The first “filters” for your leads are the initial criteria that you set in your acquisition plan. Although you will have many more issues to review as information unfolds, it is unpractical to consider much more than the total sales revenues, degree of profitability, and industry, at the start, because this is all the information you are likely to get from most brokers or other sources before having to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Once you sign a confidentiality agreement, you are wise to set up more detailed criteria. Some of the more common criteria used at this next stage include the location, product line, the reputation of the company, if easily determined, growth patterns for the industry and the company up for sale, more detail about profitability, cash flow and liquidity, and of course, the overall appeal of the business to you, personally.
The fee agreement is usually also required at about the same time as the confidentiality agreement when you are dealing with a buyer broker. The broker wants to be assured that he or she will get a commission if the sale goes through. This is not needed in a case where the broker represents the seller, as in the case of the investment banker. However, in the latter situation, once you have signed a confidentiality agreement and received extensive written material, you will be asked, within a few weeks, typically, to send a letter of interest, indicating the range of value that you place on the company. Only a handful of prospective buyers are then allowed to continue considering the company for purchase, including an initial company visit and subsequent due diligence.
It is not unusual to sign a confidentiality agreement for approximately fifty companies for every company you actually buy. Of course, this does not happen all at once. This is a cumulative total over the course of an 18 month to two year search.
Once you sign a confidentiality agreement and receive additional information, you can probably eliminate all but a few from further evaluation. Or in the case of the investment banker, some of these may be eliminated for you. For the remaining few, you are ready to proceed to the initial site visit and preliminary due diligence.
This article is an overview of step seven that is explained in further detail in “How to Acquire the Right Business” by John Psarouthakis and Lorraine Uhlaner; Published by Xlibris, 2009. This book covers the 15 key steps involved in the complex and demanding process of buying the right business. It includes the search, selection, evaluation, pricing, negotiation, closing and managing the start of an acquired business. Buy this book.