How Not to Fail as a Business Broker
By Lou Vescio, CBI, M&AMI, Managing Partner, Coastal Business Intermediaries & Agency Brokerage Consultants
2017 Chairman of the IBBA, Fellow of the IBBA, Fellow of The M&A Source
Having been part of the Business Broker or Business Advisor Profession for about 16 years, I have seen many new Brokers come and go! I have also seen many grow their practice into very lucrative and profitable enterprises. Why do some Brokers succeed and prosper, while others give up in six months to two years? Having participating in several professions in the past fifty years, from flying jets in the Air Force, to a 15 year career with a Fortune 500 company, to building a couple computer training businesses and selling them, and finally becoming a Business Broker, I believe I have identified a few traits that make the great Brokers great and why some Brokers fail.
Perseverance – If you have ever read anything about Navy Seals, they never give up! The Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school includes some of the most difficult training that exists, and most participants drop out due to the physical and mental stress. Perseverance is the key to their success.
This is not to say that becoming a great Business Broker comes close to becoming a Navy Seal, but all successful Business Brokers that I know exhibit the “failure is not an option” mentality. The Business Brokers workday is not a “9 to 5” type of day; it’s an “I will do whatever work I need to do, whenever I need to do it” type of day!
Education – Great Business Brokers are always learning more about their profession. Education obviously includes taking IBBA and M&A Source courses and workshops attending professional conferences sponsored by associations like the GABB, but it also includes reading everything available that is pertinent to the profession. Great Business Brokers also network with other great Brokers across the country and even across the world. Every business is different, every deal is different, and sharing and networking with other professionals offers new and fresh ideas and concepts.
Learn to say “No” – One of the Brokers I admire is Jim Afinowich, Managing Partner with IBG Fox & Fin in Scottsdale, AZ. Many years ago, he taught a workshop on saying “no” to bad listings. New Brokers tend to take almost any listing just so they have something to sell, but statistics tell us that 75% to 90% of businesses listed by Business Brokers do not sell! On the other hand, great Brokers sell 80% to 95% of their listings. Learning to price businesses properly (that Education thing above), properly analyzing good businesses when writing a great CIM (again that education thing), and walking away from unreasonable sellers by “just saying no” (in a nice way of course) are a few keys to success.
Marketing – While we all like to receive great referrals, most Brokers would go out of business if they did not market their services. Without going into the details of what kind of marketing a Broker should undertake, the key is marketing costs money and it is a requirement to succeed. The IBBA offers courses, workshops and webinars on every type of marketing, and the costs can vary from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Fifty years ago, Tom West, author of The Complete Guide to Business Brokerage, suggested mailing a hundred letters a week and calling that same hundred business owners a week later. That is probably the bare minimum and may still be one of the most effective tools. Marketing is one of those “just do it” activities, and do as much as you can afford!
Salesmanship – While many people may disagree with me, we are saleswomen and salesmen. If we do not sell, we don’t make money! Some Brokers like to refer to themselves as advisors, consultants, or intermediaries, but in the end, we are still salespeople! More precisely, we engage in consultative selling, meaning we focus on creating value and trust with the prospect and exploring their needs before offering a solution. Our first objective is building a relationship, and then we provide the right solution to the problem. There are many courses and books on how to sell everything under the sun, but one of the best sales books a Broker can read is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936). It is more about getting people to like you, and that is the first step in selling. You can download and read it here for free.
Find a Mentor – Having a mentor when starting out as a Business Broker is a big plus, and joining a professional association like the GABB can help with this. Having an experienced and trusted adviser who will assist in training can shorten the timeline from “Start” to “Success!” It is also advisable to work in a successful brokerage when starting out to avoid many costly and time-consuming mistakes. Whether it be a franchised brokerage or an independent brokerage, find a mentor that meets the following criteria: 1) knows how to make a lot of money selling good businesses, 2) promotes IBBA education and certification, 3) assists in valuing and critiquing potential listings and 4) assists in negotiating difficult transactions.
Become an IBBA Contributor – One of the best ways to enhance your IBBA experience is to actively participate in the annual conferences, courses and workshops and share your experiences with others. Join a committee or two and be active. The friends you make and the experiences you share with others will enhance your Business Brokerage experience. (Note, the GABB also offers conferences, committees and monthly meetings.)
Finally, to all you Great Business Brokers out there, make friends with a new member at the next IBBA Conference and offer yourself as a mentor. You will find it very rewarding!
Reprinted with the permission of the International Business Brokers Association.