When it comes to selling a business, the most important question you need to ask is – how much is it worth?
Unsurprisingly, there are no precise ways to value a private business. The seller will want to drive the price up, and potential buyers will want the opposite.
Although there are relatively easy ways to value certain parts of the business – such as stock, fixed assets (land, machinery, equipment, etc.), there may well be a sizeable intangible element to the value of a business.
Intangible elements would include “Goodwill” – this could include trademarks, and the reputation of the company. Such things are notoriously difficult to value, and in many cases will come down to how keen a potential buyer is to acquire the business in question.
When looking at the overall value of a business, there are a number of different valuation methods which are commonly used – from using earnings multiples, to calculating how much it would cost to create a similar business.
In this article, we look at some of the most commonly used valuation techniques, and how other factors may influence the value of a business at any given time.
Common Business Valuation Methods
Quite often, multiple of earnings are used as a business valuation method. This method would be suitable for companies with an established financial history. The Price/Earnings (P/E) Ratio represents the value of the business divided by its post tax profits. It may not be easy deciding what P/E ratio to use (some industries, such as high tech / IT ones will have a much higher P/E ratio than, say, an estate agency).
The P/E Ratios used in the financial press should be reduced significantly when valuing a small business, as the barriers to acquiring a small company are much higher than buying quoted shares on the stock market. Quite often, business advisers will suggest a valuation of between 5 and 10 times the annual post-tax profit.
Quite simply, this is the predicted cost to set up a similar business to that being sold. This would include the cost of developing a customer base and reputation, recruiting and training staff, purchasing assets and developing products and services.
This method is more appropriate for established companies with a large amount of tangible assets (such as property companies). The valuation is made by calculating the net realisable value of all assets.
This method uses an estimate of the company’s cashflow over a certain period of time. The “terminal value” of the company is also calculated after this period has expired. The value of the predicted cashflow, plus terminal value, is then discounted, to provide a current business valuation.
It may be hard to establish this terminal value, as it relies so heavily on the cashflow estimates. This valuation method may be used when a company may have a lot of potential, but few assets and little financial history to speak of – for example, a web business.
In certain industries, when businesses change hand on a regular basis, industry-wide rules of thumb are sometimes used to value a company. Examples of such industries include recruitment agencies, accountancy firms, etc.
When calculating the value of a business, one or more of these valuation methods may be used. There are also a large number of other factors which may be taken into account – several of which are intangible.
Clearly, a buyer may be more cautious when buying a business during an economic downturn.
Quite often, such assets can be valued by using the original purchase price and using a depreciation calculation on each item.
Things aren’t always that simple however, as some assets such as property may have risen in value since the original purchase. While, on the other hand, even after a deduction to allow for depreciation, many business assets such as vehicles and specialist equipment may be worth a lot less if you tried to sell them right away.
Some of the most valuable parts of a business may not appear on any balance sheet – these may include trademarks, reputation, branding, key people, the size and quality of the customer base. Valuing the potential value of a business is notoriously hard to do, but clearly a rapidly growing business will be very attractive to buyers.
REASON FOR SALE
If a sale is forced, any valuation methods are bound to be discounted to encourage a quick sale.
It may be a cliché, but a business is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Many small business owners grow attached to their businesses, and often value their companies at higher levels than industry conventions would dictate. So, it is worth being realistic about the true value of your company before offering it up for sale.
You should always consult an accountant, or financial adviser, before selling your business.