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How Do I Determine the Value Of My Business? Or, The One I Want To Buy?

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Comments & Replies: 5     Views: 7479     Posted By: Timothy Cunha JD  Timothy Cunha JD: Business Broker, SF Bay Area

How do you determine the value of your business when you go to sell or even buy a business? There are so many factors and that is usually one of the first items serious buyers inquire about. When a business broker or agent goes to sell a business this should be one of the first tasks they perform.

Topics: Business Valuation, Buying A Business, Selling A Business     Tags: business valuation, buying a business, selling a business



Often, I'm asked, "Aren't all businesses worth the same multiple of profit or percentage of sales? Profit is profit, and a dollar is a dollar, right?"

To answer, I usually ask an absurd question: "Which is more valuable, the business that requires getting out of bed at 2 a.m. and driving through alleys of San Francisco collecting recyclable trash, that grosses $500,000, and nets $150,000; or, the business that rents out chairs and umbrellas on the beach in Santa Cruz on warm, sunny days, and also grosses $500,000 and nets $150,000?" Of course, the obvious answer is that the beach chair business is far more valuable. It's all about commitments of time and the lifestyle enjoyed by the owner.

And, that's what "rules of thumb" answer. How is this particular business or industry regarded by previous buyers? How did they value the gross and net revenue because of the type of business? With the right data, we can calculate the numbers and find the ROI, EBIT, EBITDA, "net cash flow", and "SDE"; but, only actual past human behavior indicates what those abstract numbers mean to real buyers.

Business brokers are very familiar with two typical ways of providing a quick value estimate for a small business, using comparable sales of similar businesses: (1) a percentage of gross revenues, and (2) a multiple of seller's discretionary earnings ("SDE"). These work fairly well at estimating a realistic fair market value range in the majority of cases, especially when the business is not all that unique and there are plenty of comps.

But, in those situations where the fair market value is more complex because the business is unusual or nonconforming and there are few comps, I use a variety of methods. One is to calculate the full replacement cost of the physical assets (adding 25% to cover sales tax, acquisition, freight, and installation costs), plus the cost to replicate the customer base, plus any cost to replicate intellectual property, plus a value on the time-to-market advantage of buying an existing company rather than starting from scratch. But, there are many other methods, with the ultimate purpose to determine the potential actual value of the business to the most likely buyer.

Contributor: Business Appraisals, Valuations Advisor

An ACCURATE business appraisal is much more difficult to create than most people realize. Rule of Thumbs and Comps are useless as they typically represent the average value of a specific type of business. In every class of businesses there are the well run and the poorly run examples. How do you know which end of the scale the business you are looking at ranks? Rule of Thumbs and Comps also do not address the asset value or the condition of the assets. Each business is unique and must be appraised as a unique entity.

ROI, EBIT, EBITDA and SDE based methods do not look at asset value and condition or market influences that affect value.

Percentage of gross revenues has little importance on a businessís value. I once appraised a business doing $20,000,000 in sales with less than $200,000 in adjusted cash flow. Its appraised value was just over $300,000. Gross revenue is not a good indicator of business value. On the other hand, sellerís discretionary spending is an important factor, but it doesnít present a full picture of the businessís value.

Valuing equipment assets are never based on replacement value except possibly in an insurance claim. Fair Market Value based on the original purchase price is used by business appraisal professionals. This is 50 to 75% of the original purchase price depending on type, age and condition of the equipment. No other arbitrary additional cost can be associated with the equipment, customer base or business age.


Ultimately the "value" of a business depends on the benefit to be derived by the unique purchaser ... and that can vary from buyer to buyer. In broad terms, there are three kinds of buyers: the "career seeker", the "absentee (or semi-absentee) investor," and the "strategic player" (already in the business and seeking a marketing or operational advantage by acquisition). For each of these buyers, the "value" of the business may be significantly different.

Another factor to consider is how long the buyer intends to own the business. If it will be only a very few years, what the "market" says the business is worth is very important because it will face the market again in a relatively short time. If the buyer intends to hold on to the business for 5, 10, 15 years, and it serves the goals and purposes of that buyer, what the buyer considers its "worth" to be is far more relevant than the market's opinion.

Often, the prospective buyer needs to consider a "make or buy" decision--whether it is more economical to purchase a business than to start a business "from scratch." In my experience, it is almost always preferable to buy an existing (healthy) business. One of several criteria for making that determination is what it would cost to replace all the essential FF&E of the existing business; this is not for the purpose of valuation of those assets in an abstract or discrete sense, but rather for the comprehensive purpose of evaluating the relative merits of business acquisition versus business formation.

Contributor: Broker/Consultant: Elderly Care Services

I find it interesting that if I ask 3 different Appraisers to give me a value on a business, I will receive 3 completely different values. I agree with the Author that lifestyle, convenience, sustainability, and growth opportunities all play a role in value, but certainly make it hard to place a price tag on a business.


There are many factors that can affect a sales price, such as high rent, location, level of expertise that a new owner may need to properly run the business, etc. Working with enough buyers, I have found that most expect to receive a ROI with 2-3 years, and then want to make sure that they have enough time on the lease, so that they will be able to sell in the future.


  Helpful Resources To Assist In Selling And Buying California Businesses
Janet Carrera - Escrow & Bulk Sale Services - SF Bay Area

Redwood Escrow Services, Inc. is a full service, licensed independent escrow company. We are EAFC Fidelity bonded, fully insured & licensed with the Department of Corporations. Committed to offering our clients the most comprehensive variety of escrow services available. Phone Janet at 510-247-0741.

Diane Boudreau-Tschetter: Escrow And Bulk Sale Services

California Business Escrow, Inc. is a full service independent escrow company serving all of California and has expertise in a wide range of escrows. Our team prides itself on providing an exceptional escrow experience. For more info phone Diane Boudreau-Tschetter at 888-383-3331 or 209-838-1100.

Mark Chatow, Esq.: Legal Services For Buying, Selling Businesses

Mark has a broad range of small business purchase & sale experience from analyzing potential acquisition targets to successfully guiding buyers and sellers through the purchase & sale of small businesses. Mark can assist with contracts, negotiations, legal matters, etc. Reach Mark at 949-478-8393.

Elizabeth McGovern: Escrow Services - SF Bay Area

McGovern Escrow Services, Inc., is a leading independent escrow company. We are a trusted partner with our clients, assisting them through the tangled bulk sale & liquor license transfer process. We provide attentive, quality & innovative customer service. Phone Elizabeth McGovern at 415-735-3645.

Jordan Green, JRG Communications - Marketing Services For Brokers, Agents

A marketing communications company assisting business brokers & agents. Services include: social media management, custom website creation & design, content creation services, optimizing & posting listings on business-for-sale websites, custom articles & blog post creation. Call 866-620-2752.

Rob Hartman: Business Broker, SF Bay Area

Business brokerage services in the SF Bay Area. I bring skill, integrity and energy to all of my clients and our projects. I'm accustomed to working with a wide variety of clients and their businesses; large or small, simple or highly complex. Get a free consultation by phoning 650-279-3097.

Prabhjot Randhawa, Broker: SF Bay Area, Northern Central Valley

I'm a Business Advisor at Liberty Business Advisors of San Fransisco. I have over 20 years of experience in all phases of entrepreneurship. During the past 15 years my concentration has been in business of mergers and consulting. I have owned and operated over 10 businesses.

Timothy Cunha, J.D., Business Broker, Northern California

Having managed and sold several businesses of his own, Tim offers business sellers extensive personal experience and professional expertise in building business value, planning a successful exit strategy, "packaging" and promoting the sale, and coordinating a successful sale. 844-237-6487 Toll Free.


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