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Whether you are working from home from your kitchen table, fitting in with the school run or you are running a company with 100 employees you need to understand your business numbers.

The first thing you want to do is check if you’re making profit and see if that profit figure makes sense. This is done by looking at the profit and loss account and scrolling down to the bottom figure which will show a profit (positive figure) or a loss (negative figure).

Then look at the top figure (the sales) and quickly glance through the list of expenses.

Take the bottom figure (let’s assume its £15,000 profit) and divide it by the top figure (assume £100,000 sales). This will give you 0.15 which means for every £1 of income, you are generating 15p in net profit.

How does the £15,000 profit compare with what you had in mind? And does the 15% net profit margin deliver the right return for you?

The first thing you want to do is check if you’re making profit and see if that profit figure makes sense. This is done by looking at the profit and loss account and scrolling down to the bottom figure which will show a profit (positive figure) or a loss (negative figure).

Then look at the top figure (the sales) and quickly glance through the list of expenses.

Take the bottom figure (let’s assume its £15,000 profit) and divide it by the top figure (assume £100,000 sales). This will give you 0.15 which means for every £1 of income, you are generating 15p in net profit.

How does the £15,000 profit compare with what you had in mind? And does the 15% net profit margin deliver the right return for you?

If you are a fan of Dragons’ Den you’ll know that a lot of business owners struggle to explain their accounts and numbers. However, unless you understand the story your numbers are telling you, you are likely to be running your business with your fingers crossed and hoping for good luck.

Here are some tips on getting to grips with the numbers so you can use this knowledge to be even more successful with your business.

The first thing you want to do is check if you’re making profit and see if that profit figure makes sense. This is done by looking at the profit and loss account and scrolling down to the bottom figure which will show a profit (positive figure) or a loss (negative figure).

Then look at the top figure (the sales) and quickly glance through the list of expenses.

Take the bottom figure (let’s assume its £15,000 profit) and divide it by the top figure (assume £100,000 sales). This will give you 0.15 which means for every £1 of income, you are generating 15p in net profit.

How does the £15,000 profit compare with what you had in mind? And does the 15% net profit margin deliver the right return for you?

The next thing you want to check is that the business has a positive balance sheet value. You do this by looking at the balance sheet statement which shows what your business has and what it owes. Scroll down to the bottom and make a note of the last number. It’s normally called capital and reserves. Is that figure positive or negative? A positive figure means your business has some value.

A negative figure is a red flag and means if things carry on as they are, you will not have a business for very long. Take action to improve this. Improving profits is a good place to start.

Because the balance sheet tells you about your assets and liabilities, your debtors and creditors, when you look it try to ask simple questions like; is this how much I owe my creditors? is this how much my customers owe me? If the amount your customers owe you is higher, this is a red flag. Get the debtors list, review and start making some calls.

Is your cash in the right place?

So, your profit figure shows £15,000 as above but your bank balance is only £3,000. Where did the £12,000 go? There is another financial statement called cashflow statement which reconciles your cash to your profit. But if you don’t get this, no need to panic. Here is what you can check:

Have your customers paid you late?

Have you drawn more money or dividends out?

Have you paid your suppliers early?

Have you purchased some equipment?

If you answer yes to any of the above, then chances are that’s where the £12,000 is sitting.

Is your gross margin where it should be?

Gross profit margin is an important number to calculate from your accounts, but it’s vastly ignored or misunderstood among most entrepreneurs. So, the next time you get your accounts, take the direct costs of sales or direct expenses (what we call variable costs) out from the revenue. Then divide that number by the revenue. That is your gross profit margin.

Let’s say your revenue is £100,000 and your materials or direct labour or direct expenses cost you £70,000. The difference of £30,000 divided by £100,000 revenue gives you a margin of 30%. This means that for every £1 of sale, you are making 30p in gross profit. This tells you how profitable you are at the gross margin level. It also tells you whether your business model works or not.

Here are two red flags. If you’re making £30,000 in gross profit but your fixed costs are say £35,000, something needs to change if you’re to remain in business for long. In addition, if your margin is far below the industry average, you need to understand why and take the necessary corrective action.

You now know how to get and make sense of your profit figure. You also know what to look out for when you review your balance sheet and the meaning of the balance sheet value. And how to look out for the cash drain in your business. Did you know that these give you a starting point in measuring the value of your business?

Healthy profits, good cashflow and positive balance sheet values are all good signs of a valuable business. Of course, there are many other factors to consider when valuing your business and other key drivers of business value. However, knowing how to read your accounts and what the numbers mean certainly puts you in a good position. It also helps you make the right decision with regards to building the value of your business.

If you need to improve your knowledge of your business numbers, set yourself some homework and you’ll improve your skills. It’s a good idea to have regular meetings with your accountant who can review the numbers discussed here as well as others that you need to know.

Is your gross margin where it should be?

Gross profit margin is an important number to calculate from your accounts, but it’s vastly ignored or misunderstood among most entrepreneurs. So, the next time you get your accounts, take the direct costs of sales or direct expenses (what we call variable costs) out from the revenue. Then divide that number by the revenue. That is your gross profit margin.

Let’s say your revenue is £100,000 and your materials or direct labour or direct expenses cost you £70,000. The difference of £30,000 divided by £100,000 revenue gives you a margin of 30%. This means that for every £1 of sale, you are making 30p in gross profit. This tells you how profitable you are at the gross margin level. It also tells you whether your business model works or not.

Here are two red flags. If you’re making £30,000 in gross profit but your fixed costs are say £35,000, something needs to change if you’re to remain in business for long. In addition, if your margin is far below the industry average, you need to understand why and take the necessary corrective action.