When a slowing economy threatens to put you out of business, selling out may look like an attractive option.

"You make more money when you do it intentionally," small-business consultant Aldonna Ambler said at a recent meeting of a local networking group.

According to business brokers, however, local businesses are having difficulty following such advice. Finding buyers becomes more difficult for the same reasons many people are looking to sell.

Wendel Swan, a broker at Mount Vernon Business Brokerage in Alexandria, said that while he is receiving more inquiries from interested sellers, his overall business is down.

"The main product I sell is a revenue stream," he said. When that drops off, so does buyer interest.

"Both I and other business brokers that I talk to are becoming more selective," Swan said. "Some of it you just can't sell."

Entrepreneurs who want to sell their companies find they need to send out more inquiries to find interested buyers. In some cases they must arrange creative financing to strike a deal.

"If the business is going to sell, you've got to get the word out," said Nancy Flake, director of the Howard University Small Business Development Center.

Sellers who are not in a hurry often try to keep their intentions secret from suppliers, clients, employees and anyone else who might lose faith and desert them before a sale. But Flake said that someone who wants to sell the company quickly should look for leads through suppliers, accountants, lawyers and people in trade associations.

One owner, who requested anonymity, decided during the summer to sell her Arlington-based computer training company so she and her family could leave the area. But when offers were slow to come in, she changed her plan, deciding to wait out the economic downturn in hope of getting a better price next year.

In her search for a buyer, she said, she has made calls to other people in the industry, asking if they knew of any possible buyers. But now that she is not sure of selling right away, she said that making such calls could jeopardize her business because potential buyers also are potential clients. Letting people know the company is for sale could make it look as if it is not doing well.

To avoid such problems, she said she plans to commission a broker to sell the company. That way she can also free some of her time to increase company sales.

While brokers, who sell businesses for a living, may know more potential buyers than do people who run businesses, they usually ask for a 10 percent commission. Entering into a contract with a broker usually means granting the broker exclusive rights to sell the company for six months.

"One piece of advice that I've heard that makes a lot of sense to me is: When you're selling your company, usually you do it once in a lifetime, but people who buy companies do it all the time," said Lee Barrett, a local small-business consultant. "So it's probably better to have an experienced person on your side, like an accountant or an investment banker or an attorney."

Barrett, though, thinks owners should find buyers on their own, rather than through a broker, and that the experts should enter the process in the late stages. The best deals, he said, come from referrals.

"That way you know about {the buyers'} ethics, their values, their business practices, the kind of culture that they try to create in their companies," he said. If the buyer and the seller are compatible, they are more likely to strike a deal they are happy with and the buyer is more likely to succeed.

Bill Cates was concerned about this when he sold his small Silver Spring cookbook publishing company last year. Cates, who commissioned a broker to sell the company, said he was looking for more than just a good price.

"The books became my babies," he said, and he wanted to ensure that the new owners would not change the books too much.

The buyers evaluated the business by analyzing the company's financial statements for the past year, assessing the cash flow, inventory and the value of Cates's "goodwill" -- the reputation built up over time.

Factored into the price were several intangible assets including a customer list, relationships with suppliers and a proven marketing strategy.

Cates is happy with the buyers, both in their "love of the business" and their ability to run the business.

Finding the right buyers and making sure the price was fair to both sides was important to him because he still has a stake in his old business: He helped finance the deal. The buyers' success will directly affect whether he gets paid.