The four most important methods for calculating the enterprise value for small and medium-sized companies are the multiple method, the asset value method, the earnings value method and the DCF method. Here’s what you should know about each method. Simply explained and with examples.

Related topics : Use our current online company valuation for a valuation using the multiple method, based on current multiples and individual value drivers. We also publish the current valuation multiples for many countries, industries and company sizes every month. You can find more detailed information on selling a company and on the subject of company valuation in the guide on selling a company and in the general guide on company valuation .

The multiple method

For an overview of our current Market data on valuation multiples .

Valuation = basic key figure multiplied by the valuation multiple

The multiple method (also known as the “multiplier method”) is a method frequently used in the area of mergers and acquisitions. The method allows a quick check of whether a purchase price expectation for a company sale is realistic and appropriate on both the buyer and seller side. 

The current prices achieved by comparable companies that have already been sold are used. One examines the multiple (“multiple”, “multiplier”) for which these companies were sold and applies this factor to the company to be valued. Multiples can, for example, be multiples of operating profit (“EBIT multiple”), earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA multiple) or sales (“sales multiple”).

The method is primarily suitable for companies that have been in existence for a long time. Here, a multi-year profit development can be used as a basis for valuation. The better the empirical values, the more meaningful the result will be. In any case, it is advisable to use the multiple method in addition to the plausibility of a company value that has been determined using another method.

The indicative value of the company determined using the multiple corresponds to the “enterprise value”. This is the value of equity plus financial debt. This means that to determine the value of equity, financial debt must be deducted from the determined company value.

Valuation using the EBIT multiple method

When valuing a company using the EBIT multiple method, the average net earnings before interest and taxes (“EBIT”) of the last few years are multiplied by the EBIT multiple. The focus is on earnings before interest and taxes so that the multiples remain comparable even for companies with different tax rates and debt structures. For smaller companies with sales of up to 20 million, the observed range for multiples is mainly in the range of 4 – 10. A multiple of 6 or higher means that the company is highly attractive. Where the company is located within the range depends not only on the numbers but also on numerous “soft factors”. 

NIMBO uses EBITC multiples to value companies

The EBIT plus the total managing director compensation (gross salary, employer contributions to social security, car expenses) is taken as the basis.

In smaller companies, the managing director can determine his own salary within certain limits. The “EBITC” allows a comparison with the profitability of other companies without distortions caused by wages that are above or below the market wage, peculiarities in capital structures and different tax rates. The EBIT variant also includes an adjustment of the managing director’s salary, but NIMBO prefers the EBITC variant because, from an empirical point of view, it can explain observed purchase offers better than the EBIT variant.

Valuation using the EBITDA Multiple method

In contrast to EBIT, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) does not take depreciation and amortization into account. For the same EBIT, the EBITDA of an asset-intensive company can be significantly higher than that of a personnel-intensive company.

For capital-intensive companies with a high intrinsic value, it makes sense from a buyer’s perspective to work with EBITDA multiples, as the level of depreciation allows a certain amount of leeway, which can distort the result. The phase of the investment cycle the company is currently in should always be taken into consideration. Are investments pending?

Valuation with sales multiples

From an investor’s perspective, the potential profit of a company is particularly interesting. However, if the current profit is not meaningful, very small or even negative, another key figure, such as sales, should be considered. This can make sense, for example, if the buyer believes that it can improve its return on sales with its own existing, more efficient cost structures. With this method, the potential buyer takes a greater risk and must believe that the company will make profits in the future. 

A sales multiple valuation can also be used in addition to or to verify the plausibility of other valuations.

Sales multiples are significantly smaller than EBIT multiples. The observed range is usually between 0.2 and 2, depending on the industry, profitability, growth prospects and some other factors. For slow-growing and little or not profitable companies, sales multiples between 0.2-0.6 are realistic. Depending on the level of sales, a change in the sales multiple by a factor of 0.1 can have a major impact on the company’s value.

If a valuation is carried out using both EBIT and sales multiples and the valuation using the sales multiple results in a higher value than the valuation using the EBIT multiple, this indicates a lower return on sales than that of comparable companies.

Calculation example for the multiple method:

  1. The example company currently makes 1 million in sustainable earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT). “Sustainable” means that it is plausible that this profit can also be achieved in the future. 
  2. It can be observed on the market that small and medium-sized companies are usually sold within the range of 4-7 times their EBIT. 
  3. Since the company is doing considerably better than the average in many “soft factors” (e.g. little concentration of risk in the customer structure), the company is valued at the upper end of the observed range with an EBIT multiple of 6. 
  4. Company value: 1 million x 6 = 6 million (This is the so-called “Enterprise Value”)
  5. Derivation of the sales price (“equity value”) from the enterprise value: The company has a bank loan of 1 million, which is taken over by the buyer. This is deducted from the enterprise value and results in the selling price for the company’s capital.
  6. Base selling price = 6 million – 1 million = 5 million 
  7. At the time of the sale, the company has temporarily exceptionally high inventories worth 1 million. The usual average is 500,000. Since the inventories can be sold with a high degree of certainty in this case, 500,000 are added to the sales price (so-called closing balance sheet adjustment).
  8. Final selling price: 5 million + 0.5 million = 5.5 million

Maybe you have heard of the 3 x Profit company valuation ? This is a very simplified form of company valuation and means: profit multiplied by 3 = company value. Learn more about the logic behind this method .

The net asset value method

Valuation = intrinsic value of the company

This is the simplest method to determine the intrinsic value.

The values for fixed assets and current assets are added at market prices from the balance sheet, adjusted for hidden reserves and taxes, debts and liabilities are deducted. 

What is assessed is what is objectively available, regardless of the interests of the seller or potential buyer.  

The major drawback of this method is that it completely ignores the future of the company. For example, it does not take into account future revenues, the knowledge and experience of employees, or established customer and supplier relationships. Projects that are in the acquisition phase and products that are in the development phase are also disregarded. The net asset value shows a rather low company value.

In connection with the sale of a company, the intrinsic value has primarily an informational value and is usually below the valuation range of the multiple methods, since no goodwill and earnings potential above the minimum interest rate are reflected.

In the event that the intrinsic value does not yield interest that is appropriate to the risk or the company even makes a loss, the financial value of the company – without any value-enhancing synergy effects with a potential buyer – is basically equal to the liquidation value.

It makes sense to use the net asset value method in combination with other, more optimistic methods, such as the income approach (see section on mean value methods) . For industries where fixed assets play an insignificant role and intangible assets are crucial (such as consulting or software companies), this method is completely unsuitable.

Calculation example for the net asset value method:

Value of fixed and current assets (at market prices)1,000,000 EUR
– Liabilities/Debts– 500,000 EUR
– Accruals– 100,000 EUR
+ Release of economically unnecessary provisions+ 100,000 EUR
= net asset value= 500,000 EUR

Importance of the net asset value method

The net asset value method plays only a minor role today. The advantages are clearly the ease of use and the good traceability of the results. The low informative value is a negative for many companies, as intangible assets and future developments are not taken into account.

As a supplementary method, the net asset value method is certainly useful. It quantifies the current value of the company’s existing assets and shows the actual amount of equity. This is important for financing.

simplified income approach

Valuation = yield divided by capitalization rate

When valuing a company using the income approach, the company is viewed as an investment that generates constant returns. These constant returns are valued according to the financial mathematical formula of a perpetual annual income stream. The average, expected, sustainable profits after taxes over the next three to five years are divided by a risk-adjusted interest rate (“capitalization rate”). The value thus determined is the value of the equity (so-called “equity value”).

Since the income approach is based on forecasts, the underlying values should be as realistic as possible. The result should also be checked for its sensitivity to changed assumptions (e.g. lower/higher yield and interest rate). The question always arises as to the extent to which the existing profitability of the valued company can be transferred to the buyer in the event of a sale.

Machinery or inventory that is necessary for normal operations is already included in this calculation, as it is a prerequisite for achieving the sustainable income on which the valuation is based.

Calculation of capitalization interest

Capitalization rate = base interest rate plus market risk premium plus company-specific risk premium

The capitalization rate is made up of three factors.

 The base interest rate, also called the risk-free interest rate. It is usually the interest rate on government bonds with a maturity of 10 or 30 years. At the end of 2021, the base interest rate in Germany was rounded to 0.10%.

The market risk premium, which reflects the entrepreneurial risk in the relevant industry and country.

The company-specific risk premium, which assesses the company’s specific business risks.

For example, an interest rate of around 20% is usually realistic for the valuation of a craft business due to the often higher dependence on the owner. This has been empirically proven by real purchase prices.

Factors for determining the risk premium

Fungibility : The company can be monetized quickly, safely and without high costs. This is generally not the case for non-listed companies.

Role of the business owner: The business is very dependent on the business owner. All decisions and contacts are focused on him.

Company strategy: There is no comprehensible short, medium and long-term strategy.

Competition: Competitive pressure is high and as a small company with a small market share there is an increased risk of margin pressure or even being forced out of the market.

Customer structure: A large part of the turnover is made with a few customers. There are hardly any barriers to switching for customers. The customers have aged with the owner and will no longer be there in the foreseeable future.

Supplier structure: There may be supply bottlenecks or delays in production due to dependence on individual suppliers and there are no alternative options.

Management: It is insufficiently qualified and/or experienced. There is a risk that it will leave the company after a change of ownership.

Employees: The level of training of the employees is rather low. Suitable skilled workers are difficult to obtain on the labor market, which has a negative impact on future growth. There is a dependency on some key people who are not easily replaced.

One-off sales: Sales are mainly generated from non-recurring customers.

Calculation example for the income approach:

Initial situation

  • Sustainable earnings: 1,000,000 (average of adjusted profits over the last three years)
  • Base interest rate: 2% (risk-free interest rate)
  • Applied market risk premium: 8% (market premium for the industry)
  • Company-specific risk premium: 10% (as it depends above average on the owner and the size of the company)

Calculation of capitalization interest

  • Capitalization rate = base interest rate + market risk premium + company-specific risk premium = 2% + 8% + 10% = 20%

Question from the buyer’s perspective

  • As an alternative to buying the company, how much money would the buyer have to invest in an alternative investment with the same risk to achieve a return of 1,000,000?

Calculation of earnings value

  • Income value = income / capitalization rate = 1,000,000 / 20% = 5,000,000

Conclusion / Interpretation

  • With a purchase price of up to 5,000,000, it makes sense for the buyer to invest the money in the company. If the purchase price is over 5,000,000, he could earn a better return with the money elsewhere at the same risk.

Importance of the income approach in Germany

In Germany, the income approach is the most widely used method (IDW S 1). It is the valuation procedure prescribed by law for company valuation for inheritance and gift tax. The income approach is used accordingly by the tax authorities and is widely accepted in legal disputes.

The Association of Valuation Consultants in the Craft Sector has developed the AWH Standard for the valuation of small and medium-sized craft businesses. It is also based on the income approach and is adapted to the specific characteristics of these companies. Further information on assessment according to the AWH standard is available from the ZdH.

The Discounted Cash Flow Method (DCF) 

This method has its origins in classical investment calculation. Internationally, this is the most well-known evaluation method.

Theoretically, the DCF method provides the most precise company value. The crux of the matter, however, lies in the need to project detailed future earnings or cash flows and the corresponding risk-adjusted interest rates (cost rate) in order to discount them to their present value.

The advantage over the income approach is the high level of flexibility, since one does not have to assume only a single “sustainable yield”, but one can also forecast the course of the earnings situation separately for the next five years, for example. However, this also increases the complexity and the need for explanation of the assessment.

The DCF method is more suitable for determining the value of large companies. The starting point is always a business plan for the next 5-7 years. This method tends to result in higher company values.

In contrast to the income approach, which takes future earnings as a starting point, the surplus payments, so-called cash flows, are considered here.

A distinction is made between the gross or entity method and the net or equity method. In practice, the entity method is mostly used to determine the enterprise value, i.e. the company value including financial debt.

The company’s free cash flow, including interest on debt, is discounted to the present day using the weighted cost of capital of the financial resources tied up in the company. The purpose of calculating the net present value is primarily to reflect the operational potential of a company.

Where possible, an entire investment cycle should be considered, since investments in current and fixed assets have a significant impact on cash flows.

The forecast of cash flows and the choice of discount factors are adjustment screws that can be used to move results in the desired direction. To ensure the reliability of the results, a sensitivity analysis that shows the impact of changes in the assumptions on the company’s value is essential. 

The choice between the DCF method and the income approach has, in principle, no influence on the valuation result under the same premises. The decision for one of the evaluation methods should therefore depend on the target group and the purpose of the evaluation.

Various averaging methods / mixed methods

Due to the estimation of values, the income approach is associated with uncertainties. The combination methods also include the company’s substance in their assessment.

The idea behind the averaging methods is to take into account both the past and future expectations and risks. This leads to a high level of acceptance, especially among companies in the SME sector. Trading and craft companies and companies in the manufacturing industry use it for planned transactions, but it is also frequently used in family succession planning.

The result is based on the weighted average of asset value and earnings value. Weighted usually means that twice the earnings value is added to the intrinsic value. The result divided by three and increased by non-operating assets gives the company value. However, alternative methods are also used in which the shares of substance and income in the total value are weighted differently.

The mean value method or Berlin method

The mean value or Berlin method calculates the arithmetic mean of the earnings value and the net asset value. It is based on the idea that companies with weak assets and high profits are typically exposed to high competitive pressure, which will foreseeably reduce these profits in the future. 

Valuation = (income value + net asset value) / 2

The Vienna Procedure

The Vienna method also calculates the arithmetic mean of the earnings value and the net asset value (asset value). However, the calculation of these two values differs from the Berlin method, for example. 

The generalisation of the factors that are most difficult to determine makes the Vienna procedure a simplified procedure. The capitalization rate is set at nine percent. The uncertain forecast of future earnings is avoided by taking the average of the last three financial years. The Vienna procedure is often used as an alternative procedure when the parties cannot agree on other valuation methods.

Valuation = (income value + net asset value) / 2

The excess profit method

The excess profit method is another averaging method and is based on the assumption that in the long term the profit only corresponds to an appropriate return on the asset value.

As a result of the consideration that higher profit margins decline over time, excess profits that exceed the normal interest rate are capitalized at a higher interest rate. Factors that can be responsible for a decline in profits include, for example, a weaker economy, increased competition, etc.

Two things must be determined for the valuation:

  1. Amount of interest at which the asset value is sustainably compounded (“normal interest rate”).
  2. Number of years for which the excess profit is to apply and is added to the net asset value.

The interest on the asset value tied up in the company at replacement prices at the normal interest rate is deducted from the effective profit. This “excess profit” over and above the normal interest rate is added to the asset value over a certain number of years. A period of 3-8 years is usually used.


= Net asset value + present value of excess profits

= Net asset value + number of years with excess profit x (profit – (normal interest rate x net asset value)) 

Numerical example: 1,000,000 + 3 x (200,000 – (10% x 1,000,000)) = 1,300,000

Meaning of the excess profit method: It plays no role in company valuation practice.

The Swiss method or the practitioner method

The practical method is easy to understand and follow and is often considered the first point of reference on both the buyer and seller side. 

For successful companies, the practitioner method leads to very conservative, low values for the company. 

The Swiss tax administration also uses this valuation method. It assumes a capitalization rate of 9.5%. 

Valuation = 2/3 x earnings value + 1/3 intrinsic value

The Stuttgart procedure

In the Stuttgart method, the value of a company is calculated from the sum of its intrinsic value and its earnings value. This method was primarily used to determine the enterprise value of non-listed companies in the event of inheritance or donation. Since this procedure is no longer up to date, it was abolished in 2009.

special cases

Special case: Startup valuation

Special case: low-yield with a lot of substance

The Schnettler method deals with the special case of low-yield or unprofitable companies with high asset value that do not pay adequate interest on their assets. It is my mixed method of intrinsic value and earnings value.

The depreciation on the high level of property, plant and equipment results in accounting losses. A buyer would record the property, plant and equipment at reduced replacement cost, thereby reducing depreciation and increasing the capitalized value accordingly.

frequently asked questions

What is the best method for company valuation?

Depending on the reason for the valuation and the phase the company is in, one method or the other may make more sense. We recommend trying out several methods to get a feel for the range within which the value moves. Nimbo works with the multiple method.

How does the multiple method work?

This method requires recently achieved prices from comparable companies as a basis for calculation. One examines the multiple (“multiple”, “multiplier”) for which these companies were sold and applies this factor to the company to be valued. Multiples can, for example, be multiples of operating profit (“EBIT multiple”), earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA multiple) or sales (“sales multiple”).

What method is used to evaluate a start-up?

A start-up that is not yet making a profit and is growing rapidly is seen as having promise for the future. The DCF method can be applied to business plans of start-ups. The discount rate used is derived from the investors’ expected return.

Who is the multiple method (multiplier method) suitable for?

This method is primarily suitable for long-established, profitable companies. Here, a multi-year profit development can be used as a basis for valuation. The more stable the empirical values, the more meaningful the result will be. This method is not suitable for companies that are making losses or are in a strong growth phase.

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