Must-Knows About Colorado Business Broker Agreements

By: Robinson & Henry, Attorneys At Law
PublishedApr 24, 2024
4 minute read
When it’s time to sell your business, you may be considering hiring a business broker to assist you in finding a buyer. Business brokers are a tremendous asset to any deal, and we highly recommend you hire a broker to assist you in selling your business. Nevertheless, business owners selling their businesses must be aware of the finder agreements that they enter into with the broker and the legal ramifications it may have.

Man signing broker agreement

In this Article:

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When do you owe your broker a commission?

Most business owners believe that the commission is owed to the broker when the sale of the business is consummated and the buyer actually gives the seller money. However, most business broker finder agreements signed by business owners require payment when the broker brings a buyer ready to purchase the business, even if the deal does not go through.

Examples of when a seller may be forced to pay a broker under typical finder agreements include:

  • When a buyer wants to buy, but the terms of the sale are not satisfactory to the seller
  • When a seller changes their mind about continuing with the sale
  • The amount the buyer is willing to pay is less than what the seller wants to accept
  • Even if the broker did not provide any assistance in locating the buyer

This can be avoided. Most favorable to business owners are finder agreements that only require payment when the sale closes. Under this type of agreement, absent fraud or lack of good faith, the business owners can be assured that they will only be required to make a payment to the broker if they actually sell their business.

A compromise provision would be to negotiate a “walk away fee.” This allows the business owner to stop the sale process at any time and only pay a fee to the business broker. The fee and the requirement to pay can vary widely.

Key Takeaways:

  • Business brokers attempt to maximize the number of circumstances when a fee is paid
  • Sellers should negotiate a “paid-when-paid” arrangement
  • A compromise can be a walkaway fee or payment of expenses

To summarize, almost all finder agreements will include a provision requiring a fee that the broker must be paid even if the sale is not consummated. It is important that business owners negotiate the broker payment provision or a lawsuit may follow if the sale does not close.

What does the broker get paid?

First, similar to a real estate broker, most business brokers take a percentage of the total sale in a commission. The typical percentage for a business broker sale in a small to medium-sized business is 7 to 15 percent of the gross sale. Larger deals may use sliding scales like a Lehman or double Lehman formula. Because the broker is only compensated if the sale closes, they are highly motivated to get your business sold.

Here are some typical terms to consider:
  • Business brokers typically receive the total fee upon closing and for any compensation received by the seller.
  • Sellers should calculate the broker’s fee before a finder agreement is entered into.
  • Sellers should determine whether all or part of the broker’s fee is due if only a partial sale occurs, whether of a portion of the company’s equity (stock) or a portion of the assets.
  • Typical commissions for small and medium-sized businesses are 7 to 14 percent. Larger businesses will be subject to a formula.
Almost as important as when a broker gets paid is what the broker gets paid. Under the finder agreement, a broker might be paid in any or all of the following ways:
  • Cash
  • Equity interest retained by the seller
  • Leases on real estate retained by the seller
  • Amounts the seller carries (notes, etc.)
  • Escrowed amounts
  • Debt assumed by the buyer
  • Other economic benefits: employment payments, non-compete payments, supply payments, licensing payments, etc.

For example, assume a business owner sells their business for $1 million and the buyer leases the real estate from the seller under the following terms: $200,000 of cash, the seller carried a note for $800,000, and a 5-year lease of $5,000 per month.

Assume the broker commission is 10 percent. Here is what happens under a typical finder agreement provision:
  • $200,000 + $800,000 note + $300,000 ($5,000 rent x 60 months) = $1,300,000.00 total compensation to the seller.
  • Under this scenario, the broker commission is $130,000, and the seller only receives $70,000 in cash at closing!

And it can get worse. If the buyer then breaches the agreement with the seller and does not pay the note, the broker is still entitled to their commission, and the seller is potentially out of a business and the money.

Exclusivity & potential buyer candidates

When negotiating with a business broker or business finder, sellers must consider the terms of exclusivity and determine the candidates or types of candidates that will accrue the broker’s commission.

What do Brokers Want?

A business finder or broker will want an exclusive agreement with the business. This means:

  1. The seller cannot work with any other broker during the term of the agreement; and 
  2. Any potential candidate — whether the broker makes the introduction or not — will cause the commission to be owed. 

Business brokers will also want a tail at the end of the agreement for a period of time in the event the sale closes after the agreement terminates.

What Do Sellers Want?

Sellers should seek to allow multiple brokers in a nonexclusive arrangement, which will maximize the potential leads delivered to them. If an exclusive listing agreement is entered into, sellers must limit the duration of the agreement so that the seller is released from his or her obligation after a number of months.

Sellers should also be concerned that the broker is actively pursuing leads for their own benefit. Thus, sellers should require that the broker make the recommendation before a commission accrues. Likewise, sellers should consider excluding their direct competitors as candidates so that their competition does not gain access to the company’s financial information.

Contact Us for Help

If you would like assistance in negotiating a listing agreement with a broker and selling your business, please call us at 303-688-0944. Our business attorneys help sellers in Colorado and have offices located throughout the Front Range. We are dedicated to your best interests in selling your business.

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