At Opportunities in Business, we’ve been appraising small, closely-held businesses of all kinds for over 30 years. While the most obvious reason to appraise a business is when it’s changing hands in a buy/sell agreement, business appraisals are also needed for estate planning, stockholder disputes, tax disputes, and divorce settlements.
“Fair market value” of a business won’t be found in your financial statements or tax returns: It’s much more complicated than that, and ultimately depends on buyer perspective.
Business valuation is complex, subjective, and very dependent on somewhat abstract factors such as location and anticipated earnings. Here are three primary strategies we rely on, as a professional business brokerage firm. A thoughtful analysis will evaluate from all three perspectives to triangulate a realistic value for your company,
For the most basic evaluation, calculate the value of a business’s hard assets, minus its debts. For example, a building contractor owns trucks, tools, and equipment: estimate the resale value of these hard assets and subtract business debts to reach an asset-based value. This method tends to establish a low company value because it doesn’t take into account the vital but intangible “goodwill” accrued by the company.
What is “goodwill?” According to Investopedia.com, “Goodwill is an intangible asset… The value of a company’s brand name, solid customer base, good customer relations, good employee relations and any patents or proprietary technology represent goodwill. Goodwill is considered an intangible asset because it is not a physical asset like buildings or equipment.”
Companies typically have at least some goodwill–for example, a thriving restaurant or spa–so an asset-based valuation will be too low.
Another common valuation technique is developing metrics based on the sales price and profits of similar companies. For example, accounting firms may trade at one times gross recurring fees while home/office security businesses may typically sell for two times their earnings. To make an accurate analysis, evaluation begins by selecting a group of companies which share industry, size, and region. Industry conferences and publications are good places to get a starting point on this multiplier.
The usefulness of comparables is limited, however. The resources for comparable data do not provide enough details to ascertain whether the businesses used for comparison are really comparable.
Earnings based methods are the most common methods used for businesses which are profitable. The various methods first define the earnings of the business, and then assess risk factors to determine multiplier and capitalization rates.
Ultimately, a business is like any commodity. It is worth what a buyer will pay for it, and if they have a strategic reason to acquire it, the sky may be the limit. However, having a professional evaluation of the business value is a crucial component to engaging in a successful sale.
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