“How do you value a company?” is a key question that every owner of privately held company needs to consider.
Because most business owners have the vast majority of their net worth tied up in the business. So understanding how to value a company is probably one of the most important business topics you can consider, especially as you work with your wealth manager to determine your longer term financial plans.
So what valuation method is applicable to your specific company?
This varies based on a number of factors and choosing the right method(s) can make the difference between exiting at a premium or exiting at a significant discount. We will explore just a few methods in this post.
One of the more common methods is the use of “industry valuation norms" based on the industry you operate in (these are also called rules of thumb). As you can imagine buyers who focus on specific industries are typically aware of what a “standard” company in an industry will be worth. These are usually multiples of earnings and tend to be static regardless of economic trends and most importantly significant unique features of specific companies. The upside is that the math is easy. The downside is that they are not as accurate as other methods in that they assume all companies are essentially operationally similar in each industry.
Another method that some use is looking a prior closed transactions that are near matches to the target’s business model. The problem with this method is that you need the research tools to do this adequately, and these tools can be expensive. In addition, since details on smaller transactions tend to not be publicized, you often will be comparing “apples to oranges” in that the price paid for a $300 million revenue company will be significantly different than the value of a company doing $30 million. So using prior transactions can be less than perfect.
Public comparables is another method that some use. This also requires research and forces the evaluator to find public companies that may match the target being valued. The challenge with this method is, again, that it is very hard to find perfect matches based on general business descriptions. The second and far more challenging issue is that public companies by their very definition (being public) are viewed as being less risky than privately held companies because public companies are required to file quarterly, annual and often monthly reports to investors. This reduces the risk and naturally, and because of this, enhances their valuation, making the use of a public comparables a challenge.
That is why most professional valuation firms like Generational Equity typically use the discounted cash flow (DCF) method in conjunction with one (or more) of these methods to value a company. If you are not familiar with the DCF method, it can be quite complicated but at a very basic level, essentially, projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) are projected forward and then discounted back using a “discount rate.” The discount rate is based on a “risk” that is adjusted for the specifics of each company.
And this is the key issue: Any valuation method used needs to include the fact that every company valued is unique, having strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOTs) that are specific to that company. The DCF method allows the valuation firm to use its experience in valuing and selling companies to determine, based on their SWOT analysis, the relative risk associated with each company being valued.
Risk is an issue that most sellers do not realize is vital until we begin working with them and educate them on features of the company that can impact the view that a buyer takes of their company. On the flip side, the more strengths your company has in key areas will reduce the view of risk associated with your business.
The Generational Equity valuation team looks at a couple of dozen key metrics on each company and discerns the level of risk/lack of risk associated with each of these features. This is why some company valuations using the DCF method can have a much higher, or a much lower, discount rate. It is a great way to value a company because it allows the valuation firm to adjust the rate to factor in the uniqueness of each client.
Time and space do not allow me to delve deeper into the topic of how to value a company in this piece. It is a complicated topic to be sure. If you are interested in learning more about how to value your company, you should set aside time to attend a Generational Equity exit planning conference. We hold these highly educational, complimentary, no-obligation conferences throughout North America. They are designed to help business owners learn key aspects of exit planning including how to value a company. If you would like to learn more, use the following links:
No matter what method you use to exit your business, be sure to have a clear and accurate idea of this valuation before you take any offers.
By Carl Doerksen, Director of Corporate Development at Generational Equity.
© 2017 Generational Equity, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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I wanted to write you a quick letter to express our appreciation and our delight on the outcome of helping us through the process of our recent sale. We are very happy with the end result, and are very happy to be able to move forward with all of our future growth plans.Terry D. Wickman, President, Keytroller
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We were happy to see the interest in our company and what we cherished has not just a valuable company but an important company to the communities we served in.Larry Moore, Owner, A Company Portable Restrooms
Generational Equity educated and informed us – so that we could be on the upside of a good decision (to sell).Bil MacLeslie, CEO, ipHouse
I am pleased that I was able to work with Andrew Byrd throughout this experience. From the first meeting we had in Minneapolis I felt that I was in good hands. His knowledge and expertise is second to none. He guided the process consistently throughout. I feel lucky that I was pared with Andrew and could not be happier that I chose Generational Equity to handle this major life event. Thank you Andrew and GenEq for everything!Eric Erlandson, Owner, Action Fastenings, Inc.
Your wisdom and experience were invaluable to me during this once-in-a-lifetime transaction.Ralph Noblin, President of Noblin & Associates
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We thank you Eric and Generational Equity making our dream come true.Larry Moore, Owner, A Company Portable Restrooms
T.D., thank you so much! You are a great leader! I love how you are using your gifts and talents to better others. You are clearly a GREAT COACH! This 3 day session undoubtedly changed the future of our business, and very well may have been the sole catalyst to save my company, my health and my marriage! A genuine “thank you” from the bottom of my heart.Bryan D. Horn, Owner, Over Under Clothing
Dear Chris and Andre, I just wanted to say thinks for all your help. Even though this process was not an easy one, it was comforting to know that I had a capable team standing beside me. As I said before you made me feel like we were almost your only client or at least the most important one. Thanks again, and I will recommend your service in the future.Shenille Engelhart, Owner – CLS Technology
I need to say an immense thank you to Don Ho for his stellar work ethic, attention to detail, and tireless effort. Also thank you to the whole crew at GE! Without you, Don could not do such a phenomenal job. We were shooting for closing and funding before the end of 2020, due to the uncertainty of the political landscape and taxes. I am happy to report we closed last week and will be funding tomorrow.Dr. Caty J. Catron PhD, RN, VA-BC – Owner, Vic The Picc, LLC
We are extremely pleased with the way Generational Equity handled the sale of our company. Your associates, Tom and Chris, did an outstanding job of getting us (me) through the process.Michael J Polarek, President, Paragon Packaging
We are very happy with the end result, and are very happy to be able to move forward with all of our future growth plans.Rick Nowak, President/CEO, Kurz Electric Solutions, Inc.
Bruce and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Generational Equity for assigning Musa Jagne to our transaction. In Bruce’s words, “Musa did one hell of a job for us!”Karen S. Williams, CFO, BW Manufacturing
I couldn’t have asked for a better team than Michael and Deborah. We couldn’t have done it without them.Robert Evans, President and CEO of Mealtracker Dietary Software
Thank you again for all your guidance and support. Any company will achieve what they intend, if they have you on their team!Rick Nowak, President/CEO, Kurz Electric Solutions, Inc.
I would like to thank you and your firm, Generational Equity, for being our valued advisors in our journey.Bil MacLeslie, CEO, ipHouse
We knew it would be a difficult task to have someone really understand our business and our market, prior to researching a possible buyer, so it was imperative that we found someone of your caliber, with definite proven experience in this area.Rick Nowak, President/CEO, Kurz Electric Solutions, Inc.
I must say that I have never worked with a more driven, competent and focused individual as Don Ho.Jay Dinnison, Owner of Sharpe Mixers
I quickly recognized that Don was working for Sharpe Mixers above all else, and held our interests above others.Jay Dinnison, Owner of Sharpe Mixers
Generational Equity’s assistance was invaluable in compiling and marketing our business.Bil MacLeslie, CEO, ipHouse
The help you provided us during each step of this process made us feel very comfortable and confident we were selecting the right approach to transition our Company.Andy Graham, Vice President, Modern Heating & Plumbing
The process was much more involved than I expected and your help, experience and advice was a big factor in making the negotiations go as smoothly as possible.Terry D. Wickman, President, Keytroller
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