An SMB Searcher’s Guide

Identifying a Great Deal when Business Buying – You want as many of these attributes as possible, ideally:


Clean books. Clean books. Clean books. Easy to understand P&L and Tax Returns. No funny business.


Adjusted Earnings (SDE or EBITDA) between 200-800K is the sweet spot for maximizing ROI on your $$ and time. Smaller can be better relative % gain but too time-consuming. Bigger can be less time-consuming, but you have to pay higher multiples.


In business for at least three years. The longer, the better.


At least five employees. People act like the fewer employees, the better… but it’s not true. You’re trying to buy a business and hit a Great Deal, not a high-paying J-O-B, and you want good people in sufficient quantity.


Strong RPH- revenue per head. This is one of the sexiest metrics people don’t talk about enough. When comparing companies side by side in similar industries, I generally want the one with the highest revenue per employee. Employees are hard to get nowadays- get the most from them


Geographically located somewhere with a growing population. The rising tide lifts all boats.


Good reviews/reputation. Hard to turn around a bad reputation.


Trending upwards. Easier to accelerate when heading in the right direction already.


You have something in your background/experience that this company will benefit from and make a Great Deal. It could be connections, knowledge, technology, sales and marketing experience, financial sophistication, etc… but what’s between your ears gives this company something it’s missing.


Strong margins. I like slightly higher than normal margins in the industry. Assuming you can immediately fix low margins to the industry standard is an extremely dangerous assumption. I’d rather grow revenue with already good margins.


Rich owner, strong cash position on the balance sheet, low debt. Success leaves clues.


Most revenue is recurring or reoccuring.

Recurring = an automatic monthly, quarterly, or annual payment from a customer. (ex. quarterly pest control agreement)

Reoccurring = same customers come back over and over, though not automatically. (ex. Periodic restaurant vent hood cleaning)


No family members of Seller working in key positions. Exceptions to the rule, of course, but this bites you more often than not.


Small market share. (hard to grow when you’ve already got 90% of your potential customers)


Industry tailwinds. People don’t put enough emphasis on this. Pick a sector likely to grow more than inflation over the next ten years, and your life and growth will be 10X easier than operating in a shrinking sector.


Competitive moat, barriers to entry. These can take many forms, but I like stuff under the radar without stiff pricing competition that is hard to replicate easily.


You can’t imagine a gen Z kid creating an app within the next ten years that puts you out of business.


(New since 2020:) The government would consider you essential in times of Pandemic.


The fragmented industry with lots of Boomer owners you could absorb or buy out as they retire next 10 years.


Talent is “gettable” to do the work needed to grow as long as you pay well. It’s hard everywhere, but ensure it’s not nearly impossible in your industry and geography if you want to grow.


Recession resistant: think “necessity”. You want something that does just as good or even better in downturns when buying in hot markets.


Low Capex requirements. It can scale easily by reinvesting its own profits without having to take on more debt to grow constantly.


Not fully modernized. Look for paper file cabinets, no e-commerce, mediocre websites, etc… as those can mean big opportunities for growth and cost savings/efficiency gains.


The owner and employees generally seem happy. Great Deal. A vibe check is important. Walk away if everything is perfect on paper, but everyone looks miserable.


Not completely dependent on one vendor. This rules out most franchises. Imagine owning a Subway when people discover Jared is a pedo. Captive insurance agencies as well… sometimes they just aren’t price competitive, and you’re screwed. Can you get what you sell from >2 sources?


Not wholly dependent on one customer. Ideally, I like to see the biggest customer under 10% of revenue.


Improves the lives of your customers. Seriously. What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul? Pick something you can be proud of, and you’ll execute it with much more passion and self-esteem. It’s not all about $. It’s about showing up with a full heart.


You can get most of these attributes and buy it for 2-4X earnings… it’s the deal of a lifetime, and you need to jump on it and get cranking.


If this was valuable, please follow me @clintfiore and share the love.

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