How Much Is Your Ecommerce Business Worth?

From time to time, I get emails from customers saying that they have decided to move on from having an online business and they are wondering if I can tell them how much their online business is worth.

Business valuation is a tough one and we certainly are no experts in that arena. But we do have some insights on the topic. Here are some of the factors that a prospective buyer will likely consider in determining what they will pay.

1. Customer Base

There is no question that a large and active customer base is a great asset. If you have 30,000 account holds on your website, that would likely have value to a prospective buyer. Building a customer base and continually communicating with them is an important practice on many levels.

2. Inventory

You need to consider whether you want to sell just your website or all the product inventory that goes along with it. Some buyers will be quite interested in your inventory and others will just want access to your customers.

3. Website

As you know, investing the money in a professional website as well as the time to build out all the content is significant. Buyers who are knowledgeable about what it involves to build a full-featured site will understand the value.

4. Domain Name

A great domain name could be worth as much as anything else you have to offer. Of course, you need to have a really awesome name. The market for domain names has declined from the fervor in the early 2000s, but a solid name still has value.

5. Brand Recognition

If you have been successful in building some recognition for your brand and business that will be worth a lot. If you have done nothing to contribute online and establish your brand in your industry, you likely won’t get much of a bump.

6. Revenue and Financials

As with any business transaction, the value often comes down to your financial statements. That is no different with an online business. Be prepared to show sales data and financials to prospective buyers.

7. Traffic and Search Placement

A buyer not only wants to understand your current financial position, but they are going to do their best to determine whether a business acquisition is going to grow and prosper in the future. A strong signal (assuming they are wanting to take over your website) is your site traffic trends. If your traffic is consistently trending upwards, that is an important factor.

Related to your traffic is your current search engine placement for important phrases. If you can show that you have established your website in the search engines, that can be worth quite a bit to a buyer. We all know that strong organic placement is not an overnight process!


One of the key elements for any successful business is a clearly defined exit strategy. Although it is very hard to determine exactly what someone else might pay for your business, we encourage you to start thinking about the factors we have listed so you have a compelling package to offer when the day comes for you to test the waters with putting your business on the market.

Startup Storytelling – Create a Business Worth Talking About, and Tell Stories About Your Startup

This is one way to approach the whole of business startup, I think. In fact, it is one way of considering your value proposition. If your business is not worth talking about, then you should probably not start at all. But your business is worth talking about. Avoid second-hand stories, because yours must differentiate you.

They have to be good stories and have a purposeful message. In these days of information overload, a good story will always win over dry ‘corporate speak’ or ‘marketing hype’. If you are starting a business, your experience is a treasure trove of stories. Do not be shy. You have learned many lessons and can make them useful for others.

Entrepreneurs Stories to Attract Attention

Entrepreneurs need stories badly. If you contact someone and say, “I’m calling from the Googleplex and I..,”you will probably get attention. If you are making a presentation and you are introduced by the chair saying, “Will is from Goldman Sachs..,” your audience is likely to be very attentive.

But neither of these apply to you. And you need to attract attention fast, however good your (unknown) product or service.

Injecting some humor is good, unless like me you risk forgetting the punch line. The story need not be long and should follow the advice of Chip and Dan Heath (authors of Made to Stick) who say, “For an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:

  • Pay attention
  • Understand and remember it
  • Agree/Believe
  • Care
  • Be able to act on it.”

Reveal Who You Are

Your story will reveal who you are implicitly, without having to churn out out your resume, or hand out your business plan. The story will of course be true and even if you are telling a story against yourself or one that demonstrates a lesson you have learned, make it positive in tone.

That does not mean that stories need to be embellished and there is nothing wrong with revealing your emotions. It could be that the lesson learned was a hard one. Your brand certainly needs its story and it should not be defensive. It should be narrative. “It’s about communicating who you, as a business, are-discovering your identity, not inventing a new one willy-nilly. Positioning helps a company become what it is, not something it’s not,” says Stephen Dunning, author of The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling.

Rehearse Your Story

Storytelling may sound easy. It is not, and you need to prepare yourself, just like you would for any presentation. Craig Wortmann, author of What’s Your Story? has an excellent piece of advice, “Approach your presentations as if your clients or people will not be allowed to take notes or refer to any documentation.”

Craig’s storytelling mnemonic, IGNITE, is worth you noting for creating your own stories-make them:

  • Intentional
  • Genuine
  • Natural
  • Improvisational
  • Total
  • Engaging.

Find a storytelling buddy and rehearse your story together. If you do not like that idea, record it and listen to it on your own. Better still record it on your webcam and play it back to review how it goes. If if you have no webcam, tell it to the bathroom mirror! A live story telling will be different because you will get feedback from the audience, but a rehearsal will iron out obvious shortcomings.

Where the Subject Sources Are

The sources of subjects for your storytelling are most effective if they come from your own experience. But they can also be:

  • second-hand; I told a story to a trainer friend and he loved it enough to ask if he could use it and he has already told it with more panache than my original, but then he is an excellent storyteller;
  • from your company experience; successes of employees, customer experiences, neat problem solutions, examples of creativity;
  • from articles that quote experience or stories recounted in books; you will find Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing is full of them;
  • presentations of stories retold by you in your own context, if they make strong and memorable accounts that are pertinent.

A storytelling story

A former colleague of mine, George, whose storytelling is a big contributor to his business success, always made me smile when we were on gigs together. He carries a battered old leather briefcase with him. It is so old and worn that the handle is long gone. When he arrives at the front, he needs a large table by the lectern, on which he can spread out a whole bunch of notes and papers before he starts talking. He is a business school professor and this underlines his professorial status.

What the audience does not know is that, while he delivers his presentation as if he had never done so before and does occasionally refer to the papers on the table, it is a presentation he has made many times before, with the same old notes from the same old briefcase. But this ritual is one of many reasons why he makes the presentation a winner every time. He tells the stories like it is the first time they have been aired.

What’s Your Business Worth?

At least once a week a dealer will ask me what I think his business is worth. A business broker friend of mine tells his clients that “your business is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it … and that may be a whole lot less than you thought.” Concerns over decreasing values of wireless businesses are real but don’t have to be cause for panic. Unfortunately, the days of getting multiples of revenue with a cursory glance of the balance sheet are gone.

The failure of so many “dot-coms” has given new meaning to the words, due diligence. The process has become much more complicated and the computations much more intricate. The factors that now determine the overall “worth” of a business in today’s climate reach well beyond the scope of the businesses’ bottom line.

Our organization doesn’t sell businesses, but we do help them get ready to sell. The good news is that there are steps you can take to dramatically increase the value of your business. The criteria and questions below represent a great exercise for all businesses, regardless of whether they are considering looking for a buyer or not.

We find that most businesses don’t really know the answers to a lot of the questions, but some can quickly double or halve the perceived value of their business in the mind of a potential buyer by putting some relatively simple practices into place. These items are critical to the overall health of the business. When someone asks us to help a business increase its net worth, we begin by looking at the following areas:

Profit & Loss Statements

Most financial analysts will look at the “quality” of your data and “trends” over the last two or three years to determine if your business is on the rise, or on the”demise.” First they’ll look at the bottom line to see if there is one. Then they’ll look for trends, and most importantly, if your net profit as a percentage of revenue is rising or falling. The final test is to determine if the percentage is healthy enough to make a buy recommendation to a potential purchaser.

Portfolio of Products and Services

Do you have a mix of products that makes sense for your business? Is each category profitable? Some dealers think they need to carry every wireless carrier to be able to serve the needs of every customer that calls or walks in. This is more often than not a very unprofitable way for a dealer to go to market. Instead of having an outstanding relationship with one or two manufacturers or carriers, they diversify their business to the point of having very little leverage to negotiate or receive additional support because they demonstrate no loyalty in return. In most cases, we recommend that dealers pare back the number of products and carriers they represent as a means to INCREASE their sales and profitability.


Are your expenses in line with revenues? A major red flag goes up if your trend shows expenses growing faster than revenues. This signals trouble to potential buyers. Look at your key expenses as a percentage of revenues and compare them with the last two years. Keeping fixed and variable expenses in line is critical to business valuation.

Revenue Areas

Today, most buyers are interested in businesses that are growing. If your sales and margins have been steadily increasing, you pass the first test. Next comes a look at whether your manpower levels are appropriate and productive. Retention and experience counts too, as expertise is valuable to both customers and buyers of your business. What are your “costs of sales” as a percentage of revenue? There are a lot of things you can be doing to drive sales up in your operation from providing sales training to performing sales meetings. A management and motivation process similar to the popular CDI Beat Your Best(TM) program demonstrates structure, measures results and adds value.

Customer Base

One of your most valuable assets is your customer database. The number of “active” customers and the average value of a relationship over time are key ingredients for determining the “worth” of a business. Thus, the business with processes and procedures for maintaining and growing customers over time are worth more. These are some of the most important criteria for determining a business’s worth and we could certainly spend a lot more time on each category and how to build it. Other items such as fixed assets, real estate, infrastructure and recurring revenue streams are also important considerations. This outline will provide you with the basis for creating a written plan for improving each one of these areas. Buyers today are a lot more critical about the value they place on your business. The more you can do to impact each of these areas, the more your business will be worth to a potential suitor. As my friend says: “Your business is worth exactly what someone else is willing to pay for it.” Now that you have a better look at what someone else will see, “what’s your business really worth?”