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.

How to Find a Good Business Broker

Anyone interested in buying or selling a business should always consult with a good business broker because they posses the know-how and resources to get the best price and help you avoid the devastating pitfalls of the buying or selling process. How do you find a good business broker? Well, you go out and look. Where? The internet of course, but asking someone who has sold or bought a business is also a good source and probably the better of the two. Unfortunately not everyone knows someone who has worked with a good business broker and must rely on the expansive web to begin a search.

You should begin your search before you commit to buying or selling a business. I once had a gentleman call me wanting advice on buying a coin laundry and we went through the process of buying the business, a few things to look out for and the general principles behind how a business is priced. After a little exchange of questions and answers between the two of us it started sounding as though this buyer had not done the proper due diligence and that he was possibly overpaying. Problem was… he was already under contract to purchase! At that point even the best business broker can’t help unless you are able to find a way out of the contract, which won’t be easy if the seller is getting a premium on the transaction.

A simple keyword search for business brokers will bring about a plethora of willing brokers but the trick is finding one that is good and easy to relate with. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of the broker, i.e., “What’s your experience?”, “Do you have any credentials?”, etc. It’s always nice to work with someone that clicks with you.

Things process of selling a business and what a business broker can do for you are:

Step 1 is to contact small and medium sized Business Brokers for information about how they charge, what they charge and how you generally feel about them. Select a Small and medium sized Business Broker.

Step 2 is to work with your broker in establishing the most appropriate asking price and put broker and client understandings on paper in the form of a listing agreement. The listing price is the price you agree to sell the business if the broker brings a qualified buyer willing to purchase at that listing price.

Step 3 is to supply your broker with all relevant information about the small and medium sized business so that they can complete an offering memorandum. The broker will discreetly and confidentially make the market aware of your small and medium sized business’s availability including some general information about the site.

The 4th step is for your broker to screen and qualify potential buyers.

Step 5 is for you, with the help of your broker, to negotiate a price and terms agreeable to you and a buyer.

Step 6 is the removal of contingencies explained in the contract to purchase the small and medium sized business.

The final step is to close the transaction.

Your broker will continue to work with you after the sale with any remaining terms and/or conditions of the sale until the seller is completely separated from the business.

  • Educate you regarding the process and issues faced when selling a small and medium sized business.
  • Keeping the transaction confidential.
  • Conduct a pricing analysis to determine the best asking price for your small and medium sized business.
  • Develop an effective marketing strategy to sell your small and medium sized business.
  • Put the offering package of the small and medium sized business in front of the most buyers.
  • Pre-qualify potential buyers prior to divulging sensitive information.
  • Manage transactional details and paperwork.
  • Help establish terms of sale.
  • Assist the buyer in an effort to give the transaction the most potential for a successful closing, i.e. financing.

The most important thing you can do when you are thinking of buying or selling a business is to at least speak with a broker or two. The good one is the one that gets you pointed in the right direction. Most brokers, especially the one that will care for your business, will be happy to spend a half hour to an hour talking to you on the basic points.

Business Brokers – How to Choose the Right One

The vast majority of small businesses are sold without the assistance of business brokers.

But if you do decide the hire a broker, here are some suggestions on how to pick the right one and how to structure the agreement in your favor.

What Business Is The Broker Actually In?

In many states there is no training or certification needed to become a business broker. In other states, brokers are required to hold a real estate license.

In these states it’s common to find real estate agents that do business brokering as a side business. If you deal with a broker who is also a real estate agent, make sure that being a business broker is more than just his hobby.

You will pay a pretty penny for the broker’s expertise and experience – you should make sure they have that experience when it comes to selling businesses and not just experience selling houses.

Questions To Ask

If you hire a broker you will be working with them closely for months to come; they will have access to your most confidential business records; the amount of money you put in your pocket at closing will be influenced heavily by the quality of work they do.

Therefore, you absolutely must check them out.

Here are some questions you should ask any prospective broker before hiring him:

1. How long have you been a broker?
2. Have you ever owned a business?
3. How many businesses similar to mine have you helped sell?
4. Can I see a blank version of your Listing Agreement?
5. What percentage of you income comes from brokering and how much from real estate (If applicable)

Ask them to provide you with references from previous clients. Then, I suggest you do something very unusual: Actually call the broker’s references!
I know a lot of people ask for references just to see how the person will react when asked (and to see if they actuality have any). But you can learn a lot about the broker’s reliability and professionalism by talking to people who dealt with that broker when they were in the exact same spot you are in.

Business Broker Fees

There are two benefits a broker can provide the business seller. First, he can locate potential buyers while maintaining the seller’s confidentiality. And second, a broker will qualify these potential business buyers so the seller saves time by not having to deal with weak prospects.

The big negative of dealing with a business broker is his fee, which averages 10-12% of the sale price. This fee is charged to the seller.

There is also a minimum fee. A very small business will pay a flat amount, typically $8-$10,000, instead of the commission. For a business worth $50,000 this minimum fee actually works out to be a higher percentage than the 10-12% industry average. But as a matter of practice, brokers usually won’t be interested in your business unless the asking price is above $100,000.

These fees are the reason most business owners choose to sell their business themselves and rely on their lawyers and accountants for the professional assistance they need.

The Broker Agreement

If you decide to use a broker you’ll be asked to sign a broker agreement which will detail the his fees. If possible, have your agreement include the following clauses:

Timing of Payments – Have it written into the agreement that the broker’s fee will be paid at the time you receive the purchase price – not at the time the sale is closed. This way, if you finance part of the sale price over a number of years, you pay the business broker as you get the money, not all up front.

Length Of Agreement – Your listing agreement should be for a limited time. If the broker locates the buyer within that time he gets paid. Be careful of lengthy agreements that lock you in with one business broker for more than 6 months. If he doesn’t produce, you want to be able to try other options. A 6 month business broker agreement is the longest you should allow. However, because selling a business can be a lengthy process, 3 months is usually too little time for the broker to find the right buyer. Try to settle on something between 3 and 6 months. If after six months, you haven’t closed the deal but you think the broker has done a good job, you’re always free to extend the agreement. But you want to be free to decide on an extension 6 months from now, not today.

Broker’s Guarantee – Include a paragraph stating that if you find the buyer, you don’t have to pay the commission. Without this clause, the broker is usually paid no matter who locates the buyer. Before signing any listing agreement, it is best to have your attorney review it to make sure your interests are protected.

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