03-Where to Find Potential Buyers for Your Business

Owners of small companies, with annual revenues ranging from $500,000 to $10 million, often undertake the process of selling their business themselves. While many business owners have built their businesses from scratch with the help of their can-do attitudes and take-charge personalities, they often are at a loss when it comes to finding potential buyers for their business.

The question thus arises: Where do you find potential buyers for your company? This article will focus on some of the primary avenues to travel down when looking for buyers. Some can even help you refine your approach to the sale at the same time they are connecting you with potential buyers. They will be in touch with buyers who are looking for opportunities. Each of these sources has different strengths and motivations for helping you in your search:

Put the Word Out Through Friends, Family and Business Contacts. As in any other business activity, you should start your search by working your own networks to track down the perfect buyer, either through your existing network in your industry or through investors and other channels. Start spreading the word about your intent to sell among your friends, acquaintances, and business contacts. In some cases, a long-term employee of your company might even be eager to take the business over, or a contact in a related industry may be interested in buying you out.

Advertise in Relevant Forums. In many instances, you won’t find a buyer among your immediate circle of acquaintances, so it will be necessary to market the business among a broader audience. In this regard, you should look for magazines, websites, trade publications and newspapers geared towards small business owners operating within your niche, and take out advertisements.

Use the Services of a Business Broker. If you’ve had no luck with your own contacts or with advertising, it could be time to consider hiring a business broker to help you find a buyer. A business broker acts as an intermediary between you and your buyer, and can assist you by appraising your business’ value (in cases where you haven’t already gotten a formal valuation), marketing the company, and handling all initial contact with potential buyers. If you want to sell your business without letting competitors know about it, working with a business broker can ensure confidentiality. A business broker’s fee typically ranges from 15 to 20 percent of the business’ purchase price so their services are not cheap. However, if you’re not having luck selling the company from your own efforts, a business broker may be a good option for you.

Accounting and Law Firms. For most business owners contemplating a sale, the first two people who will hear about it will be the company’s accountant and lawyer. They might be able to put out feelers among their own clientele for potential buyers. When contacting an accounting firm, start by searching out audit partners and M&A partners. Most firms now have highly specialized groups that specialize in your industry. In addition to the industry experts, the M&A group may see many potential deals.

While law firms are generally not a prolific source of contacts with potential buyers, they occasionally can be, and are therefore worth seeking out. Approach the partners in the firms who focus on corporate work such as securities law or financing issues.

Consulting Firms. Because consulting firms are also in close contact with senior executives at large corporations, they can be a good source of leads on potential buyers for your firm. Smaller, niche-oriented consulting firms may also have contacts with potential buyers. When approaching consulting firms, contact people as senior in the firm as possible, use personal introductions where you can, and target people in your area of interest.

Banker’s Contacts. Often your banker’s contacts may be particularly handy. For example, there may be foreign or domestic corporations that are simply looking to acquire a new line of business as a way to diversify their holdings. It will often be your banker who has broad enough contacts to know about these corporations pursuing a new direction, which can present such an opportunity. There also may be companies that are engaged in some kind of strategic diversification that could make them a potential buyer for your business, even if they are not a current supplier or customer in your current value chain.

High Net Worth Individuals. There are many individuals who possess a high net worth who are looking to acquire companies or positions in companies. These individuals are normally not easy to identify, but they are out there. They often have hired bankers or accountants to help track down deals for them so that is another good reason to be out there networking.
Active and Retired Senior Executives. Executives in your industry are often a good source of opportunities. Even former executives continue to be well connected and usually have fewer conflicts in recommending potential buyers. Use your networks in the industry, and ask your contacts for suggestions of other executives to talk with about potential buyers. This can be a great source of inside information specifically targeted to your business area.

Industry/Trade Associations. Industry trade contact, publications and trade shows also could be a potentially valuable source of potential buyers. You are probably looking at these anyway, but you might see them through new eyes now that you are trying to sell your business. If you are not experienced with these, go onto their websites to see when and where the leading trade shows take place and learn the names of the leading trade publications. You’ll make contacts at these events that could lead you to buyers. You might also look to the trade publications and trade shows of your customers and suppliers.

Investment Bankers. Finally, while they typically focus on large businesses, it is worth mentioning that investment bankers can be a great source of potential buyers. An investment banker who is well versed in your industry will know heads of corporate development and professionals doing deals for large corporations. The investment banker would know who would be potentially looking to purchase a business like yours, and who are the decision makers who can make it happen. They know who really wants to do deals in this space and can save you a lot of money and time in the long run.

Conclusion. By employing the techniques addressed in this article, you can get the word out that your business is on the block and deal opportunities will start to flow in. One closing comment is that the clearer you can be about what makes your business attractive and unique, the more qualified buyers you will find.

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