Here is What Life is Really Like For Small Business Brokers

Among the most intriguing career choices for business people is to become small business brokers. Many people who have burned out or retired from a corporate or even a small business position are attracted to this field because of its many benefits.

But does the reality match the myths about this work? Here’s a frank look into some of the popular claims about the profession.

1. Make a six figure income your first year.

Actually that’s true. Of course the six figures include all the numbers on both sides of the decimal point.

Sure there are small business brokers making $100k plus. Most likely they’ve been at it awhile. They have proven to the genie who sits on the bag with all the gold that they’re worthy of abundant rewards for mastering the many trials put in their way. Those include, for example, the “clients” who can’t or won’t perform as promised, and the trolls who climb out from under the bridge so they can kill deals.

2. Have complete control over the way you spend your time.

What a privilege to be able to call your day your own, with no one to tell you what to do. Unfortunately it’s not the full day, just those few hours between the 11:00 o’clock nightly news and the rooster’s announcement at dawn.

Guess when that “can’t miss” session with the landlord is going to happen – the very day you had planned to start the vacation trip you’ve long promised your family.

Prospective small business brokers eagerly anticipating the chance to get out on the golf course in the middle of the day don’t know about the owners who will require hours-long meetings about their possible interest in selling out. And there are buyers who somehow get in the mood to make offers only during those holiday weekends when everyone else is at home greeting relatives and firing up the barbecue.

3. The opportunity of working with smart and successful associates.

This is very appealing to the would-be business broker who’s spent years in the workforce dealing with dumbbells and with co-workers so slow that a sloth looks ambitious by comparison.

There are bright, energetic and professional small business brokers who get things done. But don’t expect them to want to do those things with you. And you may be justified in complaining that they’re greedy and rude.

Then, when you’ve been in the business for a while, have some good listings, motivated and qualified buyers and a solid reputation, you’ll be accused of the same things. You may switch from the “for” side to the “against” side of the “cooperation” debate the first time you find out your seller’s confidential information is circulating on twitter, and discover the other broker’s buyer doesn’t understand the meaning of the confidentiality agreement. Or when you get a letter from an attorney asking you to reimburse a buyer or seller for their losses – losses caused by misrepresentations and promises that came from the other broker you agreed to work with.

4. The chance to do meaningful work that really helps people.

There will be times when a seller or buyer will actually say “thank you.” And you’ll feel good about having given the client smart advice and negotiating well on his or her behalf.

Just hope there are enough of those satisfying moments to balance out the frustrations and disappointments caused by those who stand you up, lie to you, change their minds and kill your deals.

So, while there are substantial joys and benefits for those working as small business brokers, it takes guts, determination and perseverance to make the career really yield those rewards. And it’s a good idea, when starting out on this adventure, to have a year’s living expenses in the bank.

Is Going Direct Really Cheaper Than A Broker Or Price Comparison For Small Business Insurance?

The UK media is currently awash with advertising slogans from direct commercial insurance companies targeting small business owners in an attempt to make them switch their provider of business insurance.

‘Get 12 months cover for the price of ten’ and ‘You won’t find us on price comparison websites’ are typical of the slogans emanating from these companies, in a language more akin to the selling of car insurance than the traditional professional and almost stoic approach to the selling of business insurance cover.

In the current recession, price has become the determining factor in winning the war of market share for all goods and services and insurance is no exception. Prudent small businessmen and women are looking to cut costs in all areas of their business and the large direct insurance companies are well aware of this.

The large insurers are also aware that the UK market has over five million small businesses of which a fifth are sole traders, self-employed and people working from home, many of whom are familiar with purchasing their personal insurance direct with the provider, either by phone or on the Internet.

There are three types of provider in the current market for business insurance in the UK.

Intermediaries such as insurance brokers and agents, price comparison sites and direct commercial and business insurers.

Each has their own advantage and disadvantages, however whether one distribution channel is cheaper than another is often a subjective view from a particular trade, or dependent upon factors many of which cannot be quantified in price.

Direct Insurance companies claim to be able to offer cheaper polices because the cut out the costs of the middleman. It is certainly true that direct insurers do not have to pay an intermediary for the cost of the lead or introduction, however it is questionable whether this cost saving is actually reflected in the prices offered to the public.

Certainly there are economies of scale to be made by centralising the life-cycle of a policy from sales point to claim and renewal, however all those functions that are performed by an intermediary still have to be carried out in-house by the direct company and these have a cost.

Many large composite insurers often have distinct direct divisions with their own target market and premium rates. The same company may also have a broker or intermediary division or channel.

It is quite often the case that a large broker with a large book of business of, for example, small builders liability, will receive much more preferential rates then the same companies direct channel, because that insurance company wishes to retain that brokers clients.

Commercial Insurance brokers then are often able to offer preferential rates because they have more flexible schemes and arrangements than the direct channel.

One of the main benefits of using an insurance broker or intermediary in purchasing commercial insurance for small business, cannot be quantified in price and is worth the commission or fee that they may charge. That is advice, market and product information and knowledge, access to various markets such as Lloyds and some human help if the worst happens to a business and a claim is needed.

A commercial or business insurance broker is often able to negotiate far better claims settlements than if an individual were to deal direct with the insurer. The main reason for this is once again the insurer wishes to retain that brokers share of the total risk pool and will often pay out to a broker on an ex-gratia basis. This cost of this service is not quantifiable at the quote stage where small business cover may well just be valued for the price paid or the covers bought.

The third major way in which small business owners can purchase cover is by visiting a price comparison website. All the major UK comparison sites have recently begun to offer online cover aimed particularly at the small business sector, with under 50 employees. This is in direct competition with the direct insurers for television and media advertising space, aimed in particular at self-employed tradesmen and women who require business liability insurance and perhaps commercial van cover.

The comparison price proposition is that they can compare the market or at least a small section of it, to find the cheapest business insurance. They often do not provide any assistance in the purchasing decision-making process and the reality often is, that the cheapest commercial and small business insurance can be found in one of the other distribution channels.

It is therefore important that a small businessman shops around and takes some time to compare offerings including premiums, covers and services from all three sales channels. Prices tend to vary immensely by trade across the direct, broker and comparison markets and often it is a case of finding the provider or supplier who is the industry leader for a particular business type or trade in order to make large savings.

Online Small Business Banking

In the digital age every bank has an online presence, from my little credit union to the big national players. However, not all banks are geared toward serving small business via the internet and, while they all offer you a lot of promises and maybe a flashy new toaster oven, not all of them offer you the services that you need at a competitive price. Here’s what to look for and how to spot those that offer online small business banking from the poseurs.

Customer Service and Big vs. Small Banks

One thing that you may read is how important it is to “cultivate relationships” with your banker and how important your banker is in expediting and even deciding whether or not you get a loan. While this may still be true in the smaller banks, in larger regional or national banks you will never, ever meets the person who approves your loan. A buddy of mine who was a big shot at a major bank before ditching it all to go into the Peace Corps said that the big banks create a strong separation from the banker that you meet, who is basically a sales person, and the person who decides, who is basically an accountant. So skip bribing your banker with chocolate truffles or bottles of bourbon. In fact, if you already bought the “gifts,” just send them here and I’ll gladly dispose of them for you for free!

Similarly, once the recommendation for business people was to keep all their banking with one bank, in order to build up a relationship of trust with that bank. Now, however, the idea of relationship is breaking down and, thanks to the internet and the relative ease of online banking, small businesses can cherry pick the best services off a smorgasbord of banks just like the Bigs do. In fact, the biggest reason that I can see of deliberately keeping all services with a single bank is not having to remember more than one sign-on, password, and pin!

What Your Bank Should Be Able to Do for You

Business Checking Account

One of the essential elements of running your own business is treating it as a separate entity distinct from your own personal affairs or the affairs of your other businesses or investments. Failing to treat your business as a separate entity opens up numerous potential legal and tax consequences that could end up being very costly or even financially disastrous to you. Opening up a business banking account is one essential act that helps establish your business as a separate entity. For most business the key to the checking account is functionality, forget interest rates and a few dollars difference in cost. The key questions are:

  • Can you use the web site to pay pre-pay bills, transfer money, accept online payments and whatever other essential services that your business might need?
  • Are you able to easily download information from the online site to QuickBooks Online or whatever other accounting software that you might be using?
  • Do they have the highest level of online security that is convenient for you?
  • Are they relatively light on “hidden fees” that $5 and $10 you to death just to be able to perform regular, essential operations of your business?

Security

Small businesses run by new entrepreneurs often have lower standards of security and this is especially true when it comes to banking and banking online. The smalls just don’t have the expertise nor the payrolls stuffed with I.T. professionals to keep up with the Trojans and frauds that cyber-criminals use to prey upon the unfortunate, and the unwary. You want the highest level of security possible but without making it so inconvenient on yourself that you aren’t fully able to take advantage of the online services. For example, while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala I often had to do my banking from internet cafes, and not always with my laptop that was impractical to lug around. When Chase, my original bank, changed the security so that I had to go through a complicated and time-consuming process every time I tried to access my account from a different computer I had to change banks (rather, I added a new bank) because that just wasn’t doable for me.

Loans and Lines of Credit

Loans are a prime area of shopping around and using the power of the internet to shave a fraction of a point off the interest rate. However, if you can’t pay the loan through an electronic transaction between the bank of your checking account and the bank that services the loan and make that payment for free then who cares about a little reduction of the interest rate. I like to look around for the best deal and then ask my primary bank if they can match it, just to keep my life as simple as possible.

Credit Cards

One of the easiest ways to make payments these days is by credit card and you will want at least one that is exclusively used for business purposes. There is no “best” credit card for small business and usually your bank will be able to provide you one. Keep in mind that you want one that is easy to set up and maintain electronically, that is widely accepted (especially if you travel for business), and has a high enough limit for what you need. Remember that building up credit for your business is just like building up credit personally, the better your history the higher your limit will be.

In Conclusion

Starting up a small business can be intimidating and the days when you could have a banker hold your hand and guide you through the process are long gone. The flip side of that is the incredible amount of information available to you at your fingertips. Another advantage is that you are no longer geographically limited, a world of banks is waiting to serve you! Just remember to keep in mind the services that you need, those that you don’t need, and those that you need but could be found at another bank for a better price. Happy banking!

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