How To Lure A Giant Like Facebook Into Buying Your Company

A great business is bought, not sold, so, if you look too eager to sell your business, you’ll be negotiating on the back foot and look desperate—a recipe for a bad exit.

But, what if you really want to sell? Maybe you’ve got a new idea for a business you want to start or your health is suffering. Then what?

As with many things in life, the secret may be a simple tweak in your vocabulary. Instead of approaching an acquirer to see if they would be interested in buying your business, approach the same company with an offer to partner with them.

Entering into a partnership discussion with a would-be acquirer is a great way for them to discover your strategic assets, because most partnership discussions start with a summary of each company’s strengths and future objectives. As you reveal your aspirations to one another, a savvy buyer will often realize there is more to be gained from simply buying your business than partnering with it.

Facebook Buys Ozlo

For example, look at how Charles Jolley played the sale of Ozlo, the company he created to make a better digital assistant. The market for digital assistants is booming. Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa and the Google Home device now has Google Assistant built right in.

Jolley started Ozlo with the vision of building a better digital assistant. By 2016, he believed Ozlo had technology superior to that of Apple, Amazon or Google. Realizing his technology needed a big company to distribute it, he started to think about potential acquirers. He developed a long list, but instead of approaching them to buy Ozlo, he suggested they consider partnering with him to distribute Ozlo.

He met with many of the brand-name technology companies in Silicon Valley, including Facebook, which wanted a better digital assistant embedded within its messaging platform. They took a meeting with Jolley under the guise of a potential partnership, but the conversation quickly moved from “partnering with” to “acquiring” Ozlo.

Jolley then approached his other potential partners indicating his conversations with Facebook had moved in a different direction and that he would be entering acquisition talks with Facebook. Hearing Facebook wanted the technology for themselves, some of Jolley’s other potential “partners” also joined the bidding war to acquire Ozlo.

After a competitive process, Facebook offered Jolley a deal he couldn’t refuse, and they closed on a deal in July 2017. Jolley got the deal he wanted in part because he was negotiating from the position of a strong potential partner, rather than a desperate owner just looking to sell.


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What Do Buyers Look for in the Lower Middle Market?

For owners looking to sell their businesses, it can be hard to know what buyers find attractive. This is particularly true in the lower middle market.

In my work in the exit planning industry, I’ve seen countless owners struggle to pin down what will make their business valuable to potential acquirers.

I asked two experienced investment bankers for their thoughts. Tom Majcher of Majcher Group, LLC focuses on sell-side representation in the $5 million to $25 million range — i.e., the lower end of the lower middle market. Kevin Short of Clayton Capital Partners works with businesses with $2 million to $10 million of EBITDA, most with value exceeding $25 million.

Who are the buyers in this market?

Tom: In this lower range of business value, there are a lot of financial buyers, private money, and search fund advisors. The latter are (often young) entrepreneurs with limited experience but adequate financial backing from investors. There are few strategic buyers for companies in this value range.

Kevin: Strategic buyers are usually not interested in companies in Tom’s market because they want to acquire companies that “move the needle” for them. Depending on the characteristics of an owner’s business, strategic buyers, financial buyers and private equity firms will all be potential buyers.

What are buyers looking for?

Tom: To owners who want sell their companies to third parties, I review with them the attributes of camera- or transaction-ready companies that buyers expect. These attributes include:

  • A strong management team (apart from the owner) that is properly incented and is prevented, via employment agreements, from competing against the company should they terminate employment.
  • Stability and predictability of revenue and cash flow
  • Low customer concentration
  • Other value drivers such as state-of-the-art operating systems

Kevin: I agree with Tom, but in the $2MM to $10MM EBITDA range, buyers are also looking for a high level of preparedness. Buyers are laser-focused on the quality of the management team and level of customer concentration.

What’s the biggest obstacle for owners in this segment of the market?

Tom: That’s easy: the owners themselves. Too often they negotiate directly with potential buyers who are much more sophisticated and knowledgeable about the sale process, and who use experienced deal attorneys and investment bankers. To overcome this obstacle, it is critical that these owners level the playing field by retaining experienced deal attorneys and investment bankers before they talk to any buyer.

The second biggest obstacle is the business. Most are not camera-ready because it takes time, talent, and commitment to prepare a business for sale. Before a company goes to market, owners and their advisor teams must have executed their plans to enhance all value drivers. When advisor teams include a transaction advisor (business broker or investment banker), that person not only shares knowledge of the sale process, but contributes real world knowledge of what buyers are looking for.

Kevin: Most private equity firms do not have a management team waiting in the wings. If an owner’s team is not top-notch both professionally and personally, a private equity/financial buyer will either pass or subject management to a rigorous professional assessment and background check. Clearly, it behooves owners to run background checks on all their important employees long before going to market.

When a company in the $10MM to $100M+ range lacks a stellar management team or has a customer concentration issue, a strategic buyer may be a solution. Often, strategic buyers are not as concerned with high customer concentration because their existing customer base spreads the risk. Similarly, they may already have experienced, proven management poised to fill any void caused by the seller’s departure.

How does an owner attract a strategic buyer?

Kevin: The most effective, least time-consuming way of doing so is to work with an experienced investment banking firm to conduct a controlled auction sale process. By bringing multiple competing buyers to the table simultaneously, the controlled (or competitive) auction maximizes a seller’s chances of receiving top dollar and closing the deal. An experienced investment banker will know how to attract the best strategic buyers without disclosing the identity of the seller.

How are buyers behaving in the marketplace today?

Kevin: Buyers are offering companies with $2 million to $10 million in EBITDA increased EBITDA multiples over historical norms. This not only means more money for sellers, but also significantly more scrutiny in the form of due diligence. The reason for the greater scrutiny is the greater risk financial buyers/private equity incur when they have to pay more and invest more of their own capital. I’m seeing financial buyers/private equity groups spending more than $1 million on due diligence alone.

This article written by John Brown, Founder of BEI and provided courtesy of


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One Tweak That Can (Instantly) Add Millions To The Value Of Your Business

If you’re trying to figure out what your business might be worth, it’s helpful to consider what acquirers are paying for companies like yours these days.

A little internet research will probably reveal that a business like yours trades for a multiple of your pre-tax profit, which is Sellers Discretionary Earnings (SDE) for a small business and Earnings Before Interest Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) for a slightly larger business.

Obsessing Over Your Multiple

This multiple can transfix entrepreneurs. Many owners want to know their multiple and how they can jack it up. After all, if your business has $500,000 in profit, and it trades for four times profit, it’s worth $2 million; if the same business trades for eight times profit, it’s worth $4 million.

Obviously, your multiple will have a profound impact on the haul you take from the sale of your business, but there is another number worthy of your consideration as well: the number your multiple is multiplying.

How Profitability Is Open To Interpretation

Most entrepreneurs think of profit as an objective measure, calculated by an accountant, but when it comes to the sale of your business, profit is far from objective. Your profit will go through a set of “adjustments” designed to estimate how profitable your business will be under a new owner.

This process of adjusting—and how you defend these adjustments to an acquirer—is where you can dramatically spike your company’s value.

Let’s take a simple example to illustrate. Imagine you run a company with $3 million in revenue and you pay yourself a salary of $200,000 a year. Further, let’s assume you could get a competent manager to run your business as a division of an acquirer for $100,000 per year. You could safely make the case to an acquirer that under their ownership, your business would generate an extra $100,000 in profit. If they are paying you five times profit for your business, that one adjustment has the potential to earn you an extra $500,000.

You should be able to make a case for several adjustments that will boost your profit and, by extension, the value of your business. This is more art than science, and you need to be prepared to defend your case for each adjustment. It is important that you make a good case for how profitable your business will be in the hands of an acquirer.

Some of the most common adjustments relate to rent (common if you own the building your company operates from and your company is paying higher-than-market rent), start–up costs, one-off lawsuits or insurance claims and one-time professional services fees.

Your multiple is important, but the subjective art of adjusting your EBITDA is where a lot of extra money can be made when selling your business.


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How Third-Party Due Diligence Can Help You Uncover Future Earnings Potential

By Kay Cruse Strategex | January 31, 2018

In due diligence for earnings and legal issues, best practice dictates the use of a highly qualified, third-party assessment.  So, why not take the same path when it comes to validating the qualitative elements that support the earnings history?

More importantly, if you had the opportunity to provide an assessment of future earnings in the same diligence exercise, how much more value could that provide to your deal assessment?

QofE looks at past financial performance.  Many times, we’re asked if there’s a way to document future earnings potential.  The short answer:  absolutely there is.

With few exceptions, in a third-party-assisted, detailed customer due diligence initiative, we are able to not only identify the potential for future spendbut importantly how customers believe the company ranks as their preferred supplier.  By extrapolating rank and future spend and comparing it to the target’s company’s share of wallet at the customer – something that QofE can’t find – one can build a pretty detailed picture of the future financials of a potential acquisition.

Coupled with how the company compares competitively – do they lead or lag competition – you’re on your way to identify future earnings, and also create a reasonable roadmap of potential hurdles that the newly acquired company will have.

What additional value does a third party bring?

Firstly, a professional research-interviewer is able to have an engaging and non-threatening conversation about the target company without ever having to mention that a deal is pending.   They can dig into key questions, such as:

  • What are the company’s top strengths?
  • What are its top areas of improvement?
  • Why does the customer buy from the company?
  • How does the company perform across a wide variety of customer-valued measures?
  • What would the customer most like to see the company provide or innovate to solve underserved or unmet customer or market needs?

As important as the interviews themselves are, the most important element of a third-party’s customer diligence is the ability to pull together a complete analysis of both qualitative and quantitative findings.  This enables you to construct a strategy that is more fact-based and unencumbered by conjecture and preconceived theses.

In short, the value of third-party research is to have thorough conversations where there is no preconceived agenda. This helps you build a deep and clear understanding of what the company needs to do in order to have a more satisfied and loyal customer and what actions need to be taken to expand on growth and opportunity.

Who wins in this approach? Everyone: the target company learns from the Voice of the Customer what they need to do to accelerate growth and opportunity; the acquirer begins to have an intimate and detailed understanding of not only the target company but also of its customers in order to prioritize a 100-day integration strategy upon close; and lastly, the customer whose voice was heard and whose needs will be met.  We have found this approach often takes the sting and fear of a shift in ownership off the table.  It’s a great way to turn the page on a new beginning for both the acquired and the acquirer.


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Deriving Normalized EBITDA for Your Business

We recently wrote an article about the dangers of failing to properly document business meal and other entertainment expenses. The piece raised quite a few concerns among business owners.

The question we most often heard usually went something like this, “Wait, I thought personal expenses like meals, travel, and entertainment could be normalized…what gives?” Answers to questions such as these, unfortunately, are never straightforward and true standards for deriving normalized EBITDA calculations don’t exist.

First, a quick refresher on EBITDA for anyone who reads it: EBITDA is a basic and widely accepted normalizing adjustment for businesses that tends to serve as a proxy for cash flow when deriving a value for the business. This measure adds expenses from the income statement like interest, corporate income taxes, and depreciation and amortization back into the value of net income to derive the firm’s cash flow.

Normalizing EBITDA before a transaction can help sellers present their business in the best light possible. However, we typically advise clients to be cautious with the level of “owner’s perks,” and corresponding normalizing adjustments, they charge to the business. Below are four of the most common adjustment categories for deriving normalized EBITDA, as well as a few words of caution where appropriate.

1. Non-Recurring Expenses– These are expenses (or benefits) incurred by a business that wouldn’t normally affect the business’ profitability. Adjustments to this category might include (but certainly aren’t limited to) insurance payouts, moving expenses, and losses from discontinuing operations. However, other typical non-recurring expenses like lawsuits may be questioned by a potential acquirer if the business is in an industry known for frivolous lawsuits. In cases such as these, an acquirer may deem lawsuits a normal, and recurring, business expense that needs to be accounted for in the financial statements and should not be normalized.

2. Personal Expenses– A broad category to say the least. Expenses like travel, meals, entertainment, personal insurance policies (e.g., key man), and discretionary bonuses tend to get lumped into this section. Although all of these expenses can be normalized, that doesn’t mean they should be. A good rule of thumb is that expenses not related to business activities shouldn’t be charged to the business.

Here are a few examples:

  • Travel expenses: Recognizing that some may bill travel expenses not associated with the business activities through the business, owners can typically normalize these expenses.
  • Auto leases: These are a typical and acceptable normalizing adjustment, since some executives receive compensation or reimbursement for automobiles. The idea here is that an executive shouldn’t drive a car that would make them embarrassed to meet a client.
  • Meals: In most instances, meals should not be eligible for normalization. However, exceptions do apply. For example, meal expenses related to selling the business, which are non-recurring in nature and are not related to normal business operations, but are related to the ongoing nature of the business can be normalized.
  • Entertainment: Entertainment can be vague, which makes it a popular area for owner perks like sport or event tickets. Like other categories, entertainment should be related to business activities, but when exceptions do take place, they can be normalized.
  • Personal insurance policies, cell phones, and other related perks: These are generally acceptable since they are usually related to the business owner’s involvement in the business, and will not be present following its sale.

3. Excess Family Member Salaries – Similar to personal expenses, some owners provide family members with compensation in excess of what they would pay someone else to do the same job. Considering expenses like these would go away following a sale – presumably the acquirer would only pay fair market wages – excess family member salaries can be normalized.

4. Charitable Contributions – Charitable contributions may be good for your karma and can be normalized in most instances. However, if, for example, a business works with healthcare operations like hospitals, then normalizing charitable contributions to an existing or prospective client’s golf tournament may be considered a sales and marketing expense. Alternatively, charitable contributions not related to the ongoing nature of the business should be normalized.

We hope this brief explanation on normalizing adjustments provides some clarity on what is (and is not) generally accepted as reasonable expense adjustments. Also keep in mind that from an ethical and transactional point of view, improperly charging expenses to the business may save some money now, but it could cost you more in the long run during a sale if an acquirer doesn’t like what they see. We recommend reaching out to your personal accountant or M&A advisor to address any lingering questions or concerns.

This article written by Michael Thomas of Topline Valuation and provided courtesy of


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Why Startups Stall

Have you ever wondered why startup companies stop growing? Sometimes they run out of potential customers to sell to or their product starts losing market share to a competitor, but there is often a more fundamental reason: the founder(s) lose the stomach for it.

When you start a business, the assets you have outside of your business likely exceed those you have in it, because in the early days, your business is worthless. As your company grows, it starts to have value and becomes a more significant part of your wealth—especially if you’re pouring your profits back into funding your growth.

For most business owners, their company is their largest asset.

Eventually, your business may become such a large proportion of your wealth that you realize you are taking a giant risk every day that you decide to hold on to it just a little bit longer.

95% Of His Wealth In One Business

In 2000, Etienne Borgeat and Olivier Letard co-founded PCO innovation, an IT consulting firm. The company took off and, by 2016, PCO had 600 full-time employees and offices around the world.

As the business grew, Borgeat and Letard started to become uneasy about how much of their wealth was tied up in their business. By 2015, the shares Borgeat held in PCO represented 95% of his wealth.

That’s about the point that aerospace giant Boeing came calling. Boeing wanted PCO to take on a very large project and Borgeat and Letard turned down the opportunity reasoning that the project was so large it could risk their entire company if it went wrong. In the early days, the partners would never have turned down a chance to work with Boeing, but the partners had changed.

That’s when Borgeat and Letard realized the time had come to sell. They agreed to an acquisition offer from Accenture of over one times revenue.

The success of your startup is probably driven by your willingness to put all your eggs in one basket. You’re all in. However, at some point, you may find yourself starting to play it safe, which is about the time your business may be better off in someone else’s hands.


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What is EBITDA, and Why Do Investors Care About It?

By Karen Sibayan | January 13, 2016 – courtesy of

During negotiations in an M&A deal, buyers and sellers look closely at several factors in order to agree on a price that properly captures a company’s value.

One of the closely examined metrics in this process is EBITDA, which stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.  EBITDA is used as a way to measure company performance. EBITDA indicates whether a business is profitable by revealing the amount of its normal operational earnings.

EBITDA has many uses in addition to the M&A sales process. For traders, analysts, portfolio managers, and others, it is an indicator of whether companies are properly valued. It is also a gauge for lenders to know if companies will be able to pay their future debt obligations. However, while EBITDA provides a valuable snapshot of a point in time in a firm’s cycle, it does not necessarily provide a complete picture of a business’ true value or performance.

What is EBITDA? If you’re considering selling your company, understanding how EBITDA is calculated can help you present your company’s financials in a way that makes your firm’s post-sale cash flow attractive to buyers.

Investors use EBITDA to measure the enterprise value of the company.

“In a sale process, generally what a buyer pays for a company is a multiple of EBITDA,” says James Cassel, chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. (an Axial member).

Is EBITDA the Same as Cash Flow?

Many think of EBITDA as synonymous to a company’s cash flow, but is this really the case?

Adams Price, a managing director at The Forbes M&A Group (an Axial member) says that EBITDA serves as “a proxy for pre-tax operational cash flow. It gives a sense of what cash flows might be expected to come out of the business after an M&A transaction.” Since a company’s depreciation, amortization, debt, and tax profile can change as a result of a deal, EBITDA removes those components from the picture. EBITDA is also a more standardized way for buyers to compare companies within their respective sectors.

What EBITDA effectively does, according to Cassel, is take the earnings of a company while not accounting for capital expenditures (capex) and the interest on a company’s debt.

EBITDA removes the factors that distort a company’s profit from the equation. This is why even though EBITDA is not precisely cash flow, it can be considered the best proxy.

Read more about Why EBITDA Is Not Cash Flow here.

How is EBITDA Calculated?

What goes into calculating EBITDA? Kenneth Eades, a professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business, explains how EBITDA is calculated to arrive at this standardized number. “The metric starts with EBIT,” a company’s profit before interest and taxes, “which is a nice number because it indicates how much profit a company produces before it pays debt holders and the government,” Eades says.

After taking EBIT and adding back the depreciation and amortization expenses for the period, we get EBITDA. EBITDA has the benefit of being a number that is not affected by how much debt a company carries. However, “this comparison is ideally used within the same industry because the depreciation and amortization part of EBITDA will differ across industries,” Eades says.

Depreciation expense is created when the cost of a long-term asset is divided and reported as an expense over a period of time. For instance, companies that are in capital intensive industries often have a lot of equipment on the books that creates a significant depreciation expense. When this depreciation expense is added to EBIT, the resulting figure is significantly larger. By contrast, other industries will have little or no depreciation to add back, which means the two figures will be approximately the same value.

While depreciation relates to “real” assets such as equipment, amortization involves adding back expenses tied with intangible assets such as intellectual property or patents. An amortization expense is created when a cost of a patent, for instance, is divided over the length of the patent’s life.

There are differences in companies’ multiples and earnings. When buying the assets of a company, the transactions are mostly on a cash-free and debt-free basis, with the debt being paid off at closing. In terms of cash flow, buyers look at non-cash items such as depreciation. From these, many private equity firms come up with a range of multiples of EBITDA depending on the industry and business characteristics.


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Is a Third-Party Sale Really the Best Exit Path?

By John Brown, BEI | July 18, 2017

An increasing number of business owners, many of them aging baby boomers, are seriously considering an exit. According to The BEI 2016 Business Owner Survey Report, 79% are planning to leave their businesses within 10 years.

While owners have many exit options to consider, a third-party sale is among the most commonly anticipated. According to the 2016 survey, 59% of owners are considering a third-party sale (Note: These same owners may also be interested in other options).

Like any other exit option, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to a third-party sale. For owners considering this option, research and preparation are key. Owners who don’t take the time to figure out which path is best for them waste their own time and effort, along with the time and effort of their M&A advisors, trying to carve a path that may not suit their goals.

Is a third-party sale right for your business? Let’s look at the chief reasons owners tend to select or reject a third-party sale.


  • Risk management: When properly planned, third-party sales are the least risky sale/transfer option, because there’s rarely any doubt that the owner will receive the full sale price.
  • Avoiding burnout: Whether owners are tired of working or would rather do something other than work, properly planned third-party sales often allow them to exit sooner than other exit paths.
  • No successor needed: A third-party sale is a viable option for businesses where management or children do not want or are not equipped to run the business without the owner.
  • Financial security: Well-planned third-party sales typically allow owners to exit their businesses with immediate financial security, a luxury rarely afforded to any other exit path, since third-party buyers typically have the cash necessary to pay owners the full sale price on the day of closing. Insiders, such as children, co-owners, or employees, rarely have the cash necessary to close a sale immediately, often requiring more time or bank financing than the owner or bank is willing to allow.


  • Emotional exhaustion: Third-party sales take time, sometimes more than a year, to complete. Negotiations can spur impatience, leading owners to sell their businesses for less than top dollar or walk away from a deal just to get the process over with.
  • Cost: Good investment bankers/business brokers, CPAs, and deal attorneys cost money, sometimes up to or exceeding 10% of the final sale price. Yet, skimping on these advisors can damage long-term sale prospects and result in a lower purchase price.
  • Time: The time owners spend trying to sell their businesses is time they could be spending increasing business value. Owners who dedicate too little time to increasing (or at least maintaining) their businesses’ value can find themselves receiving a lower offer than they expected or, in the most extreme cases, having a deal withdrawn altogether. A common mistake that owners make as they commit to a third-party sale is killing time waiting for their big payday, assuming that things will simply fall into place because an outside buyer is taking over. This is less common in insider transfers, since good owners typically understand that they still have work to do to build business value to assure that their internal successor can both run the business and pay the full sale price after the owner exits.
  • Market dependence: Today’s M&A market is very robust. But that’s not always the case. It’s much harder to sell a business in a poor economy, as we saw during the Great Recession. Additionally, marketplaces can be brutally harsh to indecisive owners.

In my experience, the best way for owners to know whether a third-party sale is right for them is to assemble a strong exit-planning advisor team. A good advisor will recognize the pros and cons of a third-party sale, and help owners determine whether this option will allow them to leave their businesses when they want, for the money they need, and to the person they choose.


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Maximizing Your Business Value Before a Sale

The process of selling a business has become more complex today. Buyers are more cautious and much more rigorous in their due diligence efforts due to the Great Recession. A big reason why a deal fails is that owners do not plan early enough to sell their business. GEM Strategy Management’s experience proves that CEOs and owners should maximize the business value before putting it up for a sale.

Many first time sellers fail to realize that it takes time and careful planning to optimize the business value in order to maximize the sale price. This thus leads to a lower purchase price from a buyer, or worse, no sale at all.

The business landscape changes every three to five years, and your company’s exit plan needs to keep up. Regardless of personal goals, there are some key issues every business owner must address to become transaction ready.

The key to increasing business value is to understand how a potential buyer views your business. That is a two-part job.

  • Obtain an independent, professional valuation from an accredited valuation firm.
  • Engage an objective business adviser to conduct a business audit and assessment to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the business.

The advisor can help you pinpoint the value drivers. This will ultimately increase your business’s value and sale price from 10% to 35% or more. If the assessment reveals that some of your business drivers are weak, prioritize them and begin correcting or improving them immediately. Once you understand the current value of the business and the value drivers, you can identify tactics to increase its value.

Key business value drivers may include:

  • Sales growth trends
  • Balanced and growing customer mix
  • Strength of sales backlog
  • Strength of the market niche
  • Strong products and services brand
  • Highly skilled, efficient and loyal workforce
  • Solid vendor relationships
  • Product differentiation
  • Product innovation
  • Strong management team that can transition to the new owner, up-to-date technology and modern work-flow systems and processes
  • Robust management information systems, continuous growth in profitability, barriers to competitive entry
  • Strong company culture and loyal customer base. Company culture and existing customer relationships are two critical areas that concern most buyers. If a business is sold, it is important to ensure that employees will embrace the culture of the buyer. Both these buyer concerns can be mitigated if the seller stays on as an employee or consultant for a reasonable period of time.

We suggest business owners to take at least two years to increase and improve the value drivers of a business. During this time, you will be able to correct minor cosmetic issues to help build incremental value.

After two or three years of focusing on value optimization, your business worth should increase in the eyes of potential buyers. Understanding your company’s value and building upon it leads to a larger sale price and maximizes the wealth transfer to the business owner. If the business value process has been carefully carried out, the added value will stand up under the most rigorous buyer due diligence.

Continued owner involvement and the development of a strong management team have become even more important to buyers in today’s M&A environment. As earn-out requirements are commonly integrated into a sale price, performance stipulations tied to profits and revenue are frequently included in the sale contract to obtain the full purchase price.

If you are considering selling your company, act now. You must allow sufficient time to prepare for a transaction to correct any issues and build incremental value. While the market is strong now, strong markets do not last forever. Time is of the essence.

Remember, poor exit planning can erode the value of a lifetime of success.

This article written by Gary Miller GEM Strategy Management, Inc. | November 1, 2017 and provided courtesy of Axial at


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Selling Your Business? Here’s What Buyers Look for

By Paris Aden | November 13, 2017

Takeaway: Here are the key areas buyers look at when they are assessing whether or not to acquire your business.

When business owners consider a sale of their company, a common first question is: “How much is my company worth?” The answer is guided by the elements that buyers look for when they assess the value of a business. So, from a buyer’s perspective, what makes a company an attractive acquisition target?

A recent study by Intralinks and the M&A Research Centre at Cass Business School in London provides some answers to this question. Additionally, Paul Eldridge, a partner at Fulcrum Capital Partners, shared insights with us, gleaned from his extensive experience as a private equity investor.

1. Growth

Growth is a leading differentiator for potential buyers. According to the Intralinks study, the three-year compound annual sales growth rate for target companies was, on average, 2.4% higher than that of non-targets.

What if a company has a record of low historic growth, perhaps due to capital constraints, but has exciting future growth opportunities? According to Mr. Eldridge, this type of company may still be an attractive target to a financial buyer if there are “obvious paths to growth and clear execution plans to achieve these growth targets.” This may explain, at least in part, why companies in the bottom decile for growth are actually most likely to be approached as a potential target (see chart below). These companies may also be attractive to strategic (corporate) buyers, if there are cost-reduction and/or revenue synergies to be unlocked.

2. Profitability

Profitability is not to be confused with growth. While some private equity professionals are willing to overlook profitability for solid growth opportunities, historical results suggest that higher profitability is favored by buyers. The Intralinks report found that the profitability of target companies was, on average, 1.2% higher than that of non-targets in the private market.

From a buyer’s perspective, higher profitability reduces the risk of post-transaction operating failure, as well as providing a faster payback period. However, a company struggling with operating losses may be perceived by some buyers as an opportunity waiting to be realized. As Mr. Eldridge told us: “Many private equity investors look for opportunities to add new capabilities to the management team as a path to improving [operating] performance.”

3. Leverage

Private companies with higher leverage are preferred by potential buyers. The chart below illustrates that the average debt/EBITDA ratio for private targets is three times more than non-targets. What is the rationale for this finding? One private equity investor explains it as follows:

“High leverage ratios come at very reasonable valuations…[so] the situation becomes very attractive for us to invest in, provided the business has potential to improve.”

4. Size

Size is a factor for potential buyers, and has becoming increasingly important over the years. Before 2008, the average size difference between target and non-target companies was merely 14%, with size measured in terms of sales. In the years following, the gap widened significantly, and by 2014, target companies were approximately 2.5 times larger than non-targets.

More recently, however, as valuations soar, buyers are setting their sights on smaller companies, which are typically valued at a discount to their larger peers. In fact, predicated on the latest fundraising numbers, a recent Pitchbook article predicts that the next buyout cycle will be “geared towards the middle market, particularly the lower end.”

5. Liquidity

Target companies also tend to have lower liquidity, as measured by the ratio of current assets to current liabilities. Intralinks data indicate that companies in the bottom two deciles in term of liquidity are, on average, 35% more likely to be identified as acquisition targets.

It may go without saying, but we would not recommend pursuing lower liquidity as a strategy to become an attractive target. Lower levels of liquidity are often associated with financial distress, which makes a company more vulnerable as an acquisition target. Under these circumstances, a target with low liquidity is very likely to have a low valuation relative to its peers.


While certain attributes increase the attractiveness of a target, there is no hard and fast rule. Certainly, some buyers look for high sales growth and profitability, as the Intralinks study suggests, but lower performing companies may be attractive as well, albeit at lower valuations. Financial buyers might target these companies if they see an opportunity to create value, improving performance by providing capital or professionalizing management. And strategic (corporate) buyers are likely to target lower performing companies that offer the potential for revenue and cost synergies.

If you are considering a sale of your business, it’s important to understand who your best buyers are. Consider what your company offers a prospective buyer by taking a clear-eyed look at the strengths and weaknesses of your business, and thinking about how different buyers might regard those attributes in their distinct paths to creating value.


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