ACQUISITION MISSION: “What I Learned from Buying Five Agencies in Less Than a Year”

Tue 12 Apr 2022 2:00 pm UK Time

Darren Low had his sights set on more than just his lifestyle agency and decided the best way to grow was to acquire.
Within 11 months, and under the cloud of Covid, he acquired four niche specialist agencies – and a SaaS business.
Come along and hear more about his experience, and what to expect if you’re thinking of going down this route yourself.

Darren lost his initial fundraising due to the pandemic – but went on to acquire five businesses in less than a year.

“I had a lot of what other agency owners have: a nice lifestyle business. I was sitting there with this nice agency, and I could have carried on and made £300-400k a year profit – which isn’t a bad life – but I had this urge to do something I thought was better.”

This urge took Darren Low on a whirlwind shopping spree, acquiring four agencies AND a SaaS business in just 11 months.

“I could see an opportunity to combine all the good stuff you get in independent, smaller agencies with the scale of service provision, depth of capability, and expertise in big sectors like retail or healthcare,” says Darren, founder and CEO of Low&Behold.

“You can do that in an integrated agency. I set out to build that, combining deep expertise in multiple areas, to deliver better outcomes for clients than being bounced around four different agencies, all with their own agenda and P&L, that try to sell you the ‘we can do everything story’.”

The main roadblock for Darren was the onset of the pandemic, which meant he lost his initial fundraising options.

To successfully go through with his first two acquisitions in June 2020, he had to bootstrap his fundraising, even investing some of his own money. But from there, the sky was the limit, acquiring three more businesses by May 2021.

“It was quite challenging – and I’m quite impatient. I’m not being good at being told no,” Darren admits. “But it means I went from having a business with a £1.5m revenue, to one with a £5.5m revenue and over £1m EBITDA. That gives us much greater leverage for our next phase of growth in 2022.”

Buying five businesses in less than a year meant Darren had to do a lot of work to pull all those different moving parts together into one fully functioning machine.

“We’ve spent the last nine months working on integration in order to create a new brand,” he explains. “You’ve got five tech stacks, five ways of working, five lots of processes – and not everyone wants to change how they do things. And rather than become a holding company, we wanted to be one business, one brand, one P&L – with a one-team mindset.”

“We’ve started to invest in new services and capabilities, building our own SEO and PR teams. All that integrated digital expertise is resonating with clients that are fed up with using multiple agencies – and that was always the focus to get up the ladder.”

“Where we might have previously charged someone £40k for a website design and build project, we could now charge £300k just for a UX project because of this new integrated value.”

What has his whirlwind acquisition taught him?

  • You don’t know what you’re doing until you start acquiring. It’s a ‘learn on the job’ process where everyone is starting out in the same boat.
  • You don’t always know what you’re buying until you’ve bought it. “It doesn’t matter how well people present their business – what you don’t often get is access to the deeper ends of the business, particularly if it’s founder-managed.”
  • It’s better if the business has gone through an advisory. “The outcomes are stronger because they’ll have gone through the process, which helps them to understand what life could be like after selling.”

Come along and hear all about Darren’s acquisition experience – and how he plans to expand his Low and Behold ‘empire’ in the next couple of years.

This is a great session if you’re looking to grow your agency through acquisition but you’re not sure exactly where to start.