When You Can Sell Your Business Without a Broker—and When You Really Shouldn’t

Katie Fleming

Katie Fleming

Co-founder and COO of Owner Actions

A business owner standing in front of her business thinks about selling it on her own, without relying on a broker.

Selling your business alone is no easy feat, but with the right amount of research and an eager commitment to the process, you can sell your business without a broker.

In this short guide, you'll learn how to find buyers, navigate your sale, and save significantly on the costs of your business transfer.

But first…

 

Why would do other owners work with a broker?

Many owners who work with brokers are first-time sellers. They want a pro on their team who will give them the guidance and expertise they need to valuate and market their business, connect them with a pool of qualified buyers, and navigate the finer points of closing their deal.

Others who use brokers do so because their businesses are complex, and they need some help calculating a value that isn't so straightforward and marketing a business that may be a bit unique or seem overwhelming.

Still others work with a broker because they can’t afford to put in the time that’s required to navigate the ins and outs of selling a business.

For lots of owners, working with a broker is a smart move. But for savvy owners who are willing to devote time and energy to the process, selling a business without a broker is a completely viable option.

 

Can I really sell my business without a broker?

You can accomplish every task that a broker performs, though many of the steps will require a great deal of time and research, especially for first-time sellers.

You can choose to sell your business entirely on your own, as many owners do. Or, you could act as a foreman to your sale, contracting out specific tasks for others to perform and choosing to take on the parts of the process that fit into your own unique skillset.

 

Is selling my business on my own the right call for me?

It depends. In some circumstances, selling without a broker makes more sense than employing one. This is true when:

  • You have a plan to sell to someone you already know.
  • You have bought and sold numerous businesses and know the ins and outs of the business transfer process.
  • Your business is too small to bear the burden of a broker’s costs.
  • You have more expertise about the uniqueness and intricacies of your business or industry than a broker could ever fairly represent.

 

It can make sense to sell without a broker in other contexts, too. To determine if it’s the right approach for you, you’ll need to decide how much time you can invest in the process, whether you have or are willing to attain the knowledge that’s required to handle the marketing and complexities of a sale, and whether the costs you’ll save—which are, indeed, sizable—are worth the potential headaches that could occur at every phase of your journey.

 

How much can I save if I sell without a broker?

Broker fees vary, but many charge a 10-15% commission on the total price of the sale. Others ask for a non-refundable fee or retainer that can range from $10,000-$50,000, based on the listing price of your business.

 

I’m ready to take this on. How do I get started?

There are ten steps you can start working on today to prepare for your sale:

1

Gather your financials, including tax returns, profit-and-loss statements, bank statements, capital commitments, and payroll information. Then, meet with a reputable accountant who can help you assess them and prepare clean financial statements. Be sure to read our article, How to Find an Accountant Who Can Help You Sell Your Business, before getting started.

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Need help finding an accountant with this skillset? Here are a few firms to consider:

 

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2

Contact a valuation specialist who can help you to set a fair price for your business.

 

Looking for a valuation specialist who’s experienced in pricing businesses? Click this button to find one near you:

 

3

Find an attorney who will help you create a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), assess the offers you receive, and ensure that you and the business you’ve labored to build remain protected.

 

In our article, How to Find the Right Attorney for Your Business Exit, we explain some of the qualifications you should look for.

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Want to find an attorney? Start here:

 

4

Look into buyer-and-seller platforms that’ll allow you to list and promote your business. These may include Bizbuysell.com, Bizquest.com, Dealstream.com, and Smergers.com, among others.

5

Study other business listings to learn how to market your business.

6

Draft a prospectus or an executive summary that explains what your business is, who it serves, and how it generates value. Our article, Ready to List Your Business? Presentation Is Key., can help you with this process.

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7

Research what potential buyers will be looking for and ensure that you’re prepared to share the kinds of information that vetted potential buyers may request. Our article, The Six Must-Have Elements You Need to Secure Offers from Qualified Buyers, can help you get started.

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8

Consider smart moves like upgrading your business’s operating systems, dressing up your storefronts, or pushing out bloated inventories to make your business appear more physically and fiscally attractive to potential buyers.

9

Study confidentiality best practices to protect your operating secrets and other elements that are critical to safeguard. Read our article, Confidentiality and the Sale of Your Business, for guidance.

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10

Post your listing, and be ready to field questions, arrange site visits, and host interviews and evaluations with buyers who may make an offer.

 

As offers come in, be sure to connect with an attorney who can help you understand the specifics of their offers, form counteroffers, and come to an agreement on terms.

With preparation—and a little outside assistance—you can handle the sale of your business.

Find more support and a checklist of important seller actions by logging into your owner’s portal.

Want to take on other tasks?

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