Purchasing a business can be a highly profitable way to jump into the world of entrepreneurship. When you buy a business, your start-up costs are non-existent, your team is already assembled, your business has existing customers and vendor relationships, and processes are already in place. In other words, you have a huge head start towards success.

Purchasing an existing business, however, does not guarantee success. First, you need to do your research to determine if the business is worth pursuing.

Approach a business purchase the way you would any other investment.

Investing in a business requires the same approach you’d take before making any investment. It should also provide the same outcome - a significant return over time.

A business can return high profits, but it’s also a riskier way to invest your savings. To mitigate your risk, study the past performance and current condition of the business. You’ll also want to consult with professionals in the same industry and those who are familiar with the business to help evaluate its prospects for the future. Do your due diligence and learn as much as possible about the business so you can make an intelligent and informed decision.

There are key questions to ask the current owner to help you uncover the true value of a business before you buy.

Gather as much data on the business as you can before you decide to purchase. The best way to do this is to sit down with the current owner and ask these four critical questions.

Question 1: Why Is the Owner Selling the Business?

This is one of the most important questions and the one you should ask first when considering a purchase. Context is key to any sale. If the owner is retiring, going through a life change, or selling for another purpose with complete transparency, this could be a good sign that the opportunity is worth exploring. If, however, the owner is looking to sell quickly or not providing a clear reason for the sale, proceed with caution.

Try to uncover as many details as you can about why the owner wants to sell. The fact is that most business owners don’t walk away from profitable businesses unless they have strong personal reasons to do so.

Question 2: What are the Financials?

Is the business in red or black? And why? Dig deep and get as much insight and context into cash flow, investments, payment terms, and liabilities as possible. The owner should be able to easily provide you with this documentation, show you the money flowing in and out of the business, and give you a strong sense of the financial health of the company. Two years' tax returns should be provided.

Question 3: What is the Business’ Reputation?

Perception is reality. If other businesses or leaders in the company’s industry have a poor perception of the brand you’re considering purchasing, that should weigh heavily on your decision to buy.

Purchasing a business that requires immediate reputation management – whether from mismanagement or consumer mistrust in the product or service - may be a way to get a solid deal on the purchase. However, repairing a brand’s reputation requires capital and a long-term commitment to turning things around. If you’re buying a business that you plan to be deeply involved with for years, and you’re confident in your ability to positively impact the culture, a fixer-upper business could be a steal.

On the flip side, a well-respected business with an owner whose identity is deeply intertwined with the identity of the company means you’ll have big shoes to fill and your decisions as the new owner will be scrutinized. This is also something to seriously consider if you’re looking to make the company your own.

Question 4: Does the Purchase Include Everything You Need to Seamlessly Run the Business?

Make sure the purchase includes all of the essentials that you need to get up and running once the purchase is complete. This could include leases, contracts, customer lists, patents, trademarks, service marks, trade names, essential employees, and any other element of what’s made the business operable and successful up to the time of the sale. Check for liens and make sure taxes are up to date.

Consult your partners, mentors, and others you trust before jumping in.

Buying a business is a big decision that’s going to require your long-term dedication. You’re not just investing in a company or a product; you’re investing in the customers and vendors you support and in the livelihoods of the people you employ. It’s not a decision to make quickly or without insight from a small, core group of people you trust, like a SCORE mentor.

SCORE provides free and confidential counseling. You can contact Sandhills SCORE at 910-420-0121, scorestaffing0364@gmail.com, or go to Sandhills.score.org to request mentoring.

Happy satisfied black client shaking hands thanking manager for good financial deal