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Buying an Existing Business: This Is What to Know

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Buying an existing business can be an efficient way for an aspiring entrepreneur to get their foot in the door as a business owner.

More than 10,000 businesses changed hands in the U.S. in 2018. You could take over an operation that already has a proven business model and an established brand. If you’re lucky, the business would already have positive cash flow.

“There’s all kinds of scenarios where you might want to buy an existing business rather than start your own,” said John Bartelme, a SCORE mentor based in Durham, N.C. SCORE is an organization providing business education through mentoring and workshops in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

An opportunity to buy an existing business may arise if the owners of your current workplace decide to sell. You might consider buying the business if you have already spent a significant amount of time working for the company, learning the ins and outs, Bartelme said. For current business owners, buying another company in your industry would allow you to grow your enterprise, he said.

Another instance when you might buy an existing business would be when one goes up for sale in an industry in which you have interest, like restaurants, Bartelme said. But purchasing a business without any industry experience can be a risky move. You may not necessarily be suited to run a restaurant just because you like dining out, he said.

Before you take over an existing operation, we’ll help you decide whether buying a business is the right choice for you.

How to buy an existing business in 5 steps

To organize the purchase process, consider this as your checklist for buying an existing business.

1. Consider your skill set

To give yourself a better shot at success, consider purchasing a business that matches your existing skills and knowledge, Bartelme said. If you already know the industry, you would be in a position to improve and strengthen the business you’re buying.

On the other hand, when you purchase a franchise, the franchiser would provide guidance and a business plan for you to follow as you learn the ropes, Bartelme said.

“Buying a franchise is a way to go for a lot of people who have no prior experience in that area,” Bartelme said. “The need to be competent in that kind of business is less a factor than it would be in some other businesses where you don’t have that support.”

2. Estimate the value of the business

Before making an offer on an existing business, you need to know what it’s worth. The seller would likely determine the value, but you should make your own estimation, Bartelme said. He suggests hiring an independent, third-party valuation firm to appraise the business. Hiring a valuation firm will be an extra expense, but it could save you from overpaying, he said.

“What a person thinks their business is worth versus what it’s actually valued at can be quite different,” Bartelme said.

There are several methods to determine the value of a business. If you’re experienced in finance and accounting, you may be able to value the business on your own. If not, consider hiring an accountant or valuation firm to appraise your business.

These are a few common valuation approaches:

  • Capitalized earning approach: Value is based on the expected return on investment.
  • Excess earning method: Similar to capitalized earning approach, but the investment return is separated from other earnings.
  • Cash flow method: Value is based on how much cash flow can support any type of financing, like a business loan.
  • Tangible assets, or balance sheet, method: Value is based on the business’s tangible assets.
  • Intangible assets method: Value is based on the potential worth of specific intangible assets.

3. Do extensive research

You should understand the facets of the industry in which the business operates, as well as all details about the business itself. After expressing an interest in the existing business, you may be able to sign an agreement that gives you access to financial records in exchange for confidentiality. Review all recent tax returns, financial statements and banking records to get an idea of the financial health of the business.

You may want to hire an accountant or analyst to help you pore over documents. They could spot red flags that you might miss. For instance, if the business is relatively cheap, there’s probably a reason why. The brand reputation could be damaged, or the markets may have rejected the business’s products or services.

4. Figure out your financing options

Unless you can pay the price of the business in full, you’ll likely need some form of financing to cover the purchase. You could work out a number of creative financing deals with the seller, Bartelme said, depending on your relationship. For example, the seller may offer you a deal that would allow you to put down a portion of the cost upfront and pay the rest in installments, Bartelme said.

“They might be agreeable to selling it to you over a time frame,” he said. “But you don’t want to begin talking about that until you’ve agreed on a sale price.”

In some cases, the seller might hold on to the title of the land or building where the business is located and lease it to you, he said. You would purchase the business itself, but not the property.

You might have to turn to a small business lender to obtain extra capital. Before borrowing money, make sure the business is able to support loan payments.

Consider starting your financing search with LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company. On LendingTree’s platform, there are dozens of business lenders there to compete for your business. You simply fill out a short form online and can be matched with offers from up to five lenders based on your creditworthiness.

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5. Make an offer

Once you have a clear idea of what the business is worth and how much you can afford to spend, you would present an offer to the seller. This is where an independent valuation would come in handy, Bartelme said. Both parties could negotiate based on that figure.

Sellers are often overly optimistic about what the business is worth, Bartelme said. Expect the seller to try to get the largest amount for their business, especially if it’s a family-owned operation.

“Typically for a family business, this has been their life,” he said. “They’re emotionally connected to it, and rightfully so.”

Including business experts like brokers, accountants, lawyers, certified valuation analysts or advisors in the negotiation process could ensure that you make the best deal. They could also help you shape a plan to operate the business successfully going forward.

Pros and cons of buying an existing business

There are several benefits to buying an existing business, as well as downsides to taking this route into business ownership.

Pros:

  • Opportunity to improve an established company: After completing your research and due diligence, you would be able to see how you could make your mark on the business and grow the company.
  • Potential financing from the seller: Rather than borrowing money from a business lender, you could work out a deal with the seller to finance the business. You may be able to pay off the purchase over time without the help of a bank or lending institution.
  • Existing position in the market: Instead of starting from scratch, you would be able to rely on the business’s existing customer base and brand awareness. Ideally, the business would already have positive cash flow.

Cons:

  • Could be more expensive than starting a new business: When you purchase an existing business, you have to start spending money immediately to keep it operational. A large business could require a sizable amount of capital. Not only would you need to pay the purchase price, but you may have to hire additional employees, remodel the building or upgrade equipment. You could spend less by starting a small business that you could grow over time.
  • Surprises after closing the deal: If you didn’t take enough time to research the business – or even if you did – you could come across problems after the purchase is finalized. You may realize complications within the business when it’s too late. You could find that the previous owners misrepresented financial data or didn’t disclose much-needed repairs to the building. You could also inherit disgruntled employees, outdated equipment or unreliable suppliers.
  • Existing structure could be difficult to change: You might have a hard time making changes to products, services or internal processes after buying an existing business. You would be inheriting the structures that your predecessor set up, and it could take time to implement your ideas.

What’s next as the sale wraps up?

The closing process typically takes 30 to 60 days, depending on the complexity of the sale. During this time, you should take a final look at all sales documents and financing agreements. Be sure to check titles and ownership documents for all assets that are transferring as well.

There’s typically a transition period when new ownership takes over a business, Bartelme said. It’s not uncommon for the previous owner to stay on board as a consultant. They may agree to a consulting contract for the first year or two.

“The upside is that you have a smoother transition that is much more transparent to the customers and the clients,” he said.

But the downside is that the previous owner could continue to act as if they still own the business, Bartelme said. It could be a while before they hand over the reins completely.

Once you have full control of the business, prior industry experience would become beneficial, Bartelme said. You could hit the ground running and start earning a profit.

“The less you know about a business, the higher the risk,” he said. “That’s why it’s pretty important that you do know something about that industry.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]

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Small Business

Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online Banks: Which is Better for Small Businesses?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Separating your personal and professional finances is crucial when starting a business, and changes in technology are making it more convenient to do so. Not only could you turn to traditional brick-and-mortar banks, but you could take advantage of the resources that digital banks offer.

Opening a business bank account would allow you to clearly track your income and expenses without putting your personal spending in the mix. Managing a business bank account would also help you build your credit profile — you could become eligible to open a business line of credit or credit cards connected to your account.

Whether you choose an online bank or a brick-and-mortar bank would depend on which type fits your needs as a business owner. Keep reading to find out what kind of bank would be best suited for you.

Small business banking: Brick-and-mortar vs. online banks

A key difference between traditional and online banking is the flexibility that digital banks provide, said Barry Coleman, vice president of counseling and education programs at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Small business owners could have around-the-clock access to online banking services as long as they have a device and an internet connection.

“This can certainly help busy business owners who are strapped for time by allowing them the option to bank on their schedules,” he said.

Brick-and-mortar banks

Although most brick-and-mortar banks now offer online banking features, consumers still must make some transactions in person, Coleman said, such as cash transactions that require personal identification. When opening a business checking account with Chase, for example, customers must meet with a business banker before enrolling in online and mobile programs. Still, this could be a draw for some business owners.

“Some consumers are simply more comfortable having a physical banking location where they can perform transactions and speak to banking associates in person,” Coleman said.

New business owners could also benefit from the guidance that bankers provide, said Grier Melick, business consultant at the Maryland Small Business Development Center. Establishing a personal relationship with a banker could also be beneficial if you plan to apply for a small business loan. You may have a better chance of being approved for funding if the bank already knows and trusts you.

“Oftentimes, small business owners do not know everything that they need to from a business banking perspective,” Melick said. “Having some direct human involvement can help with that.”

Online banks

Online banks have lower overhead costs than traditional banks, and those lower costs typically result in higher interest rate yields on deposits for digital banks than branch-based banks, he said. For instance, a high-yield business savings account could have an APY as high as 2% and no minimum account balance.

However, brick-and-mortar banks have the advantage of allowing customers to make cash deposits or withdrawals; an online bank typically wouldn’t offer that feature, Coleman said. However, online banks sometimes belong to free ATM networks, like Allpoint, which would allow you to avoid the withdrawal fees that you’d incur at other ATMs.

Best of both worlds

It’s possible to have accounts at both types of banks, Melick said. For example, the owners of a brick-and-mortar store may start with an account at a local bank branch, then open a digital account when they decide to start selling online.

“Instead of severing ties with the bank, they could open an online account as well to handle their other revenue streams,” he said.

You could be subject to banking fees at both traditional and online banks, Coleman said. However, online banks generally charge considerably fewer fees and you may be able to avoid overdraft, monthly maintenance and ATM fees that come with a traditional bank account.

Here’s a quick look at how the two types of banks stack up.

Online banksBrick-and-mortar banks
24/7 access to accounts and banking features.Online banking features typically offered, but some transactions may have to be completed in-person during bank hours.
High-yield accounts available.Lower interest rates because of overhead costs.
Customers cannot complete in-person cash transactions or meet with bank representatives.Customers can make cash transactions, and bank representatives are available for meetings.

Digital services on the horizon for traditional banks

Online banks are growing in numbers and popularity, Coleman said. Traditional banks have taken this trend as a cue to bolster digital offerings for consumers.

“As a result, we are seeing traditional banking introduce more digital options for providing services,” he said.

The presence of digital financial technology is expanding within the financial services industry, comprising 7% of the total equity of U.S. banks, according to research from consulting firm McKinsey. To keep up, traditional banks must consider ramping up digital efforts in areas such as design, innovation, personalization, digital marketing, data and analytics to provide value to customers.

A few traditional banks rolling out expanded digital services include:

Bank of America

Earlier this year, Bank of America created Business Advantage 360 for customers who have business deposit accounts with the bank. The free tool provides a digital dashboard showing business owners their major expenses and transactions, as well as automated cash flow projections that can be adjusted to account for new sales or other data. Users can also connect with small business bankers through the dashboard.

PNC Bank

PNC Bank rolled out a digital business lending platform this year in partnership with OnDeck, an online small business lender. Leveraging OnDeck’s digital loan origination process, PNC aims to provide customers with business financing in as few as three days, a significantly faster timeline than how long it would take to process a conventional bank loan.

Popular Bank

Similarly, New York-based Popular Bank announced a partnership last year with Biz2Credit, an online lender serving small businesses. Popular Bank leans on Biz2Credit’s technology to digitally process loan applications outside of regular bank hours, effectively speeding up time to funding.

As the lines begin to blur between online and brick-and-mortar banks, business owners may find themselves with an increasing amount of digital opportunities. However, a demand for brick-and-mortar banking will likely remain. Small business owners who borrowed from an online lender reported feeling less satisfied than those who borrowed from a community bank — 49% vs. 79% — according to a Federal Reserve survey.

“Whether consumers turn to online only banks, or traditional banks that offer online products and services, the availability of online options will more than likely continue to grow,” Coleman said.

Which bank is best for your small business?

Whether you choose an online bank or a brick-and-mortar bank to house your business funds would depend on your personal preference, Coleman said.

No matter which you pick, make sure the Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation insures your bank of choice, he said. Single consumer accounts, joint accounts and business accounts, among others, would be protected at FDIC-insured banks in the event of bank failure. Deposits up to $250,000 should be safe and covered.

If you like having the ability to sit down with a banking professional to discuss your business needs, a branch-based bank could be the better choice, Coleman said. The physical presence that traditional banks provide could add a level of trust and reassurance. Keep in mind, though, that most locations have standard business hours that may not be conducive to your schedule as a business owner, he said.

A digital bank would allow you to complete your banking activities on your own time, said Coleman, though traditional banks oftentimes provide online services as well. He also noted that you may want to avoid using a public WiFi network to make business transactions, as those networks may not be secure and your information could be vulnerable.

A digital bank wouldn’t offer the same in-person service as a traditional bank, Coleman said, but you may not feel like you’re missing out.

“If the business owner already knows what they are looking for in a bank, and the online bank meets their needs, then they may prefer the online bank for its convenience, potential lower fees and higher interest on deposits,” he said.

All business owners should at least consider opening a high-yield savings account for cash that isn’t needed for daily operations, Melick said.

“Small businesses need to make sure that every penny they make works for them,” Melick said. “Oftentimes, the best way it can is through online banking accounts.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]

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Small Business

Business Acquisition Loans: What They Are and Where to Find Them

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Buying an existing business can be an effective strategy to grow your operation. But if you don’t have enough cash to make the purchase, a business acquisition loan could help you finance the deal.

There were more than 17,500 mergers and acquisitions in North America in 2018, according to the Institute of Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances.

Continue reading to find out where you could find a loan to buy a business — and how to boost your approval chances.

Types of business acquisition loans

There are several ways to finance a business acquisition. In some cases, the seller may loan you the money and accept payments taken from your business profits. Or, you could assume the business’ existing debt by purchasing both its assets and liabilities.

You could also pursue a leveraged buyout, which involves using business assets to fund the purchase. However, a leveraged buyout typically requires additional financing, such as a business acquisition loan.

Business purchase loans come in a variety of forms. Here are a few for which you could apply.

Term loans

A long-term business loan can finance a wide range of purchases — generally between $25,000 and $200,000. Long-term loans have fixed monthly payments and fixed interest rates, which allow you to plan for regular payments. You could be required to provide a 10% to 30% down payment. These loans typically must be paid back in three to 10 years and often have lower interest rates than financing products with shorter repayment terms, such as short-term business loans that must be paid back between three and 18 months.

Lenders may require substantial paperwork from applicants, which could slow down how long it takes to get funding. Some businesses could have trouble qualifying since borrowers usually need two years in business, a strong credit profile and collateral to be eligible for long-term loans.

SBA loans

The U.S. Small Business Administration guarantees a portion of loans made to small businesses through partner lending institutions. SBA loans range from $500 to $5.5 million for qualifying small businesses. You may be required to make a 10% to 20% down payment. The 7(a) loan program is the SBA’s primary financing option and may be best suited to fund business acquisitions. The standard 7(a) loan is available for up to $5 million. The SBA guarantees 85% of loans that are $150,000 or less, and up to 75% of loans exceeding $150,000.

Repayment terms for 7(a) loans could be up to 25 years for real estate purchases and up to 10 years for equipment purchases or working capital. Interest rates can be fixed or variable and would be based on the prime market rate, plus a markup rate. The SBA caps the percentage that lenders can add to the prime rate to limit how much interest borrowers must pay.

Equipment financing

Equipment loans are designed to finance the purchase of business assets, which could be useful if you’re buying a business based on the value of its equipment. The equipment would act as collateral on the loan, which could lower the interest rate and make payments manageable. Interest rates could range between 6% and 12% depending on factors such as your terms and down payment. Borrowers typically have to make a 10% to 20% down payment and need good credit to qualify for financing.

Repayment terms for equipment financing generally range from six months to 10 years. In some cases, the terms of an equipment loan could exceed the useful life of the asset.

Where to find a loan to buy a business

Business acquisition loans are available from traditional banks and alternative online lenders. To give you a starting point, we’ve rounded up a few lenders that specialize in business acquisition financing or SBA lending.

Live Oak Bank

Live Oak Bank is an SBA lender offering acquisition loans to veterinarians, pharmacists and investment advisors. Live Oak Bank is headquartered in Wilmington, N.C., but it lends to businesses nationwide.

Live Oak Bank issues SBA 7(a) loans up to $5,000,000 to buyers of companies with $250,000 to $1.25 million in EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Those loans have 120 month repayment terms, and interest rates are subject to the SBA cap. If you’re acquiring a business with more than $1 million in EBITDA, you could be eligible for a companion acquisition loan up to $2.5 million from Live Oak Bank. Companion loans have repayment terms between five and seven years. The interest rates, according to Live Oak Bank, may be higher than rates for SBA-backed loans.

Ameris Bank

Ameris Bank, with locations across the South, offers financing for business acquisitions. Businesses of all sizes can apply for funding. Repayment plans can be set up on an annual, semiannual or monthly schedule. Rates and terms are competitive, according to Ameris Bank, and would depend on your profile as a borrower.

It is also an SBA preferred lender and issues SBA loans to finance business acquisitions. Applicants would be required to provide at least 10% equity to qualify for an SBA loan. Repayment terms could be as long as 300 months, and rates would be subject to the SBA cap.

Smartbiz

Smartbiz is an online marketplace specifically for preferred SBA lenders. Smartbiz matches lenders to applicants who may have trouble qualifying for loans from their local bank. Loans are available for up to $5,000,000 with interest rates between 6.50% and 8.75% and terms between 120 and 300 months.

Borrowers must have at least two years in business, good credit, no recent bankruptcies and sufficient cash flow to repay debt. Smartbiz can process an application and disburse funding in as few as seven days.

Banner Bank

Banner Bank, which has locations in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, offers merger and acquisition financing to business owners looking to grow through acquisition or to buy out a business partner. Loans come with fixed or variable interest rates and terms up to 84 months. Applicants would need to set up a meeting with a relationship manager at their local bank branch to find out if they qualify.

How to get a business acquisition loan

When applying for an acquisition loan, the lender would likely dig into details about your business, as well as the business you plan to buy.

Be prepared to share the following information about your company with lenders:

  • Personal credit history: Having a strong personal credit profile and a FICO Score exceeding 680 would make you appear more attractive as a borrower and could help you get a lower interest rate.
  • Professional experience: Your success as a business owner would impact whether a lender would issue you a loan to acquire and manage another business. If you do not own a business, relevant industry or career experience could be valuable.
  • Business plan: A lender would review yours to make sure you have a strategy to grow your existing business and the acquired business.
  • Financial documents: To illustrate your record of operating profitably, you would need to submit financial statements such as your balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. A lender would want to see if your business will generate enough cash flow to repay an acquisition loan.
  • Industry: Lenders view some industries as riskier than others. Professional service providers tend to be safer borrowers, while volatile businesses such as restaurants, retailers or vice-related companies could be considered risky.

The industrial sector has seen the highest percentage of business transactions since 1985. Behind industrials is the technology and financial sectors. On the other hand, mergers and acquisitions are less frequent in the telecommunications, retail and real estate industries.

Regarding the business you plan to acquire, a lender would likely evaluate:

  • Business credit profile: The business should have a strong credit profile that shows a history of making on-time payments to vendors and suppliers.
  • Financial statements: The company’s balance sheet, profit and loss statements, tax returns, current debt liabilities and cash flow analysis would give the lender a look at the viability of the business.
  • Projections: Revenue and sales projections for the next few years would also help a lender understand the potential value of the acquisition.
  • Valuation: The valuation of the business would show how much the deal is worth, which would affect your loan amount.

Before giving you the green light, a lender would want to make sure you’re buying an established business that would generate enough revenue to allow you to repay your debt. With this information, you could make sure the loan application process goes smoothly and increase your chances of approval.

The bottom line

Business acquisition loans can fill the gap when you want to purchase a company but don’t have enough funds to do so. Term loans, equipment loans and SBA loans could be used to cover a business acquisition. You could apply for financing from a traditional bank or online business lender to obtain the necessary money to finance the deal.

Be sure to shop around before accepting an offer. Wait for a loan that not only provides the amount of funding you need but comes with repayment terms and interest rates that work best with your small business.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Wylie
Melissa Wylie |

Melissa Wylie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa at [email protected]