After consulting with California business buyers for over eighteen years I highly encourage them to have a "buying a business checklist", an important tool if they are serious about purchasing a company and not wasting a lot of time looking.
Only 20% of all potential business buyers within California actually end up purchasing a small business.
I have found that the failure to buy a business can be chalked up to not following the proven suggestions listed below.
The main items that should go into that checklist are:
1. Getting personally prepared: This includes putting together a buyer profile, including financial statement, description of what you want, and a resume summarizing your work experience. These documents demonstrate you are a "real" buyer, deserving of cooperation from sellers, business brokers, and agents. The information is personal, of course, and should only be shown to sellers who have a business you might want, or brokers whom you believe are honest and professional. Willingness to be upfront about your interests and capabilities will immediately separate you from the majority of people searching for business opportunities but, for one reason or another, will never complete a purchase. Another preparation strategy is to apply for an SBA-backed loan pre-qualification. Buyers who do this find out how much money they will have to work with, and can gain a competitive advantage over buyers who look for a business first, and look for money second.
2. Organizing a team: The purchaser who has a lawyer and accountant listed on his or her buying a business checklist will be in a position to move quickly once an interesting business is found. This means of course that the professionals are ready to be of service--the lawyer helping with language in the contracts and protecting you from problems, the accountant to help value a business and conduct due diligence. While other buyers interested in a particular business are trying to find the professional help they'll need to proceed, the entrepreneur who has taken care of that step will be able to move more quickly than competing purchasers.
3. Cast a wide net. The more businesses you're aware of, the better the chances of encountering just the right offering in a short period of time. That means working with more than one broker, answering for sale by owner ads, even posting a business wanted to buy request.
4. Respect the sellers' requests for confidentiality. And be ready to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Showing that you are honest and "above board" will earn the cooperation of sellers. And without that, it's nearly impossible to buy a business.
5. Try for a win-win in negotiations with someone whose business you'd like to buy. The purchaser who wants to beat a seller in the price and terms aspects of a deal, might find he's taken "round one" but then when extra help is needed--a bit longer to pay off the note or advice about some confusing aspect of running the company--the seller will be unwilling to accommodate.
6. Pay attention to the details when a transaction is in escrow. After all the work and excitement as you come to the end of the buying a business checklist, it's a shame to lose a deal over some issue that might have been avoided had you noticed a developing problem and taken action right away. Make certain the escrow holder is competent and is doing everything that was promised.
Buying a small business is not rocket science, but it can be rather complicated and detailed. Make sure to be fully prepared, and that includes making up a buying a business checklist before you answer the first business for sale ad!
About This Contributor: Peter Siegel, MBA is the Founder & Senior Advisor (ProBuy & ProSell Programs) at BizBen.com (established 1994, 8000+ CA businesses for sale, 500 new & refreshed postings/posts daily) working with buyers, business owners/sellers, business brokers, agents, investors, and advisors). Reach him direct at 866-270-6278 or 888-212-4747 to discuss strategies regarding buying, selling, (or financing a puchase of) California businesses.