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Rule of Thumb in Business Valuation: A Quick Guide

Business valuation is a critical aspect of entrepreneurship and financial decision-making. Whether you are buying, selling, or even just managing a business, understanding its value is essential. While there are various complex methods for business valuation, one approach that is often used as a quick estimate is the “Rule of Thumb.” In this blog post, we will explore what the Rule of Thumb in business valuation is, its pros and cons, and when it’s appropriate to use it.

What is the Rule of Thumb in Business Valuation?

The Rule of Thumb is a simple, quick, and somewhat intuitive method for estimating the value of a business. Unlike more intricate valuation methods, such as the discounted cash flow (DCF) or market-based approaches, the Rule of Thumb relies on easily measurable factors or multiples. These factors or multiples can vary depending on the industry, location, and specific characteristics of the business in question.

Common Examples of Rule of Thumb Multiples

Revenue Multiple:

This involves multiplying the business’s annual revenue by a specific factor. For example, a business might be valued at 2 times its annual revenue, meaning that if it generates $500,000 in revenue, its estimated value would be $1,000,000. This can also be used for loss making businesses.

Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) Multiple:

This approach uses the business’s EBIT as a basis for valuation. If a business has an EBIT of $200,000 and the EBIT multiple is 4 times, the estimated value would be $800,000. However, the important point is 4 times may or may not be the appropriate multiple.

Gross Profit Margin Multiple:

This method considers the gross profit margin of the business. If the gross profit margin is 30% and the multiple is 5 times, the estimated value would be calculated as 0.30 x 5 = 1.50, meaning the business would be valued at 1.5 times its annual gross profit. Again, 1.5 times may or may not be the appropriate multiple. In addition, this may be less valid for service companies.

Pros of Using the Rule of Thumb


The Rule of Thumb is easy to understand and apply, making it accessible to small business owners and entrepreneurs who may not have a background in finance.

Quick Estimates:

It provides a fast estimate of a business’s value, which can be helpful when you need a rough valuation for initial discussions or negotiations or even to decide whether a third-party valuer should be brought in.

Industry Relevance:

Rule of Thumb multiples are often tailored to specific industries, making them somewhat industry-specific and therefore potentially somewhat more relevant than a generic formula.

Relevant Benchmark:

Even if not used for the final valuation, the Rule of Thumb can serve as a relevant benchmark to compare against other valuation methods, helping you spot any discrepancies or outliers.

Cons of Using the Rule of Thumb

Lack of Precision:

The Rule of Thumb is not as precise as more comprehensive valuation methods. It provides a ballpark figure but may not reflect the intrinsic value accurately. The margin of difference between a rule of thumb valuation and a detailed valuation can be very significant in some cases.


Multiples can vary significantly between industries and regions, making it challenging to find an appropriate benchmark for certain businesses.

Ignores Specifics:

The Rule of Thumb overlooks the unique characteristics and circumstances of a business, potentially leading to undervaluation or overvaluation.

When to Use the Rule of Thumb

The Rule of Thumb can be a valuable tool in specific scenarios including:

Preliminary Assessment:

When you need a quick estimate to decide whether to explore a business opportunity further, the Rule of Thumb can provide an initial ballpark guide.

Industry Benchmarks:

If you’re interested in comparing your business’s performance and value against industry standards, Rule of Thumb multiples can be informative. However, one needs to be cautious as your business may be unique features or may be very different to the businesses in the industry or the industry standards.


During negotiations, Rule of Thumb estimates can serve as a starting point for discussions, helping both parties gauge the ballpark value of the business and whether to move forward where a detailed formal valuation may be performed at a later stage.

Small Businesses:

Small businesses with relatively simple financials and operations may find Rule of Thumb valuation more suitable, as the cost and complexity of more sophisticated methods might not be justified.

Final Thoughts:  

While the Rule of Thumb in business valuation offers simplicity and speed, it should be used cautiously. It’s an excellent starting point for initial assessments and industry comparisons but falls short in providing precise valuations tailored to a specific business’s unique circumstances. When not done properly it can result in a very high or very low valuation, neither of which is in the business’ best interest. We all know the risks of DIY!

When dealing with high-stakes transactions or complex business structures, it’s advisable to consult with experienced, credible and professional valuation experts who can employ more sophisticated methods to ensure a more accurate representation of a business’ intrinsic value. Remember that the Rule of Thumb is just one tool in the valuation toolkit, and its limitations should be acknowledged and considered in the broader context of your business decisions.