What is EBITDA and Why is it Relevant to You?

If you’ve heard the term EBITDA thrown around and not truly understood what it means, now is the time to take a closer look, as it can be used to determine the value of your business. That stated, there are some issues that one has to keep in mind while using this revenue calculation. Here is a closer look at the EBITDA and how best to proceed in using it.

EBITDA is an acronym for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. It can be used to compare the financial strength of two different companies. That stated, many people don’t feel that EBITDA should be given the importance that is frequently attributed to it.

Divided Opinion on EBITDA

If there is disagreement on EBITDA being able to determine the value of a business, then why is it used so often? This calculation’s somewhat ubiquitous nature is due, in part, to the fact that EBITDA takes a very complicated subject, determining and comparing the value of businesses, and distills it down to an easy to understand and implement formula. This formula is intended to generate a single number.

EBITDA Ignores Many Key Factors

One of the key concerns when using or considering a EBITDA number is that it is often used as something of a substitute for cash flow, which, of course, can make it dangerous. It is vital to remember that earnings and cash earnings are not necessarily one in the same.

Adding to the potential confusion is the fact that EBITDA does not factor in interest, taxes, depreciation or amortization. In short, a lot of vital information is ignored.

Achieving Optimal Results

In the end, you simply don’t want to place too much importance or emphasis on EBITDA when determining the strength of a business. The calculation overlooks too many factors that could influence future growth and prosperity of a business.

Business brokers have been trained to handle valuations to determine the approximate value of a business. Since valuations take many more factors into consideration, they also tend to be far more accurate.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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5 Tips for Buyers of International Businesses

The decision to buy an international business is no doubt quite serious. There are numerous factors that must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not an international business purchase is the right move. Let’s take a closer look.

Tip #1 – Relocating Vs. Hiring a Manager

Buying an international business can also mean a substantial life change. Before jumping into the process, it is critical that you know whether you will be relocating or hiring a manager to run your newly acquired business.

Obviously, owning a business is a substantial responsibility and you’ll want to ensure that you know exactly what is going on with your new acquisition. Sometimes that means actually being there. The bottom line is that you will either have to relocate or hire a manager.

Tip #2 – Regulations

Understanding regulations, taxes and customs are another must for buyers of international businesses. A failure to factor in these elements can literally undo one’s business or at the very least place you at a competitive disadvantage. The time and money you invest in learning how regulations, taxes and customs work in this new territory is time and money well spent.

Tip #3 – Research Similar Businesses

You will want to invest your time into research. In particular, you will want to research similar businesses that already exist in the place where you are investing. Why are those businesses successful? What could you do to improve on their model or approach? Don’t assume that just because you know how businesses fare in the United States that this knowledge will always translate over to other countries.

Tip #4 – Be Aware of Potential Cultural Differences

It is important to be aware of cultural differences during the negotiation process, but this is really just the beginning. Cultural differences do not end once the negotiation process is over. They have ramifications in areas including everything from dealing with your staff and vendors to getting professional assistance from people such as local accountants and lawyers. You will need to be aware of cultural differences and perhaps even learn to speak the language if you want your business to be a thriving success.

Tip #5 – Hire a Business Broker

Business brokers are experts in buying and selling all kinds of businesses and that includes international businesses. There are many layers to owning an international business and business brokers can help you navigate the waters. The sizable expertise that a business broker brings to the table can help save you considerable amount of frustration and confusion.

These five tips are invaluable for helping you determine whether you should opt for an international business and/or how to proceed once you’ve decided to move forward. There can be big opportunities in owning an international business, but it is critical to proceed with a clear cut strategy.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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5 Reasons Buying a Business is Preferable to Starting a New One

If you are considering running your own business, one of the first questions that might pop in your mind is: should I start a new one or buy an established business. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the age-old dilemma of buying an existing business verses starting a new one from scratch.

1. An Established Concept

The benefits of buying an established business are no doubt huge. At the top of the list is that an existing business will have an established concept. Starting a business from scratch means taking a big risk in the form of a new idea. Will it really work? If the business fails, why did it fail? Both of these stressful questions need not be asked when you buy. An established business, especially one that has been around for years, has already shown that the concept and all the variables that go into it do, in fact, work.

2. Proven Cash Flow

Another massive benefit of buying an existing business is that an existing business has proven cash flow. You can look at the books and, in the process, determine just how much money is flowing in and out. With a new business, you simply won’t be sure how much it will generate. This can make it tricky when you’re trying to figure out how to not only pay your business expenses, but your personal ones as well.

3. The Unproven Element

No matter how good your idea and/or your location, your new business is still unproven. Despite the best of efforts, there may be an unforeseen variable that you or your consultants might have missed. However, when you opt for a proven, existing business, this variable does not apply to you.

4. An Established Staff

A business is often only as good as the people that populate and support it. Starting up your own business means that you have to go out and find all of your own employees. This process is much more than sifting through resumes. A resume only reveals so much. A resume doesn’t reveal if a candidate will be a good fit for the business, and it certainly doesn’t factor in chemistry. As any good coach of any team sport knows, chemistry is one of the greatest factors in winning a championship.

5. Established Relationships

A proven business also comes with an array of business relationships. Working out problems with your supply chain in the early days of your business can mean the end of that business. Many business owners have seen their businesses undone by problems with their supply chains. An existing business can point the way to reliable and consistent suppliers. When buying an existing business, you are acquiring a proven performer. You know that the business had what it takes to provide cash flow over a given period of time. You will also have customers who know who you are, where you are and how to buy from you. Buying an existing business also means gaining access to reliable suppliers and enjoying all the benefits that come with an established brand name and location.

The Three Ways to Negotiate

Basically, there are three major negotiation methods.

1. Take it or leave it. A buyer makes an offer or a seller makes a counter-offer – both sides can let the “chips fall where they may.”

2. Split the difference. The buyer and seller, one or the other, or both, decide to split the difference between what the buyer is willing to offer and what the seller is willing to accept. A real oversimplification, but often used.

3. This for that. Both buyer and seller have to find out what is important to each. So many of these important areas are non-monetary and involve personal things such as allowing the owner’s son to continue employment with the firm. The buyer may want to move the business.

There is an old adage that advises, “Never negotiate your own deal!”

The first thing both sides have to decide on is who will represent them. Will they have their attorney, their intermediary or will they go it alone? Intermediaries are a good choice for a seller. They have done it before, are good advocates for their side and they understand the company and the seller.

How do the parties get together in a win-win negotiation? The first step is for both sides to work with their advisors to settle on the price and deal structure positions. Both sides should be able to present their side of these issues. Which is more important – price or terms, or non-monetary items?

Information is vital to a buyer. Buyers should keep in mind that the seller knows more about the business than he or she does. Both buyer and seller need to anticipate what is important to the other and keep that in mind when discussing the deal. Buyer and seller should do due diligence on each other. Both buyer and seller must be able to walk away from a deal that is just not going to work.

Bob Woolf, the famous sports agent said in his book, Friendly Persuasion: My Life as a Negotiator, “I never think of negotiating against anyone. I work with people to come to an agreement. Deals are put together.”

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Due Diligence — Do It Now!

Due diligence is generally considered an activity that takes place as part of the selling process. It might be wise to take a look at the business from a buyer’s perspective in performing due diligence as part of an annual review of the business. Performing due diligence does two things: (1) It provides a valuable assessment of the business by company management, and (2) It offers the company an accurate profile of itself, just in case the decision is made to sell, or an acquirer suddenly appears at the door.

This process, when performed by a serious acquirer, is generally broken down into five basic areas:

• Marketing due diligence
• Financial due diligence
• Legal due diligence
• Environmental due diligence
• Management/Employee due diligence

Marketing Issues
It has been said that many company officers/CEOs have never taken a look at the broad picture of their industry; in other words, they know their customers, but not their industry. For example, here are just a few questions concerning the market that due diligence will help answer:

• What is the size of the market?
• Who are the industry leaders?
• Does the product or service have a life cycle?
• Who are the customers/clients, and what is the relationship?
• What’s the downside and the upside of the product/service? What is the risk and potential?

Financial Issues
Two important questions have to be answered before getting down to the basics of the financials: (1) Do the numbers really work? and (2) Are the seller’s claims supported by the figures? If the answer to both is yes, the following should be carefully reviewed:

• The accounts receivables
• The accounts payable
• The inventory

Legal Issues
Are contracts and agreements current? Are products patented, if necessary? How about copyrights and trademarks? What is the current status of any litigation? Are there any possible law suits on the horizon? What would an astute attorney representing a buyer want to see and would it be acceptable?

Environmental Issues
Not too long ago this area would have been a non-issue. Not any more! Current governmental guidelines can levy responsibility regarding environmental issues that existed prior to the current occupancy or ownership of the real estate. Possible acquirers – and lenders – are really “gun-shy” about these types of problems.

Management/Employee Issues
What employment agreements are in force? What family members are on the payroll? Who are the key people? In other words, who does what, why, and how much are they paid?

Operational Issues
The company should have a clear program covering how their products are handled from raw material to “out the door.” Service companies should also have a program covering how services are delivered from initial customer contact through delivery of the services.

The question is, do you give your company a “physical” now, or do you wait until someone else does it for you – with a lot riding on the line?

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

Considerations When Selling…Or Buying

Important questions to ask when looking at a business…or preparing to have your business looked at by prospective buyers.

• What’s for sale? What’s not for sale? Does it include real estate? Are some of the machines leased instead of owned?

• What assets are not earning money? Perhaps these assets should be sold off.

• What is proprietary? Formulations, patents, software, etc.?

• What is their competitive advantage? A certain niche, superior marketing or better manufacturing.

• What is the barrier of entry? Capital, low labor, tight relationships.

• What about employment agreements/non-competes? Has the seller failed to secure these agreements from key employees?

• How does one grow the business? Maybe it can’t be grown.

• How much working capital does one need to run the business?

• What is the depth of management and how dependent is the business on the owner/manager?

• How is the financial reporting undertaken and recorded and how does management adjust the business accordingly?

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Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

A Buyer’s Quandary

Statistics reveal that out of about 15 would-be business buyers, only one will actually buy a business. It is important that potential sellers be knowledgeable on what buyers go through to actually become business owners. This is especially true for those who have started their own business or have forgotten what they went thorough prior to buying their business.

If a prospective business buyer is employed, he or she has to make the decision to leave that job and go into business for and by himself. There is also the financial commitment necessary to actually invest in a business and any subsequent loans that are a result of the purchase. The new owner will likely need to execute a lease or assume an existing one, which is another financial commitment. These financial obligations are almost always guaranteed personally by the new owner.

The prospective business owner must also be willing to make that “leap of faith” that is so necessary to becoming a business owner. There is also the matter of family and personal responsibilities. Business ownership, aside from being a large financial consideration, is very time consuming, especially for the new business owner.

All of these factors have to be weighed very carefully by anyone that is considering business ownership. Buyers should think carefully about the risks – and the rewards. Sellers should also put themselves in a buyer’s position. The services of a professional business broker or intermediary can help determine the relative pros and cons of the transaction.

The Confidentiality Agreement

When considering selling their companies, many owners become paranoid regarding the issue of confidentiality. They don’t want anyone to know the company is for sale, but at the same time, they want the highest price possible in the shortest period of time. This means, of course, that the company must be presented to quite a few prospects to accomplish this. A business cannot be sold in a vacuum.

The following are some of the questions that a seller should expect a confidentiality agreement to cover:

  • What type of information can and can not be disclosed?
  • Are the negotiations open or secret?
  • What is the time frame for which the agreement is binding? The seller should seek a permanently binding agreement.
  • What is the patent right protection in the event the buyer, for example, learns about inventions when checking out the operation?
  • Which state’s laws will apply to the agreement if the other party is based in a different state? Where will disputes be heard?
  • What recourse do you have if the agreement is breached?

Obviously, executing an agreement does not mean a violation can’t occur, but it does mean that all the parties understand the severity of a breach and the importance, in this case, of confidentiality.

While no one can guarantee confidentiality, professional intermediaries are experienced in dealing with this issue. They are in a position to understand the extreme importance of confidentiality in business transactions as well as the devastating results of a breach in confidentiality. A professional intermediary will require all legitimate prospects to execute a confidentiality agreement.

A confidentiality agreement is a legally binding contract, enforceable in a court of law. It establishes “common ground” between the seller, who wants the agreement to be extensive, and the buyer, who wants as few restrictions as possible. It allows the seller to share confidential information with a prospective buyer or a business broker for evaluative purposes only. This means that the buyer or broker promises not to share the information with third parties. If a confidentiality agreement is broken, the injured party can claim a breach of contract and seek damages.

© Copyright 2015 Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Company Weaknesses

Take two seemingly identical companies with very similar financials, but one of the companies was worth substantially more than the other company.  One company will sell for $10 million “as is” or some changes can be made and the same company can be sold for $15 million. Following is a partial list of potential company weaknesses to consider in order to assess a company’s vulnerability.

Customer Concentration:  First, one has to analyze the situation.  The U.S. Government might be considered one customer but from ten different purchasing agents.  Or, GM might have one purchasing agent but be directed to ten different plants.  One office product manufacturer with $20 million in sales had 75% of its business with one customer…Staples.  They had three choices: 1. Cross their fingers and remain the same; 2. Acquire another company with a different customer base; or 3. Sell out to another company.  They selected the third choice and took their chips off the table.  The acquirer was a $125 million competitor which was unable to sell to Staples, so after absorbing the smaller company, the customer concentration to Staples was only about 10% ($125m + $20m=$145m of which $15 million was sold to Staples or 10+%).

Single Product: Perhaps the most famous example of a single product acquisition is when General Motors overtook Ford’s single product, the Model A, with Alfred Sloan’s brilliant concept of a different model for people with different financial thresholds.  Henry Ford’s stubbornness to stay with one product (Model A) almost cost the company its existence.

Regional Sales/Limited Marketing:  Companies with parochial focus have limited capabilities to grow other than within their own domain.  A widget company with national and international sales has substantially greater prospects to grow than one limited to its own region.

Aging Workforce/Decaying Culture:  Skilled workers in certain trades, such as tool and die shops, are not being replaced by the younger generation.  This is a sign that the next generation will not provide the companies with a skilled workforce in certain industries.

Declining Industry:  Some companies are agile enough to completely change their industry, such as Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and Fashion Neckwear Company which completely changed from neckties to polo shirts.

Pricing Constraints/Rising Costs: Companies who sell a commodity product often lack pricing elasticity and are unable to pass on their increased costs to their customers.  For a while, the steel industry was in this predicament, but through massive industry consolidation and a booming demand from China, the situation changed.

CEO Dependency/No Succession Plan: Many middle market companies have successfully been built up by the founder/entrepreneur/owner and some critics call these individuals a “one-man-band” for good reason.  These superman types tend to dominate most aspects of the company, but this is no way to build a sustainable business long term.  Furthermore, these CEOs usually have not created a succession plan.

Maximizing Value

If the owners of a company, many of whom may be outsiders, want to increase the value of their investment, they should, through the Board of Directors, try to overcome the company’s weaknesses.  On the other hand, the CEO may not be either capable or motivated to do so.  The alternative is to implement a CEO succession plan, preferably with the cooperation of the current CEO.  Kenneth Freeman’s thesis in “The CEO’s Real Legacy” (Harvard Business Review, Nov 2004) is that the CEO’s real legacy is implementing a succession plan.

Freeman advises:

“Your true legacy as a CEO is what happens to the company after you leave the corner office.

“Begin early, look first inside your company for exceptional talent, see that candidates gain experience in all aspects of the business, help them develop the skills they’ll need in the top job…

“During good times, most boards simply don’t want to talk about CEO succession…During bad times when the board is ready to fire the CEO, it’s too late to talk about a plan for smoothly passing the baton…Succession planning is one of the best ways for you to ensure the long-term health of your company.”

Both buyers and sellers should assess the company’s weaknesses.  While some weaknesses are difficult to overcome, especially in the short term, one potential weakness that is very easy to overcome is to implement a succession plan…especially during the company’s good times before things go bad and it’s too late.

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Buying or Selling a Business: The External View

There is the oft-told story about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Before he approached the McDonald brothers at their California hamburger restaurant, he spent quite a few days sitting in his car watching the business. Only when he was convinced that the business and the concept worked, did he make an offer that the brothers could not refuse. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point, however, for both buyer and seller, is that it is important for both to sit across the proverbial street and watch the business. Buyers will get a lot of important information. For example, the buyer will learn about the customer base. How many customers does the business serve? How often? When are customers served? What is the make-up of the customer base? What are the busy days and times?

The owner, as well, can sometimes gain new insights on his or her business by taking a look at the business from the perspective of a potential seller, by taking an “across the street look.”

Both owners and potential buyers can learn about the customer service, etc., by having a family member or close friend patronize the business.

Interestingly, these methods are now being used by business owners, franchisors and others. When used by these people, they are called mystery shoppers. They are increasingly being used by franchisors to check their franchisees on customer service and other operations of the business. Potential sellers might also want to have this service performed prior to putting their business up for sale.