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.”
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!
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?
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.
Statistics reveal that out of about 15 would-be business buyers, only one will actually buy a business. It is important that potential sellers be knowledgeable on what buyers go through to actually become business owners. This is especially true for those who have started their own business or have forgotten what they went thorough prior to buying their business.
If a prospective business buyer is employed, he or she has to make the decision to leave that job and go into business for and by himself. There is also the financial commitment necessary to actually invest in a business and any subsequent loans that are a result of the purchase. The new owner will likely need to execute a lease or assume an existing one, which is another financial commitment. These financial obligations are almost always guaranteed personally by the new owner.
The prospective business owner must also be willing to make that “leap of faith” that is so necessary to becoming a business owner. There is also the matter of family and personal responsibilities. Business ownership, aside from being a large financial consideration, is very time consuming, especially for the new business owner.
All of these factors have to be weighed very carefully by anyone that is considering business ownership. Buyers should think carefully about the risks – and the rewards. Sellers should also put themselves in a buyer’s position. The services of a professional business broker or intermediary can help determine the relative pros and cons of the transaction.