7 Tips For Selecting the Best Small Business Brokers to Sell Your Business

Are you thinking about selling your business? Have you ever gone through the process before? Are you confidant that you can do it yourself? Where would your time be better spent, running your business at peak performance while trying to sell it, or focused on the advertising campaign, networking, negotiating, and coordinating the closure of the sale of your business? Maybe you should consider doing what you do best, running the business, and search out small business brokers and let them do what they do best, sell businesses. If you go that route, here are 7 tips to choosing a business broker that makes sense for you.

1. Don’t get lost in the shuffle

You want your broker to have a proven record and a great reputation but you don’t want the organization to be so big that your deal is passed off to a junior staffer. You want the active involvement of the principals.

2. Do your due diligence

You’re about to engage the services of someone that is going to have a big impact on your financial life. Make sure you are comfortable with the relationship. Check with the International Business Brokers Association and see if your broker is a member in good standing. Follow up on the references provided and determine just how satisfied past clients are. Check with your local better business bureau and see if there are any unresolved complaints.

3. Use a specialist

Real estate agents and other professionals sometimes hold themselves out as business brokers on a part time basis. You want someone who makes their entire living selling businesses full time. Preferably somebody who has experience in your particular industry and someone who can point to successful sales they have made for your competitors.

4. Avoid heavy up front fee structures

Typically a business broker will charge between 10% and 15% of the sale price as a fee. While it is customary for them to ask for some up front fees to initiate the process, avoid those brokers who are looking for greater than a third. Also make sure that the up front fee is deductible from the sales fee when the business sells. Following this advice will save you from having to invest a ton of cash before you actually sell the business.

5. Only contract for the business selling services

Smaller business brokers will offer accounting and legal services that you will need during closing for an additional fee and these services are typically outsourced by the broker. It may be to your advantage to contract for those services directly leaving the broker with only the requirement to focus on the selling process and not generating add on fees.

6. Share your expectations

Before you select a broker you should have at least a general idea of what you want to accomplish by selling your business. You should have a rough valuation number and you should know if you want a cash sale or stock. Share this with the broker and see if he agrees with your plan. While there probably will be differences in valuation, your broker should be in tune with the rest of your objectives. If he’s reluctant or believes that it will be difficult to achieve your goals, find another broker.

7. Keep the whole process confidential

The last thing you want to do is let the word that you are seeking a business broker or that you are in negotiations with a buyer leak out. Once it becomes common knowledge that you are selling, your relationships with your employees, customers, vendors and bankers could be adversely affected. Have an exit plan for after the sale that includes sharing the news with all those listed above.

Using business brokers to help sell a business is usually the smart route to take for any business of substance. You want your organization to have as much “curb appeal” as possible during the process and that means you should be focusing your time on optimizing the business not chasing down buyers.

How to Find a Good Business Broker

Anyone interested in buying or selling a business should always consult with a good business broker because they posses the know-how and resources to get the best price and help you avoid the devastating pitfalls of the buying or selling process. How do you find a good business broker? Well, you go out and look. Where? The internet of course, but asking someone who has sold or bought a business is also a good source and probably the better of the two. Unfortunately not everyone knows someone who has worked with a good business broker and must rely on the expansive web to begin a search.

You should begin your search before you commit to buying or selling a business. I once had a gentleman call me wanting advice on buying a coin laundry and we went through the process of buying the business, a few things to look out for and the general principles behind how a business is priced. After a little exchange of questions and answers between the two of us it started sounding as though this buyer had not done the proper due diligence and that he was possibly overpaying. Problem was… he was already under contract to purchase! At that point even the best business broker can’t help unless you are able to find a way out of the contract, which won’t be easy if the seller is getting a premium on the transaction.

A simple keyword search for business brokers will bring about a plethora of willing brokers but the trick is finding one that is good and easy to relate with. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of the broker, i.e., “What’s your experience?”, “Do you have any credentials?”, etc. It’s always nice to work with someone that clicks with you.

Things process of selling a business and what a business broker can do for you are:

Step 1 is to contact small and medium sized Business Brokers for information about how they charge, what they charge and how you generally feel about them. Select a Small and medium sized Business Broker.

Step 2 is to work with your broker in establishing the most appropriate asking price and put broker and client understandings on paper in the form of a listing agreement. The listing price is the price you agree to sell the business if the broker brings a qualified buyer willing to purchase at that listing price.

Step 3 is to supply your broker with all relevant information about the small and medium sized business so that they can complete an offering memorandum. The broker will discreetly and confidentially make the market aware of your small and medium sized business’s availability including some general information about the site.

The 4th step is for your broker to screen and qualify potential buyers.

Step 5 is for you, with the help of your broker, to negotiate a price and terms agreeable to you and a buyer.

Step 6 is the removal of contingencies explained in the contract to purchase the small and medium sized business.

The final step is to close the transaction.

Your broker will continue to work with you after the sale with any remaining terms and/or conditions of the sale until the seller is completely separated from the business.

  • Educate you regarding the process and issues faced when selling a small and medium sized business.
  • Keeping the transaction confidential.
  • Conduct a pricing analysis to determine the best asking price for your small and medium sized business.
  • Develop an effective marketing strategy to sell your small and medium sized business.
  • Put the offering package of the small and medium sized business in front of the most buyers.
  • Pre-qualify potential buyers prior to divulging sensitive information.
  • Manage transactional details and paperwork.
  • Help establish terms of sale.
  • Assist the buyer in an effort to give the transaction the most potential for a successful closing, i.e. financing.

The most important thing you can do when you are thinking of buying or selling a business is to at least speak with a broker or two. The good one is the one that gets you pointed in the right direction. Most brokers, especially the one that will care for your business, will be happy to spend a half hour to an hour talking to you on the basic points.

Business Brokers – How to Choose the Right One

The vast majority of small businesses are sold without the assistance of business brokers.

But if you do decide the hire a broker, here are some suggestions on how to pick the right one and how to structure the agreement in your favor.

What Business Is The Broker Actually In?

In many states there is no training or certification needed to become a business broker. In other states, brokers are required to hold a real estate license.

In these states it’s common to find real estate agents that do business brokering as a side business. If you deal with a broker who is also a real estate agent, make sure that being a business broker is more than just his hobby.

You will pay a pretty penny for the broker’s expertise and experience – you should make sure they have that experience when it comes to selling businesses and not just experience selling houses.

Questions To Ask

If you hire a broker you will be working with them closely for months to come; they will have access to your most confidential business records; the amount of money you put in your pocket at closing will be influenced heavily by the quality of work they do.

Therefore, you absolutely must check them out.

Here are some questions you should ask any prospective broker before hiring him:

1. How long have you been a broker?
2. Have you ever owned a business?
3. How many businesses similar to mine have you helped sell?
4. Can I see a blank version of your Listing Agreement?
5. What percentage of you income comes from brokering and how much from real estate (If applicable)

Ask them to provide you with references from previous clients. Then, I suggest you do something very unusual: Actually call the broker’s references!
I know a lot of people ask for references just to see how the person will react when asked (and to see if they actuality have any). But you can learn a lot about the broker’s reliability and professionalism by talking to people who dealt with that broker when they were in the exact same spot you are in.

Business Broker Fees

There are two benefits a broker can provide the business seller. First, he can locate potential buyers while maintaining the seller’s confidentiality. And second, a broker will qualify these potential business buyers so the seller saves time by not having to deal with weak prospects.

The big negative of dealing with a business broker is his fee, which averages 10-12% of the sale price. This fee is charged to the seller.

There is also a minimum fee. A very small business will pay a flat amount, typically $8-$10,000, instead of the commission. For a business worth $50,000 this minimum fee actually works out to be a higher percentage than the 10-12% industry average. But as a matter of practice, brokers usually won’t be interested in your business unless the asking price is above $100,000.

These fees are the reason most business owners choose to sell their business themselves and rely on their lawyers and accountants for the professional assistance they need.

The Broker Agreement

If you decide to use a broker you’ll be asked to sign a broker agreement which will detail the his fees. If possible, have your agreement include the following clauses:

Timing of Payments – Have it written into the agreement that the broker’s fee will be paid at the time you receive the purchase price – not at the time the sale is closed. This way, if you finance part of the sale price over a number of years, you pay the business broker as you get the money, not all up front.

Length Of Agreement – Your listing agreement should be for a limited time. If the broker locates the buyer within that time he gets paid. Be careful of lengthy agreements that lock you in with one business broker for more than 6 months. If he doesn’t produce, you want to be able to try other options. A 6 month business broker agreement is the longest you should allow. However, because selling a business can be a lengthy process, 3 months is usually too little time for the broker to find the right buyer. Try to settle on something between 3 and 6 months. If after six months, you haven’t closed the deal but you think the broker has done a good job, you’re always free to extend the agreement. But you want to be free to decide on an extension 6 months from now, not today.

Broker’s Guarantee – Include a paragraph stating that if you find the buyer, you don’t have to pay the commission. Without this clause, the broker is usually paid no matter who locates the buyer. Before signing any listing agreement, it is best to have your attorney review it to make sure your interests are protected.

What Separates the Good Business Broker From the Bad?

Over the years, I’ve heard a million horror stories from business owners about their experiences with some of the “fly by night” business brokers out there. It’s always the same names and it always makes me wonder, “How did you get hooked up with these people? Why did you hire them?” I mean, I’ve seen some of their work and it’s TERRIBLE!

So, of course I feel bad for the business owner and I begin to question my ability to market my business brokerage services. If only I had been there first. If only these folks knew to call me or one of the other good credible brokers out there rather than the yahoo they ended up using. Yes, you heard me right; there are a lot of good credible business brokers out there. The problem is, there are a lot of bad, unqualified brokers out there as well. I’m in the business so it’s easy for me to tell the difference. But how can you, as the business owner, tell the difference?

Well, that’s a tough question to answer but I’ve been giving it some from thought and I’ve decided that the most important factors that separate the good business brokers from the bad are:

1. Ethics – most horror stories I hear are a result of a lack of ethics by the broker. This is unfortunate and disgraceful in my opinion. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to test a broker’s ethics. My best recommendation is to make sure they’ve achieved their CBI (Certified Business Intermediary) designation from the IBBA (International Business Brokers Association). All CBI’s agree to adhere to the IBBA’s Standards of Professional Conduct and the Code of Ethics. I know acceptance of a code doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s a good start. The second thing I would recommend is to check references. This can be tricky. Like any good job applicant, when you ask for references you will get handed the happiest and most satisfied clients that the broker is confident will put in a good word. So, to me this is a waste of time. Instead, why not call the other professionals in your area. It takes more than just the broker to do a deal. It’s takes an accountant and attorney as well. Call your accountant, have your friends call their accountants, same with your attorney and their attorneys. Not all accountants and attorneys will be close to the transaction marketplace (they tend to specialize) but they will ask around. Chances are they probably work with, know of, or went to school with another accountant or attorney that is involved in transactions. If you’re willing to put some time into checking credentials, sooner or later you will find your answers.

2. Candor / Honesty – Again, this can be difficult to judge for the untrained eye. But, what does your gut tell you? Are you receiving vague answers to your questions? Or, is the business broker you’re interviewing willing to sit down with you and answer every question that you have to the best of their ability, sometimes going above and beyond? If this is the case, usually it’s because they have nothing to hide. And, as a result, don’t have to tiptoe around your questions.

3. Pricing Ability – Being open, honest and ethical is only part of the game. It’s equally as important that the business broker be educated on matters of business valuation. One of the most important factors in selling a business is pricing it right. A mispriced business will either never sell (if overpriced) or fly off the market (if underpriced). Both situations are bad news for you as the business seller. If it’s overpriced it will sit on the market, get stigmatized and be difficult to sell even with a different broker. If it’s underpriced you will not maximize your retirement money. Make sure you ask the business broker you are interviewing if they know how to price a business. Moreover, make them prove it. Ask them to explain the three different approaches to value (Asset, Income and Market). If they don’t know what you’re talking about, RUN!! Ask for samples of the broker’s pricing analyses. Don’t settle for a broker that answers, “I can’t provide that it’s confidential”. Every broker can cleanse some samples and make them generic. Take them home. Review them, see if you would buy the business they present to you. Show it to your accountant and your attorney. Get their thoughts. If you’re not sure whether you’re looking at quality work or not, chances are your accountant or attorney will.

4. Marketing Ability – Remember at the end of the day, your small business is a non-marketable entity. You can’t go online, click a button and get rid of it. Someone has to actively create a market for your business. Ask the broker you are interviewing, “How do you plan to market my business?” Sit back and listen. If all they say is, “I’m going to post it on the internet,” RUN!! You can post it on the internet. For the fee the broker is taking, make sure they’re adding value. Dig deep on this subject. You won’t need to be a marketing guru to determine if the broker has a developed process that works.

5. Reputation – Part of investigating the reputation of the broker is requesting references. Not only client references but asking around for input and insight from other professionals about what business brokers they know and what they know about them. Also, go to the broker’s website; go to industry sites such as http://www.ibba.org. Look up the broker; see what other people are saying about them. Do the TV, newspaper, radio and trade publications value the broker’s opinion? It’s not easy to get quoted in articles, written about in papers, invited to be a guest on TV or radio shows. Professional media outlets do their homework. They can’t afford to put their name next to a non-credible source. A business broker that is taken serious and considered a credible source by mainstream media deserves consideration. Credibility is not bought, it is earned.

6. Courtesy / People Skills – Take the time to interview the broker in person. Never hire a business broker without meeting them. If they’re not willing to take the time to meet with you, chances are they won’t put much effort into selling your business either. Once they’re in front of you, see how they interact with you. Are they personable? Do you trust them? Are they friendly? Are they educated about your business and the business brokerage industry? Make no mistake, this is a people business. People buy from people they like. If you don’t like the person you’re interviewing, chances are neither will a potential buyer for your business.

7. Education / Experience – Business brokers are professional service providers, like accountants, attorney, financial planners, etc. Make sure the person you hire to sell your business (or help you buy one) continually invests in their own education and professional development. Would you hire an attorney that doesn’t keep up with current laws? Would you hire an account that isn’t updated on the tax code? Your business is the largest and most valuable asset that you own. Make sure the person you hire to turn it into cash is someone that stays current on industry trends, government regulations, new pricing methodologies, marketing strategies, etc. Business brokerage is a full time profession. If your broker doesn’t invest in their own professional development, chances are there’s someone else out there that does and will do a better job at selling your business for the highest possible price.

The suggestions above are not fool proof but, they will get you pointed in the right direction. Don’t take the sale of your business lightly. Make sure you do your homework. If you do, the wheat will quickly separate from the chaff.