Business woman buying a business

How to Buy an Existing Business or Franchise

Learn how purchasing a franchise or buying an existing business can simplify the initial planning process.

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While starting a business is easy, growing that business can be extremely difficult; many small businesses struggle for years before getting a foothold in their industry. Even then, there’s no guarantee the business will ever be more than a “struggling startup.” It can be incredibly gratifying to start and grow your own business, but many people simply don’t have the time, energy, or desire to take that risk. 

At the same time, however, those people may still have an interest in owning their own business. If this sounds like you, buying an existing business or franchise may be a good option. Of course, taking this route comes with its own set of risks and challenges, and making the decision to buy an existing business or to buy a franchise should not be made lightly.

Differences Between Buying a Business and Franchising

When you buy a business, you typically take over full ownership of that business. By contrast, buying a franchise is more like a license agreement than a purchase. Franchising comes in two main forms:

  • Product or brand name franchising, in which the franchisee buys the right to sell a franchisor’s products under the franchisor’s brand.
  • Business format franchising, which is like brand name franchising but also includes the franchisor’s entire business model from day-to-day operation to training. This is the most common type of franchise.

The biggest difference between buying a business and either type of franchise is the level of control you have over it. When you own your own business, all the decisions fall on you. By contrast, a franchise offers more structure, but far less control. The blueprint a franchise provides can be quite helpful, especially for business owners with less overall experience running a business. However, the established plan and guidance may feel “constricting” at times.

Disadvantages to Buying an Existing Business

Businesses and franchises excel in different areas. Buying a business tends be disadvantageous compared to a franchise in the following areas:

  • More risk: When you buy an existing business, you take on the risks that come with that business. Even though you can avoid some of the initial grind of building a business from scratch, you still run the risk that it won’t succeed.
  • More difficulty obtaining financing: Whether you need it to fund all or part of the purchase price, or as seed money to reinvest in the business, obtaining financing may be difficult. Compared to franchises, which often have their own financing plans, this may be an additional obstacle when buying a business.
  • No brand recognition: Perhaps the biggest benefit you receive when you buy a successful franchise is the brand recognition associated with that franchise. Because people are already familiar with the brand’s reputation, you can skip over the difficult step of building consumer trust. When you buy a franchise, you aren’t just buying a license to use the franchise name; you’re also buying an established customer base.
  • No marketing or business plan: Franchises come with a defined set of guidelines to make sure your franchise is consistent with others. These guidelines usually include pre-made marketing and training programs for the franchise, saving you the time of developing them yourself.

This list isn’t exhaustive, nor is necessarily true for every business owner. What one person calls a disadvantage, another might call an opportunity.

Advantages to Buying an Existing Business

Of course, all of that isn’t to say that buying a business is bad. Doing so offers a number of advantages as well:

  • Freedom to implement new ideas: Franchises allow you to take advantage of an established business model. This comes at the cost of following the rules the franchisor sets. When you buy an existing business, you aren’t bound by these rules, leaving you free to strategize and implement your own ideas.
  • Freedom to define your own brand: While there’s no denying the benefit of a recognized franchise, working solely within the bounds of that brand can be stifling for some business owners. If you buy into an existing business, you have full control over the identity of your business.
  • Greater flexibility: The rules of a franchise extend beyond just quality control and appearance; franchisors also require their franchisees to run the business a specific way. If you’re more interested in developing a day-to-day business plan on your own, an existing business offers that flexibility.
  • It saves time: If the business sells a product, it will already have relationships with suppliers. If it offers a service, the details — what it costs, and how it’s delivered — will already have been worked out. In this way, existing businesses and franchises both allow you to save time on some of the grunt work associated with starting a business from scratch.

All these considerations can seem overwhelming at first. Organizing them on a “Buying an Existing Business Checklist” is a great place to start.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Business or Franchising

Financials are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about buying a business or franchise. But there’s actually quite a bit more that goes into either purchase, all of which deserves careful consideration.

An often-overlooked part of buying a business or franchise is the logistics surrounding it. As a buyer, you should understand whether the sale includes the building and other physical assets used by the business.

Further, it is crucial to examine potential liabilities before finalizing the purchase. For businesses, this includes reviewing the company’s debt, including any existing contracts or leases to which the business is bound. For franchises, this means carefully reviewing the franchise disclosure document (FDD) (also called a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular, or UFOC) and understanding your responsibilities and limitations as the franchisee. Required by the FTC, the FDD covers 26 specific “items,” ranging from the franchise’s litigation history and initial or ongoing fees to supplier restrictions to termination and renewal provisions.

Finally, consider whether you’re a good fit for the option you’ve chosen. Which fits your personality and abilities better? For example, an experienced business owner might be more comfortable without the guidance one would get from franchising.

How to Buy an Existing Business with No Money

Buying an existing business or franchise with no money is extremely difficult but technically not impossible. Even if you don’t have the personal capital to fund the purchase, you may still be able to obtain a business loan to cover the initial purchase price. Be aware, however, that continuing to run a business or franchise comes with ongoing costs. If you aren’t confident in your ability to generate consistent revenue — and profit — financing a business purely with loans can be a costly mistake.

Considerations When Buying a Business

There are some additional considerations that apply specifically to buying an existing business:

  • Check zoning and environmental regulations where your business will operate. Depending on your industry, both sets of regulations could severely restrict your ability to operate, sometimes in unexpected ways.
  • Understand what permits and licenses your business might need. Not all industries require them, but for those that do, failing to obtain proper licensure can have serious consequences. If you’re unsure whether you need a license, you can get a Business License Report of what you need to operate your business legally. 
  • Evaluate the value of the business and consult a reliable business broker. Brokers will be familiar with businesses for sale and the general state of the industry you’re looking to enter. 

Also, remember to evaluate the business only as it is at the time of the purchase. Excitement about the future and our ideas for the business can tempt us to make decisions based on what the business could be. However, when you buy a business, there’s no guarantee your efforts will be successful.

Buying into an Existing Business as a Partner

If purchasing a business outright isn’t feasible, one option is to buy into an existing business as a partner. Although the buy-in price may be high, it likely won’t be nearly as costly as purchasing a whole business. Of course, buying into an existing business as a partner won’t always work; clashes in personality with other partners may add an additional challenge to this option.

Considerations When Buying a Franchise

We touched on this a bit above, but here are some other specific considerations when purchasing a franchise:

  • Examine the contracts between the franchisor and the franchisee to see what your obligations are. The FDD will clue you in to the terms of sales, how much of the profit you can take home, and more.
  • Make sure you understand what resources you will get from the franchisor. Franchises typically come with substantial support from the franchisor, and you’ll only be able to properly use this support if you understand what it includes.

As always, take your time when reviewing these resources. 

Get Professional Help Before Signing

Purchasing a business or franchise without the help of an attorney or accountant is one of the worst mistakes you can make. The process is complicated, and the only way to protect your best interests is to hire outside help.

Rely on ZenBusiness to Help You Get Your Business Up and Running

It bears repeating that buying an existing business or franchise is not a decision that should be taken likely. Either option is a big investment with plenty of potential risks to consider. If it all seems overwhelming, don’t forget that you can always start your own business with relative ease.

ZenBusiness can help with many aspects of starting, running, and growing your business. Whether you need help registering your business for the first time or you’re ready to build a website and get the proper business licensing, Zenbusiness has you covered every step of the way.

Buying a Business or Franchise FAQs

  1. 1. What is the difference between buying an existing business and buying a franchise?

    “Franchising” is a way for an established business to license its trademark, trade name, and business structure to someone else. When you buy a franchise, you are purchasing the rights to use those materials and the support behind them. However, you are not buying the company itself.

    When you buy a business, you become the owner of not just its name and assets, but the actual business entity itself. As a result, you have complete freedom to control how it is run. Compare that with a franchise, which often has strict requirements for how its day-to-day operations run.

  2. 2. Is it better to buy an existing business?

    Not necessarily. The barrier to entry for both franchises and buying a business can be high; either option will likely run you tens of thousands of dollars at the outset. Whether buying an existing business is really the “better” option is more dependent on your experience and goals.
    If you prefer more granular control and have a thorough business plan in mind, buying an existing business might be the better option. By the same token, if you have less experience or less interest in developing a business plan yourself, a franchise may be the better choice.
    It all comes down to what you’re comfortable with and the different opportunities you might have when you’re trying to make the decision.

  3. 3. How hard is it to get a business loan to buy an existing business?

    The process for obtaining a loan is relatively straightforward. Lenders will likely ask for documents like your recent tax returns, a disclosure of outstanding debt, and business financial and bank statements. Additionally, many lenders require certain management-related information about the business you plan to buy, including:

      Appraisal information
      Five-year business plan information
      Financial analysis and projections
      Licensing information, if applicable

    Like other loans, the difficulty of obtaining a business loan largely depends on the credit history of you, your business, and the business you want to buy. As a result, it’s important to speak with that lender directly about what they need to feel comfortable approving the loan. Every lender has a different risk tolerance, and each will consider your equity, collateral, cash flow, or other relevant metric in a different way.

  4. 4. Can you buy an existing franchise?

    Yes. Rather than buying a new franchise directly from the franchisor, you may be able to purchase an existing franchise. But doing so isn’t without obstacles. There may be restrictions on the transfer of the franchise that make buying one difficult, such as a right of first refusal by the original franchisor.

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