How to Determine the Value of a Business

How to Determine the Value of a Business
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Determining the value of a business for sale is complex, and there are many ways a business can be valued. Some valuation methods work better for different types of businesses. This article discusses ways you can informally determine the value of your business that you are considering selling.

Even if you get a formal business valuation, knowing the different valuation methods can help you sort out what's going on.

Ways to Determine the Value of a Business

These valuation methods are presented to give you some ways to explore your own business worth and to get a general idea of where to start a negotiation between yourself as a seller and a potential buyer. Don't assume that any, or all, of these valuation methods will give you a true number, but they are a start at a valuation. In some businesses, you might end up using all of these business valuation methods.

Asset Valuation

Your business assets are all the things the business owns that have a value and can be shown on the balance sheet. Assets include land and building, equipment and vehicles, cash, supplies, accounts receivable. Intangible assets like intellectual property also have a value.

If you are selling the entire business based on asset valuation, you will only have part of the business valuation picture. The mystery factor in any business valuation is goodwill. Goodwill is basically the intangible value of your customer base. From an accounting standpoint is the premium paid for the business over the book value of the listed assets on the business balance sheet.

Cash Flow

Some buyers want to know how much cash your business can generate. This method uses information from a cash flow statement showing the inflows and outflows of cash for the business over a specific time period. Then this current cash flow number is discounted for its future value. Cash flow value is often used for valuing companies that have shareholders.

Gross Sales

Multiples of gross sales, as Entrepreneur says, are the "crudest approximation" of business valuation. For example, gross sales for the three previous years might be used. But there is no guarantee that this level of sales can be supported, which is why it is less useful for valuation on its own.

Multiples of Earnings

For businesses that have shareholders, looking at multiples of earnings per share of stock is a common valuation method. This number shows the earnings of each shareholder, or EPS, which is not the same as any dividends. The principle here is that the higher the EPS, the more valuable the company.

Here's how the earnings method works: First earnings (otherwise known as profits or net income) are determined. Most often, the "raw" earnings number is reduced further, usually by taking out interest and taxes (called EBIT or Earnings Before Interest and Taxes). Another common measure is EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). Then the final earnings number is multiplied by the number of shares.

Seller's Discretionary Earnings (SDE)

The seller's discretionary earnings valuation method is similar to multiples of earnings, but it's used for small companies in which there is one owner, like a professional practice or sole proprietorship. In this method, the gross profit is reduced by several numbers, as described by Legacy Venture Group:

  • Add Non-recurring (one-time) expenses.
  • Subtract Non-recurring (one-time) income.
  • Add non-operating expenses, like personal expenses and non-essential expenses (operating expenses are those needed for the day-to-day operations of the business).
  • Subtract Non-operating income (from sources other than the day-to-day operation of the business.
  • Add Depreciation, amortization, and interest expenses.
  • If the owner is not working in the business, add the cost of any wages or salaries for workers.

Valuation is usually expressed as a multiple of SDE, from one to four times. The multiple depends on the type of business.

Why Business Valuation Methods Are (Mostly) Not Accurate

This article presents some ways to value a business, but the only true valuation is the one agreed upon by the buyer and the seller, after negotiation and full information. The more valuation methods you use, the closer you might get to a number. The more numbers you can gather, the better your estimate.

Most business valuations are unrealistic because they don't consider outside or intangible factors. For example:

Economic Conditions

The condition of the U.S economy affects all businesses in many ways, and local economies may have an even greater effect on your business. Consider economic factors in your expectation of the value of your business to a prospective buyer.

Location and Market Factors

Business sales, like real estate sales, are all about "location, location, location." As you evaluate your business selling price, keep in mind the location factors going out from your immediate business neighborhood to your city and county, to your state.

Technological Factors

It's difficult to place a value on the level of technology used by a company, but it's a huge factor in the sale of a business. Your business website, any online selling you do, and the use of computer programs and apps in all sections of your business can have a positive - or negative - effect on a buyer.

A Final Note on Business Valuation

The determination of the value of a business is, in the end, only realized when a willing buyer and willing seller sit down and come to an agreement, and put that agreement in writing. But having some business valuation methods in your pocket when you go into negotiation with a seller can help you focus the discussion and get to an agreement more easily.