The most important number in the sale of any small business is the price. The listing price is what a seller hopes to get and the purchase price is what someone is actually willing to pay.
Where do these numbers come from?
There are a few ways that business prices come to be. They typically come from an analysis of the financial records of the business, coupled with what the assets and inventory are worth. In some cases, it is appropriate to use the sold price of comparable businesses in the area, in others it comes down to multiples:
What’s a multiple?
In the simplest form a multiple takes the average sale price for businesses in a particular industry and compares that number to what a business earns. For example, the multiple for a restaurant might be two times earnings – meaning you should price a restaurant at twice what it earns in a particular year.
Now that you know what multiples are, how should you use them?
Multiples should really only be used to determine a ball-park figure for the value of a business. Take the restaurant example. Restaurants are very complex businesses, so most restaurants sell for a number very different than an oversimplified two times earnings.
If multiples only give you a ball-park figure, should you use them at all? Yes and no. When you are looking to sell your business, multiples can help you get a starting point for where you might want to set your listing price. It is critically important, however, that you not stick with a simplified number that could cause you to over or under value your business on the market.
If you are a buyer, you can use multiples to help you gauge if the listing price of a business is in line with industry standards – just remember that the justification for a listing price probably includes much, much more than just the multiple.
Are you a business seller who wants help using multiples to set a listing price for your business? Are you a buyer who has questions about how to use multiples when analyzing business prices? Ask us! Please feel free to leave us a comment or question here, and we will be happy to help you with multiples.