The value of your business is absolutely dependent on its ability to generate free cash flow, which in its simplest terms, is the cash required to keep the business running, after necessary capital expenditures have been considered. It is a measure with many formulas that differ only in the detail, and means of determining the meaning of ‘necessary capital’
The durability of that free cash flow is simply an estimate of the confidence you can have in projecting that free cash flow into the future. The durability is usually expressed as a discounted cash flow, which simply applies a rate of inflation expected over time to the current value of a dollar. However, this is only half the calculation as financial projections are impacted by far more than just inflation. They are impacted by competition, regulation, emerging technology, and many other factors. In 2001, who would have thought the global Blockbuster video rental chain, who had built a multibillion dollar turnover, had 54,000 employees, and thousands of franchised and owned stores worldwide would be dead in a decade.
This thought was sparked by a conversation I was involved with that wondered at the difference in the value of two service businesses, that on the surface look very similar. One of them was a successful but modest sized suburban accounting practise, the second a similarly sized suburban wealth management practice. The wealth business had a market value several times the value of the accounting practice, should either of the principals choose to sell up and enjoy a retirement.
When quizzed, the customer retention rate of the wealth practice was far greater than the accounting business, as was the share of the clients wallet that they had. There are accounting practises, selling pretty standardised services on every street corner, all with a similar offering solving similar problems for a potential client, whereas Wealth management is a way more specialised business, focussed on bespoke solutions to the wealth retention problems faced by wealthy individuals.
Therefore the durability of cash flow from the wealth management business is considered by those who might be considering buying such a business to be more reliable into the future than that of an accounting practise.
How does this apply to your business.
If you want to open a sandwich shop in a strip shopping precinct, there is nothing stopping someone opening a competitor next door, indeed, they often do when the first is seen to be successful. However, a similar sandwich shop in a shopping mall will not have a competitor next door, as the mall will not allow it. You do however pay for the privilege of that increased certainty with the lease rates and turnover ‘tax’ extracted by the mall ownership.
The more specific and specialised the problem you solve for customers, the less likely they will be to move elsewhere, and you are able to price your services accordingly, delivering both a higher free cash flow, and greater confidence in the durability of that cash flow. It also follows that clients are harder to find, so the marketing costs prior to them becoming a client are likely to be higher.
The value of your business is absolutely dependent on the amount of free cash flow, and the expected durability of that cash flow. Little else really matters beyond arguing about the book value of fixed assets and any inventory.