While mergers and acquisitions represent an efficient way for firms to achieve growth, finding a ready partner in 2015 will be challenging. Activity in the M&A market heated up in 2014, with no signs of slowing down over the next 12 months. With economic uncertainty dissipating and access to capital increasing, firms can anticipate the market to favor sellers as valuations continue to rise. As sellers prepare for another strong year, positioning your firm as a buyer of choice and winning the business you seek will require these five steps.

1. Get Your House In Order
Whether you’re a buyer or seller, there’s a distinct difference between making a decision to court a merger or acquisition partner and actually being in a position to act when the right deal comes along. Assessing whether or not a firm is ready to acquire a business is a critical step. This assessment should involve looking at a potential buyer’s P&L, revenue, expenses and net cash flow to determine if they have the excess cash flow required to make a purchase. We also want to see if they have a cushion in case there are additional or unexpected expenses the firm has to cover in the business integration process.

Capacity is also key. Can the firm take on a block of 100 clients or $50 million in additional assets? Potential buyers must determine what’s right for them, so they’re not biting off more than they can chew.

2. Create Awareness
Networking is critical to establishing yourself as a buyer. Over the next few months, talk to advisors in your local market, wholesalers and industry recruiters. The more people that know you’re looking, the higher the likelihood that someone will think of you when a deal surfaces.

A quarter of the deals we worked on in 2014 came from our business development staff talking to advisors who wanted to sell, and then taking them to one of our buyers. Finding sellers or merger partners can prove elusive for buyers going it alone. Experienced M&A consultants can save buyers significant time in the search phase by matching buyers with ready sellers. Consultants working with advisors on business development and succession planning can also provide insight into who is actively seeking to buy and who is ready to sell.