EBITDA is more than a piece of financial jargon; it’s a key to unlocking insights into your business’s operational performance. By grasping how EBITDA works, you can make more informed decisions, attract potential investors, and steer your business toward greater profitability.

This guide is crafted to demystify EBITDA for you, the small business owner. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about EBITDA without the corporate speak.

This guide is also related to our articles on net vs. gross profit, cash vs. accrual accounting, and how to read your profit & loss statement. 

calculators, financial symbols and documentsHere’s what we’ll cover:

  • A Brief Overview of EBITDA
  • Breaking Down the Components
  • The EBITDA Calculation Formula
  • A Step-by-Step Guide to Calculation
  • Adjustments for Accurate EBITDA Reporting
  • Analyzing Your Business Using EBITDA
  • Strategies for Improving Your EBITDA

Let’s dive in and unlock the potential of your business’s earnings.

Understanding components of EBITDA

EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization. 

It might sound like a mouthful, but it’s essentially a way to look at your business’s profitability from its core operations. Let’s break down each component to see how they collectively shape the financial health of your business.


At its simplest, earnings refer to the profit your business makes after all expenses have been subtracted from revenue. Think of it as the raw outcome of your business efforts before any financial policies or tax strategies are applied. For small businesses, this figure is crucial because it directly reflects the success of your products or services in the market.


Interest expense arises from any loans or borrowing the business has undertaken. It represents the cost of borrowing funds to maintain or expand business operations. In the context of EBITDA, we exclude interest from the calculation to assess the operational profitability without being influenced by how the business is financed or its debt structure. This is particularly useful for small business owners, as it helps you understand whether your core business operations are profitable, independent of how much debt you’re carrying.


Taxes can significantly affect your business’s net earnings. However, when calculating EBITDA, taxes are excluded. This exclusion is beneficial because tax liabilities can vary widely from one business to another based on numerous factors like location, legal structure, and applicable tax incentives. 


Depreciation is the process of allocating the cost of tangible assets over their useful lives. It reflects the decrease in value of physical assets like equipment and buildings used in the production process. Although a non-cash expense, depreciation affects the net income. 


Similar to depreciation, amortization involves spreading the cost of intangible assets (such as patents or software) over their useful life. It’s another non-cash expense that reduces your company’s earnings on paper, but not in your actual cash flow. 

The Basic EBITDA Formula

The most straightforward formula to calculate EBITDA is

EBITDA= Net Income + Interest + Taxes + Depreciation + Amortization

This formula starts with net income, the bottom line of your profit and loss statement, and then adds back the specific expenses we’ve discussed: interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Each addition aims to strip out the effects of non-operational decisions, leaving you with a figure that represents the earnings from your core business activities.

How to Calculate EBITDA

Calculating EBITDA can seem daunting, especially for small business owners juggling multiple responsibilities. However, with a systematic approach, it becomes a manageable and invaluable task. Let’s break down the process into clear, actionable steps. 

Preparing Your Financial Statements

First things first: ensure your financial statements are accurate and up-to-date. You’ll primarily need two key documents:

  • Profit and Loss: This statement provides a detailed breakdown of your revenues, costs, and expenses over a specific period.
  • Cash Flow Statement: While the income statement includes non-cash expenses like depreciation and amortization, the cash flow statement offers insights into actual cash inflows and outflows.

Having these documents prepared and at hand is crucial for accurately calculating EBITDA.

Identifying Relevant Figures from the Income Statement and Cash Flow Statement

Before diving into the calculation, identify the necessary figures from your financial statements:

  • Net Income: Start with the net income figure from the bottom of your income statement.
  • Interest Expense: Look for interest expenses on your income statement, which may be listed under financial expenses or costs.
  • Taxes: Identify taxes paid from the income statement. This figure includes income taxes and may also cover other tax liabilities depending on your business structure and location.
  • Depreciation and Amortization: These figures can be found in two places. First, they are included as expenses on the income statement, reducing your net income. Second, they’re added back in the cash flow statement in the operations section, as they are non-cash expenses.

Detailed, Step-by-Step Calculation Process

With all relevant figures identified, follow these steps to calculate EBITDA:

Start with Net Income: From your income statement, take the net income figure. This is your baseline, representing your business’s profitability after all expenses, including operational costs, interest, taxes, and depreciation/amortization.

Add Back Interest: This adjustment removes the impact of how your business is financed from your operational earnings.

Add Back Taxes: This step ensures that your EBITDA figure reflects operational profitability without the influence of your tax environment.

Add Back Depreciation: Add this amount to your running total to account for the wear and tear on physical assets without affecting the operational earnings assessment.

Add Back Amortization: This step ensures that the depletion of intangible assets doesn’t distort the operational earnings figure.

After adding back these expenses to your net income, you’ll arrive at your EBITDA figure. This number gives you a clearer view of your business’s operational profitability, stripped of the effects of financing decisions, tax implications, and the accounting treatment of tangible and intangible assets.

Example Calculation

Imagine your small business has the following figures for the year:

  • Net Income: $120,000
  • Interest Expense: $20,000
  • Taxes Paid: $30,000
  • Depreciation: $10,000
  • Amortization: $5,000

Your EBITDA would be calculated as follows:

EBITDA = $120,000 + $20,000 + $30,000 + $10,000 + $5,000 = $185,000

Common Adjustments to EBITDA Calculations

Calculating EBITDA provides a clear picture of your small business’s operational profitability, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all metric. Certain situations require adjustments to the standard EBITDA calculation to ensure the figure accurately reflects your business’s performance. 

Let’s explore some common adjustments you might need to consider.

Adjustments for Unusual or One-Time Expenses

Unusual or one-time expenses are costs that are not expected to recur with regularity and are not part of your business’s normal operations. Examples include:

  • Losses from natural disasters: Costs incurred from unexpected natural events can significantly impact your financials but don’t reflect ongoing operational performance.
  • Legal settlements: One-time payments for legal disputes or settlements are not indicative of regular business operations.

Adjusting EBITDA to exclude these expenses can provide a more normalized view of your business’s earning potential.

Adjusting for Owner’s Salaries in Small Businesses

In small businesses, particularly those structured as sole proprietorships or partnerships, the owner’s salary can be a gray area. Often, owners may pay themselves a salary that doesn’t reflect the market rate for their role, or they may reinvest earnings back into the business instead of taking a traditional salary.

Adjusting EBITDA to reflect a market-rate salary for the business owner(s) can provide a clearer picture of the operational costs and profitability. This is especially relevant if you’re preparing your business for sale or seeking investment, as it offers a more accurate representation of the company’s financial standing to potential buyers or investors.

Adjusting for Non-Operating Income or Expenses

Non-operating income and expenses are items that are not related to the core operations of your business. These can include:

  • Interest income: Earnings from company investments or savings accounts.
  • Gain or loss on the sale of assets: Money made or lost from selling business assets outside the normal course of operations.

Since EBITDA focuses on operational profitability, adjusting for these non-operating items is necessary to avoid skewing the results. By excluding these figures, you maintain the integrity of EBITDA as a measure of operating performance, ensuring it remains a reliable tool for decision-making.

Using EBITDA to Analyze Your Business Performance

EBITDA, a critical financial metric, can be a powerful tool for small business owners to gauge the health and operational efficiency of their businesses. Let’s explore how you can use EBITDA to analyze your business performance effectively.

How to Interpret Your EBITDA Results

Interpreting EBITDA involves more than just looking at the absolute number; it’s about understanding what that number tells you about your business operations. 

A higher EBITDA indicates strong operational profitability, suggesting your business is generating substantial income from its core activities before accounting for taxes, interest, depreciation, and amortization. Conversely, a low or negative EBITDA may signal operational challenges, inefficiencies, or a business model that needs reevaluation.

Benchmarks for Comparison

To put your EBITDA in perspective, compare it against relevant benchmarks:

  • Industry Averages: Comparing your EBITDA against industry averages provides insight into your operational performance relative to your competitors. If your EBITDA is above the industry average, your business is likely performing well operationally. If it’s below, it may indicate areas for improvement. Industry reports, trade associations, and financial databases can offer valuable benchmarking data.
  • Historical Performance: Comparing your current EBITDA against past performance helps in identifying trends, growth patterns, and potential issues over time. Consistent growth in EBITDA suggests effective management and operational efficiency, while fluctuations might indicate the need for closer scrutiny of operational costs, pricing strategies, and market conditions.

Identifying Trends and Making Informed Business Decisions Based on EBITDA

EBITDA can be a strategic tool for decision-making when used to identify trends and inform business strategies:

  • Operational Efficiency: An increasing EBITDA trend over time can indicate operational improvements and efficiency gains. Conversely, a declining trend might highlight inefficiencies or increased competition affecting profitability. This insight allows you to pinpoint areas requiring attention or adjustment.
  • Investment Decisions: EBITDA can guide investment decisions, such as expanding operations, purchasing new equipment, or entering new markets. A strong EBITDA provides the confidence and financial backing to invest in growth opportunities, while a weaker EBITDA might suggest prioritizing internal improvements and cost optimizations.
  • Cost Management: By understanding the components affecting EBITDA, you can identify specific areas where cost management could improve operational profitability. This might involve renegotiating supplier contracts, optimizing inventory management, or streamlining operations to reduce overhead.


Ultimately, EBITDA isn’t just one more financial metric, but a lens through which you can view your operations, free from external distortions, to make informed decisions. 

Incorporating EBITDA into your regular financial analysis and strategic planning can significantly enhance your ability to steer your business toward sustainable success. It’s a tool that, when used wisely, can reveal much about the health and potential of your operations, empowering you to make decisions that ensure the long-term prosperity of your business.

Next, check out our articles on how to read your cash flow statement, how to do journal entries, and financial ratio formulas.

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Here's some answers to commonly asked questions about EBITDA

What is EBITDA and why is it important for small businesses?

EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization. It’s a financial metric used to measure a company’s operating performance by excluding the effects of financial and accounting decisions.

For small businesses, EBITDA is particularly important because it provides a clear view of operational profitability, independent of financing structure, tax rate variations, and non-cash accounting practices. 

How does EBITDA differ from net income?

While both EBITDA and net income are indicators of a company’s financial health, they serve different purposes and provide insights into different aspects of a business’s performance.

Net income, or the bottom line, shows the company’s total earnings after all expenses, including taxes, interest, depreciation, and amortization. In contrast, EBITDA focuses solely on operational profitability by excluding these items. 

Can EBITDA be negative, and what does that indicate?

Yes, EBITDA can be negative, indicating that a business’s operating expenses exceed its revenue. A negative EBITDA suggests that the business is currently not profitable at its core operations level, before considering the costs of financing, taxes, and depreciation/amortization. 

This situation warrants a closer examination of the company’s operating costs, pricing strategy, and revenue streams to identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement.