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Business development strategies: buy or build?

How to

According to the September 2014 Scottish Pacific SME Growth Index, a survey conducted by research firm East & Partners of more than 1,200 small and medium enterprises in Australia, almost two-thirds expect growth in revenue over the next six months. Almost all those firms plan to add new products or services.

For growth strategies of this scale, there are two options: organic growth  or acquisition.

David Gonano, National Head of Sales for Macquarie Business Banking, says he is seeing an increasing appetite for acquisition, especially in Macquarie's specialist industry sectors such as property and professional services, but urges some caution. "Acquisition can seem exciting, but there are inherent risks. If you manage it well, the upside can be great. Rush into it and you risk losing staff and customers.”

Gonano says that with competition intensifying in service sectors, acquisition can help you preserve or accelerate growth. And with the cost of funds at a generational low and business confidence steady, business owners seem to be more willing to make decisions of this magnitude.

So is acquisition the right growth strategy for your business? Gonano shares the business case for both sides.


If you have a strong appetite for a faster rate of growth, an acquisition can get you there sooner.

"Businesses that make acquisitions achieve economies of scale much quicker,” he says. "For example you could potentially buy a fee base or property management roll with immediate impact on revenue. And while variable expenses will increase, other costs may remain largely unchanged, such as accounting and software support services, and potentially administrative or marketing staffing costs. Technology and smart changes to operating processes can play a big role in achieving increased efficiencies to support growth and enhance profit margins."

A business should consider acquisition if:

  • you have under-utilised assets, such as premises, equipment or capital
  • you want to expand into new markets to diversify revenue risk
  • you want to offer new products or services in adjacent areas
  • top line revenue growth is plateauing.

Organic growth

Organic growth can be controlled growth, as long as you have the capacity to scale effectively. "Organic growth rates are typically up to 10 to 15 per cent per annum,” explains Gonano. "It can suit smaller businesses or businesses in the first few years of being established.”

A business should consider organic growth if:

  • you're more risk-averse and don't want to over-gear
  • you don't have the resources to invest in the acquisition process
  • you prefer to maintain control by growing steadily

There are ways to accelerate organic growth.

"Innovation can be a game changer – create a new product or service to gain market share.” says Gonano. "Resources and capability can impact on this, so many businesses prefer to work with a philosophically aligned partner or service provider rather than develop their own capability in house.”

Buyer beware

There are a number of factors to consider with any new acquisition.

  1. Avoid over-gearing. Make sure you set up the right capital structure - if you borrow too much you could create financial stress, especially if things don't go as expected.
  2. Don't make too many acquisitions too quickly. You need time to bed them down. "The end game is profitability,” says Gonano. "Get your systems, culture and people in place.”
  3. Don't over-value or out-bid for the sake of growth, especially when markets are hot. "Many factors influence the contract price such as retention amounts, contingent liabilities, client concentration, deal structure and staff incentives. It's not like comparing the value of one property against another in determining fair value, ” says Gonano.
  4. Make sure your staff and customers feel valued. Staff are the lifeblood of any service business, and you can't risk losing your existing or new clients.

Gonano says it's important to get advice from your lawyer and accountant, and it's also worthwhile talking with your Macquarie Relationship Manager about your long-term growth strategy.

"With our specialist industry focus, we've been able to put businesses together where we know there's an appetite for acquisition and where we see a good fit,” says Gonano. "We can fund a deal, but we can also help you get your business ready and make sure you have the capacity to take advantage of that next opportunity.”

Acquisition or organic growth?

Acquisition is any purchase of a separate business to add new capabilities, products or services, or expand into new markets. It could also include a mutually agreed merger.

Organic growth is where you develop your own capabilities and resources internally to increase your customer base, and/or increase spend from existing customers.

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The information on this page has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 (AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 237502) and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before making any financial investment decision or a decision about whether to acquire a financial, credit or lending product, a person should obtain and review the terms and conditions relating to that product and also seek independent financial, legal and taxation advice. All applications are subject to Macquarie’s standard credit approval criteria. This information is intended for recipients in Australia only.