Buying a business can be an exciting prospect. For many prospective business owners, owning a business is the fulfillment of a decades long dream. With all of that excitement comes considerable emotion. For this reason, it is essential to step back and carefully evaluate several key factors to help you decide whether or not you are making the best financial and life decision for you. In this article, we’ll examine five key factors you should consider before buying a business.
What is Being Sold?
If you hate the idea of owning a clothing store, then why buy one? The bottom line is that you have to have a degree of enthusiasm about what you are buying otherwise you’ll experience burnout and lose interest in the business.
How Good is the Business Plan?
Before getting too excited about owning a business, you’ll want to take a look at the business plan. You’ll want to know the current business owner’s goals and how they plan on going about achieving those goals. If they’ve not been able to formulate a coherent business plan then that could be a red flag.
You need to see how a business can be grown in the future, and that means you need a business plan. Additionally, a business plan will outline how products and services are marketed and how the business compares to other companies.
How is Overall Performance?
A key question to have answered before signing on the bottom line is “How well is a business performing overall?” Wrapped up in this question are factors such as how many hours the owner has to work, whether or not a manager is used to oversee operations, how many employees are paid overtime, whether or not employees are living up to their potential and other factors. Answering these questions will give you a better idea of what to expect if you buy the business.
What Do the Financials Look Like?
Clearly, it is essential to understand the financials of the business. You’ll want to see everything from profit and loss statements and balance sheets to income tax returns and more. In short, don’t leave any rock unturned. Importantly, if you are not provided accurate financial information don’t hesitate, run the other way!
What are the Demographics?
Understanding your prospective customers is essential to understanding your business. If the current owner doesn’t understand the business, that is a key problem. It should be clear who the customers are, why they keep coming back and how you can potentially add and retain current customers in the future. After all, at the end of the day, the customer is what your business is all about.
Don’t rush into buying a business. Instead, carefully evaluate every aspect of the business and how owning the business will impact both your life and your long-term financial prospects.
The initial response to the question in the title really should be: “Why do you want to know the value of your business?” This response is not intended to be flippant, but is a question that really needs to be answered.
- Does an owner need to know for estate purposes?
- Does the bank want to know for lending purposes?
- Is the owner entertaining bringing in a partner or partners?
- Is the owner thinking of selling?
- Is a divorce or partnership dispute occurring?
- Is a valuation needed for a buy-sell agreement?
There are many other reasons why knowing the value of the business may be important.
Valuing a business can be dependent on why there is a need for it, since there are almost as many different definitions of valuation as there are reasons to obtain one. For example, in a divorce or partnership breakup, each side has a vested interest in the value of the business. If the husband is the owner, he wants as low a value as possible, while his spouse wants the highest value. Likewise, if a business partner is selling half of his business to the other partner, the departing partner would want as high a value as possible.
In the case of a business loan, a lender values the business based on what he could sell the business for in order to recapture the amount of the loan. This may be just the amount of the hard assets, namely fixtures and equipment, receivables, real estate or other similar assets.
In most cases, with the possible exception of the loan value, the applicable value definition would be Fair Market Value, normally defined as: “The price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller when the former is not under any compulsion to buy and the latter is not under any compulsion to sell, both parties having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” This definition is used by most courts.
It is interesting that in the most common definition of value, it starts off with, “The price…” Most business owners, when using the term value, really mean price. They basically want to know, “How much can I get for it if I decide to sell?” Of course, if there are legal issues, a valuation is also likely needed. In most cases, however, what the owner is looking for is a price. Unfortunately, until the business sells, there really isn’t a price.
The International Business Brokers Association (IBBA) defines price as; “The total of all consideration passed at any time between the buyer and the seller for an ownership interest in a business enterprise and may include, but is not limited to, all remuneration for tangible and intangible assets such as furniture, equipment, supplies, inventory, working capital, non-competition agreements, employment, and/or consultation agreements, licenses, customer lists, franchise fees, assumed liabilities, stock options or stock redemptions, real estate, leases, royalties, earn-outs, and future considerations.”
In short, value is something that may have to be defended, and something on which not everyone may agree. Price is very simple – it is what something sold for. It may have been negotiated; it may be the seller’s or buyer’s perception of value and the point at which their perceptions coincided (at least enough for a closing to take place) or a court may have decided.
The moral here is for a business owner to be careful what he or she asks for. Do you need a valuation, or do you just want to know what someone thinks your business will sell for?
Business brokers can be a big help in establishing value or price.Read More
It may be advisable to have an attorney review the legal documents. It is important, however, that the attorney you hire is familiar with the business buying process and has the time available to handle the paperwork on a timely basis. If the attorney does not have experience in handling business sales, you may be paying for the attorney’s education. Most business brokers have lists of attorneys who are familiar with the business buying process. An experienced attorney can be of real assistance in making sure that all of the details are handled properly. Business brokers are not qualified to give legal advice.
However, keep in mind that many attorneys are not qualified to give business advice. Your attorney will be, and should be, looking after your interests; however, you need to remember that the seller’s interests must also be considered. If the attorney goes too far in trying to protect your interests, the seller’s attorney will instruct his or her client not to proceed. The transaction must be fair for all parties. The attorney works for you, and you must have a say in how everything is done.
If you know someone who has owned their own business for a period of time, he or she may also be a valuable resource in answering your questions about how small business really works.
You have to make the final decision; that “leap of faith” between looking and actually being in business for yourself is a decision that only you can make!Read More
A professional business broker can be helpful in many ways. They can provide you with a selection of different and, in many cases, unique businesses, including many that you would not be able to find on your own. Approximately 90 percent of those who buy businesses end up with something completely different from the business that they first inquired about. Business brokers can offer you a wide variety of businesses to look at and consider.
Business brokers are also an excellent source of information about small business and the business buying process. They are familiar with the market and can advise you about trends, pricing and what is happening locally. Your business broker will handle all of the details of the business sale and will do everything possible to guide you in the right direction, including, if necessary, consulting other professionals who may be able to assist you.
Your local professional business broker is the best person to talk to about your business needs and requirements.Read More
When you find a business, the business broker will be able to answer many of your questions immediately or will research them for you. Once you get your preliminary questions answered, the typical next step is for the broker to prepare an offer based on the price and terms you feel are appropriate. This offer will generally be subject to your approval of the actual books and records supporting the figures that have been supplied to you. The main purpose of the offer is to see if the seller is willing to accept the price and terms you offered.
There isn’t much point in continuing if you and the seller can’t get together on price and terms. The offer is then presented to the seller who can approve it, reject it, or counter it with his or her own offer. You, obviously, have the decision of accepting the counter proposal from the seller or rejecting it and going on to consider other businesses.
If you and the seller agree on the price and terms, the next step is for you to do your “due diligence.” The burden is on you – the buyer – no one else. You may choose to bring in other outside advisors or to do it on your own – the choice is yours. Once you have checked and approved those areas of concern, the closing documents can be prepared, and your purchase of the business can be successfully closed. You will now join many others who, like you, have chosen to become self-employed!Read More
Certainly, you need adequate capital to buy the business and to make the improvements you want, along with maintaining some reserves in case things start off slowly. You need to be willing to work hard and, in many cases, to put in long hours. Unfortunately, many of today’s buyers are not willing to do what it takes to be successful in owning a business. A business owner has to, as they say, be the janitor, errand boy, employee, bookkeeper and “chief bottle washer!” Too many people think they can buy a business and then just sit behind a desk and work on their business plans. Owners of small businesses must be “doers.”Read More
Obviously, you want to consider only those businesses that you would feel comfortable owning and operating. “Pride of Ownership” is an important ingredient for success. You also want to consider only those businesses that you can afford with the cash you have available. In addition, the business you buy must be able to supply you with enough income – after making payments on it – to pay your bills. However, you should look at a business with an eye toward what you can do with it – how you can improve it and make it more productive and profitable. There is an old adage advising that you shouldn’t buy a business unless you feel you can do better than the present owner. Everyone has seen examples of a business that needs improvement in order to thrive, and a new owner comes in and does just that. Conversely, there are also cases where a new owner takes over a very successful business and not soon after, it either closes or is sold. It all depends on you!Read More
Generally, at the outset, a prospective seller will ask the business broker what he or she thinks the business will sell for. The business broker usually explains that a review of the financial information will be necessary before a price, or a range of prices, can be suggested for the business.
Most sellers have some idea about what they feel their business should sell for – and this is certainly taken into consideration. However, the business broker is familiar with market considerations and, by reviewing the financial records of the business, can make a recommendation of what he or she feels the market will dictate. A range is normally set with a low and high price. The more cash demanded by the seller, the lower the selling price; the smaller the cash requirements of the seller, the higher the price.
Since most business sales are seller-financed, the down payment and terms of the sale are very important. In many cases, how the sale of the business is structured is more important than the actual selling price of the business. Too many buyers make the mistake of being overly-concerned about the full price when the terms of the sale can make the difference between success and failure.
An oft-quoted anecdote may better illustrate this point: If you could buy a business that would provide you with more net profit than you thought possible even after subtracting the debt service to the seller, and you could purchase this business with a very small down payment, would you really care what the full price of the business was?Read More
There have been many surveys taken in an attempt to answer this question. Most surveys reveal the same responses, in almost the same identical order of priority. Here are the results of a typical survey, listed in order of importance:
1. To do my own thing, control my own destiny.
2. Don’t want to work for someone else.
3. To better utilize my skills and abilities.
4. To make money.
*It is interesting to note that money is not at the top of the list, but comes in fourth.
An existing business has a track record. The failure rate in small business is largely in the start-up phase. The existing business has demonstrated that there is a need for that product or service in a particular locale. Financial records are available along with other information on the business. Most sellers will stay and train a new owner and most will also supply financing. Finding someone who will teach you the intricacies of running a business and who is also willing to finance the sale can make all the difference.Read More