Some entrepreneurs love the challenge of starting a new business and creating everything from scratch. However, that may not be the best approach for everyone. Buying an existing business can eliminate the initial legwork of establishing a customer base, training employees, and securing start-up funding, but it is not without its own challenges. 

As a prospective business buyer, part of the challenge is figuring out exactly what you are buying. This requires proper due diligence with help from business, tax, and legal experts. Arriving at a fair purchase price and agreeing on a deal is only possible after you have taken a deep dive into the business you are considering purchasing. But getting to that point takes a lot of work. And even after a deal is in place, there is more to do. 

Strong Business-Buying Opportunities Remain

Despite powerful economic headwinds in the form of inflation, labor shortages, and recession concerns, Americans are starting—and buying—new businesses at a strong clip. 

In the second quarter of 2022, there were more than twenty-three hundred small business transactions, according to BizBuySell. That number is down from the first quarter but still represents a 14 percent year-over-year gain. Notably, the median business sale price dropped 9 percent from the first quarter to the second, which could indicate good buying opportunities amid economic uncertainty and looming interest rate increases. 

The median asking price of a business sold in the second quarter was $350,000. BizBuySell notes that in the current economic environment, sellers are becoming “more realistic about valuation and asking price.” 

Buying a Business and Due Diligence

Ronald Reagan’s quip “trust, but verify” is an apt summation of the due diligence process. Due diligence occurs after business details have been reviewed and an offer has been made, but before the deal is closed. 

Typically, due diligence is a condition of the buyer’s offer. At this point, the buyer has already reviewed information about the business and is prepared to move ahead with a deal—barring any unexpected revelations during the due diligence process. Uncovering issues does not mean the deal is off, but it could signal the need for further negotiations (and, in some cases, a lower sale price). Due diligence should always be undertaken with assistance from an accountant and an attorney who has experience with small- to midsize business acquisitions. 

Due Diligence Checklist

If you have an agreement in principle with the business seller and have sent a letter of intent, you can proceed to conduct due diligence. While your attorney will guide you through due diligence, you should be aware of the information that will be reviewed during the process and what items might need your attention. 

After Due Diligence

Once due diligence concludes, you can finalize the deal. This could mean renegotiating the purchase price and other terms based on issues identified during due diligence. Changes to the deal should be reflected in the purchase and sale agreement, which is the document that is drafted and signed after the buyer and seller mutually confirm the price and terms of the transaction. 

This agreement could be structured as an asset purchase—in which the buyer only purchases specific assets and liabilities of the company—or an equity purchase agreement, in which the buyer purchases the entire entity (i.e., all of its assets and liabilities). The former is a more tailored approach that is more complex but can secure tax advantages and help avoid liabilities. The latter approach is much more straightforward, but the buyer could end up assuming unwanted assets and liabilities. You should discuss the pros and cons of both approaches in relation to the specific deal on the table with your attorney and tax professionals. 

When (or before) the deal becomes official, your work is not yet done. You may also need to take the following steps:

Do Not Buy a Business without Legal Help

Buying a business, like starting a business, can be one of the most impactful life decisions you make. Even if you have bought or sold a business before, there may be more than meets the eye in a transaction, and every deal should be approached with a fresh perspective. 

If you are interested in acquiring a company, an attorney with a track record of representing buyers in small business deals is a must. We can help you perform due diligence, negotiate a purchase price, safeguard against unanticipated liabilities, handle contracts, and properly structure and document the purchase. To schedule a meeting with our business attorneys, please contact us