As virtually all industries continue to endure waves of chaos, tumult, and consumer turnover through the third quarter of the coronavirus pandemic, change has officially become the only constant. One change worth noting, among many others, is the shifting landscape of the entrepreneurial space toward a buyer’s market. On the heels of a longtime seller’s market, COVID-19 has accelerated the development of a marketplace that is advantageous for the buyer, a change that’s been predicted for over two decades.
Unfortunately, that alone doesn’t make things much easier for potential business buyers who are navigating the COVID-19 storm. Volatility is everywhere, balance sheets are in constant flux, and lenders are becoming more hesitant. But on the other side is a buyer’s paradise: more businesses to choose from, record low interest rates, an unprecedentedly large talent pool, and an urgent need for innovation in every sector, everywhere.
Step One: Understanding The Sale
Pressure to sell is flooding in from many directions, and establishing transparency is a sure first step. A recent study by Forbes outlined the impact of the Baby Boomer generation approaching retirement, calling it a ‘perfect storm’ for entrepreneurs. They reported an estimated 72 million Baby Boomers approaching retirement, and suggested that of America’s 28 million small businesses, many are owned by those soon-to-be-retirees. The U.S. Census Bureau confirmed that Boomers own 2.34 million small businesses, employing roughly 25 million Americans.
The difference between a retirement and an emergency exit is notable, even if retirement was brought on earlier than planned due to the COVID-19 conditions. A Boomer business owner might have steered their business through the fall out of 9/11 and the 2008 recession, and might feel reluctant to go back to the drawing board for a third time as the pandemic drags on.
If retirement isn’t part of the equation, and an early-career seller is changing paths or jumping ship, it’s important to let the numbers tell the story. Emergency exits aren’t necessarily red flags, but it’s important to understand the sale from all angles. In a January report, Forbes reported that the number of small business buyers that complete a transaction is roughly 1 in every 15 prospective buyers. The reason, they explain, is that most businesses listed for sale are devoid of any real value. The successful buyer is the one who interrogates the sale, understands the motivations, finds proof that the business is ready to be on the market, and ensures that liabilities don’t outweigh its potential.
Step Two: Understanding Ever-Changing Consumer Needs
Checking all of the above boxes, you might have found a diamond in the rough. But to understand the impact you can make as a potential buyer, you’ll need to understand the consumer landscape you’re entering. And as COVID-19 drags on, that’s no small task.
The pandemic has introduced about as much opportunity as it has challenges. Consumer activity is reduced, financial safeguarding is high, and almost anything that relies on in-person consumer interactions has been thwarted for the foreseeable future. But perhaps more importantly, new consumer needs are on the rise. And for owners that are able to get in on the ground floor, intercepting budding needs before the competition, the benefits will be overwhelming.
Step Three: Planning for New and Improved Recruitment
Armed with the right sale and a COVID-proof plan, it’s important to understand that you won’t be able to go the course alone. Since the market volatility forced many businesses to shed positions, the talent pool has never been so robust. But recruiting from a distance brings its own challenges, and the right team can make or break your pandemic plan.
Incredibly talented people have been laid off or furloughed, and almost every working professional has figured out the ins and outs of remote work operations. The right person for the job is just a few clicks away. But you’ll need a new and improved remote recruitment strategy that targets diverse pools of job seekers and engages employees with different perspectives and backgrounds. When you take the leap and sign on the bottom line, creativity will be make or break your new business. The best way to be creative is to have the right people on your team.
For all the risks associated with COVID-era buying, the rewards of the right buy are hard to overstate. Understanding the buyer’s motivations, the company’s potential, the industry’s consumer landscape, and the nuances of remote hiring will help you find success as a buyer. If you can find the right team, time the market, and bring something new to the table, the rest will hopefully be COVID-19 history.
Zain Jaffer is a serial entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of Zain Ventures, an investment firm that invests globally in tech start-ups, real estate, and private equity.