As CEO or business owner, it’s only natural to be nervous about meeting with investors or buyers for your business. No doubt about it — the process can be intimidating.
The truth of the matter is that while private equity firms have extensive experience with buying and building companies, nobody has as much information about your business as you do. The challenge then becomes articulating the details of your business in a confident, concise, and respectful way during these early meetings.
Hiring an investment banker is the first step in getting prepared. A trusted advisor will help you get your financial house in order in the weeks and months leading up to the meeting. They will also be instrumental in preparing a presentation, as well as answers for the myriad questions you’ll be asked by the investors.
To get a better sense of what business owners can do to make a great first impression, we asked five M&A advisors to share their insights.
“In the Dave’s Killer Bread deal we just worked on, the business owner had a criminal history, which was publicly known. The owner had used that experience and his story of redemption as a fundamental pillar of the brand. As such, when we hosted the first call with investors and it was the first thing we discussed. We had investors who dropped out right away because of that issue. However, many said they could get over that detail and wanted to take a closer look at the business. This gave the seller confidence that those who received a book were truly interested parties and not window shoppers.
Every business has marketable attributes and, more often than not, issues that will constrain either interest or valuation. The best way to make a first impression is to talk about all the great things that are happening with your business, but also to speak in a balanced way. When there are issues that are resident that may impact interest or valuation, the key is highlighting what actions can be taken to mitigate or overcome those impediments. The key is having both awareness and a plan. Speaking to those things gets details sorted expeditiously and makes the business owner look extremely credible and trustworthy.”
– Christian Schiller and Bryan Jaffe, Cascadia Capital
“Articulating future business plans and the use of proceeds is critical. Equally, if not more, important is to know your numbers cold.
Some other tips are fairly simple: be sure to speak clearly and slowly enough for the investor to take notes as well as absorb what you are saying. Dress the part and do all of the things your mom told you to do: sit up straight, have a friendly and firm handshake, and look people in the eye without staring them down.”
– Nancy Hament, Scura Paley and Company
“It’s extremely important for the historical financial performance numbers to be accurate and projections to be believable. Getting the meeting started by saying ‘those aren’t accurate’ can make the investors question the accuracy of everything from that point forward.
It’s also extremely important to make sure management and owners are well prepared. At my firm, we insist on rehearsals before the meeting. Since we’ve been through many investor meetings before, we can help the owner anticipate questions and how they will be framed. That way, questions and inquiries don’t feel like they’re coming out of left field.”
– Spencer Berg, Scott-Macon, Ltd.
“It’s important to have a professional presentation that is free from errors and formatted nicely. This shows that the business owner is taking the process seriously and is genuinely interested in pursuing something with the investor.
Another sign of good faith is arranging a meal prior to the meeting. This shows that the business owner has the desire to establish rapport with the investor, rather than a simple interest in a business transaction.”
– Michael Lamm, Corporate Advisory Solutions
“Make sure there’s an executed NDA well before the meeting. Since confidential details about the business will be shared in the meeting, this is a very important but often overlooked step.
Most investors will have looked at market trends in that sector, who the players are, and where the company fits into that before the meeting. For that reason, it doesn’t serve the CEO well to over-state or inflate the business because the investor will find that out in diligence. The worst thing one can do in this situation is to attempt to present and unrealistic or unsupportable view of the company, its prospects and its position in the market place ”
– Stephen Lewis, Headwaters MB