What’s the best way to find a buyer for your online business?
The answer depends on several factors, including the type of business you run and how much revenue you’re bringing in.
Most of all, it depends on your preference and what you want to get out of a sale. Because in the end, you get to decide how to find the best buyer for your business.
4 common ways sellers find buyers for their business
We’ve interviewed dozens of founders of online businesses to share their stories. Most ended up selling their companies in one of four ways:
1. Pitch your ideal buyer
We’ve listed this option first because it’s arguably the best way to sell your business — if you can make it work.
It can also be the most challenging approach, and it requires the most work.
To succeed, you first have to ask yourself: who might want to buy my company?
The most obvious targets are competitors in your space. But you should also think beyond those companies. Who else wants to reach or serve the same people you reach?
In an ideal world, you’d sell to a strategic buyer: a business that can not only replicate and improve upon the revenue-generation machine you’ve created, but can use it to earn more from their existing assets.
If you’re thinking of selling your company down the road, it’s smart to build a list of potential buyers early on. Try to create partnerships with those companies, or at least develop a friendly relationship with them. This strategy gets you on their radar, and they’ll already be familiar with your value if you end up pitching them on an acquisition. And if you’re lucky, they might even come to you with an offer first.
Even if you bring your own buyers to the table, you might want to work with an advisor or broker to help you get the best deal. More on that in the next section.
A few examples of companies that sold after the founder pitched an ideal buyer:
- Laura Roeder sold MeetEdgar, a SaaS, to SureSwift Capital
- Dan Radin found a buyer for his podcast production platform, Auxbus
- Lauren Gaggioli sold her test prep course business
And I took this route when I sold my content site, The Write Life, for mid-6 figures.
How’d I do it? I already had offers from competitors who had approached me about purchasing the business, so I asked a few other parties whether they might be interested.
Once a company expressed interest, I shared with them a 10-page Google Doc that laid out all the details about my business: metrics about our community, how we made money, even why I wanted to sell and why I thought it was a good investment for a buyer. My goal was to answer as many questions as possible in that document, so only serious buyers would proceed.
The strategy worked. I managed to create a bidding war, driving up the acquisition price, and I sold in early 2021.
Want more direction? Here’s our full piece on how to pitch your ideal buyer.
2. Use a broker or advisor
Then there’s the broker route.
Brokers tend to get a bad rap. But the truth is, a fantastic broker will help you maximize the value of your business and make the selling process less stressful.
What’s a broker? Sometimes called an M&A advisor, a broker guides you through the sale process, helping you prepare your company for sale, find buyers, negotiate terms of the deal, and assist with due diligence — working alongside you until the deal closes.
Brokers take a percentage of the sale price as commission, typically around 10% to 15% for businesses that sell for under $1 million and a lower percentage for bigger deals. They’re incentivized to help you maximize the value of your business, so the hope is that with their support, you’ll come out with a more favorable transaction.
Most broker fees are contingent, meaning they only get paid if you sell your business. That means you can chat to them, get their advice and see if your personalities gel before committing to a partnership.
Entrepreneurs often look for a broker when they’re ready to sell, but in an ideal world, you’d find one six months or even a year before you exit. That way, you have time to implement the advisor’s suggestions for maximizing the value of your business well ahead of the sale.
The tricky part? Finding a good broker. That’s why we’re building a list of brokers and advisors we trust who specialize in selling online companies. If you want help choosing one, get in touch. (Full disclosure: If you end up partnering with the advisor we recommend to sell your business, we’ll earn a commission.)
Here are a few examples of companies that sold with a broker’s help:
- Newor Media, a programmatic ad-bidding platform, sold in 2021 for 8 figures
- Jodie Cook sold her social media agency for 7 figures
- Roman van Meer leaned on a broker to sell Soap Hub, a content site
3. List on a marketplace
If you don’t want to use a broker and aren’t sure how to find a buyer on your own, a marketplace might be a good choice.
Marketplaces are particularly useful if your business is on the smaller side, such as under $100,000 a year in revenue, when a broker might not be an option. But lots of bigger businesses sell via marketplaces as well.
With dozens of niche marketplaces popping up in the last few years, you’ll have tons of sites to choose from. How do you decide where to list your business?
First, find a marketplace that specializes in the type of business you’ve built. Some marketplaces focus on content sites, for example, while others focus on SaaS. The bigger marketplaces typically have a broader focus and will help you sell almost any online business.
Next, look at whether the marketplace takes a cut of your sale. Some do, and some only charge fees to buyers — not sellers.
We’re working on a comprehensive list of marketplaces and how much they charge. Once that’s available, we’ll add it to this post.
Don’t list only on one marketplace; pick a few and try them all at once. You might get bites from different buyers on each site.
Here are a few examples of companies that sold via a marketplace:
- Userfeed, a tool for Intercom, sold on MicroAcquire for 6 figures
- WFH Advisor, a content site, sold for 6 figures on Empire Flippers
- A CBD subscription box business was acquired for 6 figures via MicroAcquire
4. Attract a buyer
Finally, here’s one more common route to selling a company: being approached by the buyer.
If this happens to you, kudos! It means you’ve built a company others see as valuable.
But here’s the challenging part: many entrepreneurs are approached with an acquisition offer well before they’ve considered selling.
And if you haven’t sold a business before, you face a steep learning curve. You have to figure out the answer to questions like how should you value your business? Is now the right time to sell? And do you even want to exit your business?
Here are a few examples of companies that sold after the buyer approached the seller:
- Brian Dean sold Backlinko to Semrush after the SVP of marketing reached out
- EssayJack, a SaaS created by two professors, sold to ed tech firm Wize
- Sam Parr sold The Hustle to Hubspot after they expressed interest via email
If a buyer comes to you, you might think the hardest part is over. The truth is, you are ahead of the game! But it often doesn’t make sense to sell to the first person or company who expresses interest. If that one company is keen, others might be, too.
If you decide you want to sell, it might make sense to put out some feelers to see whether any other companies want to throw an offer into the ring. The best way to drive up the price of your business is by having competing offers. That’s also why some buyers approach business owners directly, before they’ve announced plans to sell: because if they make an offer early, they might be able to avoid a bidding war.
I used to think that being approached by a buyer meant you could avoid working with a broker or advisor throughout the sale process. And some entrepreneurs do just that.
But the more I learn about acquisitions, the more I’ve come around to the idea that if your company is selling for more than about $500,000 and it’s your first sale, you probably want an advisor on your side — even if you bring the buyer. An experienced broker or advisor knows what they’re doing, so they’ll make sure you don’t get screwed in the deal.
If you end up selling via one of these avenues, get in touch! We’d love to share your story.