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Selling in Uncertain Times

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With the presidential election rapidly approaching and the recent turmoil in the stock market, it's safe to say that thousands of business owners are wondering how these events will affect the valuation of their businesses and their ability to sell.

While it's true that some business owners are holding on to the business until conditions improve, you would think there would still be legions of baby boomers and other owners who want to sell -- and want to do it soon. That may not be the case, however.

Last month, BizBuySell.com conducted a survey of 288 business brokers, and the results indicate the majority of brokers haven't seen an increase in the number of businesses for sale. In fact, 42 percent said they have been seeing fewer listings than one year ago, and 26 percent said listings have stalled.

"Our listing base is down 50 percent from normal," said one broker. "Business owners are not sure they want to sell in this down market."

In addition to the overall finding of decreased listings, brokers weighed in on the availability of small business loans and the presidential candidates. Nearly 90 percent of business brokers who responded to the survey said they have been finding it difficult for client business owners and buyers to get access to business loans, accounting for much of the challenging conditions in the business-for-sale space. Sixty-eight percent of surveyed brokers said they began to notice access to loans decreasing in early-to-mid 2008.

In late September, the majority of business brokers polled felt that Republican candidate John McCain is much more likely than Democrat Barack Obama to provide relief to the small business economy. In fact, 56 percent favored McCain, 24 percent chose Obama, and the remainder had no opinion or believed neither was an ideal option for the small business community.

Another September survey, this one by online payroll service SurePayroll, indicates how small-business owners likewise favor McCain. That survey found that 64 percent of small-business owners believed McCain is better suited to benefit small business.

It seems McCain's messaging, which has focused on protecting the earnings of small-business owners -- made even more prominent by this month's spotlight on "Joe the Plumber" -- is resonating within the small business community.

While the current state of the economy might indicate a bleak outlook for small-business owners looking to sell, third quarter 2008 BizBuySell.com listing and sales data points toward good news for sellers. The data, based on a representative sampling of more than 50,000 business-for-sale listings on the site and 1,400 closed transactions reported by business brokers across the country, suggests that business valuations are actually on the rise. This means a seller can get more money today for each dollar of revenue or cash flow than they could one year ago.

One reason why this is the case is that weaker businesses are waiting for a change in the economy to sell, while strong businesses are being put up for sale in greater numbers because they still command good prices. In addition, as unemployment numbers grow, more people are looking to buy businesses and control their own destiny.

"Even though it is more challenging for businesses in most sectors to maintain an increasing, or at least stable positive cash flow, those that do are positioning and differentiating themselves much easier," said one broker. "With such businesses that we are representing, we are also seeing a stronger field of qualified buyers than we have seen in a long time."

Last updated: Oct 27, 2008

MIKE HANDELSMAN | BizBuySell.com

Mike Handelsman is group general manager for BizBuySell.com and BizQuest.com, the Internet's largest and most heavily trafficked business-for-sale marketplaces.




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