Around the Web: A Month in Summary

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A recent article posted on the Axial Forum entitled “What Do Buyers Look for in the Lower Middle Market?” explains how to make your business valuable to potential buyers and how to find the right buyers for your business. The buyers in the lower middle market are usually strategic buyers, financial buyers, private equity firms, and search fund advisors.

Buyers in this market are generally looking for the following characteristics:

  • A strong management team who has incentive and is prevented from competing against the company if their employment is terminated
  • Stability and predictability of revenue and cash flow
  • Low customer concentration
  • Other value drivers such as state-of-the-art operating systems
  • High level of preparedness

The article warns about the biggest obstacles for owners.  Business owners should consult with experienced deal attorneys and investment bankers before speaking to any buyers. They should also consult with advisors before the company goes on the market to make sure the business is properly prepared for sale. A business owner’s management team may also be subject to rigorous professional assessment and background checks if a private equity or financial buyer is interested.

Currently in the marketplace, buyers are offering amounts higher than the historical norms. This means that along with the higher sale prices, sellers are subject to more scrutiny through due diligence. This is all the more reason for a seller to be prepared and to work with experienced advisors to get their business ready for sale.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article from the Axial Forum entitled “5 Ways Sell-Side Customer Diligence Can Maximize Sale Prices” explains how third-party sell-side customer diligence has become increasingly more common and why it can help sellers maximize and justify sale prices. Here are the 5 ways this due diligence can help you get the best sale price:

  1. Determine if it’s the right time for a sale – Positive customer feedback can help reinforce the decision to sell, and neutral or negative feedback can help improve the company so it will be better prepared for a sale.
  2. Attract and persuade buyers – Your confidential information memorandum (CIM) will show how strong customer relationships are, how your market share has grown, how the business has become more competitive, and more.  Thorough documentation of the health of customer relationships will also help attract buyers.
  3. Control the message – Having the seller contact their customers reduces the risk of anyone being tipped off about the sale and also allows for the seller to provide a better interpretation of the results.
  4. Prove there is a clear path for future growth – Pre-sale due diligence can help justify the ways in which the company can grow in the future.
  5. Accelerate the timeline – Having customer diligence done ahead of time will speed up the process so the buyer doesn’t have to do it.

Sell-side due diligence gives the buyer a good overall assessment of customer relationships while also allowing the seller to control the process of the findings and substantiate their asking price.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article from Inc.com entitled “The Art of Finding the Right Buyer for Your Business” gives us three essential items to consider when selling a business.

 

  • Set goals – The first step is to set goals for the future of your business, yourself and your family. You’ll want to consider factors such as how the transaction will affect your employees, if you will continue on as a team member or transition out of the company, and what your overall goals for the company are. This will help you and your advisor customize the sale process.
  • Explore options – Be sure to know the difference between a private equity group and a strategic corporate buyer, and find out how they can benefit your business. There are also “family offices,” which are investors who manage the wealth of a family or multiple families, but they hold a business forever.
  • Keep an open mind – It’s especially important in the beginning to stay open to both types of buyers and find a good advisor who can help guide you towards the right buyer. Whether they are a financial buyer or a strategic buyer, you don’t know how they are going to handle the future of a company until you get to know them.

 

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article from the M&A Source entitled “Gold Rush: New Entrepreneurs Seek Search Funds to Finance Takeovers of Baby Boomer Businesses” explains how new entrepreneurs are looking for funding to take over businesses as the baby boomer generation starts to retire. There is currently an entrepreneurial generational gap with far less young entrepreneurs than there are baby boomers looking to sell. Healthy financial trends paired with recent tax reforms have contributed to making ideal conditions for the new generation of small business owners.

This new generation of entrepreneurs is coming from recent MBA graduates who are choosing to acquire a business instead of heading to Wall Street. Most notably, they are doing things differently when it comes to financing by turning to the search fund model which is seeing unprecedented growth as of late. This process known as entrepreneurship through acquisition (ETA) is also becoming increasingly popular in business schools which are now offering ETA programs.

It is believed that this trend is going to continue and that the timing is right. More schools are increasing awareness about it and the model will get easier as more baby boomers retire and sell their businesses. As more big money sources see this model gain popularity, there will be more money to support this growth as well.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article posted by Divestopedia entitled “Avoiding the Biggest Deal Killer: Time” tells us that the key to a successful deal is preparation and momentum. This means that the seller should be fully ready when the business hits the marketplace, not when the first offer is made.

To keep the momentum going, there are 14 factors to consider:

  1. Know when it is a good time to sell your business
  2. Know why you want to sell
  3. Know the company’s strengths and weaknesses
  4. Know what you will do after you sell your business
  5. Know the value of your business
  6. Have a realistic asking price
  7. Be sure you are current on all taxes
  8. Make sure operational details are organized and recorded
  9. Know that the business can operate without you
  10. Know your company’s place in the market
  11. Be prepared with accurate financial statements, tax returns, and financial reports
  12. Know that your team of trusted advisors is ready
  13. Have a growth and marketing plan for your buyer
  14. Know what is most important to you so you can stay focused on the key issues and not worry too much over minor details

Click here to read the full article.

Copyright:Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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The Importance of the Term Sheet

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The value of the term sheet shouldn’t be overlooked.  From buyers and sellers to advisors and intermediaries, the term sheet is often used before the creation of an actual purchase or sale agreement.  That stated, it is important that the term sheet is actually explained in detail.  Let’s take a closer look at its importance.

What is a Term Sheet?

Even though term sheets are quite important, they are rarely mentioned in books about the M&A process.  In the book, Streetwise Selling Your Business by Russ Robb, a term sheet is defined as, “Stating a price range with a basic structure of the deal and whether or not it includes real estate.”

Another way of looking at a term sheet, according to attorney and author Jean Sifleet, is that a term sheet serves to answer to four key questions: Who? What? Where? And How Much?

Creating the Right Environment

A good term sheet can help keep negotiations on target and everyone focused on what is important.  Sifleet warns against advisors, accountants and lawyers who rely heavily on boilerplate documents as well as those who adopt extreme positions or employ adversarial tactics.  The main goal should be to maintain a “win-win” environment.

At the end of the day, if a buyer and a seller have a verbal agreement on price and terms, then it is important to put that agreement down on payment.  Using the information can lead to a more formalized letter of intent.  The term sheet functions to help both parties, as well as their respective advisors, begin to shape a deal, taking it from verbal discussions to the next level.

Make Sure Your Term Sheet Has the Right Components

In the end, a term sheet is basically a preliminary proposal containing a variety of key information.  The term sheet outlines the price, as well as the terms and any major considerations.  Major considerations can include everything from consulting and employment agreements to covenants not to compete.

Term sheets are a valuable tool and when used in a judicious fashion, they can yield impressive results and help to streamline the buying and selling process.  Through the proper use of term sheets, an array of misunderstandings can be avoided and this, in turn, can help increase the chances of successfully finalizing a deal.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Around the Web: A Month in Summary

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A recent article posted on PR Newswire entitled “Business owners’ love of work may hinder succession planning” explains the parallels between the number of business owners with no plans to retire and the lack of succession planning. In a recent poll, over 70% of business owners said they are not planning to retire, don’t know when they will retire, or do not plan to retire for at least 11 years. The survey also reported that 2 out of 3 business owners do not have a succession plan or a clear understanding of the importance of one.

Even if there are no immediate plans for retiring, business owners should have a succession plan in place to protect the business, partners, employees and customers.  If something were to suddenly happen to the business owner such as serious illness or an untimely death, a succession plan would help make sure everything goes smooth with the transition of the business.

To get started with creating an exit plan, business owners can take 5 simple steps:

  1. Set goals & objectives
  2. Determine the value of your business
  3. Consider options for the business in the case of disability, retirement or death
  4. Develop a plan and documentation with an advisor, attorney and accountant
  5. Fund the plan

You never know when something unexpected could occur, so it’s never too early to start creating a succession plan.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article posted by Forbes entitled “Baby boomers are selling their businesses to millennial entrepreneurs, and it’s a brilliant idea” highlights the fact that many baby boomers will soon be looking to sell their businesses and this creates excellent business opportunities for millennials. Many of these baby boomer businesses are well established having no debt, loyal customers and proven business models which make them a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs to take over instead of letting the businesses close down.

Here are 7 places to start looking for these baby boomer businesses:

  1. Local chamber of commerce
  2. Local CPAs
  3. Local real estate brokers
  4. Local community bankers
  5. Business brokers
  6. Go directly to the business owner
  7. Craigslist or eBay

Overall, staying connected with local professionals in your area as well as being proactive in searching out businesses for sale will help you to find a great business opportunity. Once you find a legitimate business, find out if it’s making a profit. If so, ask why the owner wants to sell and if not, find out why.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article from Forbes entitled “Selling your business in 3 to 5 years? Buy another company now” explains how acquiring another company can significantly increase the value of your business before you decide to sell. The first thing to understand is that the multiple of earnings paid for a company increases at an accelerating rate with size. Larger EBITDA means larger multiples, and larger companies are generally less risky so a buyer is willing to pay more.

Acquiring another business may also amount to cost savings and operational improvements when the companies are integrated. Combine these savings with organic revenue growth and a larger multiplier when the companies are combined, and this can add up to a huge increase in your company’s value. So if you’re thinking of selling within 3-5 years, this could be a good strategy to consider.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article from the Denver Post entitled “Selling your business? Focus on the key business drivers so buyers pay top dollar” explains how focusing on certain key factors of your business can help you get the highest possible price when selling your business. Although many key business drivers vary among industries, there are four drivers that apply across the board:

  1. History of increasing revenues and profits over the past 3-5 years
  2. Strategic business plan that shows strong growth, competitive advantage, and products or services that can be sold across multiple industries
  3. Future cash flow including expected EBITDA performance, expected working capital investment requirements, and expected fixed-asset investment requirements
  4. Strong management team and strong operating systems in place

Business owners should get a detailed business audit and analysis from a business consultant so they can see where their business’s strengths and weaknesses are. This will show the owner what business drivers to focus on improving in order to get the highest price for their business.

Click here to read the full article.

 

A recent article posted on Divestopedia entitled “What Is Your Company Actually Worth?” explores how buyers and sellers often perceive a company’s worth differently and how business owners misjudge their company’s value. Private company valuation is a complex process and most owners have difficulty staying objective when it comes to a business in which they have put their life’s work into. On the other hand, to a buyer, the company is an asset to be acquired at the lowest possible price, which often leads to a large difference in perception between a buyer and seller.

An experience advisor can help negate these problems and make the sale process better for the owner for the following reasons:

  1. The business owner can focus on factors of the business which will increase the valuation such as EBITDA, sales, gross profit margins, customer growth and employee skills.
  2. The owner will get an extensive look at the financial health of their business from an advisor along with recommendations for improvement.
  3. An advisor will also be an experienced negotiator, helping the owner get the best sale price for the business.

The key to avoiding mistakes in selling a business starts off by getting an accurate valuation of the business and making sure everything is analyzed effectively to prepare for a profitable sale.

Click here to read the full article.

 

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Considerations When Selling…Or Buying

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Important questions to ask when looking at a business…or preparing to have your business looked at by prospective buyers.

• What’s for sale?  What’s not for sale?  Does it include real estate? Are some of the machines leased instead of owned?

• What assets are not earning money? Perhaps these assets should be sold off.

• What is proprietary? Formulations, patents, software, etc.?

• What is their competitive advantage? A certain niche, superior marketing or better manufacturing.

• What is the barrier of entry? Capital, low labor, tight relationships.

• What about employment agreements/non-competes? Has the seller failed to secure these agreements from key employees?

• How does one grow the business? Maybe it can’t be grown.

• How much working capital does one need to run the business?

• What is the depth of management and how dependent is the business on the owner/manager?

• How is the financial reporting undertaken and recorded and how does management adjust the business accordingly?

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

The Deal Is Almost Done — Or Is It?

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The Letter of Intent has been signed by both buyer and seller and everything seems to be moving along just fine. It would seem that the deal is almost done. However, the due diligence process must now be completed. Due diligence is the process in which the buyer really decides to go forward with the deal, or, depending on what is discovered, to renegotiate the price – or even to withdraw from the deal. So, the deal may seem to be almost done, but it really isn’t – yet!

It is important that both sides to the transaction understand just what is going to take place in the due diligence process. The importance of the due diligence process cannot be underestimated. Stanley Foster Reed in his book, The Art of M&A, wrote, “The basic function of due diligence is to assess the benefits and liabilities of a proposed acquisition by inquiring into all relevant aspects of the past, present, and predictable future of the business to be purchased.”

Prior to the due diligence process, buyers should assemble their experts to assist in this phase. These might include appraisers, accountants, lawyers, environmental experts, marketing personnel, etc. Many buyers fail to add an operational person familiar with the type of business under consideration. The legal and accounting side may be fine, but a good fix on the operations themselves is very important as a part of the due diligence process. After all, this is what the buyer is really buying.

Since the due diligence phase does involve both buyer and seller, here is a brief checklist of some of the main items for both parties to consider.

Industry Structure

Figure the percentage of sales by product line, review pricing policies, consider discount structure and product warranties; and if possible check against industry guidelines.

Human Resources

Review names, positions and responsibilities of the key management staff. Also, check the relationships, if appropriate, with labor, employee turnover, and incentive and bonus arrangements.

Marketing

Get a list of the major customers and arrive at a sales breakdown by region, and country, if exporting. Compare the company’s market share to the competition, if possible.

Operations

Review the current financial statements and compare to the budget. Check the incoming sales, analyze the backlog and the prospects for future sales.

Balance Sheet

Accounts receivables should be checked for aging, who’s paying and who isn’t, bad debt and the reserves. Inventory should be checked for work-in-process, finished goods along with turnover, non-usable inventory and the policy for returns and/or write-offs.

Environmental Issues

This is a new but quite complicated process. Ground contamination, ground water, lead paint and asbestos issues are all reasons for deals not closing, or at best not closing in a timely manner.

Manufacturing

This is where an operational expert can be invaluable. Does the facility work efficiently? How old and serviceable is the machinery and equipment? Is the technology still current? What is it really worth? Other areas, such as the manufacturing time by product, outsourcing in place, key suppliers – all of these should be checked.

Trademarks, Patents & Copyrights

Are these intangible assets transferable, and whose name are they in. If they are in an individual name – can they be transferred to the buyer? In today’s business world where intangible assets may be the backbone of the company, the deal is generally based on the satisfactory transfer of these assets.

Due diligence can determine whether the buyer goes through with the deal or begins a new round of negotiations. By completing the due diligence process, the buyer process insures, as far as possible, that the buyer is getting what he or she bargained for. The executed Letter of Intent is, in many ways, just the beginning.

Buying a Business – Some Key Consideration

  • What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Is real estate included? Is some of the machinery and/or equipment leased?
  • Is there anything proprietary such as patents, copyrights or trademarks?
  • Are there any barriers of entry? Is it capital, labor, intellectual property, personal relationships, location – or what?
  • What is the company’s competitive advantage – special niche, great marketing, state-of-the-art manufacturing capability, well-known brands, etc.?
  • Are there any assets not generating income and can they be sold?
  • Are agreements in place with key employees and if not – why not?
  • How can the business grow?  Or, can it grow?
  • Is the business dependent on the owner? Is there any depth to the management team?
  • How is the financial reporting handled? Is it sufficient for the business? How does management utilize it?

What Do Buyers Really Want to Know?

Before answering the question, it makes sense to first ask why people want to be in business for themselves. What are their motives? There have been many surveys addressing this question. The words may be different, but the idea behind them and the order in which they are listed are almost always the same.

  1. Want to do their own thing; to control their own destiny, so to speak.
  2. Do not want to work for anyone else.
  3. Want to make better use of their skills and abilities.
  4. Want to make money.

These surveys indicate that by far the biggest reason people want to be in business for themselves is to be their own boss. The first three reasons listed revolve around this theme. Some may be frustrated in their current job or position. Others may not like their current boss or employer, while still others feel that their abilities are not being used properly or sufficiently.

The important item to note is that money is reason number four. Although making money is certainly important and necessary, it is not the primary issue. Once a person decides to go into business for himself or herself, he or she has to explore the options. Starting a business is certainly one option, but it is an option fraught with risk. Buying an existing business is the method most people prefer. Purchasing a known entity reduces the risks substantially.

There are some key questions buyers want, or should want, answers to, once the decision to purchase an existing business has been made. Below are the primary ones; although a prospective buyer may not want answers to all of them, the seller should be prepared to respond to each one.

  • How much is the down payment?  Most buyers are limited in the amount of cash they have for a down payment on a business. After all, if cash were not an issue, they probably wouldn’t be looking to purchase a business in the first place.
  • Will the seller finance the sale of the business?  It can be difficult to finance the sale of a business; therefore, if the seller isn’t willing, he or she must find a buyer who is prepared to pay all cash. This is very difficult to do.
  • Why is the seller selling?  This is a very important question. Buyers want assurance that the reason is legitimate and not because of the business itself.
  • Will the owner stay and train or work with a new owner?  Many people buy a franchise because of the assistance offered. A seller who is willing, at no cost, to stay and to help with the transition is a big plus.
  • How much income can a new owner expect?  This may not be the main criterion, but it is obviously an important issue. A new owner has to be able to pay the bills – both business-wise and personally. And just as important as the income is the seller’s ability to substantiate it with financial statements or tax returns.
  • What makes the business different, unique or special?  Most buyers want to take pride in the business they purchase.
  • How can the business grow?  New owners are full of enthusiasm and want to increase the business. Some buyers are willing to buy a business that is currently only marginal if they feel there is a real opportunity for growth.
  • What doesn’t the buyer know?  Buyers, and sellers too, don’t like surprises. They want to know the good – and the bad – out front. Buyers understand, or should understand, that there is no such thing as a perfect business.

Years ago, it could be said that prospective buyers of businesses had only four questions:

  1. Where is the business?
  2. How much is it?
  3. How much can I make?
  4. Why is it for sale?

In addition to asking basic questions, today’s buyer wants to know much more before investing in his or her own business. Sellers have to able to answer not only the four basic questions, but also be able to address the wider range of questions outlined above.

Despite all of the questions and answers, what most buyers really want is an opportunity to achieve the Great American Dream – owning one’s own business!

Key Factors on the Acquirer’s Side

There are several key factors on the acquirer’s side of a sale, most of which are necessary to achieve a successful closing. Just as a seller has to deal with quite a few factors, the acquirer must also. Some of the more important ones on the acquisition side are:

  • Sufficient financial resources to complete the deal as specified.
  • Depth of capable staff to run the existing business and also execute an acquisition at the same time.
  • A rational approach to the type, size and geographic location of target companies.
  • The willingness to “pay-up” for acquisitions such as 6x EBITDA and, if necessary, the willingness to pay 100% cash, whether the sale is one of assets or a stock transaction.
  • Assuming the acquisition search generates satisfactory deal flow, a willingness to stay the course for 6 to 12 months in the search process.
  • A confirmation by the board of directors of their commitment to complete a deal.
  • A “point person” in the search process, preferably the CEO, CFO or Director of Development who is reachable on a daily basis to discuss relevant matters.
  • Complete access to sales manager and others by the business intermediary to discuss suggestions of target companies.

Buying or Selling a Business: The External View

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There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.

 

Advantages of Buying an Existing Business

1. Established.

An existing business is a known entity. It has an established and historical track record. It has a customer or client base, established vendors, and suppliers. It has a physical location and has furniture, fixtures, and equipment all in place.  The term “turnkey operation” is overused, but an existing business is just that, plus everything else. New franchises may offer a so-called turnkey business, but it ends there. Start-ups are starting from scratch.

2. Business Relationships. 

In addition to the existing relationships with customers or clients, vendors, and suppliers, most businesses also have experienced employees who are a valuable asset. Buyers may already have established relationships with banks, insurance companies, printers, advertisers, professional advisors, etc., but if not, the existing owner does have these relationships, and they can readily be transferred.

3. Not “A Pig in a Poke”. 

Starting a new business is just that: “a pig in a poke.” No matter how much research, time, and money are invested, there is still a big risk in starting a business from scratch.  The existing business has a financial track record and established policies and procedures. A prospective buyer can see the financial history of the business — when sales are the highest and lowest, what the real expenses of the business are, how much money an owner can make, etc. Also, in almost all cases, a seller is more than willing to stay to teach and work with the new owner — sometimes free of charge.

4. Price and Terms.  

The seller has everything in place. The business is in operation and a price is established. Opening a new business from scratch can be the proverbial “money pit.”  When purchasing an established business, the buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting for his money. In most cases, the seller is also willing to take a reasonable down payment and then finance the balance of the purchase price.

5. The “Unwritten” Guarantee.

By financing the purchase price, the seller is saying that he or she is confident that the business will be able to pay its bills, support the new owner, plus make any required payments to the seller.

Today’s Business Buyer

For a business to sell, there has to be a seller – and a buyer. The buyer of today is a bit different than the one of yesterday. Today’s buyer is not a risk-taker, is concerned about the financials, and seems to be overly concerned about price. Unfortunately, buyers have to understand that they cannot buy someone else’s financial statements. The statements might be a good indication of what a new buyer can do with the business, but everyone does things differently. It is these differences that ultimately determine how the business will do. The price may not be the right question for the buyer to ask. What is usually the most important question is how much cash is required to buy it.

Today’s buyer is finicky, due certainly in part to the fact that, he or she is not a risk taker. Quite a few buyers enter the business buying process and, at the last minute, cannot make the leap of faith that is necessary to conclude the sale. The primary reason that buyers actually buy is not for the reason one might think. Money or income is about third, maybe even fourth on the list.

Buyers buy because they are tired of working for someone else. They want to control their own lives. In some cases, they have lost their job, or are being transferred to a place that they don’t want to move to, or are very unhappy in their job. Surveys indicate that about half of the people in the county are unhappy in their jobs. People buy a business to change their lifestyle. A recent newspaper article quoted a very successful business woman, who left her job and bought a book store because she was “looking for a change, a way to be more rooted and be at home more.”

The make-up of a typical buyer

The typical small business buyer usually has many of the following traits:

  • 90 percent are first-time buyers. In other words, they have never been in business before.
  • Almost all of them are looking to replace a job. Business brokers primarily sell income substitution.
  • Most buyers will have about $50,000 to $100,000 in liquid funds to use as a down payment.
  • Most buyers are looking at businesses priced at about $100,000 to $250,000.
  • Most buyers will not have sufficient funds to pay cash for a business.
    Obviously, many other types of people go through the process of looking for a business. However, those buyers who will eventually purchase a business have most of the characteristics outlined above. Going a step further, the serious prospective buyer usually possesses the attributes described below:

Who is a serious buyer?

  • Has the necessary funds and they are readily available
  • Can make their own decisions
  • Is flexible in the type and location of a business he or she will consider
  • Has a realistic and sincere need to buy
  • Has a reasonably urgent (within three to four months) need to buy a business
  • Is cooperative and willing to listen

Sellers should take a second look at those who express interest in their business. If the prospect has very few of the above traits, perhaps the seller should move on to the next potential buyer. On the other hand, if you are a buyer, or think you are, take a second look at the traits of the serious buyer. If you don’t have many of them, you may not be as serious as you think. You might want to rethink the reasons for owning a business and be sure that this is the right decision for you.