If you are in the early stages of buying a business you will notice that the process of buying a business is unlike the process to buy anything else. You have to sign non-disclosure agreements. You have to provide financial statements. You have to disclose your full name and physical home address – all before you can even find out what the name of any business is. If it seems a little intrusive, you aren’t alone in feeling that way. Many first-time business buyers feel that way too. We get it, but your disclosure of a very small amount of information is about to give you access to potentially business-ending information. It’s more than a fair trade off.
What’s business ending about finding out the name of a business you might want to buy?
Existing businesses depend on the confidentiality of the business transaction process to protect themselves.
From what? Damaging misconceptions.
When the average person hears that a business is for sale, they automatically assume that said business is for sale because something is catastrophically wrong. Why would anyone sell a great business, right? Now imagine what the staff think. Am I about to be out of a job? Is the place I work going out of business? If we get a new owner will they fire everyone?
A business who has their for-sale status disclosed to the wrong people by a breach of confidentiality may face devastating consequences. The entire staff can quit en-masse. Regular clientele can find somewhere else to go. Vendors can cancel key contracts. Competitors can move in for the kill.
To protect businesses from these consequences everyone in a business transaction must agree to hold the for-sale status of the business secret for the duration of the business transaction. As a buyer, you will be required to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that say this, and carry with them legal repercussions if you breach confidentiality. A non-disclosure agreement gets tied to an individual by using that person’s legal name and physical address. There might be 10 guys named John Smith in your town, but there’s only one John Smith who lives at 123 Main Street.
After you sign the NDA, you will be given access to not only the name and location of the business – you will also be given access to information like proprietary business practices, tax returns, contracts, employee records and the like. A seller is trusting you with a huge amount of potentially damaging information (if it fell into the wrong hands), so divulging who you are and where you live is more than a fair trade off.
In some cases a seller or the commercial landlord will require financial statements as well. These are used to prove that you have the financial means to buy the business and you aren’t just kicking tires. Again, providing proof of financial means pales in comparison to the amount of information your cooperation with the process gives you access to.
It can be tempting to fight transaction protections by trying to alter NDAs or by refusing to provide financial disclosures. Don’t. NDAs are standard in this industry and can not be changed. Refusing to sign one or demanding changes before you do will result in business brokers and business sellers refusing to work with you. The same goes for those who want to be cagey about providing financial disclosures. Refusing to cooperate with the process means your business transaction is over. Period. The business transaction process exists to protect the businesses that are changing hands, and every step in that process is a tried and true way to keep everyone in the deal protected.
You wouldn’t want a business you hope to buy destroyed by the careless buyer who came before you, or by a future buyer when you decide to sell – so everyone has to play along in order for the business transaction process to work as intended. Be prepared to cooperate, and the process will work for everyone – including you.
Are you looking at businesses and want to know more about the transaction process? Do you have questions about the NDA? Ask us! Leave any questions or comments and we would be happy to help.
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