If you've been waiting for a healthy environment to sell a small business, 2014 may be your moment.
The BizBuySell Insight Report, published by the online business marketplace BizBuySell, found that the number of small-business deals that closed in 2013 increased by 41.7 percent in the third quarter compared to the same quarter in 2012, with restaurants and retail businesses seeing the most action. The median sale price for small businesses in Q3 of 2013 was $180,000—up 2.9 percent from the same time the previous year, though a little below the median asking price of $199,000. On average, selling prices were equal to 2.19 percent of cash flow.
The healthy selling climate seems likely to continue—which is good news for those who are eager to retire or cash out. Among mergers-and-acquisitions insiders, 68 percent expected the market to pick up strength in the 12 months following September 2013, according to a survey released in October by the law firm Dykema, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich.
With interest rates still low, experts say many buyers should be able to access affordable financing. "You've got a pretty good window in 2014 where rates will begin to start to rise but still stay at historically low levels," said Mitch Davidson, managing director of Post Capital Partners, a New York City private equity firm focused on the lower end of the middle market. "Debt finances a significant element of these transactions."
(Read more: Where American entrepreneurs are striking next)
Of course, the market for any small business can be unpredictable, so owners shouldn't sell just because there's momentum now, say experts. There need to be other compelling reasons to put a business on the market, whether that's the desire to move on to a new venture or to slow down.
"Market timing is always tricky, so I'm not sure that anybody should be waiting for just the right time to sell," said Kevin O'Connell, a partner in the corporate department at Boston-based law firm Posternak Blankstein & Lund, who works in mergers and acquisitions.
If you are considering selling a business at some point in the near future, it is important to get it into shape to reap the maximum return on your investment. Here are five strategies experts recommend. The best part: None of these will be wasted efforts if you reconsider selling, because all will make your business stronger.