You’ve built your business from the ground up, putting in sweat equity like no one else will understand and appreciate. For that reason, it’s hard to let go of your baby because you think it’s worth more than what others are willing to pay for it and you can’t trust anyone to run it like you. These are all considerations in finding the right buyer for your business, but trust that if you put in the right preparation, you can find the right person to sell it to that will leave you feeling glad and relieved that you made the right decision.
Part of exit planning is to know who the potential buyers are. The more interested buyers of your business there are, the more competitive and higher your selling price will be and you’ll be in a position to choose who will run the legacy of your business after you. The top mistake business owners make is that they don’t do their homework, so they end up exiting too early at a low selling price or they go with the first broker on their google search whose goals aren’t exactly aligned with yours. Avoid regret by following the steps below to identify the right buyer.
How to find a buyer:
- Find a broker
- List your business in a market place
- Identify potential buyers and cold call or warm call
More on each below.
1. Find a broker
Finding a broker might be the easiest and hardest method. It’s easy because you can google local business brokers and you’ll get hundreds of hits. It’s hard because you have to then sift through the list and vet the right one to work with. If you don’t consider yourself financially savvy and would rather not hustle your way to finding a buyer, it’s most prudent to go with a broker.
Do remember that brokers can be expensive. They will usually charge a retainer fee of between $15,000 – $30,000 for a business under $5m and a retainer fee of between $30,000 – $80,000 for a business over $5m plus somewhere between 3% – 8% of the transaction fee, depending on the size of your business. For example, if your business has $10m in revenue, $2m in EBITDA and sells for $8m, then you will pay the broker ~$400,000, so you will actually receive $7.6m from the buyer after broker fees. Note that fees vary regionally and by industry, so these numbers are not the standard for every business.
Considering that brokers are expensive, you need to make sure to pick the right one. A good broker will possess the following:
- Understand the reason for you selling the company and advise strategically how you can maximize the selling price; for example,
- Timing – urgent to sell it asap or is there flexibility to maximize value?
- Tender received – receive all cash upfront or part equity, vendor take-back loan with interest, royalty?
- Asks and understands if you’re willing to stay on board as an employee for several years to successfully transition the business to new owners.
- Asks about qualitative questions about who you would ideally want to sell for – for example, would you be okay if a private equity firm bought your business and tore it apart into pieces as long as you can exit in a timely manner or do you want to sell it only to another dedicated hard worker who will see through running the business even if you don’t get paid the purchase price all up front?
- In the second time you meet or speak, they should have done their homework and identified a rough list of potential companies that might be interested buyers (even if these companies don’t come to fruition, it shows that they’re dedicated and do their homework and want your business)
- Also, in the second time you meet or speak, they should have an idea of how much similar companies have sold/selling for – what were precedent transaction multiples?
- Do they work alone/small team or are they partners of the company who delegate everything to minions and only talk high-level? As you can tell, I’m not a fan of the latter. I’ve seen first hand how disconnected these partners are and get briefed 10 minutes before a meeting.
- Are they responsive and available? Selling a business you’ve built over the years is very personal so they need to be there to support you. Also importantly, when the buyer is doing due diligence on your company, their contact person will be the broker. If the broker isn’t responsive, the due diligence will get delayed and the buyer may lose patience.
- What is their track record – ask and find out if they have the capability to successfully close the deals and how long their past deals have taken from engagement.
- Are they financially capable themselves (rather than delegating the financial valuation to their team members)?
- Do they have a good network? Check their LinkedIn – do they have recommendations given? Are they professional with colleagues and other stakeholders?
- Most importantly, you need to feel comfortable with them – if they’re dismissive and unfriendly, you will feel intimidated or hesitant to reach out to them with any question. You should feel free and comfortable to ask them any question pertaining to the business transaction.
Googling the brokers may take forever. I would advise starting here (International Business Brokers Association): https://www.ibba.org/find-a-business-broker/
2. List your business in a marketplace
If your business is in a specialized industry, google “[your industry] businesses for sale in [your city]” and look at where people who are looking to buy or sell businesses in your industry are gathering.
If your business is in a broad industry, you’ll have to rely on big market places that have a lot of traffic – not just where sellers are going to list, but where a lot of serious prospective buyers are going. The most well-known online marketplace to list your business is bizbuysell.com.
3. Proactively identify potential buyers and cold call them
This sounds daunting and it is a huge task at hand, but this could provide the most payoff with respect to:
- higher selling price
- an opportunity to work with them in the future
- creative terms of the sale
- personally rewarding
- personally vet the new potential buyer
- avoid broker fee
- more control of timing
- since it’s a numbers game, round up more interested buyers to gain leverage when selling
The payoff from this approach comes from targeting and selling to buyers who strategically need your business. No matter how dedicated your business broker is, they won’t put in as much devotion as you will to find the best potential buyer.
The challenges are that:
- you have to sell the qualifications of your business such that the buyer sees why strategically it’s the perfect fit
- it’s a numbers game to cold call your list of identified potential buyers and get an interest
- the buyer may need more conviction that you are a credible seller
- you have to be available for questions and push through any delay or bottlenecks in the sales process
- you have to be financially savvy
If you’re ready to take on this challenge to reap high reward, the first step is to make a list of potential buyers. These are the types of buyers you want to search for in your industry and your region:
- private equity
- search fund
- bigger company in your industry
- bigger company in an adjacent industry
- startup that could benefit with your business’s assets
This method of identifying potential buyers and cold calling them is not for the faint of heart. You need thick skin, you need drive, motivation, and a kick-ass hustle mentality. You also need to have your business groomed in terms of historical financials, supporting basis for growth in your forecasts, supporting build-up of revenue, costs and operating expenses, and other areas of improving your business to the highest value.
What stage are you in your business? Are you ready to sell now or do you have some flexibility to improve your business, educate yourself in whom you can sell to and which of the above method you want to go with?
Describe your business below or contact us to get an assessment of where you are in the business cycle and what areas you need to improve in order to prepare your business for a successful sale.