Putting your business up for sale can be an emotional decision. But think like a buyer to get the most value out of the deal, writes Louise Jeffreys, managing director of IFA M&A brokerage firm Gunner & Co.
The greatest mistake you can make when selling your business is not to change the way you think about it. You have built that company with blood, sweat, tears and some eye-watering personal collateral.
The risks, the rewards, the relationships – the business owes its DNA to you. It is your baby. And now it’s time to sell, you are keen that the buyer will see how much care and toil you’ve invested to make it successful.
But the buyer doesn’t really care about the thrills and spills of building your business. The buyer is uninterested in trophy cabinet stories. What the buyer wants is to find an IFA that is profitable, stable and compliant.
And these are a few of the ways you can make sure that is what they see when they take an interest in acquiring your business.
Your IFA is possibly not worth what you think it ought to be worth. Yes, you don’t have to sell it if the price doesn’t meet your expectations.
Yes, perhaps a better offer will come along. Yes, timing has an impact. But ultimately your business is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.
A buyer will base their valuation solely on what opportunity and profitability you can demonstrate.
It is possible that the things you think should add value to your business do not in the eyes of the buyer. It is also possible they detract from value. We’ll come to that.
Data tells better stories than people
Having data isn’t enough. You have to understand what the data is telling you and be able to articulate that story to a buyer.
Really great data should show how your client base is segmented, how those segments differ and where the value can be found. It should be detailed, honest and easy to interrogate.
Have a dependable back-office infrastructure that manages your data into an organised holistic system that will answer your buyer’s questions.
When you are asked about what your business is, what it does, who it’s for and how you help them, it should be data that answers those questions.
Profitability is key
In a buyer’s mind, your clients’ portfolio size is key – because this ultimately drives profitability. The buyer is asking how the purchase of your financial planning firm is going to move the dial financially for their business.
They are likely to be looking for an average portfolio size north of £200,000 ($221,165, €227,807).
Mine your data to see where the money is. Then work out how that looks attractive to a buyer.
A child’s ISA appearing as an individual client is likely to look worse to a buyer than if it was packaged as a household with the parent(s), for instance.
Think about how to organise your clients to show a buyer the real opportunity and value of your business.
What’s your team really worth?
Teams can have a big impact, both positively and negatively when selling a financial planning firm.
If they’re self-employed, the buyer may see them as a risk – or perhaps just an expensive way of doing business. If they’re on the payroll, they’re part of the cost base.
A difficult recruitment market may have persuaded you to overpay to take on or retain talent.
For a buyer this presents two problems: they are going to have to take on your cost base, and they are going to have to integrate your team into theirs potentially on a different pay scale, potentially causing resentment or additional costs.
Benchmark your team’s salaries to get ahead.
Rationalise your service and charges
You may pride yourself on going the extra mile for your clients, but a buyer may not be able to replicate this.
The easiest way for a buyer to retain your existing clients is for those clients to be taking a stock package of services at a set rate.
If the buyer finds a disparity in the services or charges offered, they will see it as a challenge to continuity and an obstacle to retention.
Reducing service outliers makes it easier for a buyer to assimilate your business, and therefore makes it more attractive.
Nothing nixes a deal like compliance risk. Buyers are not looking for a set of risky defined benefit transfers to bring on board.
They don’t want to uncover anything shady during due diligence and they aren’t interested in how you have turned risk to profit.
The best financial services business for a prospective buyer is the most vanilla in terms of compliance risk. Clean up before you go to market.
Should you stay or should you go?
In the past, it was common for financial services businesses on the market to be ‘sell and go’ deals.
The previous business owner would retire, and the ongoing business would adopt the culture of new management.
Increasingly, we are seeing a ‘working on’ pattern with business owners seeing opportunities for investment and growth that wouldn’t be available in the absence of a partnership with a bigger firm.
Know what you want to do in advance and make sure you are clear about how the deal will be structured in terms of future profitability and how you will be rewarded.
Futureproof your business
How is your business run? Have you gone from a one-man band to a sizeable team without investing in the infrastructure to deal with added complexity? Have you kept abreast of technology to help with back-office organisation, data collection and client communications?
A modern business that uses technology to the full for back-office integration, cashflow modelling and full financial planning will be much more appealing to a buyer.
So many variables can affect the viability of a business sale, some of them beyond your control.
But these are eight things you can do to make your business more attractive to a buyer both as a prospect and throughout the acquisition journey. Think like a buyer to increase the value of your business.
This article was written for International Adviser by Louise Jeffreys, managing director of IFA M&A broker Gunner & Co.