You own one or more web-based properties, and you’re looking to sell. There are a number of questions you’ll want to consider:
- Who is my prospective buyer?
- What is my web-based business worth?
- What should I do to make it as appealing to buyers as possible?
- How do I put my web-based business “on the market”?
While running an online business has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, the most successful are run primarily like any other business. Likewise, the same basic principles that successful owners use to sell any business apply to web-based businesses too. With some minor tweaks.
Understand the current market
The full scope of web-based businesses actually overlaps several distinct markets and industries. So, we’ve broken it down into two main categories:
Online retail (ecommerce)
If you’re in any sort of retail, there’s no arguing the meteoric rise of ecommerce over the last several years. While the total market share online sales have earned (about 12 percent) still pales in comparison to total brick-and-mortar retail sales, it’s more than enough to have prompted an unprecedented string of store closings, bankruptcies, and desperate restructuring as older retailers scramble to catch up.
In February of 2019, online sales reached a milestone. It was the first month in which online sales outperformed traditional retail in a major market segment (general merchandise). Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group noted, “the trend remains clear; the share of total sales for each sector are clearly going in opposite directions.”
So, in general, web-based businesses that sell physical products have a bright future ahead of them. If that’s what you’re selling (and you’re doing so successfully,) you should find a wealth of interested buyers.
Other kinds of online businesses without physical products become very niche in respect to what industries they depend on or compete with, what audiences they target, and therefore, how marketable they are at any given time. This would include fully web-based businesses like:
- Training courses
- Web-based services or apps
- Consulting or support services
Like online retail, these kinds of businesses continue to infiltrate traditional markets and steal market share. For example, look no further than how blogs and news websites have altered the newspaper industry, or why the hotel industry is still reeling from the creation of AirBnB just a decade ago.
If your web-based business falls into this category, you’re likely well aware of the industry trends and competitors you need to keep an eye on. As long as there’s no reason to believe demand for what your business offers is dying out, one of your competitors will likely be interested in buying your web properties. Another excellent group to consider are people and companies doing what you do offline who may be interested in expanding their business online through acquisition.
You can certainly try to sell it on the open market as well, but there’s less of a chance of someone from outside the industry will have both the skills and the desire to invest in a niche business that likely depends largely on your team’s knowledge.
Coming to an accurate valuation
Settling on a reasonable but profitable asking price for a business — starting with the business valuation — is a complex task. When all the intangible assets involved in a web-based business are taken into consideration, it becomes even more difficult.
The Ultimate Guide to Selling a Business advises, “due to all the factors involved, and the highly unpredictable human side of the equation, business valuation is a specialized skill that smart business owners and buyers will outsource to experts with plenty of experience. These can include business brokers, experienced attorneys, or accountants that specialize in business sales transactions.”
Valuation experts generally agree that fair market value for a successful online business averages around two to three times the company’s annual revenue. That range helps take into account significant factors like the size and engagement level of your existing audience, and the age (read: resilience) of your business.
Of course, there are other valuation methods that may be more appropriate for your specific industry and niche. Rely on your team of experts if you’re not intimately familiar with the valuation process buyers will most likely be using when evaluating your business.
Think like a buyer
If there’s one priceless key that can unlock a quick and profitable business sale, it’s this simple advice: think like a buyer.
Everything you do in preparation to selling your business needs to be done with the prospective buyer in mind. Ask yourself, “if I were looking to buy a web-based business like mine, what information would I need? What questions would I ask? And, what answers would make me more likely to buy the business?”
By getting into the mind of your prospective buyers, you should be able to compile a list of stats, explanations, and financial records that effectively cover all the questions your buyer will be asking when they show up. This can serve as a great foundation for your pre-sale To Do list, a list of things you can do to improve the company’s value and likelihood of a sale.
Listing and marketing your web-based business for sale
Where and how you list and market your business for sale will depend on the target audience of prospective buyers you have in mind.
If that’s a small, select group (such as a handful of competitors), you may not need to do much at all in the way of officially listing your company for sale. Work with your team of experts to draft letters or emails to the individuals you’re targeting and get the conversation started.
If your target audience is larger, though, your best bet is to focus on online listing services like BusinessesForSale.com. After all, anyone who’s interested in buying a web-based business is probably going to start their search online. Besides more general small business sales sites, there are also forums and listing services online that specialize in websites, domain names, and similar assets.
These services will be putting effort into marketing your listing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do so. Again, work with your team of experts to determine where else you should consider placing an ad, renting a contact list, or otherwise reaching out to prospective buyers.
If you put these recommendations into action, you can expect to sell your web-based business quickly and profitably with as little stress as possible.