With an earn-out, the buyer makes additional payments to the seller, after the sale, dependent on the performance of the business and the owner’s involvement in the business. Earn-outs can be essential to closing deals. They are designed to protect both parties and ensure that everyone receives fair value for the business.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the specific advantages of an earn-out agreement to business owners:
- Shorten the negotiation time. Rather than haggling over price for months (and potentially never reaching an agreement), an earn-out can speed up the process of selling your business. This can drastically reduce the efforts and headaches associated with selling your business and lead to a better relationship with your acquirer. However, earn-outs do require some additional negotiation themselves.
- Get full value for your business. An earn-out allows you to receive the full price for your business post-acquisition, because you don’t rush to sell in one payout. Instead, earn-outs can act as a form of dividend payment. If the business performs stronger than the buyer anticipated, there is a likelihood that the sum of the earn-out will exceed the one-time payout you would have received at the time of the negotiation. This is particularly true if you are selling a strong business in a down market. The earn-out can get you closer to what your business might be worth in a strong market.
- Ensure a seamless transition. During an acquisition, an abrupt departure by the owner can create some cultural uncertainty. Employees are uncertain about the future of their roles, the company, and their future. In an earn-out, the seller will typically remain involved in the company during the transition and have the ability to include key employees at your company in the loop. Rather than leaving your top workers shocked and disgruntled, you should include the smooth and successful transition of your most loyal people that have been with you from the start.
- Demonstrate confidence to the investor. Earn-outs are appealing to an investor because they prevent the firm from overpaying for the company since the earn-out is only paid when the company exceeds pre-defined performance thresholds. By agreeing to an earn-out, you demonstrate you are very confident your business will outperform their conservative estimate. This confidence can be a good sign to the potential investor, indicating you are not hurrying to jump from a sinking ship.