The Pros and Cons of Buying an Existing Business
However, this entrepreneurial route isn’t for everyone. Rather than starting your own business, you could purchase an existing one instead. Buying an already established business will allow you to avoid the often painful startup period, while still allowing you to run a business.
Still, while there are many benefits to buying an existing business, there are also certain risks involved. In this blog post, we’ll examine the pros and cons of buying a small business that’s already established so that you can make the best decision.
The Pros of Buying an Existing Business
1. The Product or Service is Already Market Tested
When you buy an existing business, you’ll already have a good idea of how well the market has reacted to the products or services offered. For example, if you buy an established restaurant that’s already a popular spot, you’ll know that local customers enjoy the food. Due to this, you can be fairly confident that these patrons will continue to visit the establishment.
Due to this, it’s important to conduct your due diligence; knowing that the product or service is well-received should play a part in your final decision. If you’re researching businesses for sale, take into account whether or not they’re already a successful business.
2. You’ll Significantly Reduce Startup Time
Not only are the products or services from an existing business already market tested, but you’ll also be in the position to start selling quickly. For example, if you’re starting from scratch and want to open a retail store, you’ll need to purchase inventory, find suppliers, hire employees, and find a location before you open your doors to customers.
In comparison, many of the following tasks will already be established when buying an existing business:
- Staff members will already be trained.
- There will be pre-existing relationships with suppliers.
- Protocols and procedures will be set.
- There will be a significant knowledge base to draw upon.
When you buy a business, the previous owner will have already done much of the work for you. Of course, you may need to hire additional staff members, remodel the location (or look for new real estate), and upgrade equipment, to name a few examples. Still, many tasks will already be completed for you as the business buyer, allowing you to focus on improving aspects of the business and making it your own.
3. The Brand Is Established
Brands are vital for establishing and expanding your customer base and market presence. Starting a new brand in a crowded marketplace isn’t an easy task, as existing business owners will already have an advantage over you. Many entrepreneurs struggle to grow their brands and draw attention to their products or services, especially during the startup phase.
Still, over time your business’s brand should gain momentum. If you buy an established business, however, you’ll often inherit its brand and market share, which can save you considerable time and money.
4. It’s Easier to Secure Business Financing
It’s often easier to obtain additional working capital, especially traditional financing, to purchase an existing business. If you need a loan to buy a business, it may be easier than getting a loan for your startup venture. In addition, the application process may not be as strenuous because the lender can review the existing business’s finances.
For example, a working capital lender will be able to look at revenues, profits, and other financial statements to determine the viability of your business. This can reduce risks for lenders, and if the existing business is healthy, it will increase the likelihood that they’ll provide you with a small business loan.
5. Access to the Business’s Customer Base
Since this business has already been up-and-running, there should be an existing customer base that will still make purchases under your ownership. As a startup owner, it can be hard to spread the word about your new business, so it can be beneficial to buy a business that people know about.
The Cons of Buying an Existing Small Business
1. You’ll Get What You Paid For
Few business owners are going to sell a flourishing business for a cheap purchase price. If a business is thriving, the previous owners will likely demand a hefty price, which is understandable. Due to this, you should closely compare the startup costs versus the cost of buying an existing business. In the long run, you might save money by establishing your own business and brand, but it’ll ultimately depend on the quality of the existing business.
On the other hand, if you buy a cheap business, there’s a risk that the brand is tainted, or that markets have rejected the product or service. Resuscitating a bad brand or a struggling business can be very difficult. In such cases, you should ask yourself if the business is worth acquiring even at a very affordable price.
2. Significant Changes May Be Necessary
You may purchase a business hoping that it’s essentially a turnkey establishment but end up dealing with a wide range of issues. It’ll be hard to examine how well the business is operating until you get behind the wheel yourself.
Some warning signs to watch out for:
- Staffing problems, such as disgruntled employees or frequent turnover.
- Equipment that is outdated or prone to issues.
- Unreliable suppliers
- Existing debt or cash flow issues.
Unfortunately, as you try to implement changes, you may end up creating new problems. For example, employees may resist policy changes and even quit. To avoid these issues, we suggest trying to find out as much about the existing business as possible, so that you don’t regret your decision.
3. You Could Get Scammed
In addition to existing issues, you may get scammed by unscrupulous sellers. It’s possible that the previous business owner misrepresented financial data, glossed over needed repairs, or didn’t provide a complete picture of the overall operations. In this situation, you may have legal recourse, but legal fees can quickly add up. To avoid getting scammed, review all legal documents with your lawyer, and conduct considerable research prior to buying an existing business.
4. It Can Be Challenging to Make It “Your” Business
When you buy an existing business, you’re stepping into someone else’s vision. Most likely, you’ll have to work to make it your own, and make changes that reflect your goals. For example, you may want to offer new products/services, or change up the décor.
Unfortunately, these changes can cost time and money. In some cases, the business may never feel like it’s truly yours because you didn’t start it initially. If you worry that this could be a possibility, you might be better off waiting until you’re able to start your own company.
5. The Business Might Have a Bad Reputation
If the business has experienced PR issues; it could hurt your sales going forward. From bad customer service to legal troubles, these mistakes might damage your entrepreneurial career, even if you didn’t open the business when they occurred.
If patrons already associate the business with negativity, they might not change their mind because there’s a new owner (or, they might not even find out about this). Even if there are other benefits to buying an existing business, purchasing one with a less-than-stellar reputation won’t make them worth it.
Conclusion: There Are Many Benefits to Buying an Existing Business, But Also Some Drawbacks
There are many pros and cons to buying an existing business. Whether you should do so will depend heavily on your situation, financing options, and the type of business, to name a few examples. We suggest taking time to consider all your options prior to making a permanent decision, so that your business venture is a rewarding one!
Editor’s Note: This post was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in February 2021.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.