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If you’re interested in buying an existing website or online business, the most common method is to browse marketplace and broker listings of sites currently for sale. While this is a completely legitimate option, it’s not the only option.
You can also find websites and businesses to buy off-market. These businesses are not listed publicly for sale, and the acquisition will be handled privately between the buyer and seller.
This article covers off-market acquisitions, why you might want to consider one, and how to go about it.
Before I get into the details of the article, I’d like to quickly explain my own experience. While I’ve sold several online businesses (privately, as well as through public marketplaces and brokers), I only started buying existing websites within the past few years. I’ve purchased three existing sites so far. All of those acquisitions were done privately using the steps and techniques covered here.
What Is a Private or Off-Market Acquisition?
A private or off-market acquisition involves purchasing a website or online business directly from the owner without it being publicly listed for sale on a marketplace or broker platform. This means that the buyer and seller negotiate and handle the transaction without any third-party involvement.
Why Buy an Online Business Privately?
There are several reasons why you might want to consider pursuing an off-market acquisition. Here are some of the most significant reasons.
- Potentially Lower Pricing. Brokers and marketplaces charge fees to the sellers. While buyers typically don’t pay fees, the seller fees reduce their take-home amount and ultimately increase the price they want to get (to offset the fees). You may be able to buy the same business for less by eliminating the middleman.
- Selection on Marketplaces is Limited. When you buy through a broker or marketplace, you can only purchase the sites that are listed for sale. If you have a specific business or type of business you want to buy, you may have a better chance approaching them directly, even if the business is not listed for sale.
- Less Competition from Other Buyers. Since these businesses are not publicly listed for sale, there will likely be less competition from other potential buyers. This can give you an advantage in negotiating terms and reaching a deal, which can also contribute to a lower purchase price. Aside from pricing benefits, it also allows you to take your time.
How to Find an Online Business to Buy Off-Market
While there are potentially significant benefits to buying a business off-market, the biggest challenge is finding the right business and an owner willing to sell. Here are some specific ways to find opportunities.
Your Existing Network
The first place to start is your existing network. It’s possible you already know someone who owns a website or online business you’d like to buy. Having a previous connection to the business owner is ideal because acquisitions are often smoother if mutual trust exists.
If there’s no one in your network who owns an online business that you’d like to buy, you can still leverage your network by telling your friends and contacts that you’re interested in an acquisition. They may know someone who owns a business that would be a good fit.
The power and significance of a professional network can’t be overstated when it comes to buying and selling websites and online businesses. Expanding your network and strengthening your connections will likely open up more opportunities in the future.
There are several Facebook Groups that exist for buying and selling websites. Most of these groups are private, and you’ll need to join the groups to participate.
Most of the sites sold through these groups are somewhat small (in terms of revenue and valuation) compared to those you’ll find through leading marketplaces and brokers like Empire Flippers and Quiet Light.
You’ll find some starter sites with existing content, but these sites typically have low traffic and earnings. You’ll also find a lot of blogs and content-based websites monetized with display ads and/or affiliate programs. If that’s what you’re looking for, these Facebook Groups are excellent resources:
👉 When buying a website on Facebook, it’s essential to remember that no marketplace or broker is vetting the sites. It’s completely on you to do your own due diligence, so be careful with any site you consider buying.
Publicize Your Interest in Acquisitions
One way to find off-market deals is to make sure people know you’re interested in acquiring online businesses. For example, you may want to post on LinkedIn or Twitter and mention the types of websites or businesses you’re interested in buying.
Tell your followers to get in touch if they have something that could be a good fit, or to pass your details on to someone they know.
If you have a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, you can also mention your interest in potential acquisitions there. And if you’re a guest on other people’s podcasts or YouTube channels, you could mention your interest in front of their audience.
Once people know you’re interested in buying online businesses, you’ll have sellers coming to you. The opportunities you receive may or may not be a good fit for you, but the more you get your interest out there, the more likely you’ll be to get a good deal with this approach.
Put an Inquiry Form on Your Website
Another way to get people coming to you is to put an inquiry form or contact information on your website that lets visitors know you’re interested in buying online businesses.
You can create a page titled something like “sell your online business” and include details about what you’re looking for. Provide a contact form so business owners can get in touch with you if they’re interested in selling.
Of course, you can also reach out to website owners directly to express your interest in potentially acquiring their business. This approach is more time-consuming, but it can also yield better results if you have specific criteria for the type of website or business you want to buy.
Some owners aren’t interested in selling, so you won’t always get a response (just like any other cold outreach), but it’s also possible that you’ll make a great connection.
It’s possible that you already know of some websites or businesses that you’d like to buy. If so, that’s a great place to start. And if you don’t have anything specific in mind, you can start by focusing on sites in a particular niche that interests you.
Empire Flippers offers an excellent (and free) website or business valuation tool. It only takes a few minutes to enter the details of your business, and you'll get a report on the estimated value. You don't even have to talk to anyone! It's my favorite tool for online business valuations.
How to Buy an Online Business Privately
If you’re interested in moving forward and trying to buy a website or business privately, here are the exact steps you can follow.
1. Identify the Website or Business You Want to Buy
First, you need to find a site or business that interests you. It’s best to start by thinking about an ideal acquisition and what you’re looking for, including:
- The type of website or online business (content, e-commerce, SaaS, agency, newsletter, membership site, etc.)
- Monetization methods
- The niche or industry
- Valuation (your budget)
It’s best if you can find a few possibilities that fit your criteria. The chances of finding one business and ultimately buying it aren’t great. Some owners won’t be interested in selling, or maybe the site winds up not being a great fit after you dig into the details, or the owner wants a price that’s too high.
The more possibilities you have, the better your chances of closing a puchase and securing a great deal.
2. Contact the Owner
Once you have a few potential sites or businesses, it’s time to reach out to the owners. You can do this through email, social media, or by introduction from a friend.
It’s best to keep your initial message concise and explain why you want to buy their site. If possible, mention any common connections or mutual interests that could help.
If they’re interested in discussing the possibility of selling, you can move on to the next step.
3. Get the Basic Details to Determine a Value
One of the disadvantages of buying an online business off-market is that you won’t have the benefit of a detailed listing before reaching out. When purchasing through a broker or marketplace, you can see details about the site’s traffic, revenue, expenses, and profit to determine your interest level.
When you’re approaching a business owner about a website that’s not listed for sale, you probably won’t have access to these details. That means you won’t be able to know for sure if it’s a good fit for you or how much you’re willing to pay without additional details.
So, at this stage, you’ll need to get some basic information that will help you determine the site’s value.
Some of the details you’ll want to know include:
- How long has the website or business been running?
- What are its primary sources of traffic and how much traffic does it receive? (Access to Google Analytics and Search Console is ideal.)
- What monetization methods are used and how much revenue and profit does it generate?
Basically, you’ll need to get information that’s similar to what is provided in a listing for a site that’s being sold at a marketplace.
With this information, you can start to get a sense of whether or not the website is a good fit for you and how much it may be worth.
If you’re unsure how to determine what an online business is worth, please see our detailed valuation guide.
4. Make an Offer and Negotiate
Once you have all of the details, you can make an offer to buy the website. If the owner likes your offer, they may accept it. However, it’s likely that they’ll counter-offer with a higher price, and some negotiation may be needed.
The key here is to approach negotiations with respect for the owner and their business. Even if they’re interested in selling, they likely care deeply about their site or business, so it’s important not to be dismissive or insulting with your offer.
Be prepared to compromise and work towards a fair price that both parties are happy with. And if you can’t agree, it’s okay to walk away and keep searching for the right opportunity. The more options you have, the more likely you are to find the right deal.
You can use our free Letter of Intent template to formalize the offer.
5. Complete Due Diligence
👉 Download our free due diligence checklists from The Vault. We have separate checklists for content-based websites, e-commerce websites, and Amazon FBA businesses.
After you’ve reached an agreement, it’s time to move on to due diligence. This is where you’ll get a more detailed look at the site’s traffic, revenue, and expenses to make sure everything lines up with what was discussed during negotiations.
For example, you might get bank statements and credit card statements so you can match up line items and verify the income and expenses that were used to determine the valutaion.
Be sure to verify all income with third-party documentation like PayPal history, Stripe statements, or bank statements.
It’s essential to be thorough here because once you close on the purchase, there won’t be any going back if you discover discrepancies or issues later unless it’s significant enough to warrant legal action.
💡 The level of detail in due diligence and the time needed will vary depending on the transaction size. For example, a $5 million purchase will require much more thorough due diligence than a $5,000 purchase.
6. Close the Deal
Once you’ve completed due diligence and everything is in order, it’s time to close the deal. Of course, you should use the proper legal documents to complete the acquisition. We offer a free Asset Purchase Agreement template you can use, or you can hire an attorney to draft a custom agreement.
It’s a good idea to use an escrow service like Escrow.com that will protect you and the seller. You’ll transfer the money into the escrow account, and it won’t be released to the seller until you’ve received everything.
Congratulations! At this point, you’re the new owner of the website or online business!
Final Thoughts on Buying an Online Business Privately
Buying an online business privately can be a great way to find a hidden gem. While it does require more work than buying through a broker or marketplace, the potential upside may be worth the effort. But it’s essential to go through the proper steps and do your due diligence thoroughly to avoid potential issues.
By following these steps, you can increase your chances of finding the perfect acquisition for your interests and budget.