As a small business lender, I get many questions regarding the state of economy. In the past few months, the overarching theme has been: “should I buy or start a business now and if so, how?” Our economy is facing a near unprecedented number of stress points including persistent inflation; recessionary pressures; high interest rates; supply-chain interruptions; and labor shortages. For the foreseeable future, we will likely experience declining sales and profits. Fortunes are made in times like these so it is absolutely a great time to invest. Good businesses are available to purchase at reasonable prices, vendors are more interested in extending terms and opening new accounts, and while more difficult to find, financing is available.
My suggestions, featured below, are relevant for strong and weak economic conditions; however, the challenges today require a level of precision that is not as critical in a growing economy.
First, buy a good business. It seems obvious, but keep in mind that now is not the time to attempt a turnaround. A good business has decent margins, diverse customer base, tenured staff, and no extraordinary working capital, and/or capital expenditure needs. An established franchised restaurant, for example.
Second, don’t overpay. Small businesses with good margins and growth rates are worth up to 4-5X cash flow, based on average cash flow for the past four to five years. Businesses with proprietary technology or unique and recognized brands are worth 6-8X, with more commodity-type businesses worth 3-4X. Enlist the help of an accounting professional to go over the financials and scrutinize add backs.
Thirdly, finance conservatively. A strong balance sheet is critical for surviving the next few quarters. Use more equity even if it means bringing in partners. Rely on conventional and/or SBA financing, and DO NOT use hard-money and MCA lenders. If the seller offers financing, insist on conventional terms and be prepared to have it subordinated to conventional lenders. If you find that you must use aggressive financing, it is a sign you are overpaying or swallowing more than you can chew and you should consider walking away.
Next, don’t forget working capital. We see it again and again. Buyers think that income and EBITDA or broker’s SDI equate to free cash flow. For most businesses, that’s not even close and you must incorporate the working capital and capital expenditure needs into your projections and financing. If you are not sure what all this means, ask an accounting professional to help you project cash flow.
Lastly, pursue operational excellence. This one also might seem obvious; however, you should only invest in a business you fully understand and in line with your experience. This is critical for assessing the opportunity as well as running the business. If you find a business you think you love but lack the experience, consider bringing in an operational partner.
In conclusion, I’ll use an analogy: you are about to board a ship headed into a storm of unknown magnitude. Be sure that the boat is sound and gassed and that the captain (you!) is experienced. Doing so will give you the best possible opportunity to achieve entrepreneurial success.
For more information about Gulf Coast Small Business Lending, please contact:
Jim Frey, SVP – Business Development Officer