April 20, 2023

Basics of Due Diligence When Buying A Business

Basics of Due Diligence When Buying A Business

Buying a small business can be an exciting opportunity. Before you commit to purchasing a small business, conducting due diligence is crucial to ensuring that you can assess the business’ potential risks and opportunities. In this guide, we will explore the key elements of due diligence and what steps you should take to conduct a thorough review.

What is Due Diligence?

Due diligence is the process of verifying the accuracy and validity of the information provided by the business owner. In almost all sales, due diligence is a condition of the buyer's offer. By investigating and analyzing various aspects of the business to determine its value and potential risks and opportunities, buyers can identify any problems that might arise after the deal is closed. Business owners also perform due diligence by looking into the buyer's financial and professional history to evaluate their suitability.

Why is Due Diligence Important?

There are several reasons why due diligence is important when buying a small business:

  1. Verify Information - During due diligence, you can verify the accuracy of the information provided by the seller. This includes financial information, legal documents, contracts, and more. By conducting a thorough review, you can ensure that you are making an informed decision based on accurate information.
  2. Assess Potential Risks - Due diligence allows you to identify potential risks and liabilities associated with the business. This includes legal issues, financial problems, regulatory compliance, and more. By understanding these risks, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with the acquisition.
  3. Evaluate Potential Opportunities - In addition to identifying risks, due diligence can also help you evaluate potential growth opportunities for the business. This includes analyzing the market, customer demographics, competition, and more. By understanding the potential for growth and expansion, you can make an informed decision about the business's long-term potential.
  4. Negotiate Better Terms - The information gathered during due diligence can also be used to negotiate better terms with the seller. If issues are identified, you can negotiate a lower price or ask the seller to address the issues before completing the sale.

Elements of Due Diligence

Due diligence involves examining several aspects of the business, including financial documents, legal issues, operations, employee relations, and all assets, products, and customer data. Due diligence is a complex process that should not be conducted without the assistance of an accountant and attorney

Here are the key elements of due diligence:

Financial Due Diligence

Financial due diligence involves reviewing the financial statements and records of the business to assess its financial health and performance. This includes:

  • Reviewing income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements to assess profitability, cash flow, and liquidity.
  • Analyzing financial ratios, such as debt-to-equity ratio, return on investment, and gross profit margin, to determine the financial health and potential of the business.
  • Verifying the accuracy of financial information provided by the seller, such as revenue, expenses, and assets.

Legal Due Diligence

Legal due diligence involves reviewing legal documents and contracts related to the business to assess any potential legal risks or liabilities. This includes:

  • Reviewing contracts, leases, and agreements to ensure they are valid and legally binding.
  • Conducting a search for any outstanding litigation, claims, or disputes involving the business.
  • Reviewing intellectual property, such as trademarks, patents, and copyrights, to ensure they are properly registered and protected.

Operational Due Diligence

Operational due diligence involves reviewing the day-to-day operations of the business to assess its efficiency and effectiveness. This includes:

  • Reviewing the organizational structure and management team to assess their experience and qualifications.
  • Reviewing the company's articles of incorporation, bylaws and summaries of current investors and shareholders
  • Analyzing the production process, inventory management, and supply chain to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
  • Evaluating the marketing and sales strategies to assess their effectiveness and potential for growth.

Material Contracts Due Diligence

Find out what obligations or agreements are in place that you may be expected to comply with or respond to that are part of doing business. This includes:

  • Analyzing all nondisclosure or non-compete agreements, or any previously made guarantees
  • Identifying contracts between officers, directors, or principals of the company, any stock purchase agreements or other options
  • Reviewing loan agreements, material leases, lines of credit, promissory notes, contracts, or closing transcripts from mergers or acquisitions

Customer Due Diligence

Review all customer lists and databases. Find out who the largest customers are in terms of sales, as well as what they've purchased over the last 2-3 years. This includes:

  • Assessing all customer databases, subscriber lists, and sales records
  • Reviewing any purchasing policies and procedures
  • Acquiring copies of standard communications and correspondence, plus existing advertising programs, marketing programs, and customer retention programs

Employee Due Diligence

If the business has employees, then you need to take a closer look at their employment contracts, pay and benefits, as well as any potential liabilities. This will also help you to determine the value of the business. This includes:

  • Reviewing the employee organizational chart and job descriptions and understanding employee contracts, manuals, and policies
  • Assessing wages, salaries, bonuses, and commissions paid over the past two years, including employee benefit plans, such as retirement and health insurance
  • Evaluating employee turnover rates and reasons for turnover, or any outstanding or pending legal claims by employees

How to Conduct Due Diligence

Conducting due diligence can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it is essential to ensuring a successful acquisition. Here are some steps you should take to conduct a thorough review:

  1. Gather Information - Start by gathering all relevant information about the business. This includes financial statements, tax returns, legal documents, contracts, marketing materials, and more.
  2. Hire Professionals - It's important to work with professionals such as accountants, lawyers, and business brokers to ensure that you are conducting a thorough review. These professionals can help you identify potential issues and provide guidance on how to address them.
  3. Review Financial Information - Review the business's financial statements, tax returns, and other financial documents to ensure that they are accurate and up-to-date. This includes analyzing the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement.
  4. Evaluate Legal Documents - Review all legal documents related to the business, including contracts, leases, permits, licenses, and more. Verify that they are current and in good standing.i f
  5. Analyze Operations - Analyze the business's operational procedures, including production processes, inventory management, and more. Identify any potential inefficiencies or areas for improvement.
  6. Assess Marketing Strategies - Analyze the business's marketing strategies, including advertising campaigns, customer demographics, and competition. Evaluate the potential for growth and expansion.


  1. How long does due diligence typically take? The duration of due diligence can vary depending on the complexity of the business and the amount of information that needs to be reviewed. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
  2. What happens if issues are uncovered during due diligence? If issues are uncovered during due diligence, the buyer and seller will need to negotiate how to address them. This could involve revising the purchase price, renegotiating the terms of the deal, or in some cases, walking away from the deal altogether.
  3. Is it possible to do due diligence on a business without the help of an attorney or accountant? While it is technically possible to conduct due diligence without professional assistance, it is not recommended. Due diligence is a complex process that involves reviewing a wide range of information, and professional expertise can help ensure that nothing is overlooked.
  4. Can due diligence be conducted remotely? Yes, due diligence can be conducted remotely, although in-person meetings and site visits may be necessary for certain aspects of the review.
  5. How can I be sure that the information provided by the seller is accurate? One way to verify the accuracy of the information provided by the seller is to conduct independent research and review third-party documentation, such as tax returns, financial statements, and legal filings. Additionally, it may be helpful to speak with current and former employees, customers, and suppliers to get a more complete picture of the business.


Conducting due diligence is an essential step when buying a small business. By verifying information, identifying potential risks and opportunities, and negotiating better terms, you can ensure that you are making an informed decision. Remember to work with professionals and take your time during the due diligence process.