In today’s edition of Courtside Stories, we check in with Patrick Dichter, an acquisition entrepreneur who is little over a year into his journey towards creating a national Professional Services firm designed to help small businesses prosper. In this article, we will discuss his vision, approach to M&A, progress to date, challenges and lessons learned.
Meet Patrick Dichter
Patrick Dichter has worked with small businesses throughout his career. After earning his MBA from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, Patrick spent 7 years leading sales for a digital marketing startup that focused on main street businesses. Then he spent 3 years as a business advisor, helping startup companies scale from $0-10M in revenue.
The accounting acquisitions came into picture during his advisory work. Patrick constantly saw new clients with bad bookkeeping and once he referred it out, it was transformational to have quality bookkeeping for his small business advisory clients.
From this experience, he set a goal of creating a company that could help small businesses:
- Understand their numbers (Accounting and Bookkeeping)
- Grow their company (Consulting)
- Leave a Legacy (Prepare to sell their business, or bring on a General Manager)
In addition to providing a valuable service to his clients, Patrick also believes this business model could also serve as a platform by which to grow any organizations he may choose to acquire in the future.
With his vision in mind, Patrick embarked on what he believed to be a 5 year process to build his dream organization.
Appletree Business Services
Patrick’s first step was to acquire Appletree Business Services, a New Hampshire based CPA firm with 12 employees. Appletree was an attractive target for Patrick because it was a well-run organization with high performing employees and a loyal client base. At the time, however, it was not an organization focused on rapid growth, geographic expansion or enhancing its service offerings beyond bookkeeping and tax work.
After a successful due diligence process, Patrick closed on Appletree in December of 2021. During his first few months as owner, Patrick connected with his employees and shared his vision to grow the organization, expand its offerings and create a national footprint. He learned accountants can be reticent to change, especially during “busy season” (the time of year from January – May when accountants are most busy preparing corporate tax returns). Even minor changes like software updates and conversations about adding new team members were met with some resistance.
Like most good leaders, Patrick listened to his team and didn’t rock the boat during busy season. While he was able to implement many of his changes in a way that caused very little turnover and actually increased revenue, he knew more acquisitions would be necessary to fully realize his vision.
An “Easy” Tuck-in
Patrick’s first acquisition as owner of Appletree came later in 2022. He acquired a small, New England-based tax preparation firm with the goal of increasing headcount, revenue and number of clients served. As acquisitions go, it was a fairly straightforward due diligence and purchase process. The target served similar clients, leveraged the same technology stack and operated in the same geographic area as Appletree. In fact, Appletree and the target were in the same professional association, so Patrick was familiar with the organization prior to inquiring about a potential acquisition.
With his first tuck-in acquisition under his belt, Patrick was feeling more confident about an acquisition growth strategy, but still had a lot of work to do in achieving his goal of creating a multifaceted organization with a national footprint.
His next acquisition would get him much closer to his goal.
A More Complicated Acquisition
Patrick’s next acquisition came later in 2022. While the target was in the financial services industry, there were several aspects of the business that differed from both Appletree and the first acquisition. First, the organization was considerably larger than the first acquisition. With more employees and a larger client base, there was a greater risk to Patrick if he couldn’t retain the employees or keep the clients. The organization also leveraged a different technology stack for client bookkeeping and tax preparation services. In addition, this organization provided fractional CFO services, a service not offered by either of Patrick’s existing businesses. Finally, the new organization leveraged a hybrid work model which differed greatly from the in-office only culture at Appletree.
Often, with greater risk comes greater reward. After a thorough due diligence process, Patrick decided to move forward despite these risks and challenges. Once the deal closed, Patrick made some critical decisions that set the stage for a successful integration. He allowed the new organization to stay on their current technology stack. Instead of focusing on the potential inefficiencies of running disparate systems, Patrick looked at this as an advantage – by having expertise in both of the leading accounting software packages, he was able to serve a wider swath of the small business market. Patrick also created a hybrid work structure, giving his employees the flexibility to work remotely when they liked, but also requesting some in-office time to build culture and collaborate on key initiatives. He also embraced the new interim CFO offering and leveraged this newly acquired service line to cross-sell current clients and enhance revenue. With the revenue from the new acquisition, Patrick was able to invest in a new operations manager and a new practice management software, both of which streamlined the client on-boarding process for both clients and employees.
By embracing risk, listening to his team and investing in the business, Patrick created an environment in which both clients and employees were able to thrive. In fact, through three acquisitions, Patrick has only lost two employees and has grown revenue significantly in a relatively short time.
Patrick’s acquisitions to date have given him a strong brand and growing client base in New England as well as a steady revenue stream. While he’s proud of his accomplishments to date, he knows there’s a lot more work to do. These days, he’s focused on growing the consulting arm of his business, exploring both organic and acquisition growth strategies. He’s also looking for expansion beyond New England, and is always looking for acquisition targets in which he could leverage Appletree’s service offerings to grow and scale.
Patrick has learned a great deal over the course of his journey to build a full-service professional services organization for small businesses. His advice for follow acquisition entrepreneurs includes:
- Acquisitions are Messy (but they are worth it!) – Successfully acquiring and integrating a business is a lot of work. It requires strong analytical skills, deep industry knowledge and a large dose of emotional intelligence. However, those willing to embrace the challenge are often rewarded for their efforts. Patrick could not have made as much progress as he did in 13 months without embracing an acquisition growth strategy.
- Talent is King – In professional service organizations, it’s difficult to scale revenue without headcount. Therefore, make sure the employees in any business you are considering acquiring are talented, hard-working, open to change and flexible in their thinking.
- Implement a Deliberate Change Management Process/Strategy – In any acquisition, one of the primary drivers of value is the ability to successfully integrate the businesses. By implementing an intentional change management strategy, Patrick was able to dramatically increase the odds of a successful outcome. Assigning internal resources to focus solely on integration or working with a merger integration expert are some ways in which he was able to achieve this goal.
- Listen to Your Team – Upon acquiring Appletree, Patrick was eager to hire new employees, modernize the tech stack and enhance the organization’s marketing and branding. However, he didn’t make all of those changes on Day 1. By listening to his team, and understanding how difficult it is to adapt to change during the busiest time of the year, Patrick earned the respect of his team, minimized turnover and created lasting and sustainable change.
After working as a small business advisor for nearly a decade, Patrick Dichter decided to create a national professional services firm designed to help small businesses with their tax and bookkeeping needs, but also help them grow and prosper for generations to come. He chose an acquisition growth strategy and completed three acquisitions in just over a year. By focusing on fit, getting a smaller deal under his belt quickly and listening to his team, he’s been able to make great progress on his vision in a short period of time.
About the G-Spire Group
The G-Spire Group helps entrepreneurs looking to grow through acquisition identify potential targets, negotiate with sellers and integrate the newly purchased business into their portfolio. To learn more, please visit: https://www.gspiregroup.com/