It is commonly accepted that where a practice is being run by a sole practitioner, the majority of the clients will reflect the age of the practitioner. This can also be true of a larger practice where there are two or even three partners that are of a similar age. We are finding that the average age of our vendor is increasing year on year. It is not unusual for us to be working with sole practitioners in their mid seventies.
When we sell a practice we ask the vendor to give us a breakdown of their top 20 clients by fees charged in the previous year. We also ask for the ages of the clients and how long the vendor has been acting for these top 20 clients. A buyer is looking for a good retention of clients post sale. If some of the clients are very elderly, this can mean that the buyer is unwilling to pay money for them. The buyer will look at how long the client will remain with their accountancy firm post sale and it can mean the difference between a low offer being made and no offer being made.
If a vendor can show that there is succession within the client’s business, then this will help secure a good price for the practice being sold. We recently sold a practice and the purchaser was interviewed by the clients with the highest fee. They wanted to know that the purchaser was not a fly by night because they wanted to forge a good working relationship with the new owner, like the one they had had with the vendors. The clients were brothers running a property portfolio with a large number of properties rented out. The purchaser phoned me to let me know that he had been interviewed by these brothers only to find out that they were both aged over ninety. They had no intention of giving up work and so age can be deceptive.
However, when we are asked to sell a practice, the age of the clients is very important. Some buyers will back off and not even meet with a vendor, if the ages of the clients is high. We have had offers this year in the region of 0.3x fees because of the age of the client base. You cannot assume that just because you have a loyal client base that there will be a buyer out there that would like to pay for your practice.
If you want to talk about this, or any other matter please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org quoting reference Blog 141008
I was recently contacted by a vendor who wanted to sell his practice. He had fees in the region of £150,000. He was a sole practitioner and had two full time members of staff. He said he had already met two buyers and had two offers on the table and did not know what to do. I discussed the two offers with him and we finished the conversation.
Less than a week later he came back to me and said that he would like me to find him another buyer because he did not like either of the two offers he had had. He then told me that he was not well and had only three and a half months left to live. Well that soon changed the priority of finding a buyer for this vendor.
I would normally expect to take between three and four months from start to finish when selling a practice of this size. In this case we were able to move aside all other work to deal with this as a priority. The vendor was looking for a one off payment with no clawback but was prepared to give a significant discount on the purchase price. Within three days I had interviewed four potential purchasers and had two offers on the table with proof of funding. I selected one of the buyers for the vendor to meet.
With hospital appointments and chemotherapy about to start, there was not a lot of time for due diligence to take place. I helped the buyer by making sure as many of his questions were answered as quickly as possible. I helped the vendor by selecting the purchaser for him.
The outcome was that the deal took two weeks to complete. The vendor was delighted and the buyer wrote a letter and I quote “I am most grateful for your assistance and support in the acquisition process and consider your overall level of service to have been excellent”. Our brokerage fee was paid well within the payment terms and everyone involved was happy.
I have since had a call from the vendor to say that he is responding well to treatment and has a light at the end of the tunnel – which he did not have when we first spoke. Let us hope his future is bright.
If you want to talk about this, or any other matter please email me at email@example.com quoting reference Blog 140805
In the last couple of months I have been asked a few times, by sole practitioners looking to retire, about the feasibility of taking on a new partner(s) who will eventually buy out the practice allowing them to retire.
This all looks fine on paper but I would seriously warn against anyone doing this. I have heard horror stories where this scenario goes terribly wrong. In one case a sole practitioner brought into his practice two new partners with a view to passing over his client base over a period of a few years in order that he could start to reduce his workload and his time commitments to the practice. He was to be paid over a number of years, by the new partners, when he finally retired. These two partners were known to him. The clients were introduced to the new partners, the staff got to know them well and the retiring partner was very happy. What could go wrong?
Just before he retired and before any payments were made, the two partners left the practice. They set up on their own and they took the majority of the clients with them. They did not pay for the client base and they left the original partner with very little in the way of recurring fees. He had built up the practice over many years and just at the point when he was going to receive his first payment, he got no money and his practice was decimated by people he thought he could trust. He now has to work for another ten years to build his practice back up to allow him to have sufficient money to retire on.
Now, not every accountant would do this but I have heard of it happening a few times, in fact it is probably happening right now to someone. A sole practitioner close to retiring is very vulnerable to someone coming in, learning the ropes, taking the clients and no payment being made. Selling the practice outright is also risky but will give a better return than having most of your clients taken away with no monies received.
If you want to talk about this, or any other matter please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org quoting reference 140513
I recently had a phone call from an accountant who wanted to sell his fees. He was in his mid sixties and thought it was about time he did something about it. He had been to a seminar, run by his institute, who told him that there was not a ready market for fees of £60,000 or below. He started the conversation with “I may be wasting your time”….
I found out from him that he works from home and has no staff. We are often asked by buyers if we have any fees that are portable that do not have staff or office premises. I was able to let the vendor know that his fees could be of interest to a number of buyers. This is one of the simplest types of deal that can be done, which means it can be one of the quickest.
However, it can be a deal breaker if the vendor, who works from home, does not charge a market rate for his advice. Many vendors pass on the saving of not having an office to the clients, which means their charge out rates can be very low. If the buyer has an hourly rate twice that of the vendor – then a deal is not going to work. It is always good for the vendor to keep the charge out rates high so that they do not limit the number of buyers when they come to sell.
Luckily this vendor charged a realistic rate for his time and we will soon be finding some buyers for him to meet, who will be keen to make him a good offer to buy his fees.
If you want to contact me about this blog please email me at email@example.com and quote reference 140429.