1. Build a solid management team. A business with sales of $5 million and up needs a full complement of officers and directors. Such a team might include: a COO, a CFO, a sales manager and, depending on the type business, an IT director. It is also beneficial to create a Board of Directors with at least two outside members. This professionalizing of management can remove the stigma of “the one man band.” Not only will this build a stronger company, it will increase the value to a possible acquirer. Smaller firms should also build a strong management team, and creating an outside advisor group is also a good idea.
2. Loyal employees. Happy and loyal employees make for a strong company. Top management should have non-compete and/or confidentiality agreements. Solid benefits plans for all employees should be in place. A company’s greatest asset is its employees and perhaps its biggest value-increaser.
3. Growth. Some smaller companies are kept small to maximize the owner’s benefits – the proverbial “cash cows.” However, if building value is the goal, then developing new products or services, building market share, expanding markets or opening new ones, is critical. This generally requires a financial investment, but building a strong growth rate also builds value.
4. Understanding your market. The value of a company may be contingent on its industry, its place in the industry and the direction of the industry itself. How big is the industry, is it headed up or down, who is the competition and how big is the company’s market share? Is it time to change direction or diversify?
5. Size counts. Companies with less than $5 million in sales and an EBITDA of less than $1 million can be perceived as small. Therefore, they may be dependent on continuing outside financing and lack the critical mass for both buying and selling power. These companies can be perceived as too small for acquisition or are penalized when it comes to value. However, over the past few years corporate buyers, as well as private equity firms, have seen the advantages of purchasing smaller firms. Obviously, companies with $10 million or more in sales and an EBITDA of $1 million or more are considered as solid and able to stand on their own.
6. Changing direction. Small companies can be very adept at changing course and implementing change. They have to be able to change and move quickly to take advantage of new markets, to fill voids in existing markets and even to add or change products or services.
7. Documentation. Business plans, financial plans and personnel plans should all be in writing – and kept current. Terms of employment agreements should be spelled out and in writing. Business planning and company objectives, etc., should also be in writing and reviewed periodically. Contracts should be reviewed and maintained on a current basis.
8. Diversification. A major problem with many small companies is that their business is concentrated on one or two major customers or clients. Ideally, no customer or client should represent more than 10 percent of sales. Expanding to new markets, introducing new products, and finding new customers must be considered without deviating too far from the company’s core business.
9. Name and brand identity. Nothing beats the name Walt Disney, or Kleenex® or the soft drink called Coke® – they are household names. Small firms may not have the brand or name recognition of these companies, but they can work at it. This recognition is especially powerful in the consumer product area. But franchising has expanded this name or brand recognition to many different types of businesses.
10. Taking advantage of proprietary and other assets. Patents, brand names, copyrights, alliances, and joint ventures are all examples of not only proprietary assets, but, in many cases, valuable ones. Even equipment can be used in several different ways. Large landscape companies in cold climates put snowplows on their trucks, utilize their existing workforce and become a snowplowing company for their regular landscaping customers — office complexes, apartment and condo developments, etc.
11. “Lean and Mean.” Many companies lease their real estate needs, outsource their payroll, have their manufacturing done offshore, have UPS handle all of their logistical needs. Since all non-core requirements are done by someone else, the company can focus its efforts on what they do best.
12. Do it now! The owners of small firms, even large ones, have an attitude that says, “I don’t have time now, I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too busy now putting our fires.” So the real challenges of building the business, and value, get sidetracked or put off indefinitely. Creating value is critical to the long-term (and short-term) success of the business.
Keep in mind that the best time to consider selling is when business is good, the business is running profitably, and many of the above “value-adders” are in place. By contacting your local professional intermediary you can explore which of the above will add the most value to your firm, so it will be ready to sell when you are.
This question can only be answered by addressing other related questions, specifically: Who’s asking and for what purpose?
From the perspective of the owner, prospective buyers, the IRS, lenders and divorce & bankruptcy courts, the value of a business for purposes of a sale, estate planning, orderly or forced liquidation, gifting, divorce, etc. can be vastly different.
Intrinsically tied to the various purposes of valuation are numerous definitions of “value.” Here are a few examples:
Investment Value – The value an acquirer places on a business based on a future return on investment determined by assessing past and current performance, future prospects, and other opportunities and risk factors involving the business.
Liquidation Value – The value derived from the sale of the assets of a business that is closed or expected to be closed following the sale.
Book Value – Book value is the difference between the total assets and total liabilities as accounted for on the company’s balance sheet.
Going Concern Value – Used to define the intangible value which may exist as a result of a business having such attributes as an established, trained and knowledgeable workforce, a loyal customer base, in-place operating systems, etc.
Fair Market Value
For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on transaction related valuations. Fair Market Value (“FMV”) is the most relevant definition of “value” and is of the most interest to business owners. The more knowledge business owners and prospective buyers have about the valuation process, the more likely they will come to an agreement on a purchase price.
FMV is the measure of value most used by business appraisers, as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the courts. FMV is essentially defined as “the value for which a business would sell assuming the buyer is under no compulsion to buy and the seller is under no compulsion to sell, and both parties are aware of all of the relevant facts of the transaction.” IRS Revenue Rule 59-60 lists the following factors to consider in establishing estimates of FMV:
1. The nature and history of the business.
2. The general economic outlook and its relation to the specific industry of the business under review.
3. The earnings capacity of the business.
4. The financial condition of the business and the book value of the ownership interest.
5. The ability of the business to distribute earnings to owners.
6. Whether or not the business has goodwill and other intangible assets.
7. Previous sales of ownership interests in the business and the size of ownership interests to be valued.
8. The market price of ownership interests in similar businesses that are actively traded in a free and open market, either on an exchange or over-the-counter.
What is Goodwill?
An important element of value, when it exists, is goodwill. The IRS defines goodwill in its Revenue Rule 59-60, stating, “In the final analysis, goodwill is based upon earning capacity. The presence of goodwill and its value, therefore, rests upon the excess of net earnings over and above a fair return on the net tangible assets. While the element of goodwill may be based primarily on earnings, such factors as the prestige and renown of the business, the ownership of a trade or brand name, and a record of successful operation over a prolonged period in a particular locality, also may furnish support for the inclusion of intangible value. In some instances it may not be possible to make a separate appraisal of the tangible and intangible assets of the business. The enterprise has a value as an entity. Whatever intangible value there is, which is supportable by the facts, may be measured by the amount by which the appraised value for the tangible assets exceeds the net book value of such assets.”
Valuation Approaches and Methods
Exploring valuation techniques requires an understanding of the tools available. Which tools are utilized depends in part on the purpose of the valuation and the circumstances of the subject company. Generally there are several approaches to valuing a business. Within these approaches, there are several different methods. Listed below are the three major approaches along with some examples of specific methods that fall under each category.
• Income Approach
Discounted Cash Flow Method
Single Period Capitalization of Earnings Method
• Market Approach
Comparable Publicly Traded Company Analysis
Comparable Merger & Acquisition Analysis
• Asset-Based Approach
Adjusted Net Asset Method
Excess Earnings Method
All of the above methods and approaches are frequently used in business valuations.
Normalizing the Financial Statements
Before the approaches and methods above can be applied, it is necessary to analyze and normalize both the income statement and balance sheet of the business for the current and past periods selected to form the basis of the valuation.
• Normalizing the Income Statement
Normalizing the Income Statement generally entails adding back to earnings certain personal expenses, non-recurring and non-cash items. Examples of these “add-backs” could include depreciation, amortization, auto, boat and airplane expenses, one-time extraordinary expenses and other excess expenses such as owner’s salaries and family member’s salaries that are above fair market value, travel and entertainment, bonuses, etc. Owners usually tend to be extremely liberal when normalizing the income statement in order to bolster earnings, which can artificially inflate valuation. Each item must be carefully analyzed and scrutinized to insure that the normalization process is credible.
• Normalizing the Balance Sheet
Normalizing the Balance Sheet includes adjustments that eliminate non-operating assets and other assets and liabilities that are not included in the proposed transaction, and therefore the valuation. The book value of the assets will be adjusted up or down to reflect their fair market value. Inter-company charges will also be eliminated. Inventory may be adjusted upward or downward based on prior accounting procedures and/or obsolescence. Accounts receivable may also require an adjustment based on an analysis of collectibility.
EBIT – An acronym for earnings before interest and taxes
EBITDA – An acronym for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
Capitalization Rate – Any divisor that is used to convert income into value. This is generally expressed as a percentage.
Discount Rate – The rate of return that is used to convert any future monetary gain into present value.
(Note: when determining FMV, the earnings stream selected to be capitalized or discounted should be normalized.)
Even with all the terminology and definitions discussed above, the answer to the original question has not yet completely been answered: What is the company worth?
The value driver of a business is the ability of the entity to generate future cash flow or earnings. Business appraisers will assign an appropriate capitalization rate (or multiple) to a selected earnings stream to derive an overall value for a business. The value of the net assets of the business will be compared to the cash flow valuation and may be adjusted upward or downward. For example: if the earnings based valuation is less than the net asset value, an upward adjustment may be in order. Conversely, if the net assets are negligible, a downward adjustment is more likely to occur.
Many appraisers typically use a common range of multiples to arrive at a “ballpark” indication of value (for example, 4 to 6 times EBITDA). While this approach is commonplace, an in-depth valuation of the subject company will produce a more accurate result. There are too many intangible factors to be considered to rely solely on the capitalization of earnings. Of course, the ultimate value of a company will be determined by the marketplace, which can greatly differ from a seller’s expectation, as well as the expectations of potential acquirers.
It is not uncommon for business owners to have an inflated sense of value of their company. This could be due to a variety of factors including emotional attachment to the business, unwillingness to accept the impact of the risk factors of the business, outside influence from previous market conditions, incorrect conclusion of normalized earnings, comparable transactions, etc. Conversely, acquirers often undervalue businesses. In their quest to “buy right” they often end up paying a lower multiple for a company with serious negative factors, while passing up on higher multiple opportunities, which, due to the quality, are actually better buys.
Valuation is a complex process. Owners and buyers will be well served if they rely on professional advisors such as their accountants, business appraisers, intermediaries or investment bankers.
If you are considering entering the world of franchising, an important consideration is assessing the value of the business. All of the following factors either affect or help determine valuations of typical franchise operations:
1. Franchise Agreements:
Typically, franchise agreements can cover a period of twenty years; sometimes with added options. In most situations where a franchise unit has fewer than ten years remaining on the agreement (and options, if any), the value would diminish proportionately.
2. Territory Exclusivity:
Many franchisors do not, as a matter of course, provide an “exclusive” to franchisees within a given territory. More commonly, however, the franchisor will offer a franchisee limited protection for five years, during which time only he or she will be allowed to expand operation to additional units. Even limited protection can be assigned some value; any current territorial rights may have additional — and significant — value.
3. Business Hours
Potential franchisees should consider operating hours when assessing the value of a business. Business in general, and franchise operations in particular, are staying open for increasingly longer periods — some operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Locations in certain areas — city centers, bus stations, train depots — may open for shorter hours and fewer days. Since most business owners/managers would prefer the less demanding hours of operation, a premium value will be placed on these units.
This is the most obvious variable. A franchise operation in a suburban or small-town setting has a higher value than one in an inner-city or high-crime-rate area, regardless of other similarities (rent, sales volume, etc.).
5. Cash Flow:
Surprisingly, profitability may not necessarily be the key factor in valuing a franchise operation. A demonstrated, well-documented cash flow can definitely add value to the unit; however, the smart buyer will also look at other variables, such as unusually low food costs or labor costs, sales history, and potential for growth or improvement under new management in determining the overall value. Extreme situations provide the obvious exceptions to importance of cash flow: where the cash flow is extraordinarily high, capitalization of earnings becomes a truer method of valuation; where the franchise is actually losing money due to inefficient management, there would be some reduction in value.
Taking into consideration market variation, the typical rent will be set at approximately ten percent of retail sales. Modifications in value could result if the lease does not cover a period of at least ten years.
Many franchise agreements will require units to be refurbished within a certain number of years (ten is typical), with the franchisee bearing the cost. Since these costs typically fall within a range from $75,000 to $150,000, potential franchisees should pay particular attention to where the operation stands on this timeline. For example, a unit due for remodeling in a year or less could be reduced in value by a fair percentage of the cost of the improvements. The total cost would not be deducted from the value, since these improvements would also be expected to improve business anywhere from five to twenty-five percent.
A professional business broker can be helpful in many ways. They can provide you with a selection of different and, in many cases, unique businesses, including many that you would not be able to find on your own. Approximately 90 percent of those who buy businesses end up with something completely different from the business that they first inquired about.
Business brokers are also an excellent source of information about small business and the business buying process. They are familiar with the market and can advise you about trends, pricing and what is happening locally. Your business broker will handle all of the details of the business sale and will do everything possible to guide you in the right direction, including, if necessary, consulting other professionals who may be able to assist you.
Your local professional business broker is the best person to talk to about your business needs and requirements.Read More
If you have made the decision to sell your business, the wisest first move is to contact a qualified business broker professional, who can . . .
- Advise you on pricing and structuring the sale of your business.
- Prepare the marketing strategy, using professional resources.
- Determine the right buyer for your particular business.
- Educate buyers in the business-buying process.
- Keep you informed about market reaction.
- Present offers and point out strengths and weaknesses.
When it comes time to sell, one of the best decisions a business owner can make is to continue managing his or her business efficiently (and profitably), while depending on the services of a business broker to forge the steps of the sale. The business broker professional is an invaluable advisor during the entire process, offering both objectivity and negotiation skills honed through years of experience in the buying and selling of businesses.Read More
There still aren’t too many ways to finance the purchase of a business. Here are the primary methods:
Some buyers may have the cash available to purchase the business. Some may elect to use the equity in their residence, or other real estate. Others may have other assets that they can sell or borrow against.
Banks may lend against a buyer’s assets as described above. They may also lend against the assets of the business, assuming there is sufficient value to support the loan. The business will also have to make sense to the bank, regardless of the asset value. In fairness to the banking system, many of the figures supplied by business owners have very little relationship to the actual earning power of the business.
Venture Capital Firms
These firms do not, as a practice, lend to small or even many mid-size businesses unless tremendous growth is anticipated. They also usually expect an equity position in the company.
These have become more popular. There is now some competition among lenders for these loans. Many banks offer them, but the large non-bank companies seem to have the upper hand in both acceptance and service.
This category includes family, friends, relatives, credit cards and leasing companies. Some suppliers have been known to assist in the financing of a small business.
This is, by far, the largest source of financing available for the purchase of a business. Many industry experts say that about 90 percent of small businesses sell with, or perhaps because of, the seller financing a good portion of the sale price. Buyers have much more confidence in the decision to purchase a business when the seller is willing to assist in the financing. The buyer has confidence that the seller believes the business will service the debt, in addition to providing a living wage.Read More