There is no doubt that buying a business can be a very exciting idea; however, it is critical that prospective buyers don’t lose track of what is truly important. Let’s explore the five most important steps that any buyer needs to take when evaluating a business. The simple fact is that as a buyer, you have no choice but to look beyond the sizzle and work to find the steak. In other words, it’s essential to determine the true worth of a given business.
#1 – Evaluate What is Actually Being Sold
No buyer should assume that he or she understands everything that is, or is not, being sold when buying a business. One of the most important tasks for any buyer is to carefully evaluate the business under consideration and invest the time to understand what the business does and what is included in the sale. This is a task that your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will perform as well.
#2 – Understand Business Performance
Understanding the performance of a business can be more complex than it initially appears. On one hand, the numbers don’t lie, and it is possible to quickly evaluate the bottom line.
However, in the process of evaluating the business, you and your Business Broker or M&A Advisor might discover that there are many flexible factors that could quickly alter how well the business performs. For example, you’ll want to take into account the number of hours the current business owner is working and if key employees are contributing enough to the business. These are just two of a wide variety of factors that could influence overall performance.
#3 – Look at the Financials
Ultimately, there is no replacement for understanding the current financials of a business. Perhaps a business has all the potential in the world, and you can easily see that potential. However, remember that almost all buyers must obtain financing; this means that it is usually critical that the business has strong financials in its current state. Before considering any business, you and your team of professionals will want to carefully evaluate profit and loss statements, tax returns, balance sheets, and other important financial documents.
#4 – Evaluate the Business Plan
Understanding the current owner’s goals and what steps they’ve outlined to achieve those goals is a key step. As a new owner, you’ll want to know that there is a path forward for growing your business, and a business plan is essential for achieving that goal.
#5 – Look at the Demographics
One of the single best ways to grow your business is to understand your customers. For this reason, it is important that you have a clear understanding of the demographics of the business and why customers should remain loyal. If there are challenges on the horizon, such as an expanding competitor or new competitor entering the arena, then you’ll want to know this information as well.
Evaluating a business is not a simple process. Working closely with a brokerage professional who has years of experience in evaluating all types of businesses is essential. This is an excellent first step towards buying the right business for your needs.
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When buying or selling a business, it is critically important that you evaluate the lease. It is a strange phenomenon that otherwise savvy business people will treat leases as a secondary concern. However, problematic terms in a lease can literally force you to pack up a business and move. This would not only be a jarring experience, but a very costly one as well.
Finding a good location is of paramount importance to both the profile and profitability of your business. You may feel that there are more important issues when buying or selling a business. But by the end of this article, you’ll see the wisdom in placing a lease near the top of your “to evaluate” list.
There are three different kinds and types of leases: a new lease, an assignment lease and the sublease. All three of these options are most definitely different from one another and can potentially impact your business in different ways.
The New Lease
A new lease, as the name indicates, is the result of a lease that has expired. That means that the buyer must work with the landlord to establish a new lease. Buying a business only to discover that you don’t have a lease and the landlord isn’t interested in keeping your business at its current location is most definitely a shock that no business owners want to encounter. Buyers should be one-hundred percent certain that they have a lease in place before they buy a business.
Assignment of Lease
The second type of lease is the assignment of lease; this form of lease is quite common. It involves the buyer of a business being granted the use of the location where the business is currently located and operating. Through the assignment of the lease, the seller is able to assign the buyer the rights associated with the lease. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the seller is not acting as the landlord, but instead, simply has the ability to assign the lease.
The third option for lease is the sublease. The sublease is basically a lease within a lease, and it comes with some important distinctions that must be understood. A sublease generally requires the permission of the landlord and that permission should not be viewed as a “foregone conclusion” or “automatic.”
The bottom line is that no new business owner wants to discover that their new business doesn’t have a home. There are an array of very important issues to work out when buying a business, and it is critically important that buyers never overlook what kind of lease is involved. A savvy seller will highlight what kind of lease they have, especially if the terms are favorable. But buyers should always be proactive and ask questions about the status of the lease and make certain that lease terms are clearly defined.
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There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.
The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?
The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”
Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.
Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.
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Most people think of starting a business from scratch, developing an idea, building a company from the ground up. Starting from scratch, however, has its disadvantages including – developing a customer base, marketing the business, hiring employees and creating cash flow … without any history or reputation to rely on.
To avoid these challenges, buying an existing business may prove to be the better solution. Buying an existing business has its advantages – including, but not limited to:
The Business Is Established.
An existing business is a known entity. It has an established and historical track record. It has a customer or client base, established vendors, and suppliers. It has a physical location with furniture, fixtures, and equipment in place. The term “turnkey operation” may be overused, but an existing business is just that, and more. New franchises may offer a so-called turnkey business opportunity, but it ends there. Start-ups are starting from scratch with all the disadvantages stated above.
The Business Has Existing Relationships.
In addition to the existing relationships with customers or clients, vendors, and suppliers, most businesses also have experienced employees who are valuable assets to the company. A buyer may already have established relationships with banks, insurance companies, printers, advertisers, professional advisors, etc., but if not – the existing business/owner does, and they can readily be transferred to the buyer as part of the acquisition.
The Business Isn’t “A Pig in a Poke”.
Starting a new business is just that: “a pig in a poke.” No matter how much research, time, and money you invest, there’s still a big risk in starting a business from scratch. An existing business has a financial track record along with established policies and procedures. A prospective buyer can see the financial history of a business – when sales are high and low, what the true expenses of the business are, and how much money an owner can make, and more. Also, in almost all cases, a seller is more than willing to stay on to teach and work with a new owner – sometimes free of charge.
An Existing Business Comes with A Price and Terms.
As stated above, an existing business has everything in place. The business is in operation and typically has an established selling price. Opening a new business from scratch comes with a great degree of uncertainty and can become a proverbial “money pit”. When purchasing an established business, a buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting for their money. In many cases, a seller is also willing to take a reasonable down payment and then finance the balance of the purchase price.
The “Unwritten” Guarantee.
By financing the purchase price, a seller is saying that he or she is confident that the business will be able to pay its bills, support the new owner, plus make any required payments to the seller.
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We work closely with our clients to preserve the integrity of deals so that they have the best chance of a successful closing. An often-overlooked aspect of the process is understanding and embracing human psychology. In this article, we will explore some of the most common ways that psychology comes into play.
The Element of Time
It is critical that both buyers and sellers feel well prepared at every stage of the process. It is also essential that a certain momentum is established through every stage of the deal. When too many delays happen, this can start to derail deals.
Think about the Buyer and the Seller
For both parties, the buying or selling of a business is a life-changing event. For this reason, it is important that you invest the time to think about the point of view of the other people involved. No doubt, buying and selling can be stressful, so it’s important to take other people’s thoughts and feelings into account. You are not the only one who may be experiencing a little stress.
The Issue of Non-Active Partners
In some deals, non-active partners can pose challenges to finalizing deals. They often have different motivations than the seller who is in the role of running the business. In a situation where two sellers have divergent goals, it can pose a challenge to a deal. The best thing to do is to try to understand the point of view of each seller and help them both reach their respective goals.
Influencers and recommenders can have a powerful sway over both buyers and sellers. By influencers, this could mean accountants, lawyers, relatives, etc. In order for a deal to go through successfully, often these influencers must be identified and their viewpoints must be addressed. On a practical level, there are also other people involved that can interfere with a deal, such as landlords. It’s important to make sure that these individuals feel as though they will benefit from the success of the deal as well.
There are many moving parts needed to get to the finishing line. Human psychology plays a huge role in what decisions get made. It’s vitally important to take the time to consider what others involved in the deal might be thinking or doing. Your Business Broker or M&A Advisor will benefit you by getting to know all parties involved and taking the appropriate actions to ensure things are done to the satisfaction of all parties.
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