Business Broker

Definition: A professional who assists in the buying and selling of businesses

The principal value of a business broker is to act as a buffer between the buyer and the seller. A broker can say certain things to a buyer and certain things to a seller and wind up with a productive discussion. The broker can tell the owner the price is too high, relay what has to be done to make a deal--very openly and candidly--and discuss how the differences in viewpoint can be ironed out effectively.

If you're in the market to buy an existing business, a broker can help you find businesses for sale that fit your parameters, including location, industry and size. The broker will typically charge you a commission of 5 to 10 percent of the purchase price, but the assistance brokers can offer, especially for first-time buyers, is often worth the cost. However, if you're trying to save money, you might want to consider hiring a broker only when you're near the final negotiating phase. Brokers can offer assistance in several ways:

  • Prescreening businesses for you. Good brokers turn down many of the businesses they're asked to sell, either because the seller won't provide full financial disclosure or because the business is overpriced. Going through a broker helps you avoid these bad risks.

  • Helping you pinpoint your interests. A good broker starts by finding out about your skills and interests, then helps you select the right business for you. With the help of a broker, you may discover that an industry you had never considered is the ideal one for you.

  • Negotiating. During the negotiating process is when brokers really earn their keep. They help both parties stay focused on the ultimate goal and smooth over problems.

  • Assisting with paperwork. Brokers know the latest laws and regulations affecting everything from licenses and permits to financing and escrow. They also know the most efficient ways to cut through red tape, which can slash months off the purchase process. Working with a broker reduces the risk that you'll neglect some crucial form, fee or step in the process.

When it comes to selling your business, finding the right buyer can be time-consuming and daunting if you try to do it yourself. A seasoned business broker can read the market, knows who's buying what and who's got resources, and can weed out the so-called "tire kickers" from serious buyers with sufficient financial resources who are well-suited to run a business like yours. They will also ensure that news of the sale remains confidential, that loyal customers, staff, vendors and suppliers find out only when you're ready to let them know.

Then there are administrative issues. An experienced business broker knows what paperwork to file, and when. They also coordinate efforts between lawyers, CPAs, bankers, insurance agents and others.

While it costs money to contract with a broker to sell your business, think of the commission you'd pay him or her as a kind of insurance. Your broker will protect your investment in the business by placing the proper value on your business, finding the right buyer, getting you the best price possible, protecting the confidentiality of the sale, handling all negotiations, ensuring that all transactions are legal, and seeing that the transition to new ownership is as wrinkle-free as possible.

Brokers' fees generally range anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the selling price of the business, depending on negotiations with the broker, state laws and other factors. This is usually money well spend, because the broker can usually get more money for the business, make negotiations run smoothly, handle a lot of clerical and other details, and make a sale possible, whereas an individual business seller might not be able to accomplish all these things.

One of the key functions of a business broker is to act as a cushion between the buyer and the

seller and negotiate the details of the deal at a time when emotions can, and do, run high. A small business is often one of the biggest assets a business owner has, one which he or she has spent considerable time and money building. An experienced broker knows how to price a business and can toot the business's horn in a way you might not be able to. The buyer can ask the broker pointed questions that might be difficult to ask you directly and get the answers he or she needs. The broker can also help answer any questions or resolve any problems that develop during the course of the sale.

When it comes to choosing a business broker, make sure there's good chemistry between you and your broker and that the two of you communicate well. You're paying your broker to look out for your interests, negotiate successfully on your behalf, and complete the transaction in a timely and professional manner.

To find a business broker to help you sell your business, take these steps:

  • Check newspaper ads under "Business Opportunities." Look in your local and regional papers, as well as in The Wall Street Journal. You'll frequently see businesses for sale under this heading, and just as prospective buyers are invited to inquire about these businesses, prospective sellers should also check out who's facilitating these sales.

  • Look in the Yellow Pages under "Real Estate" or "Business Brokers." Be sure to find a broker who specializes in selling businesses, not simply real estate. Don't let the broker list your business on a realtor's multiple listing service. Any broker who wants to do this isn't willing to devote the time and work necessary to sell your business.

  • Ask for referrals. Ask other business owners who've sold businesses who they worked with. Your local chamber of commerce can also provide referrals to business brokers, as can your banker, CPA, attorney, and financial planner.

Once you find a broker to work with, sign a contract that specifies what kind of advertising your broker will do and that the name of the business will not appear in any ads or other promotion.

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