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Thursday, September 4, 2008


An earnout is a contractual arrangement in which the purchase price is stated in terms of a minimum, but where the Seller will be entitled to more money if the business reaches certain pre-agreed upon goals in the future. These goals are typically stated in terms of percentages of gross sales, rather than net sales, because expenses are easy to manipulate and thus net sales are too easily distorted.
Earnouts are a powerful tool that can be used in negotiations as a contingent element, which help the Seller and the Buyer reach a mutually agreeable value of the business. However, this is a very complicated contractual arrangement and should be prepared by an attorney who has expertise in setting up earnouts. In addition, the buyer and seller would be wise to have an experienced attorney review the document before entering into the agreement.
An earnout can be designed and written many different ways. For example:
1. An earnout may pertain to only specific products or services that were part of the business prior to the acquisition.
2. The earnout may only be applicable to revenue after the business surpasses a specified sales amount.
3. An earnout can also be based on units sold.
For the Seller, there are significant risks they must address when considering entering into an earnout agreement.
First, the Seller needs to be able to verify the numbers that the buyer submits once he or she has taken over the business. In addition, the Seller must also make sure that the buyer does not manipulate the sales of a particular product in order to avoid paying the earnout. Or, there is always the risk that the buyer will not report cash sales, or encourage customers to pay in cash so they can hide the income.
Using earnouts can be advantageous to getting a deal done. However, proper controls need to be in place to ensure nobody takes unfair advantage of the opportunity.

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