“If you don’t measure something, you can’t change it. The process of leadership is one of painting a vision, then saying how you’re going to get there, and then measuring whether you’re actually getting there. Otherwise, you risk only talking about great things but not accomplishing them.” Mitt Romney
As business owners we have to have our ears to the ground constantly to gauge how the business is performing. With the number of things happening in parallel, keeping up to speed is often a juggling act. The financial management of business is a critical aspect of the overall functioning of the enterprise. Mismanagement in this area can have detrimental ramifications, these can essentially put you out of business. Keeping track of financial activity on a periodic basis is a necessity. To make the process of review easier, specially when one is running multiple businesses or business units, is to use metrics to get an overall perspective. Outlined below are five key financial metrics I use to assess the health of a business.
1. Net Cash Flow: This is by far one of the most important metrics, and one has to continuously keep an eye on it. Net cash flow is simply calculated by subtracting cash inflows with outflows. Alternatively, it can also be calculated by adding depreciation and other non cash expenses to net profit. Without adequate liquidity a business is often unable to reach its potential and will suffer severe growth issues. Use this metric to monitor the liquidity health of your business and analyze trends in areas beginning to run low on reserves. To learn more about how to calculate and use the net cash flow metric please click here.
2. Turnover Growth: Evaluating and estimating revenue growth is a tricky and challenging process. It is often based on assumptions and does not take into account unexpected events and scenarios. It requires us to take into account industry growth averages and our share of the market and industry pricing strategies, and then come up with a reliable metric. However from an historical perspective this metric can provide a reliable indicator to judge the performance of the business and the sort of average growth figures to expect. To learn more about how to calculate and use the turnover growth metric please click here.
3. Gross Margin: Gross margins is a very good metric for investors to evaluate the viability of a business. Gross margins are usually bench-marked against industry averages to see how efficiently a business is structured. As business owners, we have to do all we can to steadily increase this metric or find alternative methods to increase the metric through diversification. Periodic review cycles need to be implemented to ensure that the business is growing in the right direction and at the right pace. To learn more about how to calculate and use the gross margin metric please click here.
4. SG&A Growth: Sales, General & Administrative (SG&A) expenses include, all salaries, indirect production, marketing, and general corporate expenses. This constitutes the bulk of expenses that a business incurs and should be constantly reviewed. Each item needs to be evaluated and aligned with it’s contribution to the overall business vision. There needs to be a constant monitoring of marketing and IT expenditure to ensure that we are generating sufficient ROI’s for our campaigns and implementations. To learn more about how to calculate and use the SG&A growth metric please click here.
5. Operating Margins: This metric allows you to get an idea of the profitability of the business, and the potential to grow and scale the business further. To calculate this metric we need to know the firm’s operating income, which is revenue minus cost of goods sold (COGS) and general and administration (SG&A) expenses. This figure needs to be further divided by the firm’s revenue, to arrive at the percentage value of the firm’s operating margin. Businesses which operate with low operating margins must strive to reach revenue levels where they can take advantage of economies of scale. However businesses with higher operating margins can focus on providing a core group of products or services really well to its target segment. To learn more about how to calculate and use the operating margins metric please click here.
Financial metrics are important to keep us abreast about the financial health of our business. However, one should not become fanatical in using them as the sole indicator of how a business needs to be run. In many examples I have seen business owners become obsessed with hitting certain financial targets whether it be operating margins or net cash flow at the expense of the future growth of the business. There needs to be a balance and one needs to be able to see the bigger picture as well. The metrics discussed above provide an holistic picture of the current health of your business and should be used to identify areas of pain to help the business grow faster.