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Explained: The differing costs of using a business intermediary

What type of advisor should you employ during the sales process? Howard Weston explains your options.

You’ve decided to sell up, and have made the decision to use the services of an intermediary to help you. So, how much is it likely to cost?

To help you navigate the various options and choices available, here’s a quick overview of the main ways business intermediaries charge for their services. 

First off, whether you’re a small independent shop, or a large manufacturer with hundreds of staff, you need to understand what kind of adviser you’ll need, as this will likely dictate the fee structure. 

The main type of intermediaries are: 

Business Transfer Agents or commercial estate agents. 

A business transfer agent (BTA) is the traditional route for most property related and/or small businesses. Think shop, garage, hairdresser, post office, pub, restaurant etc. 

Typically a BTA will maintain a list of a large number of sale opportunities often across a wide range of sectors. Some specialise in niche sectors, for example: care homes or pubs. 

BTAs tend not to deal with consultative services like preparing the business for sale, or negotiation. Services tend to be process driven, focusing on small, and straightforward opportunities. 

Typical size business: Turnover up to £300,000. More for property based transaction. 

Cost: From nothing to £2,000 upfront and anything from 3-10% of the final sale price. 

Business Brokers

Business brokers specialise in running a business sale from start to finish. Like BTAs, brokers often specialise in certain niches. Many brokers consider finding the buyer the easy bit and putting the deal together the hard part. As such, they typically offer a more transaction based service. 

Typical size business: Turnover from £300,000 to £10 million. 

Cost: Consultancy, set up fees or on-going monthly retainers are standard practice. Expect to pay anywhere from £1,000 up to £45,000 plus a final sale commission of 3% to 8%. Some brokers may negotiate a fixed fee for a deal. You may even come across an hourly fee. 

Accountants 

Some accountants, especially the larger regional and national practices, have business sales experience, or a specialist team of experts. Not known for their flamboyance, or marketing nous, accountants offer mainly number based services. 

Typical size business: Any. 

Cost: Predominantly paid on an hourly retainer basis, or a combination of that and the same as a business broker. 

Corporate Finance and Investment Banks 

Typically large organisations, or smaller boutiques of specialists. Traditionally they offer specialised, highly bespoke and holistic services - often including legal, tax, and accounting advice. Particularly dedicated to mostly corporate and international clients. 

Typical size business: £10m+ 

Cost: Usually a retainer or project management fee in the region of £50k+ and a percentage commission or fixed project completion fee. 

There is no right or wrong when it comes to fees. It is fundamentally about finding the best fit for you and your business. This is best achieved by shortlisting and talking to three or four potential advisers and choosing who offers the services you need, has agreeable terms and who you think you’ll work best with. 

Apples vs Oranges 

When comparing advisers, it is vital that you do your homework. Although they can often look the same, and may appear to offer the same services, you need to make sure you are comparing like with like so you can see what you are paying for.

For example, a broker who might represent several hundred, even thousands, of clients is highly unlikely to offer a personal or bespoke service, which is not the same as a corporate financier who does. 

All about the money? 

Do your sums. A sale for £1,000,000 on a no-sale, no-fee basis with a 7% commission, is a £70,000 fee. A £5,000 up-front fee with a 3% commission represents a total fee of £35,000. You could buy a nice car with the difference. 

Howard Weston is managing director of UK business brokers Lucas & Weston Ltd

 

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Howard Weston

About the author

Howard Weston is managing director of UK business brokers Lucas & Weston Ltd. For the past 14 years he has been successfully advising owners, shareholders and investment groups on selling their businesses. Howard enjoys aikido, surfing, scuba diving, rugby, reading, travelling and playing the guitar badly.

@lucasandweston

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