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1 Is now a good time to sell your consulting THE 2014 BUYERS RESEARCH REPORT F R O M E Q U I T E Q

2 Opportunities for sellers in the consulting sector M&A market Contents Highlights...3 Introduction...4 Buyers Research Report...6 Insight 1: Buyers expectations over the next three years...6 There s a lot of general advice in the market about the best time to sell a company and how much you can expect to get for it. However, there is sparse advice on selling consulting firms and very little input from the people who matter most the potential buyers of your business. That s why we undertook the first survey of buyers of consulting firms. We wanted to find out from them exactly what they re looking for over the next two to three years, whether they re looking to buy more or less, and what types of deal structures and earn-outs are being used. I think you ll find the results both thought provoking and insightful. We re pleased to report that buyers of consulting firms are predicting a 6% growth in deals over the next two to three years. The last time we saw growth of that magnitude was in We see a market that is very clear about what it wants to buy, where buyers expect to source deals from, and the top three factors that attract and deter them when considering a firm for acquisition. From a seller s perspective, they provide some key statistics on the failure and success rates at each stage of the acquisition process. We hope you will find our 2014 Buyers Research Report as interesting and informative as we do. Whether you re planning to sell your business or have already embarked on that path, this research will influence your thinking and provide some important signposts as to how best to maximize the value of your consulting firm. Insight 2: Buyers ideal characteristics for consulting firms...8 Insight 3: Where buyers source deals...12 Insight 4: Typical deal structures and earn-out periods...14 Insight 5: Deal opportunity failure rates...18 How to improve the certainty of a successful sale...23 Conclusion...24 Paul Collins Managing Partner 2 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

3 Highlights Insight 4: Typical deal structures and earn-out periods Our research shows that buyer demand for consulting firms is positive going forward. Buyers anticipate a 6% plus growth in deals over the next two to three years. The last time we saw market growth of this magnitude was in So how do you capitalize on the best opportunities? What profile of consulting firm are buyers looking for? Although there is a wide range of buyer requirements, the most popular criteria for buyers was found to be consulting firms with revenues between $15m 1 and $40m, stable financials, deep domain expertise and leveragable Intellectual Property. However, buyers often compromise on size, as the supply of quality consulting firms in the market in this range does not meet buyer demand. How does your firm fit with this profile and how do you stand out from the crowd? More than nine out of ten deals involve earn-outs or deferred payments. Nearly half of those payments are paid up-front. The good news for sellers is that around threequarters of earn-outs hit their targets. What earn-out metrics should you expect for your business? Insight 5: Deal opportunity failure rates It is important to appreciate the probabilities of success with each buyer and therefore to cast a wide net when going to market. Buyers said that on average 82% of potential deals do not progress to a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement and only 9% of the remainder get as far as a Letter of Intent. Given the high volume of potential opportunities seen by buyers, how can you avoid the pitfalls? Insight 3: Where buyers source deals Prolific buyers 2 get 42% of their acquisition opportunities via third parties, with 38% sourced through their own internal M&A team. However, even buyers with M&A operations put the intermediary route slightly ahead as the most effective source of deals. How can you enhance your visibility to the relevant parties in a sale process? 1 Currency used throughout is US Dollars. 2 In this report, we consider Prolific buyers to be those who acquire more than one consulting firm per year as opposed to Regular Buyers who acquire one consulting firm per year on average. NB Rounding of figures may mean that some totals round to just above or below 100%. This does not influence the findings. Although a small proportion of qualified acquisition opportunities result in Letters of Intent (LoIs) from a buyer, many of these opportunities do not appropriately articulate their value to the buyer. By following some important steps in an M&A process as outlined in our report, sellers of consulting firms can mitigate the inherent risks and increase the certainty of a sale to a very high probability. With the right approach and advice, there is no reason why your firm couldn t be one of the 200 consulting firms sold per month across the globe. 3

4 Buyers Research Report Introduction Given the growing volume of consulting firm M&A deals we have seen over several years in our annually published Global Consulting M&A Report, we felt it important to have a primary view from the buyer community. We commissioned research on the overall future demand, the types of consulting firms in demand, deal sourcing preferences, deal structures, and areas where deal opportunities most often fail. With this focus, we commissioned a primary piece of research to collect statistics from a diverse community of consulting firm buyers to reflect the realities of their M&A activity to date and their sentiment on acquisitions going forward. We are now delighted to present the findings of Equiteq s 2014 Buyers Research Report. In this report, you will find the views from 100 buyers of consulting firms from across the world, representing a broad range of consulting sectors and a view from the top from senior decision makers. 4% 70% 26% 23% 2% 7% 4% 64% Board / Partner Level Reporting into Board Other European / UK subsidiary US subsidiary 4 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

5 Buyers Research Report North America 43 Europe 37 Global South America 0% 50% 3% 11% 9% 4% 21% 19% 11% 4% 5% 4% 9% Accounting & Mgt Consulting An independent research company conducted 100 telephone interviews and eight in-depth face-to-face interviews with directors and senior managers responsible for acquisitions of consulting firms 3. Buyers interviewed by telephone acquired 310 consulting firms between them in the last two to three years. In the next two to three years, those buyers say they intend to buy a further 330 consulting firms. As such, this report represents the realities of consulting firm buyers and their sentiment going forward. We are confident that you will find this report insightful, whether you are a consulting firm owner who is looking to go to market soon or are growing your business for sale in the next two to three years. Engineering & Mgt Consulting Marketing Environmental Consulting Combined Services IT Consulting Management Consulting Outsourcing Research Software Others 3 Eight qualitative interviews and 100 structured quantitative interviews were carried out by Illuma Research amongst senior decision-makers in Europe, 5

6 Buyers Research Report Insight 1 Insight 1: We absolutely want to accelerate our acquisitions both in terms of size and numbers because we are quite cash rich. depend on what our competitors are prepared to pay. Our research shows that deal appetite is very much on the increase. Buyers of consulting firms are anticipating a 6% plus growth in deals over the next two to three years. This is the first time we have seen such growth rates for eight years; since before the Global Financial Crisis. The buyers we surveyed are anticipating acquiring an average of 3.3 consulting firms each over the next two to three years. The more prolific buyers are looking to acquire an average of 4.4 consulting firms in that period, as they are seeing more opportunities in the market. Of the companies researched, acquisitions play an important role in their growth strategies. 29% of buyers said their growth will be largely through acquisition in the next two to three years, whereas only 14% said organic growth would be the preferred route. There is certainly money to spend. Next years average budget for all buyers surveyed is $65m. The average budget for regular buyers is $35m and for prolific buyers it is $90m. However, 5% of prolific buyers cited a budget of $200m or more. Buyers typically do not expect to pay more for their acquisitions and this was reflected in the answers from our buyer survey. Unsurprisingly, 78% of buyers surveyed did not expect to pay more to acquire consulting firms over the next 12 months. Of the 22% who did expect to pay more, the anticipated price increase was 7% over the same period. Of course, as the buyer demand increases, market forces are likely to drive prices up as an increased number of buyers compete for the same consulting firms. 6 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

7 Buyers Research Report Insight 1 two to three years Are buyers seeing more or less 10% 14% % 29% % 67 Mostly organic More Mostly by acquisition Both equally No Change Less Don t know/ Not applicable This is undoubtedly a good time to sell. Buyers are looking to do more deals, and acquisition is seen as a vital part of their growth. The challenge for sellers is getting onto the radar of companies most likely to buy your business and who have the budgets to match your expectation. Although buyers have money to spend (and there are some big budgets out there), in order to attract a premium price, it is important for sellers to demonstrate the inherent (standalone) value of their consulting firm, as well as the synergies that buyers are likely to realize. Although buyers do not expect to pay more in the short term, appropriately presenting the value of your firm to prospective buyers sheds a different light on the price conversation. 7

8 Buyers Research Report Insight 2 Insight 2: make it work Culture is the key one anyone who go wrong because of a culture clash is probably lying to you. Growth is critical unless we felt it was something we could turn around out the problem. Buyers are very clear about the characteristics they look for in consulting firms. The first factor influencing their decision is the geographic market in which consulting firms are based. More than 50% are either very or extremely interested in buying US-based consulting firms. Approximately a third (33%) selected the UK with 20% interested in continental Europe. This closely mirrors the findings in our Global Consulting M&A Report in terms of the geographic profile of consulting firm M&A. On average across all buyers, they are interested in consulting firms sized between $15m and $40m in revenues, with the optimum size around $30m. As you might expect, these averages are higher for prolific buyers and lower for regular buyers. Prolific buyers stated an average ideal range from $19m to $52m in revenues, with an average optimum size of $32m. Regular buyers stated an average ideal range from $10m to $28m, with an average optimum size of $26m. A large proportion of buyers stated that turnover was less important than other measures which would take precedent. In our experience, revenue growth can be viewed by buyers as more important than an absolute revenue figure when evaluating deal opportunities, as growth illustrates the attractiveness of the seller s offerings in the market. A good revenue and profit growth record and robust growth projections are vital to attracting buyers. Deep domain expertise in one service area, and unique and leveragable Intellectual Property (IP) are also critical factors in attracting buyers to a consulting firm. 8 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

9 Buyers Research Report Insight 2 Mean: 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% $15M $39M $28M Minimum Maximum Optimum More than $200M $101-$200M $51-$100M $31-$50M $21-$30M $11-$20M $6-$10M Less than $5M Turnover less important than other factors 9

10 Buyers Research Report Insight 2 On a scale of 0-10, where 10 would strongly attract and 0 would not attract at all. (Average score) Financial stability (sales reliable future forecast) Deep domain expertise in one main service area Unique and leveragable Intellectual Property Highly differentiated in the market place it operates in 6.3 Tight geographical focus First is financial stability both historical and projected. Second is the depth of domain expertise in one main service area, as opposed to having a broad range of services. Third is the possession of intellectual property that is unique and leveragable. 10 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

11 Buyers Research Report Insight 2 Factors deterring buyers from acquiring On a scale of 0-10, where 10 would completely deter and 0 would not deter at all. (Average score) If the culture of the firm is very different to yours If the firm has a diverse set of services If the firm has good profits but no growth If the firm has a high number of associates as opposed to employees If the firm has high growth but no profits If the firm has a wide geographical spread First is a poor cultural fit. Buyers of consulting firms recognize that unless the culture and values of the seller are in the same ballpark as their own, the relationship is unlikely to work, irrespective of the seller s financial performance. This is of greater importance for the larger and more prolific buyers. Second is diversity of service offerings. The broader the spectrum of services, the less likely they are to be interested. Third is poor growth and/or profitability. Focus on growth if you want to sell your consulting firm. Although buyers are clear about their ideals, this does not necessarily imply a lack of interest if your consulting firm does not fit their criteria. However, a fit with some or all of a buyer s criteria is more likely to result in a premium price, as buyers will be able to more clearly forecast their future plans. In particular, you need to think carefully about how you build your core services rather than diversifying into different markets, as well as how your culture would fit with the buyers you meet. 11

12 Buyers Research Report Insight 3 Insight 3: Where buyers source deals from third parties. Around 60% come from our own M&A with those companies. Who do buyers turn to when they wish to find the best consulting firms for their shortlists? Prolific buyers source 42% of their acquisition opportunities via third parties, with 38% sourced through their own internal M&A team. However, even buyers with M&A operations put the intermediary route slightly ahead as the most effective source of deals. For regular buyers, existing relationships with their acquisition targets often provide the best source of deals. As we ll see later on, prolific buyers assess a large number of deal opportunities in the early stages before sifting out the companies they regard as serious options. Intermediaries help extend the reach of buyers, even for those with their own M&A operations. 18% 11% 3% 35% An approach from a third party / intermediary Buyer s own M&A process An existing relationship (e.g. the target is already a partner on a project) 33% A direct approach from the seller Another route 12 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

13 Buyers Research Report Insight 3 Where regular buyers source deals 18% 3% 25% 30% 25% 10% 7% 3% 38% 42% An approach from a third party / intermediary A direct approach from the seller An approach from a third party / intermediary A direct approach from the seller Buyer s own M&A process Another route Buyer s own M&A process Another route An existing relationship (e.g. the target is already a partner on a project) An existing relationship (e.g. the target is already a partner on a project) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of prolific buyers rely either on the professional expertise of their own M&A operations or that of intermediaries. As you will see later on, it is not easy to get through the early filtering stages, and this reinforces the need to ensure your first approach is carefully considered. A secondary approach to the same buyer is unlikely to be successful in the short term. This also raises a question about whether to approach a prolific buyer who does multiple deals or an acquirer who does a deal every two or three years. Your approach to each buyer group will be important for increasing your chances of success. The answers will be specific to your situation and need careful exploration. 13

14 Buyers Research Report Insight 4 Insight 4: Typical deal structures and earn-out periods The earn-out has to be long enough to integrate them into the business but not long run. Targets should be realistic There is nothing fundamentally new in the structure of deals being offered from buyers in our survey. However, the need for good negotiation skills is critical to get the best deal for you and your business. Over 90% of consulting M&A deals involve earn-outs or deferred payments. The points of negotiation revolve around how much is paid up front, the length of the earn-out period and the success measures to achieve the earn-out. On average amongst all buyers, the proportion of cash paid up-front is 46%, although the range is wide from less than 30% to more than 60%. Prolific buyers have the flexibility to pay more up-front when the deal is a good fit. For a minority of cases, prolific buyers were nearly three times more likely to pay 60% or more up-front than regular buyers. However, for the majority of cases, buyers are most likely to pay between 41% and 60%. 14 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

15 Buyers Research Report Insight 4 Mean: 100% 80% 60% 40% 46% 46% 46% More than 60% 51 60% 41 50% 31 40% Less than 30% 20% 0% All (100) Regular Buyers (40) (60) The average duration of an earn-out period negotiated by all buyers is three years, with prolific buyers more likely to prefer two years or less, and regular buyers more likely to prefer three years or more. 5 years or more 3 4 years 2 years 1 year Less than 1 year Mean: 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 2.9 years years 2.7 years All (100) Regular Buyers (40) (60) 3 15

16 Buyers Research Report Insight 4 The most common metric used for earn-outs is gross margin/profit. The majority of buyers (77%) identified this as their target of choice, with revenue (41%) a distant second and Return on Investment (ROI) (26%) third. Retention of key personnel and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were the other two measures mentioned. In our experience, buyers often prefer sales driven metrics (gross profit and revenue) that concentrate on top line growth. These are more reflective of performance and easier to measure. Metrics such as EBITDA incorporate broader operating costs that are often integrated with the buyer after acquisition, which may make performance more difficult to measure. Nevertheless, acquirers often use more than one target to measure the seller s performance during earn-out. On average, prolific buyers use just over two measures as the basis of earn-outs, whereas regular buyers use an average of 1.5. In addition to their preferred targets, prolific buyers also made use of ROI, retention of key personnel and EBITDA as supplementary metrics to measure performance. 77 Revenue 41 ROI 26 Retention of key personnel 23 EBITDA 18 0% % 16 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

17 Buyers Research Report Insight 4 What proportion of earn-outs Proportion of earn-outs that hit target The good news is that the average proportion of earn-outs that hit their targets is 74%. This is slightly higher in the case of prolific buyers of consulting firms. Our qualitative interviews with consulting firm buyers confirmed that it is in everyone s interest for the earn-out to be at least 80% achievable. Setting targets that are too aggressive can be highly demotivating for the seller and therefore not productive for the buyer % All (100) 58 More than 90% 71 90% 51 70% 41 50% Less than 40% It is vital not to underestimate the value of good negotiation skills at each stage of the process. To achieve this you need a clear understanding of what influences the buyer s view as to how much should be paid up front and what types of targets should be used. In a competitive auction, buyers may offer more up-front (and less in earn-out) as a negotiating tool, rather than increasing the overall price. The buyer s use of targets will also be influenced by the pace of integration and as a way to align incentives around the buyer s purpose of the acquisition (i.e. growth, IP, knowledge, capabilities, etc.) The range of considerations paid up front clearly demonstrates that there is room for negotiation, although there is little room for manoeuvre with the length of earn-out periods. Gross margin/profits are certainly the targets of choice but it is worth discussing the other options identified if your firm has other performance strengths. 17

18 Buyers Research Report Insight 5 Insight 5: Deal opportunity failure rates At any one time there are probably a couple of hundred acquisitions we might be interested in but only a tiny fraction get through the NDA. We probably looked at potential deals and ended up with two Letters of Intent number of owners. The journey for consulting firms seeking to sell their businesses is a difficult and perilous one, with several stage gates along the way. The key steps for a buyer in an M&A process are as follows: 1. Consider a number of qualified acquisition opportunities based on very little information; 2. Sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) to take a closer look and consider options; 3. Offer a Letter of Intent (LoI), which is a formal, but nonbinding indication of interest; Perform due diligence to confirm assumptions and assess risks; Make a formal, binding offer. Unsurprisingly, only a small fraction of acquisition opportunities progress to a serious stage. Our research showed that of the total potential (100%) qualified opportunities looked at in the early stages, on average: 18% get to a signed NDA; 2% get as far as a LoI; and 1% get past the due diligence (DD) stage. It is worth noting that negotiations usually happen before the LoI is signed and due diligence is used to confirm assumptions and assess unknown risks. Buyers believe their own processes to be extremely thorough, so what do sellers need to focus on to have a safe passage through these key stages? It is important to appreciate the probabilities of success with each buyer and therefore to cast a wide net when going to market. This means getting in front of as many relevant buyers as possible in order to create an appropriate level of competition in the M&A process. Furthermore, it is important to understand what buyers are looking for at each stage and their criteria to progress. 18 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

19 Buyers Research Report Insight 5 Prolific buyers filter out an extremely high proportion in the very early stages. The feedback from the in-depth interviews was that the NDA is felt to be the first indicator of serious interest. The challenges for sellers are to be well prepared for meeting buyers, to understand what they are looking for and to present a proposition that stands out from the crowd. Mean: 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 82% All (100) 75% 86% Regular Buyers (40) (60) More than 90% 80 90% 70 80% 50 70% Less than 50% The second hurdle from the NDA to the Letter of Intent Across all buyers, 91% of qualified deal opportunities that reach NDA stage are rejected before a Letter of Intent is signed. Of the original total opportunities seen by all buyers, an average of only 2% get as far as an LoI, with averages for prolific buyers at 1% and regular buyers at 4%. Prolific buyers may be more stringent with signing a Letter of Intent, but once past this, they are more likely be successful in the later stages. 19

20 Buyers Research Report Insight 5 The third hurdle from LoI to completion of due diligence On average across all buyers, 16% of companies that get past the Letter of Intent stage fail the due diligence hurdles. This rate of failure is higher (21%) for regular buyers and lower (13%) for prolific buyers. This reflects a more stringent approach by prolific buyers when analysing sellers at each stage. Not surprisingly, those that are more prolific in M&A have a lower level of failure after a LoI has been signed. In most cases, the price and deal structures are reasonably well formulated by the time a LoI is signed, although this can sometimes change as a result of new information coming to light at the due diligence stage. This was mirrored in our survey findings. Of the key reasons why deals fail to complete after LoI, 75% of buyers cited the issues unearthed during due diligence to be very or extremely important, behind price (22%) or deal structure disagreement (19%). As such, due diligence is critical. Due diligence is typically an intensive and potentially disruptive process for sellers. The key is to prepare your company for this process and know what buyers will be looking for. The top three areas where buyers consider due diligence most extensive are: Financial information Sales pipeline information Interestingly, client satisfaction was ranked as the least extensive process in due diligence on average across all buyers. However, the extent of diligence around culture and client satisfaction were relatively higher with prolific buyers. Overall, buyers that made use of intermediaries in the majority of deals were less likely to see deals fail before completion of the due diligence process. On average, buyers stated that 16% of deals fail in due diligence, however, this failure rate reduced to 11% for those making greater use of intermediaries and increased to 23% for those making less use of intermediaries. Simply put, failure in due diligence is halved when buyers source most of their deals from intermediaries. As one buyer in our interview stated, Intermediaries definitely help a sort of filtering process What percentage of deals where there is a signed Letter of Intent in place fail Mean: 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 16% All (100) 21% 13% <50% from intermediaries (46) >50% from intermediaries (54) Less than 5% 5 10% 11 20% 20 40% More than 40% 20 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

21 Buyers Research Report Insight 5 Duration to complete a typical deal after the LoI is signed Following the Letter of Intent, the average for all buyers is 4.7 months to complete a typical deal. Prolific buyers take an average of 3.8 months and regular buyers take 5.9 months on average. The use of intermediaries can have a significant impact on the time taken. For prolific buyers, the use of intermediaries reduced the average duration from LoI to completion by one full month. This is reinforced by the comments received in the in-depth interviews, as one buyer commented: It s usually a bit quicker when intermediaries are involved. They tend to work to fixed timescales One other factor that can influence the time taken is the number of owners in the selling firm. This was again mentioned in the indepth interviews, as the process of getting everyone onside and aligning incentives can be a lengthy one. Mean: 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 4.7 months All (100) Regular Buyers (40) 5.9 months 3.8 months (60) Less than 3 months 3 4 months 5 6 months 7 12 months More than 12 months 21

22 Buyers Research Report Insight Total qualified opportunities Reach NDA Reach Lol All (100) Regular Buyers 1 Reach end of DD Prolific Buyers 100 Total qualified opportunities 25 Reach NDA 4 Reach Lol 3 Reach end of DD 100 Total qualified opportunities 14 Reach NDA 1 Reach Lol 1 Reach end of DD 100% % There are some significant messages for sellers embarking on this process. Firstly, it s important to define who you are selling to and why your proposition is likely to appeal to buyers. Secondly, look carefully at what you need to do at each stage of the process and be realistic about the amount of time and effort required. Preparing for sale is critical in order to accelerate the process and mitigate the risks likely to be exposed in due diligence. It is worth noting a contrast here. Buyers stated that the biggest deterrent identified to doing a deal is cultural fit. However, when buyers were asked how extensive their due diligence is in a number of key areas, culture and staff attitudes came out near last place. Given the importance of this area and the potential risks post acquisition, it is vital that buyers and sellers recognize whether there s likely to be a good fit culturally at as early a stage as possible, as well as early planning for change and transition management. If they don t, they re likely to waste a lot of time. 22 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

23 successful sale As only a very small proportion of qualified acquisition opportunities translate into Letters of Intent (LoI) from a buyer, sellers may consider it a daunting task to successfully complete a deal. However, the reality is that many opportunities seen by buyers in the form of Blind Profiles and Information Memoranda, do not appropriately articulate the value of the selling firm to the buyer in a targeted way. Thus buyers may find it difficult to differentiate amongst the large number of opportunities that are presented to them. For sellers of consulting firms, the chance of success is significantly improved by understanding and mitigating the inherent risks in an M&A process. The following are some typical steps used to mitigate sellers risks and significantly increase the chances of a successful deal: Prepare your firm: Consulting firm sellers may expect their firm s trading success to translate into a large buyer demand and high valuation in an M&A process. However, this is not necessarily the case. A firm that attracts high buyer demand requires preparation to ensure it can demonstrate its inherent value to the buyers being targeted. By preparing your firm to be an investable business and mitigating known risks, a consulting firm can be structured to maximize its equity value and significantly increase its appeal to buyers. Clarify your value to different buyers: Buyers acquire consulting firms for different reasons and creating demand for your firm across a broad base of buyers requires careful consideration of a buyer s perspective. Strategic trade buyers look for long term synergy value in leveraging the seller s propositions, IP and capabilities within their own firm. Financial buyers focus less on synergy value and more on the firm s potential to achieve standalone growth and operational improvements to increase cash-flow, amongst other factors. Understanding your potential buyers and developing a robust outline of value to different buyer groups will enable buyers to better understand how your firm addresses their needs. Time the market: Success in a M&A process can be materially influenced by market timing. Selling your firm in a downward economic cycle with an oversupply of comparable firms in the market gives buyers an advantage on price and choice. Whereas you can gain the advantage if you sell your firm in an up cycle when buyers have cash to invest and when there is a limited supply of quality firms on the market. There will always be factors related to your own firm and consulting sector that also affect the best time to sell. However, timing your sale process in line with positive market indicators can greatly enhance your chances of success. Cast the net wide: The high failure rate with each buyer, as we have seen in our survey, illustrates the impact of a large number of variables in the M&A process. Even when a seller and buyer are ideally matched, a number of complexities may stand in the way of successfully completing a deal. It is therefore important to start with a large number of buyers within chosen buyer groups when going to market, in order to increase the probability of receiving offers at the later stages. Keep your business growing through the M&A process: The duration of a sale process varies and can range from as short as 4 months to as long as 18 months if complexities or issues arise along the way. This can be disruptive for the seller s business operations and if financial performance suffers during the process, buyers may be deterred from completing a deal. It is therefore imperative that a seller keeps the focus on running and growing the business through a potentially lengthy sale process. If your firm starts with a great proposition to the market, by focusing on these steps in a sale process you should be able to increase the certainty of a sale to a very high probability. There is never a 100% guarantee that a sale process will succeed, something may happen outside of your control, but it s Equiteq s job, or any other good quality M&A advisor you engage, to help you mitigate the risks and manage the variables that are controllable. With the right approach and advice there is no reason why your firm couldn t be one of the 200 consulting firms a month that do successfully sell across the globe. 23

24 Conclusion Is now a good time to sell your consulting Conclusion If you are thinking about selling your firm over the next few years, the overall picture is a positive one, with buyers of consulting firms looking to acquire more and expecting an average 6% growth rate in acquisitions over the next two to three years. However, buyers are specific about their acquisition criteria. More than 50% are either very or extremely interested in buying US-based consulting firms. Approximately a third (33%) selected the UK with 20% interested in continental Europe. Furthermore, buyers on average are looking for consulting firms with $15m - $40m in revenues, stable financials, deep domain experience and leveragable IP. That said, it is not always about fitting all criteria to get on their radar. We have seen that buyers are most likely to use intermediaries or their own M&A operations for deal sourcing and origination. Finding the right M&A advisor is not only important to help you prepare for sale, but also to ensure you get in front of the right prospective buyers. Once in a deal process, you can expect that most buyers will seek an earn-out structure, with roughly half of the value of your firm provided up-front and an earn-out period of two to three years. The key to earn-out success will be your confidence in the metrics negotiated to measure performance during the earn-out. Finally, it is important to be realistic about your expectations as you go to market, as the sale process is a perilous one. In a competitive sale process it is important for sellers to approach a reasonably large set of potential buyers, in order to increase the chances of success. Very few opportunities presented to a buyer will get through the early stages and an even smaller proportion start a due diligence process. Due diligence is a critical process and financial, sales/commercial and legal areas were cited as the most extensive. We have seen that deals are half as likely to fail in due diligence with greater use of intermediaries. Again, the key to avoiding the pitfalls is to be prepared and professional advice can often be the difference between realizing the true potential value of your firm and settling for less than you are worth. We hope you have found this survey insightful in helping you consider the realities and potential pitfalls of a sale process for your consulting firm. We wish you the very best of success and we would be happy to speak with you about the future options for you and your consulting firm. 24 / GROWING & REALIZING EQUITY VALUE IN CONSULTING FIRMS

25 For further information Join Equity Edge, our free source of information, advice and insight to help you grow and sell your consulting firm. Equity Edge gives you access to the findings of unique research conducted amongst buyers of consulting firms from around the world, insight from those who have sold their consulting firms and expert advice. Join Equity Edge at equiteq.com/equity-edge About Equiteq Equiteq is the leading M&A advisor for consulting firms. Equiteq helps consulting firms to grow profits, revenues, and equity value as well as achieve a successful sale that delivers maximum value for firm owners. 25

26 Contact us If you would like more information on our Buyers Research Report, our company or the various services we can offer please don t hesitate to get in touch. Website: equiteq.com Equiteq has global reach through its offices in London, New York and Singapore EQUITEQ LTD. SEPTEMBER 2014

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