Q: I am pretty sure that I will lose my job. I don’t want to start a business from scratch, so what do you think of buying a pre-existing business? And if that is a good idea, like I think it is, what are the possibilities of getting the owner to finance the purchase? My credit isn’t great.


A: As a general rule, buying a business can be a very good idea, but as with everything else in this economy, to make sure it will be a successful venture, you have to proceed with caution and do your due diligence.

First the pros: With a pre-existing business, you should have a pretty good idea of what you are getting. The business makes X number of dollars in profit a year, has Y number of customers, and so on. The kinks should mostly be ironed out and the brand is already established. All good, that.

There are two potential pitfalls, as I see it:

  1. First, you have to make sure that the success of the business is not due to the current owner. If the customers, for instance,are his personally and not really those of the business, that is a red flag.
  2. Similarly, you need to be extra certain, given the economic times we are in, that the business will remain as profitable as it has been in the last few years.

When it comes to buying a business, there are few people more knowledgably about the process – selecting, financing, etc. – than the folks over at BizBuySell.com. The site is one of the top marketplaces for businesses and franchises for sale. It lists everything from inexpensive home-based businesses to gas stations, large ventures, franchises, and more.

So to better answer your question, I called up Mike Handelsman, the general manager of BizBuySell.com and spoke with him.

Like any good business coach, he thinks you need to begin with the basics: “Start with a self analysis, decide what you are good at, figure out whether you are an entrepreneur (aside: The Small Business Bible can help with that!), and then start thinking about the sort of business that fits your interests and affords you the right type of income.”

Once you pass that self-analysis test, then it’s time to start digging in. BizBuySell.com for instance, allows you to find all sorts of businesses for sale in your area. You can see how much they are going for and what other requirements may be needed.

Once you start to really get serious, Handlesman suggests that you check into hiring a business broker, for several reasons.

  • First, good brokers will help you make a smart decision.
  • They also know what is for sale in your area.
  • They will help you with loan options. And finally, and importantly,
  • They are paid by the seller, not the buyer.

When I asked Mike Handlesman if it is possible to buy a business with no money down, that is, with 100% seller financing, he answered that is possible, but it won’t be easy, noting, “Most sellers have been waiting for 20 years to retire and won’t want to wait longer to cash out.” But you never know; you just might find someone willing to help you get started if they see that you will be able to pay them off in a few years.

“But remember, the danger of finding a seller willing to do 100% financing is that the business may not be very viable.”

Rather, he noted, partial seller financing is far more commonplace, and likely to happen. In fact, Handlesman noted, “if you have some money, or some financing lined up, it’s a buyer’s market. There are distress sales out there.”

If you want full or partial seller financing, the expert gave these tips:

  • “Show that you have a high likelihood of success” – you have experience, contacts, etc.
  • “Offer aggressive terms” – a 3 year note, that sort of thing.
  • “Work with a broker.”
  • “Engage the seller as a consultant for six to 12 months” – that way, you up their income.

Buying a business, especially with some seller financing, is another option in this challenging economy.

Today’s tip:
Want to find a broker, or get the value of a business? BizBuySell helps with those too. Steve says check it out.

Should I buy a pre-existing business? What about owner-financing or damaged credit?

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