FORTUNE Small Business:

How do I position my business for sale?

FSB's Anne Fisher helps a sole proprietor discover his firm's true value.

(FSB Magazine) -- Dear FSB: I'm the owner and sole employee of a company that offers consulting services in a highly specialized area of corporate finance. My expertise is the core of the business. With no physical assets, how can I maximize my firm's value for sale?

- W. David Wilkin, Managing Director Strategic Management Resource Katy, Texas

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Dear David: Pricing a business with intangible assets is tricky, but doable. Among the factors usually considered are net income and cash flow for the past three to five years, the prosperity of the firm's clients, its proportion of repeat customers, and the industry's strength - in other words, will demand for your company's services likely continue five to ten years from now?

Your firm's situation is more complex because you're a one-man show, says Sharad Mehta, owner of Tannenbaum & Aalok (, a business-brokerage firm based in Cherry Hill, N.J. Mehta has arranged sales of many companies like yours, and he draws an analogy to a physician with a narrow specialty who wants to sell her practice. "Your whole business is based on your reputation and personal relationships with 'patients,' so you can't leave the day you sell it," says Mehta.

Instead, plan on staying put for at least a year to work alongside the buyer, introducing her to your clients, and easing her into the job until customers can see that she's as skilled as you are. With a specialized business such as yours, you may draw offers from rival firms. "The upside of selling to a competitor is that you can quit the day you sign the papers - you won't need to train the buyer," says Mehta.

"The downside is you may get a lower price because a competitor is more likely to see your clients as mere added business - and be less inclined to pay a premium for goodwill." If anyone is wondering what a business might be worth, online business broker has a free feature that lets you input basic facts about your firm and get a valuation. It's pretty accurate - I tried it using recent sale data for a few firms I know.  Top of page