3 Reasons to Care About Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) as a Small Business Owner

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is
  • How to calculate WACC as a small business owner
  • Three reasons why small business owners should care about WACC

As a small business owner, you have to finance your company’s operations through equity, debt, or a combination of the two types of capital. This equity or debt financing is provided by investors – and these investors want to see a positive rate of return.

When you think of an investor, “venture capitalist” or “angel investor” may be the first terms that come to mind. But a bank that lends money to a small business owner is also an investor – the interest rate on the business loan is their targeted rate of return. You could even be an investor if you finance your small business through your savings – in this example, you expect the business to produce an amount above your initial investment.

The overall return expected by investors can be expressed as your weighted average cost of capital.

What is Weighted Average Cost of Capital?

The weighted average cost of capital (WACC) takes each category of a firm’s capital – common stock, preferred stock, bonds, and other types of debt – and weighs it proportionally to arrive at a blended cost of capital.

All things being equal, a firm’s WACC is lower if future cash flows are highly likely to come to fruition. The firm’s WACC is higher, on the other hand, if there is a lot of long-term uncertainty.

How to Calculate Weighted Average Cost of Capital as a Small Business Owner

Since the WACC is the blended cost of capital, it is calculated by multiplying the cost of each source of capital by its percentage of total capital – and adding these components together. The debt piece of the puzzle is adjusted by the corporate tax rate.

WACC Formula and Calculation

WACC=(E/V × re)+(D/V × rd × (1−T))


E = Market value of the firm’s equity

D = Market value of the firm’s debt

V = E + D

re=Cost of equity

rd=Cost of debt

Tc=Corporate tax rate​

Here’s an example to illustrate the calculation:

  • The market value of the firm’s equity is $500,000 and the debt has a market value of $250,000.
  • The cost of equity is 12% and the cost of debt is 9%.
  • The corporate tax rate is 20%.

The equity is 66.7% of total capital ($500,000/$750,000). From there, you take .667 and multiply it by 12%, giving you 8%.

The debt is 33.3% of total capital ($250,000/$750,000). You take .333 and multiply it by 9%, giving you 3%. The next step is to multiply 3% by (1 – .2), which works out to 2.4%.

You add the 8% and 2.4%, giving you a weighted average cost of capital of 10.4%.

Seems easy right?

Not exactly.

While the cost of debt is easily determined through the agreed-upon interest rate(s) of the debt, the cost of equity has to be estimated.

The capital asset pricing model (CAPM) is often used to calculate the cost of equity. Here’s the formula.

Eri ​ = Rf ​+ βi ​(ERm​−Rf)


Eri ​= expected return of investment

Rf​ = risk-free rate

βi​ = beta of the investment

(ERm​−Rf​) = market risk premium​

This may seem complicated if you don’t have a background in finance, but here’s what you need to know as a small business owner:

  • The risk-free rate is the theoretical rate of return on a zero-risk investment – a three-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) is commonly used to calculate the rate. While there is no such thing as zero risk, a three-month T-bill is extremely low risk.
  • The beta is the riskiness of an investment relative to the market. A stock that is riskier than the market has a beta of greater than one, and a stock that is less risky than the market has a beta of less than one.
  • The market-risk premium measures the difference between the expected return of the market and the risk-free rate of return.

There is no consensus market-risk premium, as it depends on the period and investment used to determine the risk-free rate of return. The estimated risk premium seems to have decreased due to higher company valuations in recent years, and may currently be as low as +1.5% to +2.5%.

As a small business owner, your company is likely not publicly traded, so this brings us to another complication: you can’t use stock prices to estimate beta. You’re not out of luck, however, as there are ways to calculate the beta of a private company.

Do you lack the time or expertise to determine your cost of equity?

If so, you may want to get help from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – they can help your business with a variety of issues outside of tax season.

Why Should Small Business Owners Care About WACC?

It’s not easy to calculate the WACC for your small business, but it’s definitely worth the trouble. Here are three reasons to care about weighted average cost of capital as a small business owner:

1. WACC Impacts Internal Decisions

As a small business owner, you are constantly evaluating internal investment opportunities. Should you invest in a piece of equipment? Is that marketing campaign a good idea? Is a company vehicle worth buying?

You could go with your gut on these investment opportunities, but you’d be better off calculating the expected return on these internal investments and comparing them to your WACC.

Here’s a simple example:

You have the opportunity to do a marketing campaign for $10,000. You expect it to provide $12,000 in value to your small business in exactly one year, which equals a 20% return on your investment (ROI). So, your WACC would have to be lower than 20% for the marketing campaign to be financially viable.

You can turn to a discounted cash flow (DCF) model for more complex calculations. With a DCF model, you calculate the present value of a project by applying a discount rate to all of the projected future cash flows.

In many cases, you won’t be able to come up with a precise expected ROI for a new project. You are also going to have a tough time pinpointing your WACC if you have a private company. But it’s still a valuable thought exercise to help determine the best course of action. Say you expect the marketing campaign to provide a 300% ROI – or a 3% ROI. In either scenario, you have an important piece of data to inform your decision-making.

2. WACC Impacts Business Acquisitions

Are you thinking about acquiring an existing small business?

You might be able to create a combined organization that is greater than the sum of its parts. Or get a bargain on a business with high projected future cash flows.

To purchase a small business, you may have to use equity financing and/or debt financing… and the WACC calculation is going to determine the viability of the investment. With this decision, you’re going to need to do a DCF analysis, as a business acquisition could impact your balance sheet years – or even decades – into the future.

You may be wondering:

How could I possibly know how much cash flow the business is going to provide 5+ years into the future?

The answer is that there’s no way of knowing.

But the DCF model accounts for this. You can estimate your cash flows over the first five years of the business acquisition and apply a terminal value to account for the acquisition’s value beyond the forecast period. You can use either the perpetual growth (Gordon Growth Model) or exit multiple methods.

A business acquisition is typically much larger than any individual internal project, so you may want a sizeable margin of safety.

Say the business costs $500,000 and the DCF model gives you a present value of $525,000. You may want to go ahead with the acquisition if there are non-financial benefits, but if it’s purely a financially motivated acquisition, you might want to give it further consideration. While it’s possible that you underestimated the future cash flows, an overestimation could be catastrophic for your small business with such a small margin.

3. Company’s WACC is Financial Health Indicator

Have you ever looked at a list of companies that have low interest payments relative to their debt? The company’s cost of debt is likely low because investors believe there is a low chance the company is going to default on its debt. According to the Motley Fool, Amazon borrowed $10 billion at a weighted average cost of debt of 1.76% back in 2020. This is a rare situation, as Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world, but it shows that there’s a high correlation between interest expense and financial health.

There isn’t a single number with equity capital that gives us as much information on a company’s financial health as interest expense on debt. But the combination of a company’s projected future cash flows and the current market price is meaningful. For example, you have two companies with projected 3-5% earnings and sales growth over the next five years – Company A trades at 20x earnings and 5x sales, and Company B trades at 12x earnings and 3x sales. Company A likely has a much lower WACC than Company B – based on the equity valuation.

Here’s a way to look at the market value of equity: investors are paying $20 for every $1 of earnings from Company A and $12 for every $1 of earnings from Company B.

You shouldn’t compare your WACC to Amazon’s – or any company that is much different from your small business. You should instead determine the WACCs of similar businesses, if possible. If your WACC is much higher than average, you should reevaluate your business strategies. If it’s lower, you’re doing something right – and might not want to make any big changes to your business.

The Bottom Line

Your company’s WACC is one of the most important metrics for your small business. The WACC formula is complex and you may have to estimate some of the inputs, but doing the WACC calculation is still a worthwhile activity – even if it isn’t 100% accurate – as it informs so many key decisions for your small business.

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