Where to Search From?

Where to search from?

Choosing the geographic boundaries of your search has far-reaching implications on your tactics, fundraising, personal expenditures and even the perception of the sellers you may purchase from. Selecting a home base from which to work also has both a personal and professional impact. As in real estate and politics, “location, location, location” is critical to success.

Funded search implies flexibility…for the investor!

When you undertake a funded search, your investors generally expect the searcher to find the best business to acquire, wherever it is located. Setting your net as wide as possible increases the number of prospects to consider, and often abbreviates the process. A nation-wide search allows for deep dives into specific industry niches that will yield the high number of prospects that are so critical to have at the top of the “sourcing funnel”.

The uncertainty about final location can be a source of anxiety for many searchers. Relocation is rarely easy, especially for dual-career couples or families with children who have to pull up stakes. Even those searchers with initial excitement about relocating can be emotionally deflated after the 30th IOI offer or the sixth ”busted” deal after 21 months of searching and being faced with a small rural city far from their homebase.

“Significant others” comment that this was the most stressful part of the search for them. Not having clarity on where they would be settling down was difficult for them, especially when it changed from month to month during the search. One even observed that their marriage vows were “for better or worse, but not for search!” It is best to be aware of these consequences before you start and encourage your partner to seek out experiences from others who have been down this path ahead of them. (See Blog Post – Respecting your significant other).

Funded searchers budget as much as 20% of their “raise” for travel expenses for a national search area. Paul Thomson at Scottish American regularly used discounted airline programs, combined with couch surfing, to minimize his travel and lodging costs.

Self-funded search can be restricting, but may have a silver lining

Self-funded searchers have much more flexibility in their location choice. In fact, the ability to choose your location is one of the most significant motivations to self-fund. It may be that the searcher desires to be located near where their partner has a career commitment to address the challenges of being a “dual career” couple. There may be a high concentration of businesses that fit the searchers target industries. A searcher who has a young family may want to avoid up-rooting children or be closer to supportive family members.

Selecting your “zip-code” allows a new searcher to focus their prospecting efforts and develop stability in their personal lives. There are other benefits for thinking local. Searchers who have roots in the area have more resonance with potential sellers. Owners who are selling their “legacy” to a buyer who will be entrenched in the community can be viewed as a strong benefit of the searcher. Further, the ability to be available to a business owner within a short car ride can make the difference in getting time in front of the seller, building trust and maintaining their interest level.

Searching with a regional focus also helps in developing a network. Sources of financing, professional advisors, and even brokers are more willing to work with someone they deem to be “local” to them, as compared to an outsider from across the country.

But don’t forget the potential downsides of narrowing your geographic search. The process may take longer due to the limited number of prospects, and it may reduce the ultimate size of the deal. You may need to broaden the types of businesses and industries you seek. Ben Kessler at Braxos Capital discovered that when he confined his search to the Milwaukee area, many of the companies he was prospecting were traditional “rust belt” industries with declining market shares and high customer concentration issues. More attractive businesses will require a further geographic reach and a longer commute.

Another location to think about

Running your search process from your home or from a more formal office is a personal choice. While it is a cost savings, a home office may not be conducive to having 3-10 interns coming by every day. There may also be a psychological benefit to have some level of separation from your home and work environment. High speed internet access and superior cell phone coverage are more important than ever before and may not be as available in residential areas.

It is very improbable that a seller would ever visit your “office”, but your address may be under unspoken scrutiny, (especially with the evolution of Google’s satellites). Avoid an address that sends the wrong signal to potential prospects. Consider choosing Boston instead of Cambridge, or San Mateo instead of Palo Alto. If you are stuck with a high-end office location, then disarm it as Andrew Tam at Peak View Partners did – when asked about his 17th floor office along with a killer view in San Francisco, Andrew informed sellers that his $500/mo sublet office was a bargain and a way to be frugal in his search.

One of the more important considerations for the location of your office is its accessibility for your interns, perhaps even nearby undergraduate campuses. While not at top of mind on day one of your search, interns will play a critical role as you scale up. With their headphones, smartphones and laptops, you can cram in quite a few in a small space. However, being close to public transportation or having parking availability will make it easier to attract interns. (See blog post on Searching with Interns).

Many searchers worry about being too close to other searchers. In my experience advising searchers for many years now, I see very little overlap with potential prospects; most searchers take divergent paths and timing. If you search within one of the top 50 metropolitan areas, which covers 2/3 of the US population, there will be plenty prospective sellers to consider, without conflict. For searchers outside the USA, there is even a more remote chance of encountering significant competition.


Location is one of the many decisions that has to be made early on as you start down this path. It can have a significant impact in the longer term, so it is important consider the ramifications of where you chose to search from and where you might end up living once you buy your business.

Search on!!

Feel free to share some of your own best practices or experiences in dealing with these issues in writing a blog comments. I encourage this dialog, allowing all to learn from both my views and the views of others – a virtuous learning cycle. Jump right in! Also, I frequently update individual blog posts, add to the Reference section and Search tips, so visit the www.jimsteinsharpe.com website regularly.


  1. Alex on January 30, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    After 19 months of searching, I can tell you that there is very little crossover among searchers’ deal flow, even in a condensed geography. Some brokered deals are the exception, but a real conflict has happened to us only a handful of times. I think one of the best parts about being in the ‘searcher community’ is the collaborative, pay-it-forward nature of its members. What doesn’t fit for us may be a great fit for another searcher, and vice versa. So, I would encourage searcher collaboration rather than competition. We have to remember that we’re not searching for the best company possible; we’re searching for the best company for *us* possible. These are very different propositions.

    • Jim Stein Sharpe on January 31, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Alex, I agree that the search community stands to gain a lot more from collaboration than from competition. While I have heard of searchers and their investors requesting compensation for passing along leads, I disagree with this approach. Viewing a search as a “profit center” seems not in line with the fundamental concept of search which is about getting mentoring, cooperation and support in the process of becoming an entrepreneur. I find that searchers gain much more knowledge and learning from their peers than from their investors and “backers”, especially during the search phase. Over the years, I observe that investors now have more funds, but less “time” to invest. Sharing best practices with each other, including leads, is one of the significant values of the search community. Search on!

  2. Justin on February 13, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Great article! How common/realistic is it for funded searchers to acquire a business in an undesirable location and either i) not move there full-time (e.g. commute on a weekly basis to run the company) or ii) subsequently relocate the acquired company’s HQ to a more desirable location over a period of time? Although not ideal, are investors generally receptive to this?

    • Jim Sharpe on February 19, 2021 at 2:57 am

      Justin, in most instances, part of the success of a search business is related to changing the “culture” of the business. It is hard to be “all in” as a leader commuting to the location. Your personal commitment to the area is important to winning over the employee base. Moving the business to a new location within the first few years is a risk, not to be taken lightly. I suspect that the investors want you to do the right thing for the business and not necessarily the right thing for your personal situation. There may be some isolated searchers that this has worked for, but not many. Search On!

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Posts – Most Recent

Posts – Contemplating a Search

Posts – Launching a Search

Posts – Conducting your Search

Posts – Being CEO/Owner

Random Quote

45-“Strategic partners” are very important to the business searchers.You want to rely on some trusted providers to support your business, you can’t do everything yourself!(See Blog Post-Strategic Partnerships)

42-Start early on legal documents, they often delay closings while under LOIBoth the searcher and the seller are plowing new ground and it takes a while to comprehend the meaning of all of the legal details .(See Blog Post-Getting to closing)

63 Searchers make promises they can meet to build trust with sellers. It is important to provide incremental opportunities to show that you can be counted on to deliver.(See Blog Post-Building Trust with Sellers)

34 Searchers who get access to employees before closing are more likely to close. Once the seller begins to confide in their employees about the sale of the business and introducing you as the “new owner”, they are more likely to proceed to finalize the transaction than to change their mind at the last minute.(See Blog Post-Getting to Close)

07-You are not a PE firm, don’t act like one!
Potential sellers resonate with your taking over their legacy, a PE firm is simply adding to their portfolio. Make sure your website looks personal and non-intimidating.

04-Fight Seller Fatigue in Due Diligence!
Sellers get worn out in this process. It is highly emotional for them, probably their first time at relinquishing their “baby” to someone else. During LOI stage, make it a practice to communicate with them, in person or by phone, every 2 days.

53-Holding monthly “all-hands” meetings indicates your transparency. Trust employees with what is going on with the business and they will trust you more .(See Blog Post-Communicating with Employees)

06-Use metrics to drive decisions
Track what is most important for your search – getting in front of prospective sellers to make offers to buy their business. Track the number prospects, IOI’s, LOI’s and set goals for yourself! If you measure it, you can improve it.

22-When in conflicts arise, remind professional advisors they work for you.
Inevitably, you will disagree with some advice you are getting. After checking multiple sources, do what feels right to you and move forward. You will have to “live” with your own choices, not the professionals!(See Blog Post-Professional Support)

18-Every day that goes by during Due Diligence raises the chance that you won’t close!
Time is of the essence when it comes to moving from a signed LOI to closing on your business. Seller fatigue sets in as the closing date gets extended and the seller constantly re-evaluates their motivation to sell. Only you can push the process along.(See Blog Post-Due Diligence)

44-Plan ahead, give thought to the small details of how you present yourself as the new owner. The first introduction to the employees of the business has a huge impact so you want every word to be rehearsed!(See Blog Post-Taking over the business)

50-Don’t expect immediate “loyalty”, the previous owner earned it, it takes time. You will need to earn the trust of your employees by your actions, not your words. (See Blog Post-Seller Tranisition)

35-Searcher CEO’s need to be prepared to walk away from volume orders if margins will decline. It takes a forward thinking CEO to seek out higher margin, value added opportunities to grow profits, not revenue.(See Blog Post-Wearing the sales hat)

09-Learn from others – read case histories
Over 40 case histories have been written about funded and self funded searchers in a variety of industries and historical settings. Each have great “lessons learned” and are worth the $10 cost to read them. Searchers are learners!

39-The business seller is “hiring” you to run their business. The owner trusts you enough to turnover the “legacy” of their business to you. (See Blog Post-Searcher Profile)

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