What Separates the Good Business Broker From the Bad?

Over the years, I’ve heard a million horror stories from business owners about their experiences with some of the “fly by night” business brokers out there. It’s always the same names and it always makes me wonder, “How did you get hooked up with these people? Why did you hire them?” I mean, I’ve seen some of their work and it’s TERRIBLE!

So, of course I feel bad for the business owner and I begin to question my ability to market my business brokerage services. If only I had been there first. If only these folks knew to call me or one of the other good credible brokers out there rather than the yahoo they ended up using. Yes, you heard me right; there are a lot of good credible business brokers out there. The problem is, there are a lot of bad, unqualified brokers out there as well. I’m in the business so it’s easy for me to tell the difference. But how can you, as the business owner, tell the difference?

Well, that’s a tough question to answer but I’ve been giving it some from thought and I’ve decided that the most important factors that separate the good business brokers from the bad are:

1. Ethics – most horror stories I hear are a result of a lack of ethics by the broker. This is unfortunate and disgraceful in my opinion. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to test a broker’s ethics. My best recommendation is to make sure they’ve achieved their CBI (Certified Business Intermediary) designation from the IBBA (International Business Brokers Association). All CBI’s agree to adhere to the IBBA’s Standards of Professional Conduct and the Code of Ethics. I know acceptance of a code doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s a good start. The second thing I would recommend is to check references. This can be tricky. Like any good job applicant, when you ask for references you will get handed the happiest and most satisfied clients that the broker is confident will put in a good word. So, to me this is a waste of time. Instead, why not call the other professionals in your area. It takes more than just the broker to do a deal. It’s takes an accountant and attorney as well. Call your accountant, have your friends call their accountants, same with your attorney and their attorneys. Not all accountants and attorneys will be close to the transaction marketplace (they tend to specialize) but they will ask around. Chances are they probably work with, know of, or went to school with another accountant or attorney that is involved in transactions. If you’re willing to put some time into checking credentials, sooner or later you will find your answers.

2. Candor / Honesty – Again, this can be difficult to judge for the untrained eye. But, what does your gut tell you? Are you receiving vague answers to your questions? Or, is the business broker you’re interviewing willing to sit down with you and answer every question that you have to the best of their ability, sometimes going above and beyond? If this is the case, usually it’s because they have nothing to hide. And, as a result, don’t have to tiptoe around your questions.

3. Pricing Ability – Being open, honest and ethical is only part of the game. It’s equally as important that the business broker be educated on matters of business valuation. One of the most important factors in selling a business is pricing it right. A mispriced business will either never sell (if overpriced) or fly off the market (if underpriced). Both situations are bad news for you as the business seller. If it’s overpriced it will sit on the market, get stigmatized and be difficult to sell even with a different broker. If it’s underpriced you will not maximize your retirement money. Make sure you ask the business broker you are interviewing if they know how to price a business. Moreover, make them prove it. Ask them to explain the three different approaches to value (Asset, Income and Market). If they don’t know what you’re talking about, RUN!! Ask for samples of the broker’s pricing analyses. Don’t settle for a broker that answers, “I can’t provide that it’s confidential”. Every broker can cleanse some samples and make them generic. Take them home. Review them, see if you would buy the business they present to you. Show it to your accountant and your attorney. Get their thoughts. If you’re not sure whether you’re looking at quality work or not, chances are your accountant or attorney will.

4. Marketing Ability – Remember at the end of the day, your small business is a non-marketable entity. You can’t go online, click a button and get rid of it. Someone has to actively create a market for your business. Ask the broker you are interviewing, “How do you plan to market my business?” Sit back and listen. If all they say is, “I’m going to post it on the internet,” RUN!! You can post it on the internet. For the fee the broker is taking, make sure they’re adding value. Dig deep on this subject. You won’t need to be a marketing guru to determine if the broker has a developed process that works.

5. Reputation – Part of investigating the reputation of the broker is requesting references. Not only client references but asking around for input and insight from other professionals about what business brokers they know and what they know about them. Also, go to the broker’s website; go to industry sites such as http://www.ibba.org. Look up the broker; see what other people are saying about them. Do the TV, newspaper, radio and trade publications value the broker’s opinion? It’s not easy to get quoted in articles, written about in papers, invited to be a guest on TV or radio shows. Professional media outlets do their homework. They can’t afford to put their name next to a non-credible source. A business broker that is taken serious and considered a credible source by mainstream media deserves consideration. Credibility is not bought, it is earned.

6. Courtesy / People Skills – Take the time to interview the broker in person. Never hire a business broker without meeting them. If they’re not willing to take the time to meet with you, chances are they won’t put much effort into selling your business either. Once they’re in front of you, see how they interact with you. Are they personable? Do you trust them? Are they friendly? Are they educated about your business and the business brokerage industry? Make no mistake, this is a people business. People buy from people they like. If you don’t like the person you’re interviewing, chances are neither will a potential buyer for your business.

7. Education / Experience – Business brokers are professional service providers, like accountants, attorney, financial planners, etc. Make sure the person you hire to sell your business (or help you buy one) continually invests in their own education and professional development. Would you hire an attorney that doesn’t keep up with current laws? Would you hire an account that isn’t updated on the tax code? Your business is the largest and most valuable asset that you own. Make sure the person you hire to turn it into cash is someone that stays current on industry trends, government regulations, new pricing methodologies, marketing strategies, etc. Business brokerage is a full time profession. If your broker doesn’t invest in their own professional development, chances are there’s someone else out there that does and will do a better job at selling your business for the highest possible price.

The suggestions above are not fool proof but, they will get you pointed in the right direction. Don’t take the sale of your business lightly. Make sure you do your homework. If you do, the wheat will quickly separate from the chaff.

7 Tips For Selecting the Best Small Business Brokers to Sell Your Business

Are you thinking about selling your business? Have you ever gone through the process before? Are you confidant that you can do it yourself? Where would your time be better spent, running your business at peak performance while trying to sell it, or focused on the advertising campaign, networking, negotiating, and coordinating the closure of the sale of your business? Maybe you should consider doing what you do best, running the business, and search out small business brokers and let them do what they do best, sell businesses. If you go that route, here are 7 tips to choosing a business broker that makes sense for you.

1. Don’t get lost in the shuffle

You want your broker to have a proven record and a great reputation but you don’t want the organization to be so big that your deal is passed off to a junior staffer. You want the active involvement of the principals.

2. Do your due diligence

You’re about to engage the services of someone that is going to have a big impact on your financial life. Make sure you are comfortable with the relationship. Check with the International Business Brokers Association and see if your broker is a member in good standing. Follow up on the references provided and determine just how satisfied past clients are. Check with your local better business bureau and see if there are any unresolved complaints.

3. Use a specialist

Real estate agents and other professionals sometimes hold themselves out as business brokers on a part time basis. You want someone who makes their entire living selling businesses full time. Preferably somebody who has experience in your particular industry and someone who can point to successful sales they have made for your competitors.

4. Avoid heavy up front fee structures

Typically a business broker will charge between 10% and 15% of the sale price as a fee. While it is customary for them to ask for some up front fees to initiate the process, avoid those brokers who are looking for greater than a third. Also make sure that the up front fee is deductible from the sales fee when the business sells. Following this advice will save you from having to invest a ton of cash before you actually sell the business.

5. Only contract for the business selling services

Smaller business brokers will offer accounting and legal services that you will need during closing for an additional fee and these services are typically outsourced by the broker. It may be to your advantage to contract for those services directly leaving the broker with only the requirement to focus on the selling process and not generating add on fees.

6. Share your expectations

Before you select a broker you should have at least a general idea of what you want to accomplish by selling your business. You should have a rough valuation number and you should know if you want a cash sale or stock. Share this with the broker and see if he agrees with your plan. While there probably will be differences in valuation, your broker should be in tune with the rest of your objectives. If he’s reluctant or believes that it will be difficult to achieve your goals, find another broker.

7. Keep the whole process confidential

The last thing you want to do is let the word that you are seeking a business broker or that you are in negotiations with a buyer leak out. Once it becomes common knowledge that you are selling, your relationships with your employees, customers, vendors and bankers could be adversely affected. Have an exit plan for after the sale that includes sharing the news with all those listed above.

Using business brokers to help sell a business is usually the smart route to take for any business of substance. You want your organization to have as much “curb appeal” as possible during the process and that means you should be focusing your time on optimizing the business not chasing down buyers.

Business Brokers: Who They Are And What They Do

Since business brokers operate under the radar, many people don’t know who they are and what they do. If you are curious to know, business brokers are intermediaries who work with both buyers and sellers in order to facilitate the sale of small and medium size privately owned businesses.

For you to be a business broker you need to have the right level of education. For example, you must have a business background. You must also have attained business brokerage training from a recognized professional body such as the American Business Brokers Association.

Functions of business brokers

The brokers perform many duties such as:

  • Valuing a business
  • Marketing a business that needs to be sold. While they advertise the business, they maintain strict confidentiality. For example, they don’t mention the exact business that is being sold. They also don’t mention the owner of the business.
  • They introduce prospective buyers to the business
  • Facilitate meetings between buyers and sellers
  • Handle negotiations between the buyer and the seller after an offer has been made
  • Schedule and facilitate the closing of a transaction
  • Draft a confidential business review. The document is very important and is provided to prospects after they have signed a confidentiality agreement.

How brokers work

The professionals usually work with commissions. This means that they get a commission after selling a business. In most of the cases, the commission ranges from 8 to 12%. Most of the brokers charge a 10% commission; however, when the business being sold is small, the commission is usually higher.

How to work with a business broker

The first thing you need to do is to ensure that you hire the right broker. This calls for you to do a lot of research in order to identify a reputable one. Some of the things that you should look for when hiring include: experience, professionalism and specialization.

Once you have found the right professional you should give him/her all the details that he/she needs to work. For example, if you are interested in buying a business, you should give the broker a list of all the types of businesses that you are interested in. You should also mention the amount of money that you are ready to invest.

Conclusion

From the above information, it’s evident that business brokers have a role to play in the buying and selling of businesses. To ensure that you are on the same page with the broker, you should regularly communicate with him/her.