The first step in learning how to buy an existing business is to decide what type of business you want. It should be something that you have a knack for. If you don't like dogs, a pet shop would not be the type of business to purchase. But if you have a marketing research background, you might consider buying an existing agency. It is always best to get into a business that you enjoy and have skills in. This increases your chance for success.
After you decide on the type of business you want, start your search. There are many sources available. You can peruse the "Business Opportunities" section of your local newspaper, contact trade associations or find business brokers who may have the type of business you are seeking. If you know a network of professional people, they may know someone who is selling the type of business you want. You might consider relocating, too.
The next step is to narrow down your options and start visiting these businesses. If you are interested in a health food store, go talk to the owner. Ask them to show you around. Ask them how long they've been in business, why they are selling, what the competition is like and who their suppliers are. Take notes. You should also go over their financial records. If you are buying an existing business you want it to be profitable. Otherwise, you might as well start from scratch.
Once you have narrowed your search down, ask the owner if you can spend the day with them to see what it's like. Restaurants often call this a realistic job preview. You can determine if it is something you really want to do.
Next, you need to decide how you will purchase the business: Cash, finance with a down payment, etc. You may be able to purchase just the assets and allow the owner to deal with the liabilities. You may also negotiate a 'no money down' deal if you have stellar credit.
Based on the market value of the existing business, you need to determine how much you will offer. Buyers should always come in low. Do research on comparable businesses.
Make the offer. Chances are that you will need to negotiate a price if your offer is less than the advertised price. Keep a level head during this process and stick to your offer.