How Supply Chain Issues are Complicating M&A Dealmaking

Many businesses are struggling with supply chain issues right now. After vaccine programs and government stimulus monies kicked in and economies roared back to life this past year, global supply chains came under immense strain as weaknesses were exposed. Though conditions have improved slightly in just the past few months, experts in most industries are forecasting that supply chain troubles will persist well into 2023.

This article discusses some of the ways that supply chain problems are complicating M&A transactions for business owners looking to sell in 2022.

Earnings Performance

One of our M&A clients, a durable goods distribution company, currently has a record order backlog of 11 months, as customers place large orders to combat long lead times. Normal backlog before COVID was around 1-2 months. Lead times on popular SKUs that were once 2-3 weeks are now 5-6 months, and scheduled deliveries on some products are a full year out! Meanwhile many vendors are missing promised delivery dates, and the order backlog keeps climbing, for now. Sales (shipments) are totally dependent on the supply chain.

EBITDA is the most talked about, relied upon, and argued over earnings metric in the world of mergers and acquisitions. When a business has solid orders but is struggling to ship products, it becomes difficult to establish an earnings run rate and to forecast earnings. That in turn makes it difficult for acquirers and sellers to see eye to eye on EBITDA and therefore enterprise valuation. And how well correlated is trailing twelve-month (TTM) performance with expected future performance anyway under these conditions? Often not well at all.

And this is part of a broader question―where will growth stabilize after COVID restrictions and government stimulus ends, and inflation and GDP growth are back to normal? Since different buyers will have different views of TTM and expected future EBITDA performance (not to mention working capital and capital spending needs) the best way for sellers to optimize value in today’s market is to run a structured sale process where multiple buyers come to the table.

Supplier Due Diligence

As acquirers seek greater supply chain resilience, we’re seeing them do more due diligence in this area than ever before. In the past, buyers were relatively relaxed about supply vulnerabilities, focusing more in other areas. But now we’re seeing more scrutiny of supplier quality and on time performance, length of supplier relationships, supplier concentration, location of supplier operations, supplier commitment to the target, capacity for growth, strategic plans, recent or potential change of ownership, contracts, proprietary content, history of price increases, long lead time items, economic order quantities, sole sourced items and alternative sources of supply, and other potential areas of risk.

We brought an electronics business to market recently that had backups or workarounds for nearly every component in their products. Frankly, we’d never seen a company put so much time and energy into supplier redundancies. Yet, they had one essential PCB with no alternate supplier.

Buyer concern was so significant, we took the business off the market until a reliable second source was identified and qualified.

Working Capital

Another aspect of M&A dealmaking that is being complicated by supply chain issues has to do with working capital negotiations. Working capital is like gas in a car – you need it to run a business. When selling a business, the buyer and seller agree on a “sufficient” amount of working capital (usually on a cash-free debt-free basis) to be left in the business to support ongoing operations. In a typical economy, unless a business is growing or declining rapidly, this “target” working capital level is based on a TTM average calculation.

But right now, many businesses are holding onto bloated levels of inventory to compensate for parts shortages and long lead times. Manufacturers that used to buy inventory on a just-in-time basis are now overstocking. Not only are inventories much higher than normal, but in many cases the price-per-unit has skyrocketed as well. Companies are paying whatever they have to in order to keep critical parts in stock and keep customers happy. The same goes for shipping costs.

So, businesses selling now based on a TTM average working capital target will be including more working capital than if they had sold 12 or 24 months ago. This is one of the areas that can really upset sellers – no one likes to leave money on the table. Fortunately, with all the competition in the market today, many buyers are willing to throw out the book on working capital to win the deal. The key is to negotiate the target earlier in the process when there are still multiple buyers at the table. In the past we often negotiated the working capital target during due diligence. Today we almost always negotiate it in the LOI.

What to do

Owners looking to sell in a world reshaped by the pandemic should select an M&A advisor who anticipates issues like these and has strategies for addressing them. Owners planning to remain independent may want to consider protecting their supply chain by vertically integrating upstream through a strategic acquisition.

For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

Valuing Personal Goodwill

What is personal goodwill?

Before starting our discussion about personal goodwill, it is necessary to establish a common ground to understand the concept. First, it is an identifiable intangible asset that will generate future economic benefits to the asset owner. While there is no standard definition. Adam Mason and David Wood searched various textbooks, articles, and leading court cases[1]that define this term. From that exercise, we chose to utilize the following definitions for our discussion;

“Personal goodwill is the value of earnings or cash flow directly attributable to the individual’s characteristics or attributes.”[2]

“Personal goodwill, sometimes referred to as professional goodwill, is a function of the earnings from repeat business that will patronize the individual as opposed to the business, new consumers who will seek out the individual, and new referrals that will be made to the individual”.[3]

Personal goodwill differs from the concept of corporate or enterprise goodwill. Corporate goodwill is the simple calculation of the excess price paid for a company above the value of its tangible and identifiable intangible assets (i.e. brand, customer relationships). In some instances, goodwill can be negative, but that is the topic of another blog.

What is so relevant about personal goodwill?

In summary, it is a tax issue. In the sale of a C Corporation, an owner can have significant tax benefits when a portion of the purchase price is related to personal goodwill instead of corporate goodwill. This identification of goodwill as personal will allow the owner to avoid getting taxed twice for the same value. Let me explain. Assuming that all the goodwill is associated with the company, the sale would likely generate a tax at a corporate level before the after-tax value is allocated to the owners of the company’s stock. Once the owner receives the net proceeds, they would be taxed again at a personal level. Identifying a certain percentage of the goodwill as personal allows the owner to split the tax bill between personal goodwill and corporate goodwill and pay taxes on each only once.

Which characteristics or elements must have personal goodwill?

As with any other intangible asset[4], personal goodwill must have the following characteristics. It can be separated individually from the entity. In other words, if the business owner leaves her or his company, that intangible asset goes with them. For example, the ability of the business owner to generate sales because of its personal relationships. The other element to be recognized as personal goodwill is that the business owner has contractual or legal rights over that intangible asset. In that respect, the owner of the personal goodwill must not transfer it through an employment or a non-compete agreement.

How to estimate the fair value of personal goodwill?

We have found that the most logical and defendable way in which we estimate the value of personal goodwill is the “With and Without Approach.” This methodology consists in estimating the present value of the entity’s future cash flows as it is; that is, the “With” scenario. This “Without” scenario has several key inputs such as the impact the owner has on the company’s future revenues, the cost at which the company must replace the owner, and the time it takes to ramp the business up to its original “With” forecast. The difference in the value of these scenarios is the fair value of personal goodwill. An appraiser needs to provide strong support for some of these “qualitative” inputs, specifically the top-line impact of the owner. That diligence starts with a simple question to the owner as to his or her impact on sales as a % of the total and drills down to the detail of the revenues and the sales responsibility of each customer. An owner may suggest that the business would lose 50% of the revenue if he or she left but an analysis of the sales relationships with each customer may only suggest that impact to be 25%. In defending the “Without” scenario to the IRS, the more defendable number is always the right choice. The owner may disagree but the extra layer of support helps mitigate future audit risk.

What is the real impact?

It is important to note that there must be a balanced relationship between personal goodwill to total goodwill. According to David Wood[5], personal goodwill should fall within 20%-to-40%. This range is supported by the tax court rulings and guides the appraiser in reconciling the analysis. While there may be a strong case for a higher percentage, it goes without saying that any conclusion above this range may trigger audit concerns unless the appraiser has presented strong support for an outlying opinion. Below is a simple analysis and calculation of the potential tax savings.

[1] Business Valuation Resources, LLC. Personal Goodwill: A Current Survey of Definitions. Adam Manson and David Wood CPA/ABV, CVA.
[2] Wood, David. (2007). Goodwill Attributes: Assessing Utility. The Value Examiner.
[3] Wood, David. (2007). “MUM’s the Word”TM: A formal Method to Allocate Blue Sky Value in Divorce. Business Valuation Update.
[4] Under ASC 805; asset recognition criteria.
[5] Business Valuation in Divorce. Case Law Compendium. Third Edition. Business Valuation Resources, LLC.

Exit Strategies Group, Inc (ESGI)

At ESGI, we are a team of seasoned appraisers to help you with your valuation needs, either to estimate the fair value of personal goodwill or any other. Our business valuations are commonly used in estate, gift, and other tax filings, dispute resolution, expert witness and litigation support, and mergers and acquisitions transactions.

Buyer’s top focus is employee team

Employees. Finding them. Keeping them. It’s on everyone’s mind right now. And for the company or person who buys your business, it just may be their number one concern.

In the latest IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Report, a quarterly survey of M&A advisors, respondents indicated that employees were buyers number one due diligence concern so far this year.

Employee issues, specifically longevity, loyalty and work ethic, ranked ahead of other due diligence priorities like operations, revenue and customer concentration.

We’ve been hearing from sellers for a couple of years now that finding qualified employees is their number one barrier to growth. Many can’t find the talent they need to meet customer demand, much less open new divisions or expand to new territory.

This shortage of good talent is also one contributing factor in the strong M&A market right now. When businesses can’t grow organically, they look to acquisitions as a path to expansion. That’s why buyers are putting increased scrutiny into the quality of a company’s employee team.

As an industry, we’ve been talking for years about how important it is to have a well-developed management team in place before you sell. Buyers want a leadership group – or at least one key manager – who can maintain the business in the owner’s absence.

What’s interesting, is that in the recent Market Pulse Report, management team ranked number five on the buyer due diligence list. A good succession plan and backup support is still incredibly important to the saleability and value of your business, but it seems that the strength of your overall employee team is – at this moment in time – an even bigger priority.

Here are some of the issue areas buyers are looking at:



How long do employees stay with you? What practices do you have in place to keep people loyal and committed to your organization? People stay with their employer for more than salary and benefits. Buyers need to understand why employees are loyal so they can make sure it’s a good fit for their own culture and expectations.


Do employees have an ownership mindset? Do they pitch in and support each other in times of need? Have they built a self-policing culture of quality and performance? And again, will the factors shaping that culture mesh with the buyer’s workplace?

Learning and development

Millennials are currently the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce, and this employee group, more than any other, cares about training and growth. Workplaces with established learning and development programs, as well as those with an organic culture of internal mentoring and promotions, will win employee loyalty – and points with buyers.


COVID-19 shone a spotlight on the benefits of cross-training. When business conditions are changing rapidly, it’s critical to have the ability to move employees from role to role. What’s more, cross-training benefits your people by broadening their skillsets and enabling more flexible scheduling.

Cross-trained employees are better able to fill in and cover for colleagues who want time off, who need extra help during a busy shift, or those who are sick or quarantined and unable to come into work for an extended period of time.

Niche, high-demand skills

In a tight talent market like this, an acquisition can be a way for a company to gain access to highly skilled talent. In some cases, this can even be the primary reason for an acquisition.

If you have employees with hard-to-find skills and employees who could take on new challenges and help a buyer grow, think about how you can retain them and keep them engaged in the run-up to selling your business. That said, we generally do not advise disclosing your exit plans to employees in advance.

A pending sale can cause anxiety among your employee group. Some will look for a new job rather than risk an uncertain future with a new owner. Talk to your M&A advisors about your key employees, stay bonuses, and what kind of succession planning is right for your situation.

Depending on your exit goals, we may be able to target buyers who will offer small equity positions to key employees. For the right employees – the opportunity to gain a real ownership stake in your business could be a meaningful incentive that keeps them committed to your company.

For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

M&A Advisor Tip: Take a vacation to grow your value

Build a strong management team and work on transitioning yourself out of the business. Buyers want to see that the business can run—and run well—without your constant attention.

What would happen if you took the summer off? What would you come back to? If the answer is locked doors, then you’ve got some work to do. If your team might call you and have a meeting once a week, you’re moving in the right direction.

Start with a long weekend and build up to multiple weeks then months off. It will be an exercise your spouse and family will be happy to participate in and will allow your management team to grow.

For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

Keep widening your moat

When buying a business, one of the qualities buyers look for is barriers to entry. The harder it is for someone to get started in your business or take away your customers, the bigger the barrier.

When investing in businesses, Warren Buffet talks a lot about moats. “In business, I look for an economic castle protected by unbreachable moats,” he says. “If you have an economic castle, people are going to come and want to take that castle away from you. You better have a strong moat.”

The idea of a moat refers to how well your company can keep competitors at bay. Buyers see long-term value in wide moats. The better the moat, the greater confidence the buyer has that your cash flows won’t fall to competition over time.

One way to gauge the width of your moat is to identify your unique selling proposition. The aim is to have “three uniques.”

Maybe you make widgets and you’re one of only a few widget makers who can fabricate them out of carbon fiber. And maybe it’s hard to find short-run manufacturing or someone who will provide widget engineering support for a customer’s research and development work.

The goal is to identify a unique combination of valuable services that sets you apart from everyone else in the market. There may be a limited few who can claim two of your “uniques” but the goal is that no one else can claim all three things you offer your clients.

Identifying your three uniques will show the buyer that you really do have something special – something difficult-to-imitate and proprietary to you.

Then, as you evaluate your business from year to year, ask yourself if your three uniques still stand. Has your competitive advantage gotten stronger (or weaker) than the year before? To buyers, that can be a more important indicator of future value than your revenue and profit alone.

Buyers are looking for long-lasting competitive advantages. So even if your business is having record sales, you need to think about how you are widening your competitive moat.

As Buffet said, “We tell our managers we want the moat widened every year. That doesn’t necessarily mean the profit will be more this year than it was last year because it won’t be sometimes. However, if the moat is widened every year, the business will do very well. When we see a moat that’s tenuous in any way – it’s just too risky.”

When it comes to selling your business, any perceived risk lowers the value. Lower risk, like wider moats, bring more buyers to the table.

For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.


7 Keys to Making Your Business Sellable

A business owner recently asked me what she could do to increase the value of her business. She wants to sell and retire in a few years.

My advice was:

  1. It is easier to sell big businesses than small businesses. The magic number is $1 million in adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). When a business has more than $1 million EBITDA,  it becomes attractive to all buyer types: individuals, strategic buyers, and Private Equity Groups. By the way, $2 million in EBITDA is even better.
  2. to be attractive for sale, a small business needs to make enough money to support a working owner in that geography.  So, if a new owner requires $150K/year in salary, wages, perks, and draws to support themselves and their family, the business needs to be more profitable than that. Below that threshold, a small business just isn’t attractive.
  3. ideally a business can operate and continue to grow without the owner involved every day. That way a new owner can step in without needing any special skills or training. Or a strategic acquirer may be able to integrate the business without hiring a general manager. You still should be running the show. When you are present, the company will run better. But…operationally it should have all the pieces in place to run without you. I advise business owners who want to sell in a few years to start taking more vacations. That forces them to make their business able to operate day-to-day without them.
  4. a key to making a small business attractive to buyers is to have a reliable lead/prospect/customer engine. A good business development engine systematically identifies leads and converts them into prospects and customers. The front end of the engine/funnel could be advertising. It could be prospecting. It could be networking. Ideally, this engine will have the resources to work with and without you, the owner, at the business every day. Steady customer flow is the lifeblood of small businesses.
  5. of prime importance is to determine the products or services at which your business excels, and focus on those products and services. Knowing your focus will help you design your company’s business generation engine. It seems counter-intuitive, but it is easier to sell a specific product in a smaller market segment than a wide array of products into a larger market segment. Of course, the market segment you choose has to be big enough. A great lead/prospect/customer engine will help your business garners more than its fair share.
  6. Growth is important. An attractive business is growing steadily and sustainably. Both top line and bottom line should increase predictably. A consistently growing company will sell at a higher multiple than a company with flat or declining sales.
  7. Paramount is profitability and cash flow. A profitable business is attractive. Cash flow is always king.

Essentially, I advised this owner to pursue business excellence and grow her business to make it attractive to as many types of buyers as possible. If you are considering selling your business one day, this may be good advice for you.

Roy Martinez is a business intermediary with Exit Strategies Group, a leading California-based M&A advisory firm with almost two decades of experience selling small-to-medium-sized and lower middle market businesses. For further information, or to discuss a potential sale or acquisition, confidentially, contact Roy Martinez at 707-781-8583. This post was adapted from Roy’s response to a question from a Sonoma County small business owner.

Biden tax plan driving business owners to market

During his campaign, President Biden proposed tax changes that could have a significant impact on business owners. Any business owner contemplating an exit in the next few years should consider how potential tax changes could reduce their net proceeds from a sale.

If Biden’s tax plans come to fruition, the capital gains tax rate could effectively double, from 20% to 39.6% for income exceeding $1 million. Right now, that means business owners need to shift their focus from maximizing total transaction price to maximizing after-tax proceeds.

Let’s assume your company sells for $10 million in today’s tax environment. Under the current tax rate, you’d net about $8 million after federal taxes. The same company selling for $10 million under Biden’s new tax proposal would net approximately $6 million.

Now let’s say you intend to hold your company and grow it for a few more years. Suppose you grow 5% a year for the next three years for a business value of roughly $12.2 million. Selling under the proposed capital gains taxes you’ll net about $7.3 million. That’s a $700,000 loss in net proceeds, despite three more years of hard work.

These are simplified calculations and other factors will come into play. But under our basic scenario, an owner projecting 5% annual growth would need to run the business for an additional five years to reach a breakeven point after increased capital gains.

Some analysts suggest that new tax legislation won’t pass until year-end 2021 with an effective date of 2022. That could give us a year of breathing room before new taxes go into effect.

As we know, Democrats have control of Congress. And yet, that doesn’t mean tax hikes are a sure thing. With the Senate divided 50-50, and a slim margin in the House, the Democrats don’t have room for dissention in the ranks. Party moderates concerned about economic recovery may push for a more tempered approach.

Business owners contemplating a sale in the next five years should meet with their advisors and consider their exit strategies under different tax outcomes.

Furthermore, business owners without immediate plans to sell should understand the potential impact of increased corporate taxes. Higher ongoing tax bills could have a material impact on an owner’s wealth-building strategies and, consequently, their intentions to sell.

According to the most recent M&A Source and IBBA Market Pulse report, it takes an average of 10 months to sell a lower middle market business. If you’re a business owner and you were thinking about exiting in the next couple of years, start talking to your advisors now.

Begin with an M&A advisor to get a valuation and see if it even makes sense to take your business to market. Then talk to your CPA and run the tax scenarios to understand the best- and worst-case possibilities ahead.

If predictions hold true, M&A deal teams (investment bankers, CPAs, attorneys, and lenders) could have a stressful fourth quarter in 2021 as sellers make a collective push to get deals across the finish line before year end. To my industry colleagues I say, forget those post-COVID travel plans. You’re going to be busy.

Al Statz is the founder and president of Exit Strategies Group, a leading California based lower middle market M&A advisory and business valuation firm. For further information on this topic or to discuss a potential business sale, merger or acquisition, confidentially, Al can be reached at 707-781-8580 or

SBA Covers 3 Months of Payments on New Loans

As part of the Economic Aid Act that passed in December, the Small Business Administration will make borrowers’ payments for three months on new SBA 7(a) and 504 real estate and micro-loan programs.

These incentives were available last summer under a stimulus program that expired in September 2020. Now the program has been revived and enhanced.

The SBA will make the first three months of payments (principal and interest) on new loans approved between Feb. 1 and Sept. 30, 2021. To be clear, these payments will be covered, not deferred or pushed back to the end of the loan period. Payments are capped at $9,000 per borrower per month.

The Section 7(a) loan can be used to buy a business or used for working capital, equipment, or inventory. Qualified borrowers can access up to $5 million.

The SBA’s 504 microloan program can be used for assets that grow your business, including land, facilities, facility improvements, and long-term equipment investments. These loans have similar limits and requirements as the Section 7(a) loans.

Would-be borrowers will have to get approval through an SBA lender. But the good news here is that the new law has increased the federal guarantee for the loans from 75% under last year’s program to 90% this year for most loans. That lowers the risk for lenders and makes it easier for them to extend financing.

Borrowers with existing loans will receive an additional three months of payments and interest, starting February 2021. (These borrowers previously received automatic payment assistance from the SBA.) Plus, borrowers in the hardest-hit industries, such as restaurants, salons, entertainment, arts, and recreation, can receive an additional five months of payments.

The law appears to be written with the intent that the SBA will cover loan origination fees which are 2.5 to 3.5% of the loan amount. That’s something we hoped was coming last summer, but ultimately didn’t come to fruition.

On a loan of $5 million, SBA fees could be about $138,125 or more. That’s free money for buyers who move now and get their loan issued soon. While the program is set to end on September 30, 2021, it could be closed earlier if all funds have been exhausted.

While the law has been approved, the SBA and Treasury Department were still fleshing-out the final rules at the time of writing. The SBA maintains a list of authorized lenders on its website. We recommend reviewing a lender’s SBA loan closure rate to ensure you’re working with an experienced, responsive lender.

If you are acquiring a business, your M&A advisor or investment banker should be able to recommend active SBA lenders with a track record of success.

For advice on financing a business acquisition, contact Al Statz in Exit Strategies Group’s Sonoma County California office at 707-781-8580 or

Exit Strategies Group is a partner of Cornerstone International Alliance.

Six Benefits of Monitoring Company Value

Even if your business is not for sale, monitoring its market value can be incredibly helpful. This article describes six ways that understanding value over the life of a closely held business benefits shareholders, directors and managers.

1. Value Report Card

Like financial statements, an annual independent business valuation is a type of report card on company health. CEO’s can use this report card to educate, align and focus executive teams on maximizing enterprise value. Owners and boards of directors can use it to hold management accountable for value creation.

2. Equity Transaction Enabler

Having a business appraised periodically enables equity transactions. I am talking about buy-sell transactions between shareholders, redeeming stock of retiring owners, and buy-ins by managers, key employees, family, or investors, to name a few.  Most experienced business attorneys will tell you that not agreeing on valuation is the #1 impediment to successfully completing these transactions.  An independent business valuation is usually the fastest route to an agreement on value.

3. Shareholder Agreement Test

A business valuation can be used to test the composition of your shareholder buy-sell agreement from a valuation perspective. In our experience, there are as many faulty buy-sell agreements out there as there are good ones. By faulty I mean that the valuation terms are incorrect or ambiguous, or produce unfair share values, which ultimately leads to surprises, divisiveness, and disputes among shareholders. Also, all buy-sell agreements, regardless of how well-written, lose relevance over time and should be tested periodically. A valuation expert can identify potential problems and recommend solutions.

4. Versatile Planning Tool

A comprehensive valuation report can provide a solid foundation for strategic planning and a roadmap to increasing value. Shareholders can use periodic valuations for their own retirement planning, estate planning, buying life insurance, and maintaining appropriate liquidity for future buyouts. Without an accurate valuation, these planning activities involve a lot more guesswork.

5. Executive Education

The very act of going through a valuation process is educational for owners and leadership teams. They will see what information goes into the valuation and learn what factors are driving or detracting from business value. Experiencing the valuation process also prepares them for what will happen if the buy-sell agreement is triggered or if the company becomes involved in an acquisition.

6. Compliance

You may be aware that ESOP companies are required by law to obtain an annual independent valuation of their shares.  Companies that have stock option plans are required to have regular valuations for IRC 409A and financial reporting purposes. Companies that have executive teams whose compensation is tied to company value through the use of stock appreciation rights or phantom stock plans need valuations as well.

Getting This One Done!

An experienced business appraiser can usually recommend the appropriate scope of analysis and reporting for your intended use and circumstances after a brief phone call with you. In many cases, a full scope business valuation (appraisal) is necessary or strongly recommended. In other cases, a limited scope calculation of value may be sufficient. At issue are accuracy, the knowledge of intended users, credibility, compliance requirements and cost.

Working with the same valuation analyst (appraiser) over time has additional benefits.  Your team gets to know and trust the valuation expert. The expert’s knowledge of the company and its industry grows, and they become better able to offer insights into improving business operations, financial results, enterprise value, sale readiness and marketability. Also, valuation updates are generally faster, less expensive and more consistent.

Al Statz is the founder and president of Exit Strategies Group, a leading lower middle market M&A advisory and business valuation firm. For further information on this topic or to discuss a potential business sale, merger or acquisition, confidentially, Al can be reached at 707-781-8580 or

Plan Your 2021 Comeback with a Strategic Acquisition

Business owners tend to think more seriously about selling when things aren’t as much fun as they used to be. Running a business in the COVID era is anything but fun, and owners are being particularly responsive to acquisition inquiries right now.

Proactive Acquisition Searches

When growing through acquisition, companies can be reactive or proactive. In a reactive strategy, the buyer takes phone calls and watches open market listings for appropriate opportunities to appear. This is a slow process, and buyers often settle for something “close enough” rather than an ideal fit. Proactive buyers work with M&A advisors to build proprietary deal flow. The advisor conducts a disciplined search that targets passive sellers, i.e. owners who would consider selling if the right opportunity came along, but who haven’t listed their businesses on the open market.

Current Supply and Demand

Companies in reactive acquisition mode may be surprised by the level of competition in the acquisition market. COVID has shaken business confidence which is why there are so few quality companies going to market right now. If fact, conditions are similar to the residential housing market. Too few sellers are listing, which means houses are selling fast, above asking prices. In the current M&A market, strong businesses (particularly those relatively unaffected by the pandemic) are finding that lack of supply to be working in their favor.

The Search Process

  • In a proactive acquisition process, the critical first step is to define your strategy. An M&A advisor will  drill into your business model, strengths and weaknesses, culture and revenue streams to help you define your ideal target. What sort of acquisition will create a “one plus one equals three” outcome for your business?
  • From there, your M&A search team generates a list of potential targets. Typically this involves in-depth database searches as well as their own network sources. As a client, you review and approve this list before outreach begins.
  • Next, your M&A team begins a disciplined outreach strategy to generate seller interest. The goal is to bring multiple opportunities to the table at the same time so you have choices and negotiating leverage. You’ll view executive summaries of each opportunity and move into management presentations with a short list of sellers. When the strategy is clear and response has been good, it can take 60 to 90 days to reach this point.
  • Once you’ve identified your prime target, the next step is to negotiate a Letter of Intent (LOI) with the seller. An LOI is a written expression of a buyer and seller’s intent to enter into a transaction. The LOI includes non-binding terms such as purchase price, deal structure, indemnification, management arrangements, timeline, and key closing conditions. Completing an acquisition can be costly and time consuming, so you want to take time to carefully define LOI terms before you spend more time and resources on an acquisition. The LOI phase typically takes 2-4 weeks.
  • At this point in the process, you have not yet done comprehensive due diligence. Due diligence can take another 60 to 90 days before investigations are completed and definitive agreement terms are settled.

All together, a proactive acquisition process often takes 5 to 8 months. Roughly half of that time is spent building and narrowing a pipeline of opportunities and the other half is spent in negotiations and due diligence.

The Takeaway

If acquisition is part of your 2021 growth plan, start now. Assemble your team, refine your strategy, and run a proactive acquisition process. Waiting around for deals to appear will likely produce limited choices, heavy competition and no results.

For more information on the acquisition search process or to discuss your acquisition strategy, confidentially, contact Al Statz, 707-781-8580 or in our Sonoma County, California office. Exit Strategies Group is a partner of Cornerstone International Alliance.