Confessions of a Serial Acquirer

Cover Image for Confessions of a Serial Acquirer

| Des O'Neill

Back in 2021, an accounting firm owner decided to go down the route of acquisition as a strategy for growth. They secured funding, identified who their ideal acquisition avatar was and started the outreach process to target firms. Over a period of 12 months, they interacted with and obtained information from over 60 firms. Out of those 60 firms they had tentative negotiations with 12 firms and acquired 3.

Why out of 60 firms did this fully funded acquirer only buy 3 of them? It is not surprising that the acquisition percentage was so low at 5%, but when you look at the figures it is sobering.

The reason why they only had tentative negotiations with 20% of the targeted firms and the reason why they only bought 5% of them, is because the firms were not profitable enough. It was just not worthwhile acquiring the firms because they could not get a return on their investment. One must remember these weren’t 60 random accounting firms. These were 60 firms that had the external profile that met the acquirer’s avatar. If this was 60 random firms representing a cross-section of the entire population of accounting firms, statistically it is probable that no firm would have been profitable enough to acquire.

For a firm to be attractive as an acquisition, one would need to be achieving a minimum of 25% EBITDA after replacing partners or directors' remuneration. Is your firm generating an adequate EBITDA? If yes congratulations. If no, what are you going to do about it?

I previously talked about the Built to Sell Model and the 7 steps to build to sell.

1. Identify the products and services with the potential to scale.

2. Identify the ideal customers to buy those products and services.

3. Create a positive cash flow cycle.

4. Build the team to deliver the products and services and serve the ideal customers.

5. Create the systems and processes to optimise delivery.

6. Develop a single-focus growth and sales process.

7. Incentivise the senior team members to stay post-sale.

These 7 steps will help you become a more saleable business and a more profitable firm but here are 4 steps I would like you to take today.

Step 1 - You must raise your prices.

This does not refer to inflation-linked price rises, this is about raising your prices by a minimum of 20%. It’s not often that accounting firm owners truly bill what they are worth. No matter where you are on your pricing journey you must raise your prices and in doing so will improve your Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization(EBITDA). There is no scarcity of work out there but there is a scarcity of good accountants.

Step 2 - You must charge for all the work you do

If you did nothing else and only charged properly for all the work you are currently doing, how much extra billing would you do? An extra 5% on turnover. Maybe an extra 10% on turnover or even more. The beauty of doing this and raising your prices is that it does not involve taking on additional clients and there is no extra cost so whatever you add to topline turnover falls to bottom-line profitability.

Step 3 – You must cut all loss-making clients

There are some energy-sucking life draining vampire clients that just need to go. There are other clients that need to have the Price Rise or Termination Conversation. If you cut or repriced the loss-makers, you will either improve profitability or create space and time to serve better more profitable clients.

Step 4 – You must only take on profitable clients

Right now, there is a significant opportunity for growth in the marketplace. Not all clients are equal and not all new clients are good clients. When you take on new clients from today price them for profitability and only take on the ones that are going to contribute to raising your EBITDA. There is no point in being a busy fool. Price for what you're worth for new clients and begin to turn the tide.

These are just 4 steps you can take to drive your EBITDA. Whether you are selling your firm or not in the near future every business owner needs to increase profitability for the betterment of the business and the benefit of the team and the clients.

To learn more, sign up for ProfitPro Live. This is a 2-day conference where Des O'Neill guides you through the built-to-sell formula. Join the waitlist here.

Image of Des O'Neill

About the Author

Having worked for a number of years in practice, and with one of the profession’s regulatory and support institutes, Des co-founded OmniPro to develop tools, techniques, products and services that make accountancy more profitable and rewarding. Des is passionate about bringing innovation to the accountancy profession and enabling accountants to achieve what they want from their careers and business. His core belief is that when empowered to achieve their best, accountants can deliver transformative results for clients. Today, OmniPro has a multi-million-euro turnover, and its operations span the areas of practice support; practice development; company secretarial; tax and legal; corporate finance; continuing professional development and online information products. As managing director, Des’ focus is on strategic development and expansion of the group as an internationally recognised professional and personal development brand. ProfitPro is the newest company in the group, and Des has developed a practice management blueprint, designed to help principals and partners build less stressful, more profitable and more rewarding practices, aligned to their business and life goals. With unique insights on the accountancy profession, Des speaks regularly at national and international fora, on practice development, auditing, accounting, company law and regulation. He is a frequent commentator on the impact of new legalisation and technology on the work of accountants in practice. He holds qualifications from the ACCA Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, CPA Institute of Certified Public Accountants and ACIS Association of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.


Cover Image for Seven Steps to Creating a Built to Sell Accounting Firm

Seven Steps to Creating a Built to Sell Accounting Firm


The Built-to-Sell strategy is universal because whether you intend to sell in the short te...

Cover Image for The Real Blocker to Progress in Your Business

The Real Blocker to Progress in Your Business


As firm owners, we know what we should do to make our businesses more profitable and less ...

Cover Image for Tackling the Clients That Are No Longer Right for your Business

Tackling the Clients That Are No Longer Right for your Business


As an accounting business owner, it is important to understand that the clients you attrac...