Selling Your Business Yourself? NOT a Good Idea

The independent business owner who decides to sell is at the threshold of a major process involving the emotions as well as the marketplace. In many cases, the business for sale represents the seller's life work. Being the independent type to begin with--as well as someone who knows about deals and sales--the tempting notion sometimes arises: Why don't I handle the sale of my business myself? Those sellers with similar temptations should first take a look at the steps necessary for the successful business sale--and at the advantages of taking those steps in tandem with the best possible professional guide.

Preparing the business for sale. What looks good or just fine to the seller could make quite the opposite impression on prospective buyers. The weathered sign out front that the seller thinks is "rustic" might strike a buyer as in need of a fresh coat of paint. On the other hand, improvements planned by the seller may be either unnecessary or wrongly-conceived. In either case, sellers would be wise to rely on the advice of a business broker--a professional with experience in dealing regularly with buyers and with the objectivity required to set the business scene to its best advantage. Of course, preparing a business for sale goes beyond outward appearances. Ultimately, a business will sell according to the numbers. A business intermediary can be invaluable in helping the seller provide financial records that are clear and up-to-date.

Pricing and evaluation. All sellers naturally want to get the best possible price for their business. However, they also need to be realistic about the true value of the company for sale and to understand that price is, in fact, dictated by the marketplace. To determine the best price, a professional business broker will use industry-tested valuation techniques, including ratios based on sales of similar businesses, as well as the historical data of the type of business for sale.

Marketing and advertising. The professional business broker is key to the marketing of a business. He or she will prepare a marketing strategy and offer advice about essential marketing tools: everything from a business description to newspaper advertising. Business brokers, through their data bases of buyer prospects, professional associations and other networks, can get the word out about the business far more effectively than any owner could manage on an individual basis.

Presenting the business. The professional business broker is experienced in handling the typical objections and negative "readings" many typical buyers will raise. Does the business lack parking space? Is its location less than ideal? The business broker has the skills to balance negatives with positives, or to point out that what appears to be a disadvantage is not always the case. In addition to skill, a business broker also offers the seller convenience. Sellers often fail to visualize the number of buyer calls they would have to field if handling the sale on their own. The business owner working with a broker can continue managing his or her business at the same time the selling process is underway.

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Negotiating the business sale transaction. The business broker will be the most vital advisor to sellers during any stage of the sale transaction. Steeped in knowledge about negotiating price, terms, and other key aspects of the sale, the broker will guide the seller each step of the way. During the early stages, while the buyer is still considering making an offer, the broker is the ideal person to follow up and keep the deal running smoothly. Sellers working alone could lose bargaining effectiveness by doing the follow-up themselves.

Mastering the paperwork. Even though business owners handle mountains of paperwork as a part of doing business, few of them have had training in the specialized contracts and forms required for the sale of a business. The business broker is an expert at sales transaction details. This expertise will help guard against delays, problems, and--that worst of all possible worlds--the "wrecked" deal.

Qualifying buyers. The business broker will determine the right buyer for the right business, focusing on those prospects who are financially qualified and who are genuinely (or potentially) interested in the type of business for sale. For locating and qualifying prospective buyers, a business broker uses computerized databases to access comprehensive lists of local, national and international buyers--all to increase the chances of selling a business at peak value. And, almost as important, to avoid wasting the seller's valuable time.

Maintaining privacy and confidentiality. When a business broker is involved in the sale, bringing to the business only those prospective buyers who qualify, it is also easier to maintain confidentiality during the selling process. Until a purchase-and-sale agreement has been signed, most sellers do not want the word to reach their customers, competitors, employees, or even their bankers. A business broker helps by using nonspecific descriptions of the business, by requiring signatures on strict confidentiality agreements, by screening all prospects, sometimes phasing the release of information to match the growing evidence of buyer sincerity and trustworthiness.

Professional business brokers provide all these vital services, and more, for the seller of a business. This is one time where "do-it-yourself" just can't measure up--in terms of money, time, and the general success of the sale.

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