overall business strategy.

Acquisition is not a strategy in itself, it is a means which can be used to deliver the strategic needs of your business plan. First your strategy must be aligned to your shareholder goals, then you can consider if acquisition is the right way to accomplish that strategy.

There are right and wrong ways to grow through acquisition; you want to be scaling smart, ensuring business growth translates into equity value growth by avoiding mistakes and missteps, so that you can deliver your business plan and create value in your firm. The best way to do this is to view your firm through the eyes of a buyer, considering how the shape of firm you are building will be attractive to a future investor.

There are a number of ways that acquisition can be valuable to deliver your strategic needs and to simultaneously build value to a potential buyer.

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How to put margins at the center of your business

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.

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How IP can make your profits fly

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.

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Principles of Maximizing Profitability

There may not be a more fundamentally important topic for consulting firms than improving profits.

Shareholders ultimately want a return on their investment and buyers are looking for evidence of healthy growth, while strong profitability is required to sustain growth and equity realization.

The levers that need to be pulled to improve margin – revenue and cost – might be well understood, but the combination of activities required are often more nuanced.

We’ve identified the top strategies firms can use to start improving profits now:

  1. The leadership team must make profitability an ongoing focus

Profitability has to become embedded in the leadership team’s mindset for sustainable margin improvement to be successful.

Achieving this requires strong communication around accountabilities, clear success measures being established and tactical activities – such as margin exception reporting, resource management, and utilization forecasting – becoming integrated into regular business updates.

Once a shared understanding of what success looks like is established within this team, firms can create strategic work streams – such as market expansion or IP development – and make people accountable.

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5 things every consulting firm must know to thrive in Asia-Pacific

Equiteq’s CEO, David Jorgenson, and Jean-Louis Michelet met with Professor Kevyn Yong (Dean of ESSEC Asia-Pacific and specialist of entrepreneurship) at ESSEC Business School in Singapore to discuss the opportunities and challenges impacting M&A activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

This is the third part of their discussion: What advice would you give to consulting firm owners in one of the Asia-Pacific countries?

The consultancy landscape in Asia-Pacific has changed in the last few years. There has been a strong development in the use of consultants as the regional economies have grown and become less dependent on the primary sector, and have seen a surge in secondary and services sectors activities.

A 2016 report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific shows the increased activity in the services sector is partly down to its role in facilitating global value chains in the manufacturing sector. It also attributes this to the growth of digital-intensive services in sectors like financial services, telecommunications and digital media and marketing.

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Should I sell my consulting firm to an overseas buyer?

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By Gabriela Silvestris, Director, Equiteq

Overseas buyers can be an important target audience when looking to sell your consulting firm. Equiteq considers international acquirers for every M&A client and a large proportion of the businesses we have sold have been bought by overseas buyers.

Acquiring in desirable regions allows strategic buyers to gain quick access to lucrative markets, brands, intellectual property, local market knowledge, new clients and specific local expertise. As a result of this, overseas buyers may pay a premium to gain a market foothold.

To attract overseas buyers, it is important to demonstrate the attractiveness of local markets, market positioning and why the acquisition will be less risky and deliver a faster return than opening an office and recruiting local talent. To learn more about global buyer demands download our latest Buyers Research Report here.

M&A transactions need careful handling and cross-border M&A deals bring an array of additional challenges.

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Thinking about expanding internationally? Four common misconceptions every business owner should know the truth about

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By Adam Blatchford, Associate, Equiteq

For many business owners, establishing a strong local presence is only the first step on their road to success. Once they’ve achieved this, they want to continue growing the value of their firms, and many are tempted by the thought of expanding geographically beyond their home markets. It is a seductive idea littered with potential pitfalls that could not only jeopardize the business’s financial position but also significantly erode equity value.

In this blog, we look at how you, as a consulting firm owner, can make smart decisions around ‘if’ and ‘how’ to scale your business abroad, to ensure you are protecting and building your company’s value rather than hindering the attractiveness of the company to future buyers.

We’ve compiled some of the most common reasons business owners give for expanding internationally, and the potential risks that those reasons might be hiding.

1. We have exhausted our home market

There is a significant opportunity cost to international expansion; while it can provide opportunities to grow, it is usually far easier to grow in your current market where you already have relationships and credentials. So it should only be attempted if you have truly saturated your market:

  • Be absolutely certain that other factors are not hindering growth

i. Check that your proposition correctly resonates with your client’s issues
ii. Examine if you are competing with internal capacity
iii. Assess your account management to ensure you maximize your current clients
iv. Confirm that your sales focus is on the right type of client

If these issues are the true cause, rather than a saturated domestic market, then they will hinder your progress in the new market too.

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