How to use Financial Ratios

In an earlier post, Financial Ratio Analysis and the Entrepreneur, I shared some insights on Financial Ratio Analysis and how investors and lenders may consider and use financial ratios to determine whether to invest or lend to an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs should also understand how to use financial ratios in the regular course of business operations.  Each financial ratio has a purpose, and when compared to industry benchmarks, a ratio can provide insights as to a venture’s performance as well as help set stretch goals for business improvements and growth.

The most common financial ratios used by investors and lenders include:

Leverage Ratios

These ratios indicate the long-term solvency and highlight the extent long-term debt is used to support the venture. Leverage Ratios include:

  • Debt-to-Equity Ratio which measures how much debt is used to run the business.
  • Debt-to-Asset Ratio which measures the percentage of the company’s assets that are financed by creditors.

Learn more about Leverage Ratios and how to calculate them here.

Liquidity Ratios

These ratios measure the businesses ability to cover its debt and provide a high-level overview of financial health. Liquidity Ratios include:

  • Current Ratio which estimates the company’s ability to generate cash to meet its short-term commitments.
  • Quick Ratio which measures the ability to access cash quickly for immediate demands.

Learn more about Liquidity Ratios and how to calculate them here.

Efficiency Ratios

These ratios offer insights into operations and help to spot problem areas related to inventory management, cash flow, and collections. Efficiency Ratios include:

  • Inventory Turn-over which examines how long it takes inventory to be sold and replaced within a year.
  • Average Collection Period which looks at the average number of days it takes customers to pay for goods or services.

Learn more about Efficiency Ratios and how to calculate them here.

Profitability Ratios

These ratios evaluate the financial viability of a venture and provide a measure of comparison and performance to the venture’s industry. Profitability Ratios include:

  • Net Profit Margin which measures how much a company earns after taxes relative to sales.
  • Operating Profit Margin which measures earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT).
  • Return on Assets which provides insights on how well management is using the company’s resources.
  • Return on Equity which measures how much the company is earning for each invested dollar.

Learn more about Profitability Ratios and how to calculate them here.

As I mentioned in the previous post, these are just a few of the ratios used in determining the health and viability of a given business. Together with other factors such as customer acquisition costs, these ratios provide a great set of tools for managing an entrepreneurial venture. Fully understanding these ratios and the implications on the venture will be beneficial for an entrepreneur before he or she seeks additional investment or debt financing.

 

Resources

Here are a few resources that might be beneficial for identifying industry comparisons for your industry:

  • RMA Annual Statement Studies. Data on business for comparisons

http://www.rmahq.org/annual-statement-studies/

  • Almanac of Business and Financial Ratios ($)

https://www.amazon.com/Almanac-Business-Industrial-Financial-Ratios

  • Financial Studies of Small Business ($ or library)

http://www.worldcat.org/title/financial-studies-of-the-small-business/oclc/45625113

  • Bank Rate Small Business Ratio Calculators

http://www.bankrate.com/nsccan/news/biz/bizcalcs/ratiocalcs.asp

 

Reference

Rogers, S. (2014). Entrepreneurial Finance: Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur. New York: McGraw Hill Education.

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Financial Ratio Analysis and the Entrepreneur

Lenders, and often investors, will calculate one or more financial ratios when reviewing an entrepreneur’s financial statements to gain a quick understanding of the health of the business before determining whether to lend or invest. Within an industry, there will be “good” and “bad” benchmarks against which the venture will be measured (Rogers, 2014). Investors and lenders will consider the particulars of a business and likely weight the importance of the ratios differently when comparing to the industry benchmarks.

Many financial ratios could be applied, but the following appears to be most common types (BDC Staff, n.d.):

Leverage Ratios. Leverage Ratios provide an indication of the long-term solvency and highlight the extent long-term debt is used to support the venture.

Liquidity Ratios. Liquidity Ratios measure the businesses ability to cover its debt and provide a high-level overview of financial health.

Efficiency Ratios. Efficiency Ratios provide insights into operations and help to spot problem areas related to inventory management, cash flow, and collections.

Profitability Ratios. Profitability Ratios evaluate the financial viability of a venture and provide a measure of comparison and performance to the venture’s industry.

There are other ratios, of course, and as mentioned before investors particularly have ratios they rely on more based on their experience and industry knowledge. For example, a recent interview with an investor uncovered a preference for knowing the Customer Acquisition Costs. Customer Acquisition Costs are not often viewed as part of a Financial Ratio Analysis, but such factors are often important measures for both investors and entrepreneurs alike.

The entrepreneur, investor, and lender can gain useful information and financial trends on a business venture when using Financial Ratio Analysis. However, it is important to note that financial ratios have little meaning without comparison (Peavler, 2017). For example, a company can compare its ratios to those average ratios of their industries, but the best and most accurate comparisons come from using benchmark companies—high performing companies within their industry. Comparisons against these companies can create and encourage stretch goals for a business.

While Financial Ratio Analysis does provide numbers for performance comparison, it does not provide causation factors (Peavler, 2017). Moreover, identifying why certain ratios that are out of line with the benchmark comparisons is critical because it provides a starting point for correcting problems and improving financial performance.  Ratio analysis can have value for entrepreneurs but depending on where the venture when it is seeking funds, these ratios may or may not be helpful in securing financing.

Entrepreneurs seeking early-stage financing are more likely to encounter investors who value continual improvements in customer acquisition costs, improvements in customer engagement at the various points of contact, and repeat purchase or purchase frequency. These measures help the investor gauge the interest in the offered products and services and are often a good predictor of long-term revenue.

Conversely, established entrepreneurial ventures—those that have several years financial history—looking for ongoing financing are likely to find as much emphasis placed on financial ratios as is placed on the customer measures noted above. This particularly true with bank financing because bankers are more risk adverse and financial ratios when properly utilized, provide a more objective measure of a venture’s performance compared to its industry thereby giving bankers a greater level of comfort when lending money.

Entrepreneurs are often motivated to launch a business in part because of their interest and expertise in a specific domain area. However, many entrepreneurs may be less skilled when it comes to the business finances beyond the basics of revenue and expenses. As an entrepreneur’s business grows, understanding key aspects of finance becomes increasingly more important, particularly should he or she seek outside investment or financing. It is important to understand the basics of Financial Ratio Analysis and how it can be used to determine the health of a business before seeking investment or financing. Yet it is equally important to understand that Financial Ratio Analysis is only one tool in an investor or lender’s tool-box. And while it is an important tool, it is not the only tool that might be used, particularly by investors, when determining the probability of long-term success of an entrepreneurial venture.

 

References

BDC Staff. (n.d.). 4 Ways to Assess Your Business Performance Using Financial Ratios. (Business Development Bank Canada) Retrieved September 29, 2017, from bdc.ca: https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/money-finance/manage-finances/pages/financial-ratios-4-ways-assess-business.aspx

Peavler, R. (2017, February 28). Limitations of Ratio Analysis. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from thebalance.com: https://www.thebalance.com/limitations-of-financial-ratio-analysis-393236

Rogers, S. (2014). Entrepreneurial Finance: Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur. New York: McGraw Hill Education.

 

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Startup Funding Option: Strategic Alliances

Entrepreneurs often look to friends, family, their bank account, and even credit cards when funding a startup, but many perhaps overlook this startup funding option: The strategic alliance.

A strategic alliance is a cooperative arrangement between two or more businesses for the mutual benefit all involved businesses. The idea is that each involved entrepreneur or business entity brings something to the alliance which enables a greater opportunity for near-term successes for all parties than the parties might achieve individually. While it is possible one company might invest in another to gain access to products and services more quickly that it might develop the same for itself, the more likely scenario is one in which two companies with complementary services align to improve long-term revenue generation opportunities.

For example, one entrepreneur with design experience might align with another entrepreneur with software coding experience to form a structured partnership to pitch new software projects to a prospective client or develop a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application to offer to a broader customer base.

Another example might be a larger company that needs support products or the services provided by a startup and agrees to partner to gain access to that startup’s offering. More specifically, a mapping software company may find it has difficulty selling its software for certain business applications. It could partner with a business consultant who understands how to apply business thinking to the software tools to help a prospective customer better understand the software’s value. When a sale occurs, the consultant helps implement the software and train the client.

There are challenges to strategic alliances, of course, particularly among startup ventures. The biggest obstacles appear to be a difficulty in finding suitable cooperating partners, an inability to assess the upside and downside of the alliance accurately, the challenge of properly structuring the arrangement, and the fear that cooperation might result in an expropriation of business (Hsu, 2007). Moreover, some alliances can pose a challenge to future investment funding if investors have a conflict with one or more of the alliance partners, or if cash flow rights to alliance partners dilute the opportunity for investors (Ozmel, Robinson, & Stuart, 2012). However, if entrepreneurs are open to such alliances, these obstacles can easily be overcome with the support of experienced business mentors, attorneys, and accountants.

Simple strategic alliances might occur with a “memo of understanding” that outlines what each party in the alliance will bring to the table, while a more complicated partnership might involve a formal agreement which holds each involved party accountable for providing the products and services to be delivered jointly to a customer. The most complex alliance might require the formation of a joint entity such as a corporation or limited liability company where all parties have ownership relative to their level of responsibility and risk in the alliance. The structure chosen is dependent on the products and services offered, the desired outcome of the collaboration, and the level of tolerance for risk by the parties involved.

While strategic alliances do provide an option for funding a startup or small business, it is important to remember that most strategic alliances do not usually result in a direct investment for an entrepreneur’s business. Instead, the alliance should enable an entrepreneur to secure his or her first projects or to create the initial products necessary to launch or grow a business. As a source of funding, the goal of a strategic alliance is to facilitate new opportunities, to improve the probability of cash flow, or in the case of a startup, to get a business off the ground. Finding and aligning with the strategic partner might be the first step to securing the funding needed for long-term success.

 

Reference

Hsu, D. (2007). Venture Capitalists and Cooperative Start-up Commercialization Strategy. Management Science, 52(2), 204-219.

Ozmel, U., Robinson, D., & Stuart, T. (2012). Strategic alliances, venture capital, and exit decisions in early-stage high-tech firms. Journal of Financial Economics, 107(3), 655-670. doi:10.1016/j.fineco.2012.09.009

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