Going public - floating your company's shares on a stock market - can allow a company to raise additional equity finance or provide an exit for existing investors.
Going public also provides a market value for trading shares in the company. This makes it easier to use company shares to fund an acquisition or as an incentive for employees.
A company float usually only suits companies with good growth prospects and a strong management team. Going public, and continuing to be a public company, involves substantial effort and costs together with an increased regulatory burden and public scrutiny. Before deciding on a company float, it's worth reviewing whether another option such as a trade sale is a better option.
The stock markets
For UK companies, there are two principal choices of market. AIM is the London Stock Exchange's market for smaller and growing businesses. There are no requirements for businesses floating on AIM to be of a certain size or to have an established trading record.
The other option is to be quoted on the London Stock Exchange Main Market. Only the largest companies tend to choose this option.
In legal terms, companies on AIM are 'unquoted', which can offer significant tax advantages for private investors. For example, shares in most kinds of family business can be traded on AIM but still benefit from inheritance tax (IHT) relief.
Joining either AIM or the Main Market requires significant professional advice and costs. The costs of going public are typically a minimum of around £250,000, and often significantly more, depending on the complexity of the transaction and how much money is being raised. The annual cost of maintaining your listing is likely to be at least £100,000.
Preparing for your company float
Appointing professional advisers is the first step to floating your business. You must appoint an AIM nominated adviser (Nomad) if you want to join AIM. Your corporate adviser manages the float process and provides continuing advice on meeting market requirements. Some corporate advisers also act as stockbrokers, helping you raise funds during the float.
You also need a lawyer, an accountant and a registrar who handles applications for shares and the share register. You may also want to appoint a PR adviser to help raise your profile with investors and manage investor relations. As with your corporate adviser, you should look for advisers with relevant experience. Make sure you have a clear agreement on what services will be provided and what the fees will be.
As with other forms of raising finance, your company needs to have a clear business plan and a strong management team. As part of the process, your advisers will help prepare key information and up-to-date accounts. All the key information about your company and the float is brought together in a prospectus.
Making an initial public offering
You can go public without raising any new financing, a process called an introduction. But if the company wants to raise funds, you need to organise an initial public offering (IPO). You either offer shares to a selected group of investors (a private placement) or to the investing public at large (an offer for sale).
Your corporate adviser helps you establish the right price for your company IPO. This is typically based on expected future earnings. Smaller companies are generally less highly valued, though companies with exciting prospects can attract a premium rating.