This guide is provided by BusinessesForSale.com – the leading global website for the buying and selling of small and medium sized businesses.

The types of businesses you can buy varies greatly, covering everything from local retail units and manufacturing plants to advertising agencies and construction companies.

Most of them (around 70%) will be on the small side of small – they'll have perhaps just two or three employees. So their future prospects could be limited. But that still leaves many thousands of businesses that are waiting to be bought.

Most businesses take many years of very hard work to establish. Buying an operational business can be one way to circumvent this, saving yourself the exhaustion and disappointments of building an enterprise.

But remember that this effort will generally be reflected in the asking price. There are few real bargains to be found in the business world.

What you get

Besides the savings in time and effort, an established business may offer:

  • A ready-made customer base and goodwill
  • Historical market data, showing business cycles and trends
  • An established brand, which can be expanded
  • A way in to a stock market listing or company registration

Choosing the right business

The strength of the team is crucial in assessing whether to buy a business: taking on a company with expert employees will help you to understand the market you are in.

If the business is part of a wider network of businesses (such as a franchising operation), you may benefit from increased customer recognition and the security of a support framework.

Beware of businesses which appear to be in a hurry to sell. There may be a hidden problem such as debts or declining sales.

To find a business for sale in the market you're interested in, try some of these methods:

  • Search online listings sites – e.g. www.BusinessesForSale.com
  • Look at newspaper classified advertising – e.g. Loot or local papers
  • Contact business brokers or agents – find them in the Yellow Pages or Thomson
  • Talk to friends, family and colleagues to see if they know of any businesses for sale
  • Read magazines which specialise in your chosen business sector
  • Contact local business federations in your area

Bear in mind that the IT revolution has caused a huge shift in the businesses for sale market. Remote working means that employees may be far apart, geographically. Orders can be taken and dealt with on opposite sides of the globe, at minimal cost.

So don't limit your searches to your local area (unless the business meets a specific local need). Employee costs may be lower (or their skills higher) somewhere else.