WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT SELLING AN ACCOUNTING PRACTICE
Make sure that you are setting your practice up for an easy sale when the time comes. Strategically planning the areas of your practice to improve upon will make the greatest impact once your practice is on the market. Below are multiple questions and actions that you should use to make a checklist to review against when preparing to sell your accounting practice
Understanding Your Timing, Goals, and Objectives
The first thing you want to do is take a step back and think about your overarching intentions. This is where you want to develop business goals and objectives while considering if the owner/founder goals differ from the business ones. Additionally, you want to think ahead to evaluate the readiness for succession planning and leadership development, while also considering your personal retirement goals in the scope of things. Some examples of important questions you should ask yourself:
- What’s your time frame?
- What will I do after my exit?
- How long will it take to market my practice?
- How long will it take to transition to a new owner?
- Have you made a committed decision to sell? Are there any personal obstacles that would prevent you from selling?
- Have you developed a clear and accepted vision for the future of the practice?
Next, you’ll want to crunch the numbers on any outstanding debts, tax dues, and personal considerations for you to leave the business smoothly. These are the things you should examine to determine if your accounting practice is in a financially stable place for your transition:
- Financially, am I where I need to be in order to exit?
- Do I have appropriate budgeting and cash flow management?
- Do I know what my practice is worth?
Getting Your Accounting Business Ready for a Sale
This part may take the longest, but is ultimately where you will realistically analyze the inner workings of your practice in addition to its presentation to cut down on any inefficiencies. This can involve things like correcting any staffing issues and making sure books are up-to-date, but also cleaning out clutter and renovating your business’s presentation. You should also feel free to make this a collaborative process, involving family members and others as needed to guide your decisions. Other specific questions and steps to consider:
- Does the business drive the owner or does the owner drive the business?
- Analyze pricing of services and efficiency
- What processes are in place to support day-to-day operations?
- Improve Accounts Receivable Aging
- Is your practice properly focused? Are there lines of work that need to be eliminated?
- Are there clients that need to be referred elsewhere?
- To what degree do business success and value rely on your skills and relationships?
- What is the condition of your market? Any recent sale prices of similar practices?
- How valuable are your key local staff to success?
Additionally, getting your business ready for a buyer often takes two years or more. Consider if you are prepared to:
- Consider tax implications
- Implement a strategy to optimize cash flow
- Consider the implications of selling the shares versus the assets of your practice
- Document key processes and procedures
The most important part of this step is to make sure you establish a team of trusted professional advisors, composed of: Lawyer, Financial Advisor, Lender, and Intermediary. This team will help you review partnership/shareholder agreements and contractual agreements, as well as establish the terms for restrictive covenants and non-competition agreements for partners leaving the firm.
Additionally, they will be able to assist in securing assignable non-solicitation agreements/non-compete agreements from key staff. Use them to confirm if there is a buy-sell purchase agreement with a mandatory or optional buy-out to appropriately protect against the quick exit of an owner.
Emergency Succession Planning
In the case of an emergency succession, you should have an elaborate plan laid out to be prepared. Here are some questions and actions you should think about in the case of an untimely death or sudden exit:
- Ensure that key relationships and contacts are documented
- Create and update a binder or digital files that includes key documents such as strategic/operational plans, annual and monthly calendars of organizational activities, etc.
- Do you have a contingency plan for events such as death, disability or failure to identify an appropriate successor?
- What part of your succession plan will have to be altered in the event of your premature death?
- Do you have a properly structured buy-sell provision in your shareholders’ agreement dealing with the timing, amount and financing of the purchase of your business interest?
- Is there a need to inject capital into the business to finance interim management, consulting or executive search fees and expenses?
You should also establish provisions to value the share for partners, in the case they retire, die, become permanently disabled, or are exiting the business for any other specified reason. When establishing provisions for partners and shareholders, consider if they are:
- Wishing to retire
- Withdrawing equity
- Settling an estate
- Handling arbitration of disputes
- Expelling a partner
- Selling to an outsider
Qualify Successors (Buyers)
There are a lot of factors you should consider when qualifying a new business owner or strong management team. You will need to identify their future needs, skills, and competencies and make sure they have an overall understanding of the business for strong leadership. You should also identify what roles are needed for succession, and create development plans to close any outstanding gaps. If there are any unique skills of the current owner that are required to run the business, then you should make sure to find someone with similar competencies.
Many practice owners prefer to sell their business to an employee. To do this while also protecting your retirement goals, you must qualify successors as a prospective buyer. You will have to identify successors from within your business, assess the current skills of successors, identify any training required, and determine their current and future financial capacity to buy your business. You should gauge the abilities of potential successors in terms of:
- Operations (general management)
- Technical Ability
- Client Relations
- Risk Tolerance
Financial management, human resources management, computers and information management should also be priorities when considering the strengths of a successor.
Finally, to begin your relinquishment of control, there are only a few things that need to be monitored during the process:
- Measure frequently and revisit models and plans as environment and priorities shift
- Periodically assess effectiveness of leadership development and succession planning – adjust as needed
- Develop a communication plan for third parties (clients, vendors and employees)
Resources for Accounting Practice Valuation
Is your practice optimized? Take this simple one-page scorecard to find out. Through our experience of selling countless accounting practices and working with many successful owners over the years, our team has identified several common threads that we believe drive results in small and mid-sized accounting practices. We created a tool to help you gain insight on the 12 key mindsets and factors that have helped past owners maximize the values of their firms at closing.
Find out how much your Accounting Practice is worth. What is the approximate value of your accounting firm? Download our free report to learn about what drives accounting practice values. Find out about:
- The fundamental principles we use to analyze practice value
- Learn about the Key Factors that drive up the value of your practice
SUCCESSION PLANNING GUIDE
Is your practice ready for market? In this guide, you will get powerful, yet practical insights to help you plan a successful exit from your firm. Put years of accounting practice transition experience to work for you in your succession planning. Determine your timing for a sale, Internal vs. External sale considerations, the most achievable strategies to improve your practice if you plan to exit in 1 to 5 years, the “Must Do’s” before putting your practice on the market.
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT BOOKS
Several tools can help owners improve their accounting practices. Our books – Accountant’s Flight Plan and On your Own, published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and presented in workbook style – are a great place to start. Both books include stimulating questions at the end of each chapter. For the latest insights, check out our podcasts with industry thought-leaders.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS