Buy a Business That Is Not for Sale

Katie Fleming

Katie Fleming

Co-founder and COO of Owner Actions

A business buyer connects with two business owners to buy a business that's not for sale

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to buy a business instead of starting one from scratch, you likely know about the popular business brokerage websites. Many owners spend months or years looking for a business that’s stable, profitable, and a good fit for their skills and competencies, but too often, their searches for businesses come up short. The listings they find aren’t the perfect match that they’d hoped for, and those that are nearly perfect often have a pool of interested buyers who are eager to compete to buy the business. Instead of waiting for the right business to list and vying to be the first to make an offer, consider this workaround: Buy a business that is not for sale.


Is it a smart play to buy a business that is not for sale?

It can be. Follow this step-by-step guide to explore your options, make inquiries, and decide if this style of acquisition is right for you:


Determine what you’re looking for.

Think about what you hope to achieve by buying a business.


For a first-time entrepreneur, it’s often a chance to use their unique blend of competencies and experiences to help a business succeed.


If you’re a current business owner, your goals may be to expand your offerings, reach new customers, or save on inputs or distribution costs.


Name the factors that are most important to you and use them to set the parameters of your search.


Explore your options.

Identify the categories of businesses that meet your criteria. Then, look for ways to connect with people who are affiliated with them. For instance, you might reach out to vendors, wholesalers, salespeople, route drivers, and others who may know which of their customer-owners are ready to retire and may be interested in an offer for their business.


You could also look into some businesses that exist in your local market and meet your criteria. If you have a specific kind of business in mind, you might expand your search to other regions to find a business that’s precisely what you’re looking for.

You could also connect with a business broker and express your interest in a particular style of business. Brokers who are buyer’s representatives may help you buy a business, even one that is not for sale today, in return for a specified fee or percentage of the purchase price.

Would you like to connect with a broker? Click the Connect button below to get started:


Research your picks.

Develop a short list of opportunities and take time to learn how each one operates and competes in its market. Study industry information by contacting local business groups and relevant associations, and try to make informed predictions about that kind of business’s sales volumes, cash flows, and revenue numbers based on their location, tenure in the market, and other industry-specific factors. With this information, you should be able to make reasonable estimates of what an owner may want to earn from the sale of the business.

If one of the businesses you’re considering is a franchise, contact the franchisor and ask about the typical sales, cost factors, and owner salaries of their businesses. Franchisors often provide this kind of information about their stores to interested franchisees.


Create a buyer’s resume.

Prepare a document that describes your background, relevant education and experience, and financial capacity to buy the business. To demonstrate your financial capacity, you could either document the assets you plan to use to complete the acquisition or explain your plans to access financing.


Your buyer’s resume should help you demonstrate that you have an earnest desire to buy the business. It should also help you prove that you’ve done the research that’s required to make an informed offer.


Develop your pitch.

Spend time thinking about how you can position your offer to appeal to the owner. Beyond offering a fair price for the business, you may consider pitching a few other key benefits. First is the option to sell to a ready-and-able buyer without paying broker fees. The second is avoiding the risk of exposing their confidential business information to undiscerning buyers. And finally, you could offer some cost savings. Offer to pay for lawyer-drafted agreements, escrow, and filing fees to make the deal more attractive to the owner.


Consider your approach.

Think about how the prospective seller would prefer to be approached with an offer. If you don’t know the owner personally, try one of these options. Write a formal letter or use an intermediary who’s familiar with the owner as your initial point of connection.


You could approach the owner directly, but this isn’t recommended unless you’ve already established a relationship with the owner. Direct inquiry makes many owners feel like they’re being put on the spot. Few will respond favorably under pressure, even if they’re interested in pursuing the idea.


Connect with the owner.

Present your offer, and give the owner time to consider and respond to it. Disinterested owners tend to ignore offers, though some will communicate that they aren’t interested in a sale. Others will accept readily or signal that they’re interested in discussions. If an agreement can be reached, you can take steps to close the deal and take ownership of your new business.


These steps can help you find the precise kind of business you’re looking for without waiting for the opportunity to present itself or navigating through a field of competitors who will drive up the final price of the business.

Take time to consider whether you want to buy a business that is not for sale.


I don’t know if I want to buy a business that is not for sale. Can you walk me through other options?

Take a look at the following articles to find other paths to success:


What’s next?

Log into your owner’s portal for free articles and advice that’ll help you source small businesses, conduct assessments, engage in negotiations, and finalize your purchase.

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