Bridging the Way BayState Business Brokers blog

Owners Cash Flow – What it is and why it is the most important number if you are buying or selling a business.

by | Jan 24, 2018

If you are going to sell a business or buy a business, it is important to understand Owners Cash Flow and how it is used to value a business.  In most small business sales, the seller is operating the business and the buyer plans to do likewise. Because of this, the best measure of the earning power of the business is the total income and benefits available to the owner, not the reported net profit of the business. In many small businesses, the owner is not trying to maximize net profit. The owner is trying to take out as much as possible in tax deductible salary and benefits. When buying or selling an owner-operated business, it is important to understand, and know, the Owners Cash Flow of the business. This is the best measure of the earning power of a small business.

Owners Cash Flow Defined
Owners Cash Flow is defined as the income before deducting the primary owner’s compensation and benefits, other discretionary, non-operating, or non-recurring income or expense, depreciation, interest, and taxes. This is also referred to as Sellers Discretionary Earnings. This is the amount of money available to pay the buyer an income, pay off debt, and provide for capital to operate the business. In order to accurately calculate Owners Cash Flow, we use tax returns, income statements, and other financial records.

Owners Cash Flow includes owner compensation. Discretionary expenses and perks, such Owners Cash Flow is importantas the owner’s company automobile, personal travel, meals and entertainment, and the owner’s discretionary insurance, are also included. Since health insurance is legally required in Massachusetts, lenders don’t include it in calculating the owners cash flow.  Interest expense is added back because the buyer is generally not assuming the debt of the business. Depreciation and amortization are added back because they are not cash expenses, however, if it is necessary to replace equipment within the next year that expense is deducted. Taxes are added back because a new owner may have a different tax expense. Additional adjustments are made for non-recurring expenses or income like one-time legal fees or the sale of a business asset. Non-operating income and expense are adjusted out also.

Discretionary Expenses
In order for an expense to be considered discretionary, it must meet certain criteria:

  • The expense must be for the benefit of the owner (like health insurance) or a close family member
  • The expense cannot benefit the business or the employees
  • The expense must be documented on tax returns and income statements
  • The expense must be verifiable as discretionary by a potential buyer

Counting meals and entertainment that gain the business new clients or counting auto expenses when the automobile is used to conduct business are not included. To pass due diligence, it is important to count only verifiable discretionary expenses.

Get a Business Valuation from BayState Business Brokers

BayState Business Brokers offers a business appraisal using the market approach. The cost is modest and there is no obligation. If you are considering selling your business, contact us today to schedule a business valuation.



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