Owning a business


How to Value Service Businesses

Paul Cronin

Paul Cronin

January 20, 2024 ⋅ 3 min read

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Business brokers, online business valuation calculators, and business sales marketplaces use various methods to value different types of service businesses. The valuation process involves assessing a business's financial performance, market conditions, and other factors to determine its worth. Here are common approaches brokers may use to value service businesses:

Revenue and Profit Multipliers

  • Discretionary earnings:

    Many service businesses rely on the owner's discretionary earnings, which includes the owner's salary, benefits, and other perks. Brokers may apply a multiple to this discretionary earnings to estimate the business's value.

  • Revenue multiplier:

    For some service businesses, especially those with strong revenue streams, brokers may use a revenue multiplier. The multiplier is applied to the annual revenue to arrive at a valuation.

Comparable Sales Analysis

  • Market comparisons:

    Brokers often look at recent sales of similar service businesses in the same industry and location to determine a comparable value.

  • Industry benchmarks:

    They may compare key financial metrics, such as revenue growth, profit margins, and customer acquisition costs, against industry benchmarks.

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Analysis

  • Future cash flows:

    DCF analysis involves estimating the future cash flows the business is expected to generate. These cash flows are then discounted to present value to determine the business's current worth.

  • Risk assessment:

    DCF considers the perceived risk associated with the service business, influencing the discount rate applied to future cash flows.

Asset-Based Valuation

  • Tangible and intangible assets:

    Brokers may assess the value of a service business based on its tangible assets (equipment, inventory) and intangible assets (brand, customer relationships, intellectual property).

  • Book value:

    Book value, which is the net value of a business's assets minus liabilities, may be considered.

Seller's Discretionary Earnings (SDE) Method

  • Owner's financial benefits:

    SDE represents the total financial benefits received by the business owner, including salary, perks, and non-essential expenses.

  • Normalization adjustments:

    Brokers may adjust SDE by normalizing certain expenses to provide a more accurate reflection of the business's earning potential.

Market Conditions and Demand

  • Industry trends:

    Brokers take into account the current trends and growth prospects in the specific service industry.

  • Buyer demand:

    The demand for businesses in a particular sector can influence valuation. A high demand may result in a higher valuation.

It's essential to note that the valuation of service businesses can be subjective, and different brokers may use different methods based on the specific characteristics of the business and industry. Working with an experienced business broker like Baton’s team can help sellers navigate the valuation process and determine an appropriate asking price. Baton leverages national data and deep service industry expertise to help owners get the most accurate and favorable listing price for their business sale.