Everything You Need to Know About Buying or Selling an Accounting Firm with Brannon Poe
- We enjoy an annual conversation with Brannon about M&A and his expertise in the buyers and sellers market of accounting firms. Join us for the 2023 version as we talk with Brannon on how he sees the market reacting to a post-COVID era and trends associated with the world we all live in today.
About Brannon Poe
Poe Group Advisors is based out of Charleston, SC. The group is known for their processes surrounding facilitating the buying and selling of CPA firms.
Their mission is simple: They help sellers successfully navigate the sale and maximize the value of their firm while minimizing risks and challenges.
Brannon comments that regardless of buying or selling a firm, it’s a life event and people need to do this for many different reasons.
The market obviously will impact these actions, however the reasons behind the transactions could be:
- Need for increased income
This is where Poe Group lives. Whether the life event calls for a merger, acquisition, or outright purchase, Poe Group specializes in the strategy behind it all.
Interestingly, a trend Brannon points out is the value placed on the longevity of staff. He states buyers are placing more value on the likelihood of employees staying with the firm and their experience given a M&A transition.
The specifics of the tenured employees is important data to consider for the buyers as well. Brannon comments that when team members are seen within the firm for 5,7, even 10 years, this creates some comfort in the purchasing consideration. However, on the opposite side, when employees have been around less than 1-2 years, it may be a deeper rooted issue within the business. This in-turn could create a ‘buyers pause’.
This certainly has an impact on the buyer’s decision, but in terms of valuation it’s hard to put a price tag on it.
Cash Flow & Location
Our CEO, Dave, asks Brannon about the market from a 30 foot view. Are there more buyers than sellers or vice versa?
Brannon opens up about how Poe Group refined their acceptance filter for clients. He states they said no to a lot more deals in the last year than they had previously. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of the market, however. Brannon goes on to say that his group did a deep analysis on a few different variables:
- Which practices sold quickly?
- What are the characteristics of those practices?
- Which practices sold slowly?
- What are the characteristics of those practices?
A deeper dive would conclude that the average days on the market was lengthy for the slowly sold firms.
Poe Group also concluded that location and cash flow are other leading factors. A very unique variable they discovered as well, were what Brannon calls ‘orphan personal tax returns’. These are essentially a misproportion of tax returns not associated directly with the business.
With two key factors like location and cash flow, Dave brings up a very prominent question: In 2023, where does this put virtual firms?
Poe Group would see mark-ups of 15 to even 30% for virtual firms, compared to brick and mortar firms. On the other hand, the amount of potential buyers plays a factor as well. Considering the pool of buyers for a firm in Atlanta to rural America, we’re talking about two different markets.
As Dave and Brannon dive further into the cash flow conversation, Poe Group has a rating system that will help them and help others. For example, Poe Group’s specific filter is accepting groups of >30% cash flow. If the firm is less than this, PG may tell the selling firm that the business could be valued at X. If the business agrees, everyone moves on as normal. But, if the business disagrees, Poe Group is willing to help the business improve some variables that could help them reach the desired valuation.
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Don’t Spread Yourself too Thin
Brannon described a concept that’s been visited often on the Grow Your Firm Podcast – that by focusing, you can get better results.
He said a common problem with firms is being too spread out in who they serve and the deliverables they provide.
By simplifying, firms can be easier to manage and have increased profits. Brannon acknowledges this concept seems backwards, but has been proven over and over working with firms.
“It’s counterintuitive. It’s counterintuitive to say no to more deals and do better as a company. That doesn’t seem to make any sense. But when you turn stuff away, you’re able to focus on the stuff that you keep much, much better and more effectively.”
Accounting Practice Academy
While Dave and Brannon hit on an abundance of interesting topics throughout the conversation, we wanted to highlight Brannon’s Accounting Practice Academy.
The ideal client for ACA is:
- ~$1M revenue mark
- Team of 6-10
- Can’t seem to hit the break through
Although the last bullet is rather subjective, Brannon outlines that these candidates are burned out, tired, and maybe even feel trapped. This is the perfect formula for the ideal client under the Accounting Practice Academy.
ACA, and more specifically Brannon, look for individuals who are willing to think and be challenged throughout the journey. Pricing delegation and pruning are also large variables of the program as well.
Brannon offers a great perspective when he says that what firms say no to is maybe even more important than what firms are saying yes to. The idea here is that if groups are spread too thinly across their areas of revenue within the business, they could be hurting themselves more than helping the business grow.
In the words of Mayank Singh Sanin, ‘the ability to do many jobs at a time is not exactly success. But doing one job with utter perfection is the success sought after.’
It’s emotional to eliminate a revenue stream that is bringing in $200k a year, but Brannon is of the option that what is eliminated can be filled back up with better.
In essence, he tells us that a practice is taken over, what isn’t working is pruned away, then you double down on what is working and charge a fair price for it. This isn’t the difficult part. It’s the emotion or inertia of change.
If you’re looking for Brannon online, you can find him and his group at poegroupadvisors.com.
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