Buying a business can be an excellent way to become a business owner. It saves you from many of the headaches, heartaches, and risks associated with unproven start-ups. It's important, however, to be fully informed as you embark on the process. Here are four "must-knows" about buying your first business.

Buy the Business that Fits Who You Are

Don't buy a coffee shop just because someone told you that coffee shops are profitable. Buy a coffee shop because you genuinely love coffee. Buy it because you can think of a dozen ways to make your coffee shop experience just a little bit better. You should also look at your skills, capabilities, and job history. There's nothing that says you can't become a success in a completely unfamiliar industry-but you'll enjoy your best level of success and happiness by pursuing a business that tackles a field you know and love. After all, you're going to spend a whole lot of time with your business. Shouldn't it be something you'll enjoy?

The Classified Ads May Not Be Your Best Bet

If you don't look any further than the classified ads, you might miss out on some truly outstanding opportunities. Try asking local business owners who might be selling their business soon. Try making a list of local businesses you'd love to own-you can always approach the owner to see if they're interested in selling. Professionals who are in the business of buying and selling businesses, such as CPAs and CVAs, often have insider information on people who are interested in selling but haven't gotten around to looking for buyers yet. You'll likely pay a premium for these companies, but they may net you stronger a business than searching the classifieds, going online, or advertising that you're ready to buy. You can also try business brokers, but be careful-brokers work on behalf of sellers, not on behalf of buyers, and might not have your best interests at heart.

Gather a Team of Experts

At minimum you should be working with a good attorney, a CPA, and a CVA, or certified valuation analyst. A CVA is exclusively in the business of creating accurate pictures of how much a business is actually worth. All three of these individuals can help you avoid spending too much money or making dangerous legal mistakes. They can catch legal and financial problems, spot negative aspects of the company the seller might rather keep hidden, and keep you from allowing excitement overrule your good senses. They also know the buying process inside and out and can help you conduct yourself in a way that ensures you are taken seriously by sellers.

Be Prepared for an Investment of Time

Buying a business usually takes 18 months-at minimum-if everything goes well. Furthermore, depending on your involvement, it can require your full time attention. It's not something you do out of desperation or on impulse. To protect yourself, it's a good idea to have living expenses saved up for at least one year, because it might be difficult to hold down a full time job while you are attending meetings, scouting opportunities, and performing other tasks for your business.

Buying a business is much like starting your own. You have to be fully committed, have the necessary expertise, and possess the desire to make it succeed.