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Selling A Business: 4 Ways To Maximize Your Selling Price

Everyone who has ever dreamed of owning a business has also dreamed of selling a business. Usually for a life-changing amount of money. 

We can group business owners who want to sell their company into two categories.

In the first group are owners who have a plan to build their business and increase its value over the next several years. In the other group are owners who are ready to sell today – if not sooner.

If you are in that second group it will be hard to make dramatic improvements in your company’s value in the short term. But there are specific steps you can take to make sure you get the highest possible price when selling a business.

Selling A Business: 4 Ways To Maximize Your Selling Price

Here are the 4 most important of those steps.

#1. Run the business as usual until the sale is complete

One of the most common mistakes business owners make is that they mentally check out once they decide to sell. Their focus and energy go into the sale itself and their plans for after the sale.

Believing that the business will soon belong to someone else, many owners stop doing the things that made them a success in the first place.

But selling a business is not like selling a used car, or even a house. Under the best of circumstances the process can take 6 months to a year.  And in some cases 1-2 years. The more unique your business and the higher your asking price, the longer you should expect it to take.

  • Make the decision now that no matter how long the sale takes you will continue to do all the things that have made your business a success.
  • Continue your marketing, training and product development programs as if nothing has changed.
  • Keep collecting those delinquent accounts-receivable just as aggressively as you always have.
  • And most importantly, keep treating your customers like royalty. Customer service is usually the first area to go downhill once the owner has stopped paying attention.

In other words, continue to run your business as if you were going to own it forever. Otherwise, your business may not be as attractive in 6 months or a year when you finally find the perfect buyer.

#2. Keep the sale confidential

The extended time it takes to sell your business also means you should keep your plans to sell a secret. When it becomes known that a business is for sale, suppliers may become hesitant to extend terms and customers may become afraid to enter into new contracts.

Meanwhile employees will begin to worry about job security. Inevitably their energies will be focused more on finding a new job then on performing their current one.

Owners often feel obligated to tell employees and customers of their plans to sell. That’s understandable – especially when it comes to people who have been with you years or decades. But in most cases your employees and customers can’t do anything to help you sell. Yet their emotional, sometimes angry, response to news of the sale can complicate the entire process.

As we have already stated, one of the keys to selling your business successfully is to continue to operate the business usual. And you can’t do that with all this uncertainty among your customers, suppliers and employees.

So keep your plans to sell confidential. This will allow you to have as much control as possible over the long and often complicated process of selling.

#3. Think in terms of a “pool of prospects” not a single buyer

Here is one thing to always keep in mind about  selling your business: the most attractive and qualified buyers have the most options. Any prospect who is qualified to buy your business will be qualified to buy lots of other similarly priced businesses too.

Unfortunately, many owners, in their fervor to sell, fall in love with the first decent prospect they meet. Then they stop looking for additional buyers.

But there is an old cliche in the business brokerage world:

Having one buyer is the same thing as having no buyers

Your one and only prospect may choose to buy someone else’s business – through no fault of your own.

But even if that one prospect does decide he wants your business, you will be at his mercy when it comes to negotiating price and terms. If you don’t give in to his demands for price cuts he can go on to the next business for sale. But what will you do?

To maximize your selling price you need to negotiate from a position of strength. And nothing will strengthen your position more than having multiple buyers interested in your business. So always be in the process of locating and qualifying additional prospects.

The more potential buyers you find the more confident you will be when you sit down to hammer out a deal with your very best prospect. If for some reason you can’t close the deal with that person, you will be secure in the knowledge that you have other quality prospects waiting in the wings.

And this is the situation you need to create for yourself if you are to negotiate your best deal.

#4. Offer to finance part of the selling price

It is not a popular idea but is a fact – to sell your business for the most money possible you will probably have to finance part of the sale price. According to over 80% of small business sales include some form of seller financing.

Remember that the type of buyers who are capable of paying cash for your business have options. You are competing with all the other businesses that are for sale to attract these qualified buyers.

So let’s take a moment to look at things from the perspective of a qualified business buyer.

  • Let’s say an individual has $250,000 to invest. And let’s say you want to sell your business for – coincidentally – $250,000.
  • Sure, you would love to get all your money up front from this person. But she looks around at other businesses that are for sale and sees that she can put $250,000 down on a business worth $500,000.
  • Then she finds another business for sale where she can get even more leverage – she can put 33% down on a business worth $750,000. (These types of asking prices and down payments requests are commonplace.)

Of these three options most buyers will not choose to pay all cash for the smallest, least profitable business.

In the best case scenario the buyer might offer you $200,000 – fairly pointing out that she deserves some concession for paying all cash up front. After all, the bigger more profitable businesses are not demanding 100% cash up front.

  • So you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage when you ask for 100% cash.
  • And when you demand all cash for your business you are automatically eliminating all the buyers who have a 50% down payment.
  • And you eliminate everybody with a 70, 80 or 90% down payment too.

In other words, demanding cash shrinks the pool of prospects we talked about expanding in the previous point. But when you offer to finance part of the sale price you dramatically increase the size of that pool.

The bottom line is that when you offer to finance part of the sales price you make more money. Tom West, author of one of the most influential books in the business brokerage field,The Complete Guide To Business Brokerage, estimates that businesses that sell for all cash bring a price that is only 69% of the original asking price.

Meanwhile, in’s most recent survey of businesses sold through their site, the average sale price was 89% of the original asking price.

There are two other benefits to keep in mind when discussing seller financing.

  1. First, when you finance the sale over 2-3 years you are spreading your income over that period, possibly lowering your taxes by a significant amount.
  2. And second, you will be collecting interest on those 2-3 years of payments. Add up the interest you collect and the lower taxes you pay and it is likely that offering to finance the sale will put more money in your pocket not less.

Selling a business can be a long, emotionally draining experience. Fortunately there are specific things you can do to insure your success.

So keep running the business as usual. Keep the sale a secret. Keep looking for additional buyers. And finally, be willing to meet those buyers halfway on the price and financing terms. Do these simple things  and you will have gone a long way towards maximizing the amount of money you take away from the sale of your business.

Images: ” For sale sign Isolated on white background High resolution 3d render  /


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Pat Jennings is the founder of, a site dedicated to helping owners sell their business by bringing them together with qualified buyers. On his blog Pat writes about all aspects of selling a small business with a heavy emphasis on business valuation.

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  • Welcome to Tweak Your Biz Pat. I haven’t been in the situation where I am selling a business but I can see these points are excellent. Thanks for sharing your tips with our community.

  • Pat Jennings: What do you think about today’s trend with an IT startup’s main mission to do an exit?

  • Harry

    Pat – Very good points to keep in mind. I would also add that the seller should start putting financial documents in order 2-3 months before the selling process starts. If you are like majority of small business owners you will need some time to put them together and present to the potential buyers. You don’t want to do this in a hurry.

  • Hi lyceum1776: I think that type of venture gets a lot of attention from the media. We certainly hear a lot about the software business or app creator who sells to Google or Facebook for a fortune. Even if they don’t have a track record of profits.

    The theme of a start-up seeking to get bought out by a big
    company is common, it is just not reflective of reality for the vast majority
    of people who are starting, running or selling a business. For most people it
    is not a “trend”, it is a distraction.

    I have nothing against the start-up that is founded on the dream of getting bought out. I just wish we could keep it in perspective.

    I guess the bottom line is: if you have an idea for a tech start-up that can get bought out, go for it. If you don’t, then just go about building you business and ignore the hype the media loves to lavish on the few exceptional outliers.

  • Hi Harry – You are correct about financial statements. But specifically, when it comes to preparing the business for sale, the owner needs to prepare a set of “recast’ financial statements. I didn’t get into recasting here because that is a whole new kettle of fish. Unfortunately, the smaller the business, the more likely it is that the financials are not up to date. That is why the first professional the business owner needs to bring on board is an accountant. Not a broker and not a lawyer, but an accountant.

  • Thanks Sian. And thanks for improving the formatting of the article. It looks a lot better than what I submitted.

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