Making contact with a potential acquisition target

When looking for a business to buy, you’ll likely compile a shortlist of potential targets before you begin the process in earnest. Once you have these targets, the next step will be to make contact with the owners to sound out the possibility of a sale.

This is a potentially hazardous first step, as going about it in the wrong way can mean the process ends before it even starts. Here are some possible methods of contacting a potential acquisition to help ensure you make the right choice for the business you’re looking to buy and make the best first impression on a potential seller.

The internet has become an absolutely integral part of M&A and this extends to contacting potential targets at the start of an acquisition process. There are numerous websites that provide a platform with listings and details, enabling buyers to both search for and contact potential acquisitions. Proceeding in this way can help you to assess your options, get a snapshot of key facts and figures and make initial contact with owners.

Such platforms will often also give buyers the option to advertise the fact that they are actively seeking acquisition opportunities, meaning that owners looking to sell a business may make contact with you first. As with businesses listed for sale, providing as much information as possible about yourself as a buyer will lead to more serious enquiries from potential sellers.

The drawback of this approach is that you may miss out on some of the third-party insight offered by other options. However, if you’re looking to minimise the costs of your acquisition search, then utilising a platform and conducting the process yourself can give you both cost efficiency and the freedom to manage your own search.

Whereas the online market is (relatively) new, brokers are a long-standing, traditional method of finding and approaching potential acquisitions. Brokers offer the expertise of experienced advisers who can help identify the best targets and guide you through the rest of the process, including how best to contact a target - service that some may offer to do for you.

The obvious drawback of engaging specialist advice when finding and contacting acquisitions is cost, with brokers being one of the more expensive ways to go about an acquisition. If this is the approach you choose then you can help to ensure it is value for money by considering the fees being charged, the experience of the broker (both overall and in the industry you are searching in) and what kind of services you will get for your money.

Remember, the most expensive option is not always the best, so make sure you seek to balance your requirements and the services a broker offers against the budget you’ve set aside.

Old-fashioned word of mouth continues to be a major part of the M&A landscape and having friends, acquaintances and other contacts that you trust can provide invaluable information when looking to buy a business. That can be both in the form of advice regarding a target you’ve identified, or recommendations of potential acquisitions that you hadn’t considered or found.

A mutual contact with a business you’re considering buying can also be highly useful when opening a dialogue, helping to ensure the process runs smoothly, quickly and without the issues that may arise from contacting someone you have had no prior interactions with or approaching an owner indirectly, through a third party.