Our industry sometimes gets a bad rap, but as professionals who deal with other business brokers on a daily basis – we get it.
Like any industry, there are great brokers who excel at their job, and then there are those who are not so great. This article is meant as a peek into the business broker world and a quick education of what business brokers (should) do with the hope of helping business buyers and sellers choose a professional who will be a help – not a hindrance.
For starters, what is a business broker? A business broker is someone who assists business buyers and business sellers with the business transaction process. They (depending on the state) are licensed and insured to do this type of work, and although the business world is very different than the real estate world – they are often licensed as real estate brokers.
You can liken what a broker does to the buying and selling of homes, but with some MAJOR differences. First, business brokers aren’t typically selling property. They are selling existing businesses, and most businesses don’t own the property where they are located – they lease it from someone else. Second, the marketing and sales process for a business is very different from the same process for a house. For example, business sales are inherently much more complex and the for-sale status of a business must be kept in the strictest confidentiality (businesses for sale are perceived to be businesses on the verge of failure, which is rarely the case – and without confidentiality the whole staff might quit, clients might cancel contracts, etc.).
A business broker is hired by a business seller to list their business on the business market, and also hired by business buyers to help them find and then purchase a business. The commission paid to a broker (or brokers) involved is typically paid as a percentage of the final sale price by the seller.
Not all business buyers who come into the market end up buying a business, in fact the rate is probably something like 10% of those who inquire about businesses actually end up buying. For this reason, many buyers find it difficult to get the attention of brokers and sellers until they are forthcoming about their financial information and are ready to make serious offers.
Not all businesses that get listed on the market sell, this is also just a fact of the industry. The average rate most brokers hold is somewhere between 20-25% of businesses they list actually sell. If that rate sounds abysmal to you, we agree. Ours is typically closer to 60%, and most good brokers will be in that range. Why don’t businesses sell? Why isn’t the rate higher?
There are a litany of reasons why businesses don’t sell. Some businesses are priced way too high right out of the gate, and as such won’t sell because they are far outside the range of what the market will allow. In some cases the sellers refuse to take anything but a full-price, all-cash offer, which almost never happens. Some brokers take listings just to load up on potential calls, but do little to nothing to actually sell all of the businesses they list. We see “marketing packages” that consist of three poorly photocopied pages of old tax returns and nothing else. We deal with brokers (and sometimes sellers too) who rarely, if ever, respond to requests for information. In other cases, a business may not sell because of the time constraints of the sale on the seller’s side. If you have a very niche business, you will need to wait for a very niche buyer. Even if you don’t have a niche business, patience is necessary as most businesses take somewhere between 9 to 12 months to get from listing to closing.
Now that you have an idea of how the business of buying and selling businesses works, how do you pick a good broker instead of a bad one? Ask questions. Lots of them. A good broker will have no problem supplying you with answers.
If you are a seller, ask to see what a typical marketing package looks like. If you’re a buyer, see how quickly your requests for information and phone calls are returned. Ask any broker what percentage of their clients come from referrals (a high percentage here is a great sign). When you listen to answers to your questions, is the broker being honest with you, or are they just telling you what you want to hear? How important is confidentiality to this broker? How many closings do they typically have a year? Does this broker have their own shop, or are they a part of a much bigger company (and if part of a big company, are the numbers of businesses closed and number of listings just theirs, or are they including the corporate numbers)? Are they properly licensed and insured to do this type of work? Is this person only a business broker, or is this a side job that they don’t focus on?
The help of a good business broker can mean the difference between success and failure in the business market, so ask questions. Once you’ve found a good broker you can work with – listen to their advice. A good (or great) broker is there to help you, and by helping you and others like you, help the small business community they depend on.
Are you a seller who wants to help your business sell with the right help? Are you a buyer who’s had trouble getting attention from anyone in the business? Do you have more questions about the business buying and selling process? Contact us today or leave us a question or comment. We would be happy to help.