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The Firm: Growing Every Year Since its 2012 Start

If you want to buy property, you go to a real estate agent.  But what do you do if you have a business to sell?  Or if you want to buy a company?

You seek out a business brokerage; one such at The Firm, an Omaha-based, rapidly growing brokerage founded by Cortney Sells.

Sells, who is a former model, got the idea to open The Firm several years ago.  “I had a talent agency (AGENCY 89), and I did ad campaigns/marketing strategy for a gym.  The owner called me and said “we don’t need your agency anymore, because I’m retiring,” she said.

“I thought that it was a shame for him to shut down, because he had worked so hard on his business.”

She contacted a personal trainer that she knew, and connected him with the business owner.  In the end, the retiring gym owner was financially rewarded for his 15 years of work; and the personal trainer got the keys to his future.  Being able to bring these two together was “so rewarding” Sells said.

Not much later, she had another opportunity to play business broker.  A salon owner with whom her agency had worked was relocating to Florida and she needed to close up shop.

Sells, again, searched through her contacts, looking for a stylist who might want to own her own business.  And sure enough, she found one.

“I decided that I had to make a career out of this,” she said.

She conducted some research, and discovered that there were only two other business brokers in town at the time.  This surprised her, because, as she said, “a lot of kids are doing their own thing and not taking over their parents’ business.  And owners aren’t selling to their employees as much anymore.

She knew that she could fill a niche, and she was right.  In 2012, she oversaw nearly 20 transaction, and in 2013, she completed 22 deals.  She said that this year is on track to be even bigger.

What’s the secret to her success?  In real estate agencies and business brokerages, staff work on 100 percent commission which, she said is a “poor idea.”

The majority of her large staff is salaried, which, she said, is expensive, but it weeds out the “come and go” mentality that is so prevalent in the industry.  “My employees are full-time professionals,” she added.

Another difference between The Firm and other business brokerages, she said, is that she diversifies her services into three divisions.

The first is Client Development.  “This isn’t a car lot,” she said.  “We fully disclose that we aren’t just a brokerage sale house.  We educate our clients on their businesses; we put a value on their

With a last name like Sells, she could have easily given her business a clever, play-upon-word name.”  But she refrained, because she wanted The Firm to convey the idea that her business is one firm that works with other “firms,” including banks, law firms, accounting firms, private equity groups, and media outlets.

The second division is Brokering.  “We have a large portfolio of businesses for sale, which we match confidentially with qualified buyers,” she said.

We have 288 active buyers; more buyers than we have sellers.  It’s the American Dream to buy a business, but it’s a major undertaking, and working with one of our professional business brokers ensures that everything is done correctly.

Sells explained that 10 percent of what The Firm does is client development, and 10 percent is matching a buyer with the right seller.  The remaining 80 percent is the brokerage’s third division: Operations, which means closing the deal.

“I currently have nine deals pending in our operations division,” she said.  “We have a 92 percent closing rate.  The national average is 34 percent.  So many countless things can happen that will make a deal fall apart.

Finding buyers and sellers is the easy part, she said, it’s the rest of the process-for instance, finding financing-that can prove difficult.  And that is why The Firm insists that every client must secure a lawyer.

“We want them to have professional counsel,” she said, “We require it.  Only one out of five clients who come in have an attorney, so we are always wanting to meet and greet law firms so we can gain new attorneys to refer.”

The Firm is, in many ways, a “one-stop shop.”

“We act as a mediator,” she said.  “For the seller they get their business valued.  We do buyer education.  We get everything put together.

Those interested in finding out more about how to buy a business can take advantage of classes that will be offered by The Firm, starting in mid-November.

For more information about The Firm Business Brokerage, which is located on the second floor at 210 North 78th St., go to TheFirmBusinessesBrokerage.com or call 402-998-5288.

Quarterly, in partnership with B2B magazine, The Firm releases the publication Deal Review for Insight on the climate mergers and acquisitions in Nebraska.

The business brokerage is affiliated with the International Business Brokers Association, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, All About Omaha, the Rotary Club of Omaha Suburban, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Nebraska, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Heartland Family Service.

Raised in Elkhorn, Sells attended the University of Kansas, and then worked as a talent agent in New York and Southern California before returning home to initiate the first licensed talent school in Omaha.

She is very involved in the community and is a member of several local organizations, including but not limited to, the Young Professionals Organization, Rotary International, Christian Business Woman, EO (Entrepreneur Organization), ALS in the Heartland, 4-H Club, Habitat for Humanity, St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish, and was most recently nominated for 2014 Woman of the Year, awarded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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The Firm Business Brokerage is not a real estate brokerage and therefore the staff will not handle any aspect of the lease, sale or purchase of real estate.