Can this business be valued? Third and final in the series.

May 10, 2023

A common question I am asked is: Can this business be valued?

In the first blog in this series, we focused on determining the value of a business that has been operating for years, but with incomplete or poor financial data. The second in the series focused on valuation of a start-up. And finally, this third blog is how to determine valuation of a nonprofitable business.

How do you determine the value of a business that is not profitable?

Forecasts are an important starting point in the valuation as written about in Part 2 of this series. A forecast is still relevant and an important factor in developing the valuation for a business that is not profitable. The reality is the value may be determined to be zero or negative should debts exceed valuation. In this situation, the seller may be interested in securing the tax benefits of a zero or negative valuation.

Typically, there are two scenarios when determining the valuation of a business that is not profitable. The value is tied to the people, or the business value is largely driven by an idea. Talented people and disruptive ideas are value drivers in a business and the use of public data can support the valuation of people and/or a disruptive idea.

In either situation, the valuation is developed by gathering and analyzing available information. The valuation prepared answers the question: how would a hypothetical buyer evaluate this business?

My thorough process leverages public data about businesses with talented teams and/or valuing an idea before it has been taken to market. Risk is then applied as it is especially important when calculating the value of a non-profitable business, similar to a startup. With expenses exceeding revenues, a higher level of risk will be applied.


Over the decades of developing business valuations that stand up to scrutiny, I have prepared detailed business valuations for firms having zero revenue as well as for business owners having an idea, but no product or service.

Determining the value of a non-profitable business can be done and is done with relative frequency. While not the most common situation I encounter, the steps to preparing a thorough and objective business valuation remain the same. Available public information, market information, and experience all support developing financial models that withstand the reasonable test and apply a risk factor to determine the valuation applying the discounted cash flow method.

If you are wondering if your business can be valued, you now know the answer is yes. Now it is important to secure a certified business appraiser with the knowledge, proven approach, and experience so that the valuation is thorough and defensible.

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