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How to Respond to Enquiries from Potential Buyers

So, you've listed your business for sale. Now you will need to monitor your inbox for responses from potential buyers.

We give you some essential tips so that you can spot the timewasters from the serious enquiries so that you can get to the negotiations and, hopefully, signing on the dotted line, as swiftly as possible.

The global markets have shifted, and it is now a buyer’s market. This will mean that you can expect more of your enquiries to be serious. While this is great news, you will need to respond carefully so that you can keep the serious buyers interested all through the process.

You should be ready to respond quickly

Respond to enquiries as quickly as possible. Otherwise, buyers might get frustrated and pursue alternatives with more responsive sellers.

Sometimes, of course, it may take a few days to obtain the information the interested party is requesting. But you can still respond immediately with something like: “Thanks for your enquiry. I should be able to send you this information the day after tomorrow. Thanks for your patience.”

At least the buyer knows what’s happening and that they’re not being ignored.

Filtering out timewasters

Be on the lookout for tell-tale signs of the timewaster: window shoppers with no real interest in, nor the financial capacity to, actually buy your business.

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Ask them if they have experience of the sector or similar sectors and in running businesses in the UK generally. If the answer is unconvincing, this weakens their credibility as a potential buyer, so ask them why they want to buy a business with so little experience of the sector and/or running businesses.

But if they show they’ve done their homework on the industry and demonstrate a convincing passion for being their own boss, then they could still be a genuine prospect – especially if it’s a relatively uncomplicated business model (like, say, a pizza delivery business or convenience store).

Make sure that you get an idea of the timescale that the buyer is working towards. If it’s much longer or shorter than your anticipated schedule, then it may not be worth proceeding further.

You should also get an idea of how they plan to finance their purchase. A buyer with partially or fully arranged finance is preferable to someone with little apparent clue as to how they will fund the acquisition.

Case study: How did you weed out timewasters?

"The timewasters basically wanted to know how much we made and that’s it. I didn’t want them to look at just that," says Toundjel Chimen, who sold Hamlyns dry cleaners through BusinessesForSale.com.

"I wanted them to look at the shop, what we provided to the community and what sort of service we provide.” I wanted to find “someone to take over the business and carry on the good work that I’ve put in over the last 25 years."

Even if someone is convincing enough via email, you may develop doubts once you speak to them over the phone or in person.

"I could tell by their voice how sincere they were and if they were genuine,” continues Toundjel. "There were about eight serious offers for the business, and I accepted two of them. I whittled it down to one and I’m happy with the person who’s taking it over."

Non-disclosure agreements

When you’ve screened enquiries for timewasters and found a convincing buyer with a credible financial plan, you’ll need them to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Only once this is signed should you share with a buyer any sensitive commercial information.

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Also called a confidentiality agreement, an NDA is an undertaking by one or both parties not to disclose sensitive information to third parties. It therefore reduces the risk that trading accounts, your customer database and other confidential information will be leaked to staff, customers or competitors to damaging effect.

A template NDA is a good starting point. However, it may be beneficial to have a professional adapt it for your purposes and ensure the document is valid under your and the other party’s jurisdiction.

Admittedly, if a signatory decides to break an NDA, there is little you can do to prevent them. However, an NDA does offer you legal recourse to seek damages and therefore serves as a major deterrent.

Meet with the buyer in person

Once you have look through and dealt with all the initial enquiries and found a sincere buyer, they will want to visit your premises and meet you in person.

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You should be ready for the due diligence process so that there is nothing that might come up that will stall the negotiation process. It can be helpful to have professional help at this stage. Be ready to provide the buyer with any information they might request.

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