The three profits of SME's

The Three Profits of SME's

Most SME operators tend to think that good management, innovation, hard work and productivity will result in a profitable business, well they should but that’s not the whole story.

Not all profits are created equal and indeed some are much more valuable and more quickly and easily attained than others. Ah there must be a catch I hear you say; there is no catch but understanding the Three Profits of SME will make a significant difference to the way in which you view and manage your business.

The First Profit

The First Profit of SME is the easiest profit you will ever make and could account for a substantial amount of the total profit your business generates over its lifetime. The First Profit flows directly from your cost of entry.
Once you decide on starting or buying a business be it a hardware shop, bakery, call center, IT service or a property development, do your research. Look around for a similar business in distress or even facing or in administration or receivership. There are many reasons businesses fail but most often its insufficient cash or poor management, if you are a good manager and you have cash get out there and buy well.

Most businesses fail within the first two to three years. I have bought near new businesses out of distress for less that 10% of the cost of establishing that business. Plant and equipment as new, some customers in place and ready to go. If you can run that business and cash flow it you make a 900% profit in your first 2 years because well run the business should be worth at least its true set up costs.

The Second Profit

This is the only profit some people think of; the operating profit that flows from good management, business planning, innovation, hard work, productivity and sales effort. The Second Profit most importantly sustains your cash flow, pays the bills, allows you to further develop the business and should leave you with a healthy profit after drawing your wages.

The real key to the just how large The Second Profit is relates to the lessons of the First and Third Profits. Put simply the keys to strong operating profits are how well you control the cost of the goods and services you offer and how well you price them.
Do the math. You are much better off and your business is stronger selling a lower number of products or services at a higher margin than going for volume at a discount.
Look for ways to offer a significantly better service to your customers than your competitors are and lift your prices. Treat cost controls and buying as seriously as sales, manage your stocks to achieve maximum stock turn at minimum inventory. Establish and monitor your KPI’s. Motivate and reward your staff. Build a happy and united team.

The Third Profit

This Third Profit if planned carefully and executed well will bring you a profit as relatively easy and large as your First Profit. We are talking here of your exit strategy, the day you sell your business. Whilst this seems a long way off when you start your business you should be planning and working towards the exit every day.

The Third Profit will directly reflect the desirability of your business to a potential buyer. That buyer will need to be very comfortable with your business if you are looking for a premium priced exit.

From day one work to a detailed financial budget and business plan, report against it monthly; draw up detailed monthly accounts, (it’s so easy today), hold monthly board meetings with an agenda and minutes, even if the directors are you and your wife. File all tax returns and corporate documents on time and constantly update your corporate register. Imagine how comforting 3, 5 or 10 years of such well-maintained records are to a potential buyer.

Lock as many customers as you can onto long term supply or service contracts and do the same with your key suppliers. Look after, reward and motivate your staff so that your retention rate will be high. Another three prospective purchaser concerns answered.

Typically a purchaser will offer a multiple of earnings (EBIT) plus stock at valuation as a pricing mechanism. If the accounts, customers and staff look ad hoc the multiple offered is going to be between 1 and 2 times earnings and stock over one year old will be discounted to $0.10 in the $1.00 and over six months old $0.50 in the dollar.

With solid accounting, tax and corporate records, good budgeting, a regular stock turn, sound supplier and customer relationships, and loyal staff a potential purchaser is going to look much more favorably on your business and a multiple of 4 to 6 times EBIT plus SAV at full cost is a likely outcome.

Another strategy is to approach your major competitor; a consolidation of the two businesses could bring about significant efficiencies and cost benefits thereby lifting to value of your business to a multiple of 6 to 8 times EBIT.


Neil Steggall

Neil Steggall

Partner at Wardour Capital Partners

Neil is the CEO of Wardour Capital Partners, leading emerging growth & mid tier advisors. He is also a Non Executive Director of Family Planning Australia and The Australia Asia Business Alliance. Neil is an experienced director & corporate mentor and has chaired or served on numerous board committees including finance & audit, governance, compliance, strategy, acquisition, remuneration & ethics.


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Phil Khor

Phil Khor , Founder at SavvySME

One of the best articles I've read in a long time. As entrepreneurs, we often romanticise about starting our own business from the ground up, but the first profit is a good reminder that if we can take advantage of distress businesses with as little as 10% of the cost, we can get up and running so much quicker (if we get it right of course). Thanks for sharing Neil.