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Start-up Advice

Principles in Business Valuations

Essential valuation infomation for SME owners considering buying or selling a business.

Christiaan Vorster




When embarking on the valuation of a non-listed business, be it for the purpose of buying a stake in a business, selling an existing holding, buying out another shareholder or needing an indication of value for any other purpose, there are some basic guidelines that you should understand and follow.  These basic concepts are applicable across any business operating in any industry, be it in manufacturing, agriculture, FMCG or a service based industry.

Valuation basics

What is value?

According to the International Valuation Standard Council (IVSC) the definition of market value is: “The estimated amount for which a property should change hands on the date of the valuation between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm’s length transaction after proper marketing wherein both parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion”.

In a broader context, value arises when a choice is made between alternatives.  This choice is necessitated as the principle of scarcity applies to all resources, whether they be natural or economic. Whenever a choice is made amongst possible alternatives, one is foregone.

Such a concept is best illustrated with an example:

When investing in a business at a certain cost, the opportunity to invest in another business at the same cost is foregone assuming that the investee has limited investment resources. The potential benefit gained from investing in ‘another business’ may be defined as the “opportunity cost” of investing in the first business i.e. the benefit forgone of the best available alternative.

Alternatively, the seller would assess the opportunity cost of selling his/her share relative to not owning a share in the business in the future. The actual transaction price or exchange value would ultimately be dependent on the opportunity cost of both parties to the transaction, where there is a mutual interest, in particular circumstances, at a particular time.


The impact of different degrees of ownership on valuation

The value of an interest in a business is significantly influenced by the underlying weight of the shareholding being valued within the business.

The rights attached to a majority shareholding (51% or more) can include amongst others the right to sell or issue shares, the ability to determine salaries and bonuses and the decision to pay dividends.  When acquiring a majority interest in a company, the investor often pays a control premium for these privileges.

Alternatively, a minority shareholder (less than 51%) is far more reactive, and can generally only voice concern and is more often than not reliant on decisions taken by Management such as the level of dividend payouts to be received. The impact of the lack of control should be taken into account during any valuation exercise, as the power to alter the course of the business and to direct resources will ultimately have an influence on the estimation of value.

In theory, the more influence a shareholder has on the business, the higher the value and visa versa assuming that shareholder has the best interests of the business at heart and is a competent decision maker.


Relying on the valuation of an expert

Where no open market exists for the shares of a business (e.g. being traded on a stock exchange) an expert’s valuation could form the basis of an indication of value at a given point in time.

One should remember that a valuation completed by any expert is merely the expert’s opinion of value at a specific point in time. In determining a reasonable valuation, the expert will apply various estimates, judgements and assumptions. This by no means implies that you are bound by the valuation, except if it has been agreed upon by the relevant parties that an independent expert will value the business and that that value will be taken as the value for future references.

One should always remember that a valuation is inherently dynamic and changeable and wherever alternative estimates, judgements and assumptions are applied it will have an influence on the estimation of value.  Furthermore, a valuation is merely an indication of value and not by any means a price.  A valuation only becomes a price when two willing parties agree to transact at the generated valuation.  Negotiation sits between a valuation and a transaction price.


Valuation models

There are several theoretical valuation models available to value a business. Highlighted below are three models commonly used by valuation experts to determine an estimation of value of a business.

Earnings Multiple based valuation approaches

This methodology involves the application of an earnings multiple to the earnings of the business being valued to derive a value for the business. A multiple can be applied to an earnings base (commonly used P/E multiple); EBIT (Earnings before interest and Tax) or EBITA (EBIT before amortization) to estimate the value of a business.

When applying a Price /Earnings (P/E) multiple, the general practise is to first identify a Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio of a comparable listed company or the average P/E ratio of the sector in which the business operates (these P/E ratios are commonly reported). The rationale behind this is that listed businesses’ have a reported market value “at all times” which can be used as an indicator of the value of similar unlisted businesses.

This market-based approach assumes that listed businesses are correctly valued by the market and that comparable companies or the sector as a whole are in fact truly similar to the unlisted company being valued.

As it is extremely difficult to identify listed companies that are completely similar, the identified earnings multiple is often adjusted (with a discount or premium) for points of difference between the comparable company or sector and the business being valued.

These adjustments are intended to take into account the various influencing factors such as the relative risk of the business compared to the risk of the comparable business or sector, including the size and diversity of the business, the rate of growth, the diversity of product ranges, the level of borrowings and the risk arising from the lack of marketability of the shares.

The adjusted earnings multiple is then applied to a reasonable estimate of maintainable earnings of a business to derive at an estimation of value. A reasonable estimate of maintainable earnings is generally calculated by taking the historical earnings figures (or reliable forecast earnings figures) and adjusting it for exceptional or non-recurring items.

If, for example, an EBIT multiple is used, the same rationale will be followed, an applicable EBIT multiple will be identified, the EBIT of the business will be adjusted if needed (for non-recurring, non-operating items, etc) and a value will be calculated. The value as determined by the above calculation will in turn be adjusted for business specific circumstances and risks to get an estimation of value.

Discounted Cash Flow

This methodology involves deriving the value of a business by calculating the present value of the expected future cash flows of the company. In other words, the expected cash flows generated by the business are discounted at a fair rate of return to calculate an estimation of value at the current valuation date. The sum of these present values and a terminal value forms the basis of an estimate of value of the business. The terminal value is the projected value of the business at the end of the businesses lifespan.

The Discounted Cash Flow (“DCF”) technique consists of two distinct parts. Firstly, an estimation must be made of the amount and timing of all cash flows during the likely period or future lifespan of the business. The likely lifespan will differ from business to business and amongst different industries.

The basic information required to determine the projected cash flows would include, amongst other things, the estimates of earnings, depreciation and tax payable, net movements in working capital year-on-year, net realisable value of all surplus assets and estimations of the likely delay in selling them and the amount and timing of capital expenditure, all on an annual basis over the forecast period.

Secondly, a discount rate must be selected and applied to the cash flows to convert them into the present value. Generally the discount rate will be based either on the Weighted Average Cost of Capital of the business, adjusted for specific factors or it will be determined taking a holistic view on the required rate of return for the business (taking into account the systematic and unsystematic risk factors applicable to the business).

The estimation of the enterprise value will then be calculated by discounting the estimation of cash flows by the calculated discount rate. To get an estimation of value for a shareholding, total debt will be deducted from the calculation above.

Net Asset Value approach

This methodology indicates the value of a business by adjusting the business’s assets and liabilities to their market value equivalents. This model is most applicable for the valuation of businesses that derives its value from investments.

For all other businesses, it is advisable, under certain circumstances, to only apply this method if the business is on the verge of liquidation or split-up, or as a sense check of other valuation methodologies.

Judgements and assumptions

Throughout any valuation process, whatever the valuation model, the valuation expert will have to make his/her own estimations, judgements and assumptions based on information at his/her disposal. Because valuations entail many difficult estimates, scenarios, judgements and assumptions, there is scope for differences of opinion. A valuation can never be a precise figure, it is rather an indication of value which is often portrayed as a range of values.

As mentioned, if there is a difference of opinion, you are by no means bound to a transaction by a valuation expert’s estimate of value, except if it has been agreed upon beforehand by the relevant parties.

Understanding the valuation model, estimates, assumptions and their implications

When using the services of a valuation expert, on presentation of the valuation report by the expert, you as the client should interrogate the expert with reference to the choice of model applied. Further to this, the expert should explain all possible deviations from the chosen model and explain its implementation in detail so that you the client/business owner have the same understanding of the underlying model as the valuation expert.

Furthermore, you the client should also question the valuation expert on the estimations and assumptions that he/she has made and the associated influence of these assumptions on his/her valuation, so that you are able to fully understand the impact of changing macro and microeconomic circumstances. This will allow you to see how the valuation will change when differences in opinion are applied to the model or where market circumstances change significantly.


All applicable information needs to be taken into account during the valuation process, from an industry analysis, to financial information (financial statements and management accounts), risk analysis to all relevant legal documents. The quality of information going into the valuation process will influence which model will be used, the estimates, assumptions and ultimately the quality of the estimation of value. Care should be taken that all applicable and necessary information should be taken into account when calculating an estimation of value.

The same holds true should the valuation be performed by an expert – the quality of information given to the expert will determine the quality of the estimation of value.  Garbage in equals garbage out.


The calculation of the estimation of value of an interest in a business is a process where various building blocks are used, information analysed, with different models available for application. The answer is always an indication of value and at best an informed estimation of value.

Ultimately, it is always still up to the potential buyer or seller to negotiate the final price and terms and conditions of a potential transfer of interest.



  • Valuation of Unquoted Companies, Fifth Edition (2009), Christopher Glover. Wolters Kluwer (UK) Ltd.
  • Financial Management, 6th Edition (2007), Correia et al. Juta & Co. (SA)
  • International Private Equity and Venture Capital Valuation Guidelines (September 2009). IPEV Board.


Christiaan Vorster CA (SA) is a financial management consultant and heads up the business advisory Business Growth Africa. He focuses on the SME sector, specialising in business valuations, strategic planning and budgeting and forecasting. He also facilitates numerous executive courses in South Africa, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Email Christiaan at


Start-up Advice

Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Questions On Money And Partners

From starting the right business, to managing business partners and finding your magic number, there is a secret to happiness.

Alan Knott-Craig




If I get rich will I be happy? — JC Lately

Does money equal happiness? Mostly, yes. Research in the US shows that your happiness is proportionate to your earnings up until you earn $80 000 per annum. Thereafter, incremental income gains have a negligible effect on your happiness.

In other words: More money will make you happy as long as you’re poor. Once you break out of poverty and enter a comfortable middle-class existence, more money will not make you happier.

These are the top three for old folks:

  • I wish I’d spent more time with family.
  • I wish I’d taken more risks.
  • I wish I’d travelled more.

Therein lies the secret to happiness. Spend time with your family. Take risks. Travel.

But first, make money. Don’t do any of the above until you’re making enough money not be stressed about money.

Related: Your Questions Answered With Alan Knott-Craig

What is the magic number? — Mushti

The magic number is the amount of money you need to not worry about money ever again. If you don’t need toys like Ferraris, yachts and jets, the magic number is R130 million. Here’s the math: R130 million will earn R9,1 million in interest annually (assuming 7% interest). After tax that is R5,46 million.

Assuming you need 50% to maintain a good lifestyle, that leaves approximately R2,7 million for reinvestment, which is enough to keep your capital amount in touch with inflation for 50 years. The balance of R2,7 million (after tax) is for your living costs. In South Africa, R2,7 million will afford you a lifestyle that allows you to send your kids to a great school and university, to travel overseas a couple of times a year, and to live in a comfortable house.

Over time your living costs (and inflation) will eat into your capital amount. After 50 years you should be down to nil, assuming you earn zero other income in that time.

In 50 years, you will probably be dead. If you’re not dead, your kids will be able to support you (because they love you and they have a great university education).

I am the sole director of a company (the others still have full-time jobs and don’t want to be conflicted) and there is pro-rata shareholding based on our initial shareholder loans. However, I am putting in most of the hard work, together with one of the other actuaries. How best do I manage the director/shareholder dynamic? I obviously want to make as much progress as possible but there are times when I need the input from the others (and their responses aren’t always as quick as I would like). — Mike

If you have any perception of unfairness regarding effort/risk vs reward, deal with it NOW! You can’t do so later. The best approach is honesty. Call your partners together. Explain your thinking. Perhaps argue for 25% ‘sweat equity’ for yourself. Everyone dilutes accordingly. Ideally cut a deal whereby you have an option to pay back all their loans, plus interest, within six months, and you get 100% of equity (unless they quit their jobs and join full-time).

Equity dissent must be resolved long before the business makes money, otherwise it will never be resolved.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

What do you think of WiFi in taxis?— Ntembeko

It’s a good idea, but not original. Before embarking on a start-up, you should survey the landscape for competitors. Just because there are none doesn’t mean no one has tried your idea.

It just means that everyone that tried has failed. You need to be 100% sure that you have some ‘edge’ that makes you different from everyone who came before you (and failed). Otherwise you will fail. What is your advantage that is different to everyone who came before?

Read ‘Be A Hero’ today


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Start-up Advice

What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

The Lean Start-up philosophy was developed by Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur who also sat on venture capital advisory boards. He published The Lean Startup in 2011, igniting a movement around a new way of doing business.





The model follows key precepts that include:

Taking untested products to market

The fact that too many start-ups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want, spending months (or even years) perfecting that product without ever testing it in the market with prospective customers.

When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it’s often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. The earlier you can determine customer feedback, the quicker you can adjust your model to suit market needs.

The ‘build-measure-learn’ feedback loop is a core component of lean start-up methodology

The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a start-up can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect.

Utilising an investigative development method called the ‘Five Whys’

This involves asking simple questions to study and solve problems across the business journey. When this process of measuring and learning is done correctly, it will be clear that a company is either moving the drivers of the business model or not. If not, it is a sign that it is time to pivot or make a structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth.

Lean isn’t only about spending less money

It’s also not only about failing fast and as cheaply as possible. It’s about putting a process in place, and following a methodology around product development that allows the business to course correct.

Progress in manufacturing is measured by the production of high quality goods

The unit of progress for lean start-ups is validated learning. This is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when an entrepreneur is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty. Once entrepreneurs embrace validated learning, the development process can shrink substantially. When you focus on figuring the right thing to build — the thing customers want and will pay for, rather than an idea you think is good — you need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company’s direction. Instead, entrepreneurs can adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.


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Start-up Advice

Start-Up Law:  I’m A Start-up Founder. Can I Pay Employees With Shares?

Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.




Every early stage start-up company battles with restricted cash flow and not being able to pay market related salaries to their employees. Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.

Can I pay salaries with shares?

South African labour laws require that employees be paid certain minimum wages, and “remuneration”, as defined within the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Act, either means in ‘money or in kind’.  ’In kind’ does not include shares or participation in share incentive schemes, as determined by the Minister of Labour. As such, there is no room for start-ups to completely substitute paying salaries with shares or share options. However, there is no restriction in topping up below market related salaries with equity via an employee share ownership plan (‘ESOP‘).

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

Employee Share Ownership Plans

There are a variety of ways in which employees can be incentivised, and it will always be important for the start-up founders to consider what goal they wish to achieve by incentivising their employees.

ESOPs can be structured in several ways, for example: employees may be offered direct shareholding in the company, options for the acquisition of shares in the future; or alternatively, a phantom / notional share scheme can be set up.

ESOPs permit employees to share in the company’s success without requiring a start-up business to spend precious cash. In fact, ESOPs can contribute capital to a company where employees need to pay an exercise price for their share options or shares.

The primary disadvantage of ESOPs is the possible dilution of the Founder’s equity. For employees, the main disadvantage of an ESOP compared to cash bonuses or bigger salaries, is the lack of liquidity. If the company does not grow bigger and its shares does not become more valuable, the shares may ultimately prove to be worthless.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Key Features

Some key features to consider when setting up an ESOP are:

  • ELIGIBILITY – who will be allowed to participate? Full time employees? Part-time employees? Advisors?
  • POOL SIZE – what percentage of shares will be allocated to incentivise employees?
  • RESTRICTIONS – will employees be able to sell their shares immediately?
  • VESTING – will there be a minimum period that service employees will have to serve with the start-up to receive the economic benefit of his or her shares?

Employee share ownership plans are great corporate structuring mechanisms for attracting and retaining employees, as well as fostering an understanding of the company ethos and encouraging loyalty and productivity. It is essential when implementing an ESOP that all the tax implications are considered and that the correct structure and legal documentation are in place.

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