I’m helping a client prepare to sell his agency in 4-5 years. He asked, “What is the process to find the ideal acquirer?”
For finding acquirers, I’d start with your building a “Dream 100” list of acquirers.
“Dream 100” is primarily a sales concept, created by sales strategist Chet Holmes—a list of the prospects you want most as clients. Once you make the list, you dedicate your sales efforts to focus on those  firms. Here’s a snapshot on Dream 100 clients.
You can extend the “Dream 100” concept to getting acquired, too—what are  firms that might be a match to acquire your agency? To start, shoot for ~30 prospective acquirers.
Companies that might acquire your agency
To help you get started, here are ideas of types of companies to put on your list:
- Agency holding company (e.g., Omnicom or Publicis)
- Consulting arm of a big accounting firm (e.g., Accenture or Deloitte)
- Traditional advertising or PR agency that wants digital skills
- Digital agency that wants your specific technical skills
- Agency that wants to broaden their client footprint in your geographic region
- Another agency that wants to beef-up for a mega-exit later
- Company that targets your clients
- VC firm that specializes in your client-industry vertical
- Private equity firm specializing in agencies, like Beringer Capital
- Conglomerate specializing in web-related properties, like Tiny
- Large company that would want to bring your capabilities in-house
Start building relationships today to get acquired tomorrow
Once you have your list, work to build relationships with the firms on your Dream 100 acquirer list. This includes following them on social media, subscribing to their newsletter, setting up Google Alerts, and checking LinkedIn to see if you know people who know people at the company.
This approach won’t produce overnight results—but it’ll put you in a stronger negotiating position when it’s time to sell in the future.
Investing time to build that lineup of Dream 100 acquirers (and building relationships with them over the next few years) would likely produce motivated buyers that want to acquire your agency. It creates more competition, versus someone buying your agency solely for financial reasons. The emotional attachment (by buyers) to your agency would give you more-favorable terms (including a relatively higher multiple).
Question: What might your ideal acquirer look like?