What Would Your Business Sell For?

business broker selling

There is the old anecdote about the immigrant who opened his own business in the United States. Like many small business owners, he had his own bookkeeping system. He kept his accounts payable in a cigar box on the left side of his cash register, his daily receipts – cash and credit card receipts – in the cash register, and his invoices and paid bills in a cigar box on the right side of his cash register.

When his youngest son graduated as a CPA, he was appalled by his father’s primitive bookkeeping system. “I don’t know how you can run a business that way,” his son said. “How do you know what your profits are?”

“Well, son,” the father replied, “when I came to this country, I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. Today, your brother is a doctor, your sister is a lawyer, and you are an accountant. Your mother and I have a nice car, a city house and a place at the beach. We have a good business and everything is paid for. Add that all together, subtract the clothes, and there’s your profit.” Unfortunately, it will be a problem when it comes time to sell.

A commonly accepted method to price a small business is to use Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE). The International Business Brokers Association (IBBA) defines SDE as follows:

Discretionary Earnings – The earnings of a business enterprise prior to the following items:

  • income taxes
  • nonrecurring income and expenses
  • non-operating income and expenses
  • depreciation and amortization
  • interest expense or income
  • owner’s total compensation for one owner/operator, after adjusting the total compensation of all other owners to market value

Here are some terms as defined by the IBBA:

  • Owner’s salary – The salary or wages paid to the owner, including related payroll tax burden.
  • Owner’s total compensation – Total of owner’s salary and perquisites.
  • Perquisites – Expenses incurred at the discretion of the owner which are unnecessary to the continued operation of the business.

Developing a Multiplier

After a thorough analysis and once the SDE has been calculated, a multiplier has to be developed based on many factors. The following (just as a guideline) should be rated from 0 to 5 with 5 being the highest which is not very common. For example, if the business is a highly desirable business in the current market, “desirability” would be rated a 4 or 5. If the business is in an industry that is quickly declining or nearly obsolete, “industry” would be given a 0 or 1 rating.

Age: Number of years the seller has owned and operated the business.

  • Terms: Is the seller willing to offer terms?  For example, will the seller accept 40 percent as a down payment with the seller carrying back 60 percent at terms the business can afford while still providing a living for the buyer?
  • Competition: Consider the local market.
  • Risk: Is the business itself risky?
  • Growth trend of the business: Is it up or down?
  • Location/Facilities/Improvements
  • Desirability: How popular is the business in the current market?
  • Industry: Is the industry itself declining or growing?
  • Type of business: Is the business type easily duplicated?

The average business sells for about 1.8 to 2.5 times SDE. The key is to calculate an accurate SDE that is verifiable. Obviously, if the SDE is solid and the multiple is above average, the price will be higher. Keep in mind that the price outlined includes all of the assets including furniture, fixtures and equipment, customer list, goodwill, etc. It does not include real estate, saleable inventory, cash or A/R’s unless these are factored into the price. The price determined above assumes that the business will be delivered to the buyer free and clear of any debt.

Veteran Wisdom

When all else fails, the words of a Veteran Business Broker will work.

Asking Price is what the seller wants.

Selling Price is what the seller gets.

Fair Market Value is the highest price the buyer or marketplace is willing to pay and the lowest price the seller is willing to accept.

Sellers should keep in mind that the actual selling price of a small business is on average 80 percent of the seller’s asking price. Hiring a professional Business Broker will increase your chances of selling your business at the highest price with the best terms.

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Matt Coletta, CBB, CBI, is a Certified Business Broker and a Certified Business Intermediary with over 25 years of experience in successfully representing Business Sellers and Buyers in various industries. Matt is a Los Angeles Business Broker and represents Business Owners and Businesses for Sale throughout Southern California including: Los Angeles County, Orange County, Ventura County, West Los Angeles, City of Industry, Downtown Los Angele, Gardena, Whittier, San Gabriel, Upland, South Bay, Torrance, Newport Beach, Irvine, Brea, Anaheim, Long Beach, San Fernando Valley, Woodland Hills, Chatsworth, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, Northridge, Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, Sun Valley, Valencia, Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Ventura, Camarillo, Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and other cities in the greater Southern California area.