9 Financing Options to Acquire a Small Business

After 2022’s rather slow rate of mergers and acquisitions, 2023 is likely to see a pickup in activity again.

This means two things:

One – you’re not the only one looking to acquire a business. And two – you need capital.

Luckily there’s plenty of ways to finance the deal. From business acquisition loans to crowdfunding, financing has never been easier.

This guide will break down 9 best financing options to acquire a business successfully.

Financing Options to Acquire a Business – Overview

  1. Bootstrapping
  2. Bank loans
  3. Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans
  4. Private Lenders
  5. Private Equity Firms
  6. Venture Capital
  7. Mezzanine Financing
  8. Crowdfunding
  9. Strategic Partnerships

Bootstrapped Business Acquisition

Self-financing, often referred to as bootstrapping, is the process of using your own funds to finance a business acquisition. This can include personal savings, assets, or any other liquid capital you have access to. Basecamp is an example of a famously successful bootstrapped company.

Here are some tips to succeed in bootstrapping a startup:

  1. Do your due diligence to understand the business’s financial health, liabilities, and any potential hidden costs. Here’s a guide to ecommerce due diligence.
  2. Consider seller financing. This is where the seller agrees to finance a portion of the purchase price. The terms can be more flexible than traditional bank loans.
  3. Consider an earn-out agreement. The seller receives future payments based on the business’s performance after the acquisition. It reduces the upfront cost and aligns the interests of both parties.

Pros of Bootstrapping

  • Control: By using your own money, you retain full control over the business without external interference.
  • No Debt: Unlike with a business acquisition loan, there’s no obligation to repay anyone, eliminating interest costs and potential debt burdens.
  • Flexibility: Without external lenders or investors, you have the freedom to make decisions at your own pace.

Cons of Bootstrapping

  • Limited Funds: Your financing capacity is restricted to your own resources, which might limit the size or type of business you can acquire.
  • Risk: If the business fails or doesn’t perform as expected, you stand to lose your personal investment.
  • Opportunity Cost: The funds used for the acquisition could have been invested elsewhere, potentially yielding returns.

Traditional Bank Loans

A bank loan is a common method of financing business acquisitions. It involves borrowing a set amount of money from a bank or financial institution and repaying it over time with interest.

Here are some tips to successfully secure a bank loan for a business acquisition:

  1. Banks will want to see a comprehensive business plan for the acquired business. Include your strategy, financial projections, market analysis, and a clear plan for growth and profitability.
  2. Before applying, review both your personal and the target business’s credit reports and address any discrepancies beforehand.
  3. Be prepared to offer collateral, which can be assets from the business or personal assets, to secure the loan.

Pros of Bank Loans

  • Established Process: Banks have a structured lending process, making it easier for borrowers to understand the terms and conditions.
  • Potentially Lower Interest Rates: Compared to some alternative lenders, banks often offer competitive interest rates for business acquisition loans, especially if you have a strong credit history.
  • Build Credit: Timely repayment of a bank loan can enhance your credit score, which can be beneficial for future financial endeavors.

Cons of Bank Loans

  • Stringent Requirements: Banks typically have strict criteria for loan approval, including credit checks, financial statements, and business plans.
  • Collateral: Most small business loans are secured, meaning you’ll need to provide assets as collateral. If you default, the bank can seize these assets.
  • Longer Approval Time: The process of getting a loan approved can be lengthy, especially if there’s a lot of due diligence involved.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a U.S. government agency that provides support to entrepreneurs and small businesses through SBA loans.

One of its primary functions is to guarantee loans made by partner banks, credit unions, and other lenders to small businesses, including those looking to acquire other businesses.

Here are some tips to successfully secure an SBA loan.

  1. Ensure you meet the SBA’s eligibility criteria, which typically include size standards, the nature of the business, and the use of loan proceeds.
  2. Prepare an independent business valuation for acquisitions, which the SBA often requires to justify the loan amount you’re seeking.
  3. The SBA usually requires the buyer to inject a certain percentage of equity (often around 10-20%) into the acquisition deal. Make sure you have the necessary funds.

Pros of SBA Loans

  • Favorable Terms: SBA business acquisition loans often come with longer repayment terms and lower interest rates compared to traditional bank loans.
  • Lower Down Payments: For business acquisitions, an SBA loan can often be secured with a smaller down payment, making it more accessible for buyers.
  • Flexible Use: The funds from an SBA loan can be used for a variety of purposes, including purchasing equipment, real estate, or even financing a business acquisition.

Cons of SBA Loans

  • Stringent Requirements: While an SBA loan is designed to be more accessible, it still has strict qualification criteria, including business size standards and the personal credit history of the borrower.
  • Lengthy Approval Process: Due to the involvement of both the SBA and the lending institution, the approval process can be longer than other financing options.
  • Collateral: Many SBA loans require collateral, which means assets of the business or the borrower might be at risk if the loan isn’t repaid.

Private Lenders For Business Acquisition

Prosper, an online private lender platform

Private lenders are individuals or institutions that offer loans outside of traditional banking systems.

They use their own capital to provide financing, often with terms and conditions that differ from those of conventional banks. You can find private lenders on platforms like Prosper.

Here are some tips to successfully work with private lenders:

  1. Unlike traditional banks, private lenders often place significant value on personal relationships and trust. Personal referrals and introductions can also be invaluable.
  2. Be open about your business plans, financials, and any potential risks associated with the acquisition. Demonstrate your commitment and reliability.
  3. Seller financing is a great way to secure private lending. This is where the seller agrees to finance a portion of the purchase price in exchange for equity or profit agreements.

Pros of Private Lenders

  • Flexibility: Private lenders often have more adaptable terms, making it easier to tailor a loan to specific needs.
  • Speed: With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, private lenders can often approve loans faster than traditional banks.
  • Accessibility: For those who might not meet the stringent criteria of traditional banks, private lenders can offer an alternative route to financing.

Cons of Private Lenders

  • Higher Interest Rates: Due to the increased risk they assume, private lenders typically charge higher interest rates than traditional banks.
  • Less Regulation: The lack of stringent oversight means borrowers might have fewer protections in place.
  • Potential for Unethical Practices: Without the standard regulations that banks are subject to, there’s a higher chance of encountering lenders with questionable practices.

Private Equity Firms For Business Acquisition

Private equity (PE) firms are investment management companies that pool funds from various investors to acquire, manage, and eventually sell businesses for a profit.

Here are some tips to successfully work with private equity firms:

  1. Demonstrate growth potential and a clear path to a profitable exit, either through a sale, merger, or public offering.
  2. Be prepared with detailed due diligence with financial statements, market analyses, and any other relevant documentation.
  3. Make sure to agree on the business’s strategic direction, the expected timeline for returns, and the firm’s involvement level in management.

Pros of Private Equity Firms

  • Large Capital Infusion: Large PE firms, like Blackstone, can provide significant capital, allowing for larger acquisitions or buyouts. This can also secure cash flow needs.
  • Expertise and Management: Many PE firms bring industry expertise, operational experience, and a network of professionals that can add value to the acquired business.
  • Long-Term Vision: Unlike some investors looking for quick returns, PE firms like Smash.vc often have a longer-term strategy, focusing on growth and value creation over several years.

Cons of Private Equity Firms

  • Loss of Control: When a PE firm invests in or acquires a business, the original owners or operators might lose some degree of control over decision-making.
  • High Expectations: PE firms seek substantial returns on their investments, which can place pressure on the business to perform and deliver results.
  • Exit Strategy: PE firms typically have an exit plan, which might involve selling the business or taking it public. This exit can impact the company’s direction, culture, and long-term goals.

Venture Capital For Business Acquisition

Smash.vc is a venture capital firm

Venture capitalists (VCs) are investors who provide capital to startups or early stage companies in exchange for equity or an ownership stake, typically betting on high-growth potential. Learn more about the venture capitalist world through these VC blogs.

Here are some tips to successfully work with private equity firms:

  1. When presenting an acquisition opportunity, highlight how it can significantly accelerate growth, tap into new markets, or provide a competitive edge that can lead to substantial returns.
  2. VCs invest as much in people as they do in businesses. Showcase a strong, experienced management team that can execute the acquisition strategy effectively.
  3. Venture capitalists are looking for a return on their investment. Outline a clear exit strategy, whether it’s a subsequent sale, merger, or initial public offering (IPO).

Pros of Venture Capital

  • Growth Capital: VCs can provide substantial funds that can be used to accelerate growth, expand operations, or facilitate acquisitions.
  • Mentorship and Expertise: Venture capitalists, like Travis Jamison, often bring industry knowledge, strategic guidance, and a network of valuable contacts to the table.
  • Credibility and Validation: Securing venture capital can enhance a company’s reputation, making it easier to attract talent, partners, and additional investors.

Cons of Venture Capital 

  • Equity Dilution: In exchange for their investment, VCs will require a portion of the company’s equity, which can dilute the ownership of existing stakeholders.
  • Decision-Making Influence: With a stake in the company, VCs may seek a say in strategic decisions, which can sometimes lead to disagreements with founders or existing management.
  • Focus on Exit: VCs typically look for a return on their investment within a certain timeframe, often through an exit strategy like an IPO or company sale. This can influence the company’s direction and priorities.

Mezzanine Financing For Business Acquisition

Mezzanine financing, or subordinate financing, is a hybrid form of capital that combines elements of debt and equity financing. It is typically used by companies to fund growth projects, acquisitions, or in some cases, as a bridge between venture capital financing and an initial public offering (IPO).

It’s typically used by companies that are looking for capital for expansion or acquisitions, but might not be able to secure traditional financing.

Here are some tips to succeed in mezzanine financing:

  1. Make sure you can show a consistent history of positive cash flows and projections that indicate this trend will continue.
  2. Understand that mezzanine financing often comes with a subordinate claim on the company’s assets, meaning it’s below senior debt in priority but above equity.
  3. Given its hybrid nature (debt and equity), mezzanine financing can have complex terms. It’s crucial to understand these terms fully and negotiate them to align with the business’s growth strategy and financial capabilities.

Pros of Mezzanine Financing

  • Flexible Terms: Mezzanine financing often has more adaptable terms and repayment structures compared to traditional loans.
  • No Collateral: Unlike a traditional small business loan, mezzanine financing doesn’t usually require physical collateral, as it’s often secured by the company’s equity.
  • Preservation of Equity: While it might involve some equity components, mezzanine financing can allow business owners to retain a larger portion of their company compared to equity financing.

Cons of Mezzanine Financing

  • Higher Interest Rates: Due to its subordinated nature and higher risk, mezzanine financing typically comes with higher interest rates than senior debt.
  • Equity Conversion: If the loan isn’t repaid, the mezzanine lender can convert their debt into an equity ownership in the company, leading to dilution for existing business owners.
  • Complex Agreements: The hybrid nature of mezzanine financing can lead to complex contract terms and negotiations, requiring careful review and understanding.

Crowdfunding a Business Acquisition

Kickstarter crowdfunded projects

Crowdfunding involves raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via online platforms.

It’s a method that’s become increasingly popular for startups and projects. It can also be powerful for financing a business acquisition, if it relates to a project the crowd is excited about.

Here are some tips to successfully get crowdfunding:

  1. Crowdfunding campaigns thrive on compelling narratives. Clearly communicate why the acquisition is beneficial, how it aligns with the business’s mission, and what backers will gain in return.
  2. Regularly update your backers on the campaign’s progress, milestones reached, and any challenges faced.
  3. Different crowdfunding platforms cater to different types of campaigns. Research and select a platform that aligns with your acquisition’s nature and target audience.

Pros of Crowdfunding

  • Access to Capital: Crowdfunding can provide a way to secure funds without the need for traditional financial intermediaries.
  • Market Validation: A successful crowdfunding campaign can serve as proof of market demand or validation for a business or product idea.
  • Brand Awareness: Running a campaign can increase visibility and awareness for the business, attracting not just investors but also potential customers.

Cons of Crowdfunding

  • Platform Fees: Most crowdfunding platforms charge fees, which can reduce the total amount of funds raised.
  • Public Exposure: Crowdfunding campaigns are public, which means exposing your business acquisition loan and financial needs to the world. This can be a concern for some entrepreneurs.
  • No Guarantee: Meeting the funding goal isn’t guaranteed. If the campaign doesn’t reach its target, some platforms operate on an “all-or-nothing” basis, meaning the business might not receive any funds.

Strategic Partnerships For Business Acquisition

Strategic partnerships involve two or more businesses collaborating for mutual benefit. In the context of business acquisition, it can mean partnering with another entity to facilitate the purchase or to enhance the value proposition of the acquired business.

Here’s how to succeed in a strategic partnership:

  1. Ensure that both parties have aligned business objectives and visions for the acquisition.
  2. Identify and emphasize the strengths each partner brings to the table.
  3. Draft a comprehensive partnership agreement that outlines the terms of the partnership, including financial contributions, profit-sharing, decision-making processes, and exit strategies.

Pros of Strategic Partnerships

  • Shared Resources: Partnerships can provide access to resources, be it capital, technology, or expertise, that one party might not possess on its own.
  • Risk Mitigation: Sharing the responsibilities and costs of an acquisition can reduce the financial burden and risk for each party involved.
  • Market Expansion: Partnering with an established business can provide immediate access to new markets, customers, or distribution channels.

Cons of Strategic Partnerships

  • Complex Agreements: Forming a strategic partnership often requires detailed contracts outlining roles, responsibilities, profit-sharing, and more.
  • Potential Conflicts: Different corporate cultures, goals, or management styles can lead to disagreements or conflicts between partners.
  • Diluted Control: Entering into a partnership might mean giving up some degree of control over decisions, strategies, or operations.

5 Step Checklist to Get Ready For a Business Acquisition

Before diving into the various financing options for a business acquisition, it’s crucial to be well-prepared. Proper preparation not only increases the likelihood of securing funding but also ensures that the acquisition is strategically sound and financially viable.

1. Thoroughly Evaluate The Target Company:

  • Due Diligence: Thoroughly research the target business. Understand its financial health, market position, assets, liabilities, and any potential liabilities or risks. Here’s a great due diligence checklist for acquiring an online business.
  • Valuation: Determine a fair value for the business. This might require hiring a business valuation expert.

2. Check Your Personal Finances:

  • Credit Score: Check your credit score and history. A good credit score can increase your chances of securing favorable loan terms.
  • Net Worth Statement: Compile a statement of your assets and liabilities. This gives lenders a snapshot of your financial health.

3. Make a Clear Business Plan:

  • Growth Strategy: Outline how you plan to grow the business post-acquisition. This should include market analysis, sales strategies, and projected financials.
  • Integration Plan: If you already own a business, detail how you plan to integrate the acquired business.

4. Assemble a Team:

  • Financial Advisor: They can guide you on the best financing option based on your financial situation and the business’s valuation.
  • Legal Counsel: An attorney can help navigate the legal complexities of an acquisition and ensure all contracts and agreements are sound.
  • Accountant: They can assist in reviewing the target business’s financial statements and tax implications of the acquisition.

5. Determine Your Budget:

  • Total Cost: Beyond the purchase price, consider other costs such as legal fees, integration costs, and potential capital investments post-acquisition.
  • Down Payment: Determine how much you can afford to pay upfront and how much financing you’ll need.

Consider potential challenges or obstacles and have plans in place to address them. This might include changes in market conditions, integration challenges, or unexpected liabilities.

Your Turn

Choosing a financing strategy and acquiring funding can feel like a huge hurdle. But whichever method you choose from all the financing options out there, the real challenge is in the strategic integration and growth of the business. Find the one that has enough pros and not too many cons for your purposes.

In other words, your work is only beginning.

Have a good look at the potential financing options to acquire a business. You’ll find the one that agrees with you personally and strategically. And if you don’t, take a look at these investors for inspiration and guidance.

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