My Business Broker, My Banker

When you buy a business (or a franchise) the seller traditionally are willing to pay a finder fee or commission. Brokers will charge anywhere from 5-20% of the purchase price for listing the business. Franchisors will pay referral fees depending on what the total price of the franchise is. How can that be of benefit to you when you are buying your business?

During tough credit times most brokers are willing to carry back some portion of the commission to help the buyer and the seller complete the transaction. Some business brokers live and die by the idea that they will absolutely never carry back a commission, consequently they can and will kill the business purchase. When using these techniques remember that business brokers are professionals and they need to make a living to. These techniques are not to pull the wool over their eyes, they’re merely present to help you negotiate better.

Here are a few steps to get your business broker or franchise consultant to help finance your acquisition.

1. Listen to the first piece of information the business broker wants to know – Several brokers will start off their relationship with a buyer by initially asking, “How much cash can you put down IMMEDIATELY on this business if you were going to buy it?” This is the business brokers’ way of playing poker. Remember the object (the true object) of poker is to get the other party to show the maximum risk they are willing to accept. If you tell the business broker that you have $100,000 then they will try to get you to put even more down.

2. Ask the broker how business is going – This is the thermostat to knowing whether or not the broker is willing to play ball or not. A broker whose business is thriving may not worry about lending a qualified borrower a small amount of money to finish the acquisition. On the other hand a starving broker may be more than willing to lend money to get some portion of the commission.

3. Avoid engaging in a contract directly with the broker – Traditionally the business broker has engaged the seller for a listing. A business buyer can engage a broker to help them buy a business; however in many states brokers do not split commissions. Consequently a contract with the broker with the buyer may lead to a very odd relationship.

4. Ask the seller how much of a commission they are paying the broker – Here is your opportunity to play poke. Most business sellers feel like they are getting nailed to the wall when they are selling the business. They are giving up 5-20% of the business to some guy or gal that the seller considers to be a glorified real estate agent! What did they do in the past 20 years to earn this huge portion of the seller’s retirement fund? I find getting to see the listing agreement is one of the easiest parts of negotiations.

5. Ask the broker where to come up with the remainder of the money – The broker will try to get you to put more cash on the table. The greater the cash you commit to buying the business the more likely you are to close, and be successful with your new venture (according to the business broker.) When and if there is a “boot” or remaining funds that you need to come up with ask the business broker – frankly where to find it at. They may direct you to some lending sources, but a good broker may consider doing a carry back with the seller to accommodate the transaction.

5 Red Flags in Choosing a Business Broker

When selecting a broker to sell your business, be aware of the following tips…

The broker wants a significant or total fee paid upfront.

Many brokers have begun taking upfront fees, but generally the total fee is a combination of an upfront fee and commission paid upon sale of the business. An unreliable broker meets with you, runs some quick numbers, tells you that you can get your price or even more for your business, and then asks for a check to get started. In many cases, business owners are so relieved that they’ve found a broker and elated that they’ll write a check on the spot, without checking any references.

During your first meeting, the broker says he or she can get your asking price or higher.

Be wary of too much optimism. The key to selling is that the price be reasonable. According to Tom West of Business Brokerage Press in Concord, Mass., most owners over value their businesses. An unreliable broker might suggest after a brief meeting with you that he or she can get you your asking price or higher for your business.

The broker doesn’t have a Web site.

Most likely, if the broker doesn’t have a site, he or she is behind the times. The Internet is a powerful marketing tool for business brokers, according to Cooper. Is the site well-written? That’s another way to gauge a broker’s competence, he adds.

The broker doesn’t seem well grounded in business valuation.

Your broker should be able to explain business valuation to you clearly and if he or she can’t, then how can he or she explain to a buyer what your business is worth? Make sure your broker is confident in this area.

The broker is not licensed to sell or lease real estate in your state.

Ninety-two percent of business brokers have a real estate license, according to an annual survey of business brokers West conducted. Even if your business doesn’t include real estate, make sure your broker carries the license. Also be aware that if a broker holds a real estate license doesn’t mean he or she should be selling commercial or residential real estate too. A good broker will hold the licenses but be focused on selling businesses.