Maybe you’re looking for a way to quickly make inroads into a different market. Maybe you’d like to diversify your offerings or expand your lineup. Or maybe you’re ready to ride off into the sunset of retirement, but your business isn’t.

Business mergers and acquisitions are increasingly popular ways to achieve these goals. But is it the right move for your business? Consider what you’re trying to accomplish. Can you grow your way into your goals, instead of bringing two businesses together? If merging with or buying another business is a better choice, do you have the available talent to make it work? Do you have the time for it? How about the budget?

If after careful preliminary evaluation you decide a merger or acquisition is in your future, keep in mind that it can be tricky to pull off. Pressure on human capital skyrockets. Cultures clash. Multiple offices multiply management challenges. Leadership loses its way. Technology platforms insist on staying separate and won’t play nice together. Projections that seemed reachable now seem wildly optimistic. And then your acquisition financing falls apart – or is so restrictive that it hamstrings your growth efforts going forward.

The Jell-O just won’t jell.

How do you retain the most valuable characteristics of both operations, yet build a new, comfortably financed, seamlessly integrated entity that creates greater value than either of the constituent businesses could on their own?

  1. Make a list before you shop. Take the time to make a realistically written plan before you look for likely merger and acquisition candidates. You don’t have to be inflexible to modifying it, but at least have an idea of what you’re looking for before you go looking
  2. Enlist the help of industry colleagues, but only if they can keep a secret. This is not something you’ll want to broadcast. Play it close to the vest, but not so close that you lose out on leveraging your trusted network
  3. Value similarities; treasure differences. It’s the common interests that will attract you, but it’s the unique talents and capabilities that will sustain the union in the years to come. One of the worst things you can do is to stamp out dissimilarities, which ultimately make you stronger. Instead, integrate them. Create a new culture and a new way of operating that accommodates both (and allows you to extract the best from both)
  4. Beware of brand blur. Carefully consider how you’re going to bring your two brands together. Will you retain your separate identities? Will you be a couple with hyphenated names? Take one name or the other? Or create a completely new brand from the two? However you choose to bring your brands together, take it slowly and give your customers (and yourselves) time to adjust. Think evolution, not revolution
  5. Develop and monitor success metrics. Set hard but realistic and quantifiable goals, such as sales numbers, for your merger or acquisition and evaluate your progress at set intervals. Don’t neglect the soft, subjective aspects, such as employee satisfaction. Routine, anonymous surveys can be a great way to take the pulse of your new organization
  6. Assemble a balanced transition team. Choose an equal (or close to equal as you can) number of people from each business to guide the merger or acquisition. This is as much about mining disparate opinions and approaches as it is about maintaining a sense of fairness. Though it can create fireworks, especially in the early going, a Brady Bunch approach to transition management can ultimately result in a stronger union
  7. Consider third-party help from a merger and acquisition advisor. No matter how much you try to take a dispassionate view of the situation, your hopes and fears will color your perception. An experienced third party can help you see things in a clearer and more balanced way, as well as point out opportunities and pitfalls you might otherwise miss
  8. Carefully consider all your funding options. Some financing sources can provide a far greater degree of agility and flexibility, especially when you engage them early in the process. These companies can help you negotiate a better deal with creative financing structures that can also ease your financial burden in the critical early months and years of your merger or acquisition
  9. Don’t overthink the parking. There’s always that guy that drives around forever looking for the best possible parking spot. Then there’s the lady who just parks in a good spot, does her business and gets back to her life before perfect-spot-guy even unbuckles his seat belt. You can spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to get a deal that’s just a teensy bit better. Or you can take a good deal and get on with the work of building your business
  10. Talk – a lot. As any relationship expert will tell you, clear, continual communication is key. And not just in the honeymoon phase. To maintain a strong relationship, keep the lines of communication open and use them liberally, in both directions. Regular town hall meetings help too

Like marriages, every business merger or acquisition is unique, with its own set of challenges and opportunities. But with some foresight and planning, you can minimize the downs and maximize the ups, forming a more perfect union and creating a new organization that’s far more than the sum of its parts.