Sell Business Business Broker: Your exit advisor on your side. Exit Advisor Business Broker
Sell Business What is goodwill when selling a business? A key consideration for anyone looking to sell a business is understanding the concept of "goodwill." Generally, it refers to the intangible value associated with Exit Advisor Business Broker

What is Goodwill When Selling a Business?

Selling a business can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking endeavor. As you navigate through the complexities of the process, one term that often arises is “goodwill.” But what exactly is goodwill, and why does it matter when selling your business? In this blog post, we'll explore the concept of goodwill, its significance in business transactions, and how it can impact the value of your enterprise.

At its core, goodwill represents the intangible assets that contribute to a business's reputation, customer loyalty, and market position. It encompasses factors such as brand recognition, customer relationships, employee expertise, and even the business's overall reputation within the industry. Essentially, the intangible value sets your business apart from its competitors.

Understanding and quantifying goodwill is crucial when setting a price for your business. Buyers are not only interested in tangible assets like equipment and inventory but also in the intangibles that can contribute to future success. Goodwill can significantly impact the final sale price, representing continued profitability and growth potential.

Key Takeaways
Goodwill is an intangible asset encompassing brand reputation, customer loyalty, employee relations, proprietary technology, and strategic partnerships.
Different types of goodwill include customer goodwill, brand goodwill, enterprise goodwill, location goodwill, and professional goodwill. 
The value of goodwill can fluctuate based on factors like business performance, market conditions, and customer preferences.
Strategies to maximize the value of goodwill include maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction, implementing customer retention initiatives, and robust customer acquisition strategies.
Goodwill plays a significant role in business transactions and can significantly influence a company's value.

What is Goodwill in a Business Sale?

In a business sale, goodwill is an intangible asset that arises when a buyer pays more than the fair market value of an entity's net tangible and intangible assets. It symbolizes the premium paid for a business's reputation, brand recognition, customer relationships, and other non-physical factors contributing to its earnings and growth potential.

For example, consider a company with a tangible asset value of $1 million and an intangible asset value of $500,000. If a buyer purchases this company for $2 million, the excess of $500,000 is recorded as goodwill.

Goodwill plays a significant role in business transactions for several reasons. Firstly, it enhances a company's value and makes it more attractive to potential buyers. Secondly, it can indicate a company's future earning potential, with high goodwill often signifying that the business has a strong customer base, solid brand reputation, or other advantageous business attributes.

However, goodwill is subject to impairment, meaning its value can decrease if the business's reputation or customer base dwindles. Regular valuation of goodwill is vital to represent a company's worth accurately.

Goodwill reflects a business's ability to generate profits over the fair value of its tangible and intangible assets due to factors like reputation, brand, or customer relationships.

What Are the Factors That Shape Business Goodwill?

When Selling a Business What is Goodwill What Are the Factors that Shape Business Goodwill

Several factors can shape business goodwill:

  1. Brand Recognition: A well-recognized brand can have a considerable impact on goodwill. Customers who associate the brand with quality, reliability, and value are more likely to be loyal and repeat customers. This increases the business's profitability and, by extension, its goodwill.
  2. Customer Relationships: A strong customer base can significantly influence goodwill. Businesses with robust customer relationships and a customer retention history can demand a higher price in the market.
  3. Proprietary Technology or Patents: If a business has unique technology or patents, these can greatly increase the value of the business. These proprietary elements can give a business a competitive edge in the marketplace and contribute to increased goodwill.
  4. Employee Relations: Businesses with a skilled, loyal, and stable workforce often have high goodwill. If employees are satisfied and committed to the business, this can lead to increased productivity and profitability.
  5. Location: The location of a business can also affect its goodwill. Businesses in areas with high customer traffic or regions without much competition may have increased goodwill.
  6. Supplier Relationships: Strong relationships with suppliers can allow for better terms and conditions, increasing profitability and, therefore, goodwill.

Understanding these factors can help business owners enhance their goodwill and achieve a higher sale price when it's time to sell their business.

What Intangible Assets Compose Goodwill?

Goodwill is essentially the sum of several intangible assets that give a business its competitive advantage and drive its profitability. These intangible assets greatly contribute to the overall value of a business and, consequently, the goodwill recognized in a business sale. Let's explore some of these intangible assets:

  1. Brand Reputation: This reflects the perception of the business in the eyes of the public, customers, and other stakeholders. A strong brand reputation can entice new customers and retain existing ones, resulting in improved sales and profitability.
  2. Customer Loyalty: This is the tendency of the customers to choose the products or services of a business consistently over those of its competitors. High customer loyalty often signifies high customer satisfaction with the business's offerings, which can lead to repeat purchases and referrals.
  3. Intellectual Property: This includes patents, trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, and other proprietary knowledge. Intellectual property can give a business a competitive edge, allowing it to differentiate its offerings, charge premium prices, and protect its market share.
  4. Operational Processes: These are the unique ways a business operates that increase its efficiency or effectiveness. Effective operational processes can lead to cost savings, improved customer service, and other benefits that enhance a business's profitability and value.

Each of these intangible assets contributes to the excess earnings potential of a business, hence increasing its goodwill. Therefore, developing and managing these assets should be a priority for businesses seeking to maximize their value.

How is Goodwill Established and Evaluated?

Goodwill is established when a business is sold for more than the sum of its tangible and intangible assets. This surplus value is attributed to positive attributes of the business, such as an established brand name, a loyal customer base, successful marketing strategies, and effective operational processes. 

These attributes are expected to yield future financial benefits, hence the buyer's willingness to pay a premium.

Evaluating goodwill involves a two-step process. The first step is identifying whether an impairment exists. This is done by comparing the fair value of a reporting unit with its carrying value, including goodwill. If the carrying value exceeds the fair value, an impairment is suggested. 

The second step is the actual measurement of the impairment loss. This is done by comparing the implied fair value of goodwill with its carrying value. An impairment loss is recognized if the carrying value of goodwill exceeds the implied fair value. 

Regular evaluation of goodwill ensures that it accurately reflects the business's current value, keeping the financial statements credible and reliable. The best things is if you can determine the goodwill and sell your business without a broker.

Here Are Some Example of How to Calculate Goodwill 

Example 1 – Calculation of Goodwill

Let's walk through a potential scenario for the calculation of goodwill. Let's say company A decides to acquire company B. Company B's net assets, which is the difference between its total assets and liabilities, are worth $500,000. 

However, company A pays $700,000 to acquire company B. Company A believes that Company B's reputation, customer loyalty, and operational processes will generate future financial benefits. 

The $200,000 difference between the purchase price and net assets value ($700,000 – $500,000) is recorded by company A as goodwill in its financial records. This represents the value of company B's intangible assets, such as brand reputation and customer loyalty, not accounted for in the tangible assets and liabilities. This amount would be evaluated for any impairment that might reduce its value over time.

Example 2 – Determining Impairment in Goodwill

Let's continue with the previous scenario of company A acquiring company B. After six months, company A re-evaluates its goodwill and finds that the fair value of company B has decreased due to a decrease in customer loyalty. The new fair value is $600,000 instead of the initial $700,000. To determine if there is any impairment in goodwill, we use the two-step process, as mentioned earlier.

The first step is to compare the fair value of Company B ($600,000) with its carrying value in Company A's books ($700,000). An impairment is suggested since the fair value is less than the carrying value.

The second step involves comparing the implied fair value of goodwill with its carrying amount in company A's books. The implied fair value can be calculated by subtracting the fair value of net assets ($600,000) from the purchase price paid for company B ($700,000). This gives us an implied fair value of goodwill of $100,000 ($700,000 – $600,000).

Since the carrying amount of goodwill in company A's books is $200,000, which exceeds the implied fair value of $100,000, an impairment loss of $100,000 needs to be recognized. This will reduce the goodwill carrying to its new implied fair value.

Why Goodwill Matters Significantly When Selling Your Business

Goodwill plays a critical role during the sale of a business as it represents the “extra” value above the physical and identifiable non-physical assets. This “extra” value is directly tied to the company's reputation, customer relationships, brand identity, and operational processes, among other intangible aspects. 

When selling your business, the value of goodwill can significantly enhance the overall selling price. Potential buyers aren't just purchasing physical assets but also the established brand, loyal customers, and operational efficiency you've cultivated over time. 

The higher the goodwill, the more attractive your business becomes to prospective buyers, allowing you to negotiate a better selling price. It's, therefore, imperative to consciously build and maintain the elements that contribute to goodwill – an investment that pays off during the sale of your business.

How is Goodwill Taxed in a Business Sale? 

What is Goodwill When Selling a Business -

In a business sale, goodwill is often subject to tax. When a buyer acquires a business, the portion of the purchase price allocated to goodwill is amortized (deducted over time) for tax purposes. 

For example, the tax code allows buyers in the United States to amortize the goodwill over 15 years. This spread-out deduction can offer significant tax benefits to the acquiring company. 

However, for the seller, the sale of goodwill is generally treated as capital gain and is taxed at the capital gains rate, which can be lower than the ordinary income tax rate.

Tax Cases Recognizing Personal Goodwill

There have been numerous tax cases that distinguish personal goodwill from enterprise goodwill. Personal goodwill is tied to an individual's reputation, skills, or relationships, whereas enterprise goodwill is attached to a business entity. In these cases, the courts recognized the existence of personal goodwill. 

They allowed the seller to treat the sale of personal goodwill as a capital gain, which is usually taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income. This distinction can result in substantial tax savings for the seller. However, recognizing personal goodwill often requires careful planning and clear documentation.

Pre-Acquisition Transfers of Personal Goodwill

Business owners sometimes transfer personal goodwill to a separate entity before selling the business. This is done to sell the personal goodwill separately from the business, potentially reducing the overall tax liability. 

However, this strategy can be complex and risky, as tax authorities may scrutinize it. Therefore, it's crucial to work with an experienced tax professional when considering the transfer of personal goodwill.

Transfers of Goodwill at Acquisition

The purchase price is typically allocated among the assets acquired during a business acquisition. The portion of the price that can't be ascribed to tangible or identified intangible assets (like patents or copyrights) is allocated to goodwill. 

For the acquiring company, this goodwill can be amortized or gradually deducted over some time (typically 15 years in the U.S.) for tax purposes. 

On the other hand, the seller usually treats the sale of goodwill as capital gain, which is generally taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income. Nonetheless, these tax implications can be complex and may require the guidance of a tax professional.

How Goodwill is Treated for the Buyer

For the buyer of a business, goodwill presents a unique value proposition – they are not just purchasing tangible assets but also acquiring the intangible aspects that make the business successful. The goodwill reflects the company's established brand, loyal customer base, effective operational procedures, and potential for future income generation. 

Post-acquisition, the buyer can amortize the cost of goodwill over 15 years for tax purposes in the U.S. This means the cost of goodwill can be gradually deducted from taxable income, providing significant tax benefits. 

However, the complexity of these calculations, combined with the need for accurate asset allocation, may require the involvement of a financial advisor or tax professional. Proper handling of goodwill during an acquisition can lead to optimal tax savings and enhanced value for the acquiring business.

Do All Businesses Have Goodwill? 

All businesses have some form of goodwill, whether or not they recognize it in their financial statements. Goodwill is not merely a financial construct; it encompasses the intangible elements that give a business its unique identity and competitive edge. 

These elements could include a well-regarded brand name, a loyal customer base, strong employee relations, proprietary technology, or strategic partnerships. Even a small neighborhood business, such as a cafe, has goodwill through its reputation, regular customers, and unique recipes or offerings. That said, not all goodwill has the same financial value. 

The value of goodwill can fluctuate based on various factors, including the business's performance, market conditions, and changes in customer preferences. Therefore, while all businesses possess goodwill, the extent and impact of such goodwill can vary greatly.

What Are the Different Types of Goodwill When Selling a Business

When Selling a Business What is Goodwill What Are the Different Types of Goodwill When Selling a Business

Customer Goodwill

Customer goodwill is the loyalty, trust, and satisfaction that a business has earned from its customers over time. It's a key asset that can drive repeat business and attract new customers through word-of-mouth recommendations. A company with high customer goodwill often enjoys a sustainable competitive advantage in the market.

Brand Goodwill

Brand goodwill is the perceived value and reputation of a company's brand in the marketplace. It's built through consistent delivery of quality products or services, effective marketing strategies, and positive customer experiences. A strong brand commands customer loyalty justifies premium pricing, and differentiates a company from its competitors.

Enterprise Goodwill

Enterprise goodwill is the value of a business that extends beyond its tangible and identifiable intangible assets. It encompasses aspects such as the company's reputation, employee morale, operational efficiency, and market presence. This type of goodwill is particularly valuable during a business acquisition, as it represents the long-term profitability and growth potential of the business.

Location Goodwill

Location goodwill refers to the benefits derived from a business's geographical location. A prime location for retail stores and restaurants can significantly impact visibility, customer footfall, distribution logistics, and profitability. Location goodwill is crucial during a business sale, especially for location-dependent businesses.

Professional Goodwill

Professional goodwill is linked to an individual's professional reputation, skills, and relationships, often seen in law firms, medical practices, and consultancy firms. This type of goodwill is particularly relevant when a business's success largely depends on the personal talents and professional network of its owner or key personnel. 

In such cases, the transfer or sale of professional goodwill needs careful consideration and planning.

What Are the Strategies to Maximize the Value of Goodwill for Sellers

When Selling a Business What is Goodwill What Are the Strategies to Maximize the Value of Goodwill for Sellers

When maximizing the value of goodwill for sellers, a focused strategy on enhancing and leveraging customer goodwill can make a significant difference. This involves a multi-pronged approach that targets customer satisfaction, retention, and acquisition.

Firstly, sellers can concentrate on maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction. If customers are happy with the quality of products or services, they are likelier to remain loyal to the business. Customer satisfaction can be enhanced through high-quality products, excellent customer service, and a commitment to meeting customer needs. 

Regularly seeking customer feedback and implementing necessary improvements can reinforce the business's commitment to customer satisfaction.

Secondly, customer retention initiatives can be vital in strengthening customer goodwill. A strong existing customer base can be a powerful asset during a business sale. Retention strategies might include loyalty programs, customer engagement activities, or exclusive offers for regular customers.

Lastly, a robust customer acquisition strategy can add to the business's goodwill. Expanding the customer base increases business revenue and signals the business's growth potential to potential buyers. This can be achieved through effective marketing campaigns, referral programs, and exploring new market segments.


Goodwill is critical in business transactions as an intangible asset, significantly impacting a company's value. It encompasses a broad spectrum, from the loyalty of customers and the brand's reputation to the enterprise's efficiency, location benefits, and the professional standing of key individuals. 

To optimize the value of goodwill, sellers should focus on improving customer satisfaction, implementing effective customer retention strategies, and expanding their customer base. 

Understanding and effectively leveraging these types of goodwill can lead to successful business sales, highlighting the importance of goodwill in the business landscape.

Scroll to Top