Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.
A business man jumping over holes
istock_avoiding-pitfalls_Nuthawut Somsuk

Buying a practice: Starting off on the right foot

by

Buying an accountancy practice or a block of fees is the fastest way to turbocharge your own practice’s growth, but the start of the process isn’t without its challenges and risks. 

31st Oct 2022
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

The challenges of buying a practice start from the get-go when you dip your toes into the market by reaching out to a broker or making a direct approach to somebody you know wants to sell.

But the good news is that some of these challenges are within your control and are not difficult to address if you are aware of them.

Regulation

When searching for a target to acquire you need to be sure that your qualifications and regulator are acceptable to a buyer. 

I often come across potential buyers who claim they are regulated by HMRC, which simply doesn’t cut the mustard with regulated practices, or are vague about their professional qualifications and ability to practice. Brokers ask about this at the outset so as not to waste everybody’s time.

History of the practice

Make sure you understand the seller. The history of the practice, why they are selling and most importantly the DNA of the practice. 

  • What made it what it is, and can you pick up the ball and run with it? 
  • Is the seller putting in long hours and could you replicate that? 
  • If they have delegated much of the day-to-day work and concentrate on client relationships is this something you wish to do?

Funding

Do you have funding lined up? A vague letter of intent from a bank is unlikely to convince a seller and in the current climate brokers like myself are unlikely to put you in front of a seller without a firm offer on the table. Sellers will expect nothing less than secure funding, be it a loan or savings.

Clients

Ask yourself seriously if you can manage your existing bank of clients while easing yourself into a new practice. 

The last thing you want is to destroy your existing client base as well as the new one that you have just paid handsomely for. Problems are inevitable and they can be very time consuming.

Timewasters

Lastly, don’t end up on a broker’s database with the moniker “TW” in one of the fields. Nothing alienates you more than being branded as a timewaster. Remember that there is not a large cohort of brokers and failing to perform will shut you out of the market.

Replies (5)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By Hugo Fair
31st Oct 2022 17:00

Horses for courses ... but, unless you view clients as a commodity (and so have a plan based on volume over anything else), then buying your clients is somewhere between risky and dumb.

The seller will be seeking 'full value' and, even after the depth of due diligence not often seen except in major acquisitions, you will find that not all of the new clients want to stay.
Worse - those not staying (either because the handover simply provides a psychological opportunity to 'consider the options' or because they had a personal affiliation to the seller) won't always be the ones you'd earmarked as 'disposable' in your mind.

So an element of overpaying, added to not getting what (you thought) you'd paid for and having to put in extra effort to placate both new & existing clients ... means it'd have to be a brilliant price (in which case why is that acceptable to the seller)?

Thanks (3)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
Norman Younger
By Norman Younger
31st Oct 2022 18:55

The fact that there is a healthy market means that your view of between risky and dumb might not be shared by those performing the deals.
In my experience the loss of clients is minimal if the process is handled well , guided by a competent broker
Of course some clients will use the changeing of the guard as a way to extricate themselves without offending the former accountant but it as they say all grist to the mill

Thanks (0)
Replying to Flying Scotsman:
avatar
By Hugo Fair
31st Oct 2022 23:10

"The fact that there is a healthy market means that your view of between risky and dumb might not be shared by those performing the deals" ... I agree obviously that my perception won't be shared at the point of doing the deal (otherwise the deal wouldn't complete).
But there's a dearth of detailed stats on the outcome, say 2 & 5 years later, of these acquisitions - including the purchasers' views on how/why there was any disparity between expectation and reality.

I didn't say that it is NEVER a good idea ... indeed I know of several that have been very successful (depending on what the original objectives were) - such as:
* Purchaser has much slicker marketing and/or operational systems (and is looking to accelerate volume with a lower cost base);
* Purchaser is a specialist in one discipline or one sector (and is using purchase to speed entry into a synergistic area through an established client base).

There are many other such examples, but what they have in common is what they are NOT (i.e. a generic way of adding a few more clients without the hassle of acquiring them organically).

Basically, growing a business through acquisition is as much of a skill as (but quite distinct from) running an existing one!

Thanks (1)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
Norman Younger
By Norman Younger
07th Nov 2022 10:45

Agree 100% - buying needs a certain ability and there is precious little data available for post-sale stats
Anecdotally as a broker I do get contacted from time to time post -sale if there is a problem , but of course I won't know if there is not a problem whether or not the buyer succeeded in their aims.
Meantime there remains a shedload of buyers chasing a small pot of sellers
Pot of gold at end of rainbow? Maybe

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Paul Crowley
01st Nov 2022 18:26

Broker everytime no matter whether buyer or seller
We have been offered other practices but it never goes anywhere. Sellers are still over optimistic. The worst position is the family member selling hubby's or dad's 'clients' when trader either had an agreement in place (that family thinks undervalues) or did not have an agreement in place so that the clients that were ignored for weeks have already taken action

Thanks (0)