Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Inspiring Entrepreneurial Story

“I’ve always learned on-the-job, in real time. A problem comes up; I research it, and try to solve it. You can’t study to be an entrepreneur; you have to develop those skills day in day out. “ Tom Szaky

I have memories of going to a video rental store over the weekend when I was around 6-8 years old. The video store was called Star Video and when they gave us the videos they were packed in a paper bag which had the logo of a restaurant called Barbeque Tonite on it. The restaurant was the final aim of the owners of this small video rental franchise that had a couple of locations. The owner’s son used to school with me  and was a friend. Eventually they opened a small restaurant that served traditional barbeque food and very wisely paid an exceptional amount of attention to detail and quality. The place could probably hold a maximum of around 50 odd people in those early days. Fast forward to today, the restaurant has witnessed an absolutely explosive level of growth. Today it probably has a capacity of at least 500+ customers spread over 4 floors. They have a limited menu but the quality has remained evenly and  exceptionally good, this has kept most of us coming back for more week after week.

Seeing the level of success of this restaurant, many have attempted to replicate it, as close to them as possible, to cash in on the spillover since there are always  huge crowds waiting to get into the place. However, none of them have succeeded in coming close. Having dinner there tonight, I was once again amazed at the level of success that they enjoy and whenever I visit their restaurant it renews my faith as an entrepreneur. The owners knew from the very beginning what they wanted. The vision to be the leading provider of local barbeque food was something that each of them were passionate about and they figured out a way to raise money for the venture. Once they had managed to do that, there was no looking back.

There are two important lessons from this story. The first is, before you start whatever you want to,  ask yourself  “Is this something that I am truly passionate about?” If the chosen line of business is something you are passionate about, the next step is the need to articulate a vision for the business you want to run. I have made the mistake of not thinking through the second aspect with enough detail on several occasions and have paid a price for it. Without a clear vision one usually spends a lot of time going round in circles not quite knowing which direction to take. This problem is overcome when you think things  through and know and visualize exactly what you want. During the course of working it out practically things will change somewhat but the fact that there is a guiding principle from the very beginning is essential for starting on the right foot.

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5 Key Non-Financial Metrics

“Companies that establish clear lines of sight to the metrics that matter and then make sure that employee behavior is aligned with those metrics can create enormous value growth.” Tony Siesfeld and John-Paul Pape

Over the past two weeks I have been discussing both financial and non financial metrics. They both have their place in helping manage businesses better. I find non-financial metrics fascinating and am inclined to look at them for guidance in comparison to financial metrics. Unlike financial metrics which are purely numbers performing in different segments, non-financial metrics provide much deeper insights into the inner workings of the business. They help understand why certain financial metrics turn out the way they are and what changes can be brought about to improve them. Some however find safety in numbers and are less inclined to rely on these relatively intangible measures. As entrepreneurs we have to look after the business on multiple fronts. We must have the ability to quickly assess several key components on a regular basis. Outlined below are five relatively generic key non-financial metrics. They can be applied to all sorts of business models to help you gauge the level of progress being made from a dashboard view.

1. Customer Satisfaction: Acquiring a customer is only the first step, providing value and satisfying the customer is where the actual work begins. It is a well known fact that acquiring a new customer is between 5-10 times more expensive than retaining your current customer base. To measure customer satisfaction comprehensively we need to take into account all major touch points where the customer will be interacting with our business. Subsequently we will need to choose several sub metrics such as perceived quality & value, trust and loyalty to accurately gauge their satisfaction levels. These can be measured through a variety of tools such as surveys, focus groups and observations. To learn more please click here.

2. Employee Loyalty: Employee loyalty has been directly linked to the customer’s loyalty and corporate profitability. Whether you are a new start up or an established one, this measure needs to be continuously monitored. From the very beginning employees must be told what to expect when they join the firm. They need to be made part of the inner circle to avoid alienating them. Growth and development opportunities must be presented to keep their motivation levels high and lastly they need to be compensated fairly for the work they are doing. Each one of these sub measures needs to be monitored along with several other key indicators such as burnout thresholds. To learn more please click here.

3. Innovative Index: Innovation is measured very differently in various organizations. I believe innovation relates to the ability of an organization to continuously improve on its existing product/service ranges as well as to develop complementary assets around them which will enhance their core products. This will help create multiple lines of business and will keep the business afloat when a core product faces strong competition or a recessionary pressures. To learn more about this metric please click here.

4. Market Share: There is substantial evidence which states that market share is directly related to ROI. With an increase in market share a business can expect to benefit from economies of scale that ultimately lead to better operating margins. A business therefore becomes stronger by gaining market influencing powers and equipping itself with quality management teams. To measure a business’ market, one needs to first understand the industry, competitors, customers and other market factors which have a direct impact on it. Through the understanding of these measures we can calculate how much the total market is worth and then determine our share. Accordingly we can then measure how we grow market share over a period of time. To learn more about this metric please click here.

5. Execution of Corporate Strategy: Business all comes down to execution. Without this critical component we can make all the plans we want and prepare for every possible scenario and achieve very little. As business owners we set ourselves targets and construct strategies to reach them. The next step requires one to implement strategies through a set of tactics. This is the step that separates the talkers from the doers. Don’t get me wrong, careful planning, thoughtful preparation and taking calculated risks is very important. However it should not restrict someone from taking action. To learn more about this metric please click here.

Listed above are a set of non-financial metrics which I believe can be applied to most business models. Apart from these metrics, a business needs to be careful of other measures which are critical to their particular business model. In the end these metrics should not be the end all and be all of the organization. Their purpose is to primarily provide management with the ability to look at several key segments of the business and get an idea about their performance. I believe the correct use of these metrics helps us not only to become better leaders but also impacts positively and dramatically on the business. I would really like to know what non-financial metrics you are using and which industry you are in. Feedback and comments on the metrics provided above will be greatly appreciated.

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Non-Financial Metric #5: Execution of Corporate Strategy

“There is value in careful planning and thoughtful preparation. However, until there is execution, no plan is flawed; no preparation inadequate. Execution spotlights all.” Chip R. Bell

Business all comes down to execution. Without this critical component we could make all the plans we want and prepare for every possible scenario, but achieve very little. As business owners we set ourselves targets and construct strategies to reach them. The next step requires one to implement these strategies through a set of tactics. This is the step that separates the talkers from the doers. Don’t get me wrong, careful planning, thoughtful preparation and taking calculated risks is very important. However it should not restrict someone from taking action. When it comes to measuring how effective an ability to execute has been, we have to look closely at the following:

1. Goals: As mentioned many times on this blog, to be able to reach our goals they need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific (SMART). Many times when I have been unable to reach my target goals it has been due to the fact that I left one of these important components out. When this happens there is a complete break down in the execution process as the strategies we select will be flawed and thus will result in the use of inappropriate tactics. Therefore be very clear with the goals and targets which one creates.

2. Strategies: Good strategies comprise of objectives, scope and competitive advantages. Through goals we can establish what the business wants to achieve. For example say, our business wants to increase traffic on our website by 10% over the next quarter. The strategy for such an objective could be something like “increase traffic on our website by 10% over the next quarter by tapping into the the 18-25 demographic in Europe through leveraged relationships with our European affiliates.” If we were to leave the statement at tapping into Europe we would still be missing the “how?”.

3. Tactics: In the last statement we mentioned we would leverage our relationships with our European affiliates. Tactics need to translate this into reality by chalking out ways on how this can be achieved. For example, we could participate in some seminars next quarter in Europe, we could equip our affiliates with additional marketing material or we could even provide greater financial incentive to reach targets. What is important is that our tactics are aligned with our strategies which are aligned with our goals.

At the end if we were not able to reach goals then we need to go back and re-evaluate where we went wrong. This review process needs to take place on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. As a startup it is imperative that we continually evaluate how effectively we are executing and where we are facing the biggest impediments. When such a culture of accountability and execution is developed it turns into a huge competitive advantage.

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Non-Financial Metric #4: Market Share

“Failure to gain market share even with superior costs is failure to compete. This failure is also a failure to achieve even lower costs.” Bruce D. Henderson

There is substantial evidence which states that market share is directly related to ROI. With an increase in market share, a business can expect to benefit from economies of scale that ultimately lead to better operating margins. Therefore a business becomes stronger by gaining market influencing powers and equipping itself with quality management teams. Keeping track of market share is an important indicator in evaluating how business stacks up against the competition and how it progresses over time. In the early stages of starting out, a venture market research is a critical component of developing a business plan. This is usually a challenging exercise, because information regarding industries and markets is often not readily available. Listed below are some steps I use to evaluate the market and set market share targets accordingly:

1. The Industry: One needs complete information regarding growth rates of a particular industry. What are it’s historic trends? What were the revenue figures for the segment? Have any major technological innovations taken place in it recently? Is the industry very segmented? These are some preliminary questions of interest and importance when looking at an opportunity in a particular industry.

2. Competitors: This is an important segment, one in which you need to document as many direct and indirect competitors in the market place as possible. Look at their teams, products/services, pricing and any other marketing collateral which you can find. Remain constantly vigilant about your competitors, this is a must for any company regardless of size. Create document files which can be referenced easily, this will come in handy during later sections, when you are positioning and promoting your product as well.

3. Customers: Evaluate the target demographic that is going to be targeted. Is the segment growing? What are the current options that they are using in place of the product/service you will provide? How are they currently purchasing the product/service?

4. Market Factors: Are there any external factors which have a deep impact on your target market? These can be government policies, market consolidation and volatile raw material costs. The presence of these factors can have a substantial impact on your target market and must be taken into account.

Ultimately approximate size of market will be gauged. The most common metrics used for broad approximations are, sales by revenue & sales by volumes. Once we know an approximate size of the market we can set targets for ourselves. This metric can then be tracked periodically to ensure that we stay on course and alert to any fundamental market changes.

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Non-Financial Metric #3: Innovativeness Index

“Innovation is ultimately not an act of intellect but of will.” Joseph Schumpeter

How do we measure innovation? Unfortunately there is no one framework which is used universally to measure innovation. Innovation according to Wikipedia means “a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations. A distinction is typically made between Invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully.” The stress is on the actual application of the idea. Without taking action we could talk about theoretical models and concept all we want, but without tangible output, innovation does not take place.

I believe Google is an innovative enterprise. Successful products such as gmail, chrome and orkut were all created in the 15% innovation time that all employees are given. They are all motivated to put their ideas into action, and then see the response it receives. Much of the time these initial attempts will be inferior to products which may be in the market. In this case Hotmail, FireFox and Friendster were all established players in the industries they were targeting. Nonetheless, they put their products out there and continued to improve on them. There were several products which did not achieve any critical mass and they were discontinued. The important thing is that a shot was taken. As an entrepreneur we have to take calculated risks and continue pushing our products/services out of their comfort zone.

Some useful sub metrics I use to measure an organization’s innovative index are:

1. Incremental Changes: How a business continues to improve its product/service is an important component of innovation. Once again, if you take Gmail for example, they continue to add new features which may have been requested by users or deemed necessary to enhance the user experience. Recently they integrated the ability to use video within the service, canned messages to enable faster replies and new themes to make the interface look unique. Set benchmarks for your products/services and then track what those changes do in terms of traffic, sales and profitability.

2. New Products/Services: I am a big fan of creating complementary assets around core business units which are performing well. Not only does this provide further advantages to continue using the core product but it opens up the ability to leverage on the successful product/service to launch others. Also one can measure how many new products/enhancements are in the pipeline and when they are expected to be released.

Depending on the type of organization that you are part of, one will need to come up with relevant sub metrics to calculate the innovative index. While I was searching for models I came across a great article written by the author of Freakonomics Stephen J Dubner called “How can we measure innovation?“. The article includes answers from many well known authors and industry leaders. I strongly recommend reading the entire article. It provides a point of view from individuals with very different backgrounds and can help you find the right metrics for your business model.

Related Posts:

Assessing innovation metrics: McKinsey Global Survey Results

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Non-Financial Metric #2: Employee Loyalty

“I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation is how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.” Thomas Watson Jr.

Volumes of books and years of study materials have been developed to enable managers to attract better talent and retain them. From an entrepreneur’s point of view there are several structural differences compared to those faced in larger organizations. First off, much of the time a new start up will have an untested product/service with a small team which may or may not have the relevant experience needed. What they do have is an intense passion for what they want to do, that is probably the only way they can attract quality talent. Even though they are convinced and on board, things do not become easier. Salaries are usually minimal, stress levels are very high and burnout thresholds are reached much earlier. Losing a critical member of a team for a start up can signal the end of the road. Therefore this metric has to be given due importance to ensure that goals are met. Listed below are a couple of steps that have helped me keep the employee loyalty index high at businesses I have been part of :

1. Full Disclosure of Position: When recruiting someone for your start up team, one needs to ensure that you communicate clearly what role they will have to play. We all know that at smaller start ups many different hats need to be worn during the course of the day. The individual needs to be comfortable with this and willing to put in the long hours which will be required. Salaries, equity stakes, confidentiality agreements and all other formalities should be openly discussed and negotiated before hand. If these factors are left to be discussed at a later date, there is bound to be trouble and the situation becomes sticky.

2. Open Communication & Fairness: Take for example,  two founders who want to add a new marketing individual to the team. Whether this individual comes in with a substantial equity stake or on a salary it is important for the founding team to keep communication channels as open as possible. I have noticed that when groups are formed or information withheld, it leads to a drastic decrease in loyalty as the feeling of being ‘part of the team’ is not there. Have regular feedback sessions to understand the sentiments of the team. Trust has got to be earned and the only way this can get done is by communicating and getting to know the individual better.

3. Development Opportunities: Do your best to give everyone the opportunity to showcase their skill sets as well as learn new ones. I have been pleasantly surprised many a time when I found that a technical team member had some pretty extraordinary presenting skills or marketing insights. At a start up there needs to be strong focus on getting your team members to open up and move out of their comfort zones. If they don’t feel like they are growing and getting experience, which they would not have received in large organizations, chances of them defecting increase dramatically.

4. Fair Compensation & Reward: As hard as we attempt to get people to work for as little as possible in lieu of a big pay day, down the line, chances are they are going to react at some point in time. First off, compensation and rewards need to be discussed before adding the individual to the team. They should have a good idea what to expect to make, as well as how they will be compensated with non cash benefits. There will be times when cash flows are thin and payroll expenses may not be met. This is a time for open communication and ways of compensating them differently, greater equity or the ability to work part time needs to be offered.

Employee loyalty is directly linked to customer loyalty and corporate profitability. Whether you are a new start up or an established one, this measure needs to be continuously monitored. Sub indicators such as burnout thresholds are critical to ensure that you know when to apply the brakes. It is undoubtedly a challenging juggling act and becomes harder as the team begins to expand. By monitoring this metric from the beginning a start up has a substantial advantage and can use it to develop a sustainable competitive advantage.

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Non-Financial Metric #1: Customer Satisfaction

”The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.” Peter Drucker

Acquiring customers is a challenging task and takes days, months and even years to do. Once you have acquired customers a sense of complacency often sets in. One feels the hard work is done and now we can sell to this client for a very long time. How I would like that to be true. Unfortunately, as we all know the real world works differently. Acquiring customers is the first step, providing value and satisfying the customer is where the actual work begins. It is a well known fact that acquiring a new customer is 5-10 times more expensive than retaining your current customer base. Therefore as business owners we have to do whatever we can to ensure that we provide substantial value and our customers are satisfied with our products or services. Listed below are a couple of steps to help measure customer satisfaction:

1. Identify Touch Points: A customer comes in contact with your product or service either directly or indirectly. Measuring indirect contact such as interaction with other customers or reading online reviews is challenging to track and measure. However we can keep a much closer eye on direct touch points such as websites, telephone operators, retail stores, office or any other points where the customer is in direct contact with us. To do this we need to build a list of all possible touch points and track them closely to see where and how our customers interact with us.

2. Selecting Sub Metrics: A customer satisfaction index is made up of several sub metrics which contribute to a final score. For instance speed of service, perceived quality, and pricing and trust are a few sub metrics one can use. The selection of these sub metrics will depend on the type of product or service to be provided, the type of touch points used and any other factors which impact directly on  the interaction between the customer and the business. It is important not to overload oneself with too many metrics. Select them carefully,  understand and align them with what you deem necessary for an accurate customer satisfaction score.

3. Select Measurement Method: Once we have selected the metrics, we have to select the best way to measure them. Some of the commonly used measurement methods are surveys, focus groups and live observation. These are effective in collating information in a reliable and valid manner. Depending on the size of your sample and the amount of information that needs to be collected,  select a method which has the ability to generate a reliable and valid result.

4. Technology: With the advent of the internet, collecting information from customers at major touch points has become easier. Many website have incorporated feedback widgets which allow the customer to leave their comments and opinion, some websites have live operators which interact with customers to get their feedback and other tools such as, http://www.getsatisfaction.com. This provides a community platform where customers publicly rate and talk about the service. As entrepreneurs we need to leverage these tools to get information faster and more reliably from major touch points.

Once data is collected, there needs to be a structured way to process and assess the business. Unless the business can use the data collected to enhance customer experience, there is little point in undergoing such an elaborate exercise. It is therefore essential that you have  a clear idea about what you want to measure and why from the very beginning. Align your goals and targets in selecting appropriate methods.

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Using a Balanced Scorecard

“The performance culture really is in deep conflict with the learning culture. It’s an unusual executive who can balance these.” Paul J. H. Schoemaker

Robert Kaplan and David Norton developed a performance measurement framework, that added strategic non-financial performance measures to traditional financial metrics, to give managers and executives a more ‘balanced’ view of organizational performance. In their point of view companies who only use financial metrics as the sole determining factor of how a business is performing, miss out on several key components which drive the business as a whole. Non financial metrics are being increasingly integrated into company evaluations throughout the world. CEO’s and CFO’s alike, are beginning to rely on these measures even without documented frameworks to accurately assess them. My experience as an entrepreneur tells me that meeting financial expectations alone will not lead to success. I have used the balance scorecard framework to evaluate and advise many businesses I am a part of. The framework includes 4 components:

1. Customer Perspective: Customers’ concerns tend to fall into four categories: time, quality, performance and service, and cost. As managers we need to develop metrics pertaining to our business model which have the ability to effectively measure these categories. How fast are we getting the product/service to market? What is the perceived quality of our product/service? How do we compare with our competitors on performance and service? How do we compare with our competitors on price? We have to develop metrics which provide us with a dashboard view from the customer’s perspective so as to continuously stay on top of the game and deliver superior value to customers.

2. Internal Business Processes: To achieve customer based metrics we have to develop internal business processes which support them. One cannot expect to launch products/services on time, without adequate internal metrics tracking their development. Quality of products/services need to be evaluated through frameworks such as six sigma to ensure that we match expectations. Identify core areas where your business holds competitive advantages, and continue to refine and develop those processes to ensure that a lead is held over the competition. Without substantial controls on internal business processes one will face difficulty reaching broader business objectives.

3. Learning & Growth: In today’s world we have to be continuously equipping ourselves with knowledge pertaining to current trends and developments. An organization needs to focus on continuously innovating and pushing itself to achieve greatness. This component of the framework focuses on the environment that is created within an organization. Important factors such as employee’s access to training opportunities, career development through mentors and advisors, as well as access to latest technological development are measured within this component. Without a workforce which is always growing, an organization will begin to stagnate and lead to several structural problems.

4. Financial: This component was discussed in great detail last week in the series (5 Key Financial Business Metrics). Financial measures are important indicators of the health of a business. Used together with the components listed above, one is able to identify the close relationship they have with each other. If customer satisfaction levels are falling, this will impact directly on turnover growth. As mentioned in the prior series, it is important that financial metrics be aligned with broader strategies to provide freedom for a business to grow. Limiting ourselves to numbers and achieving x% growth or profitability in a quarter is short sighted and will not lead to long term growth.

With sound understanding of the balance scorecard, one can use it to develop metrics in each quadrant in line with broader strategies. It enables a business to clarify vision and strategy and translate them into action. In this week’s series I will go through five broad based non financial metrics which can be used by most businesses. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

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5 Key Financial Business Metrics

“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.

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Financial Metric #5: Operating Margins

“Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small.” Donald Rumsfeld

One sets up a business with the aim of providing prospective customers with superior products/services and in return, to be highly profitable. Operating margins tell us how much money the business makes on every $ of revenue. 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. For example if the operating income is $5 and revenue is $100 the operating margin of this business is 5%. If all the other firms in the same industry enjoy operating margins of 10%, then this particular business has major issues regarding their COGS and SG&A. There are a couple of things you should keep an eye on when evaluating this metric.

1. Revenue: Calculate where the majority of revenues is being generated from? Is there a particular product or service which contributes significantly to the overall figure? Is the revenue spread out evenly over many product or services? Each scenario poses potential opportunities and risks. Over reliance on any one product may be risky as a long term strategy. On the other hand, spreading the business over many products or services opens up the possibility of newer competition attacking the business on multiple fronts. A balance needs to be found where revenue can be maximized.

2. Fixed & Variable Costs: Pay attention to the cost structure of the business being evaluated. If the business has a high fixed cost structure with low variable costs, then insufficient revenue generation means operating on smaller operating margins. This can be both an opportunity and a threat to the business. If the industry in question is relatively untapped, there is larger potential in promoting it’s product/service with low variable costs. However if the industry is saturated with large entrenched players, it then becomes challenging to grow the business significantly. Alternatively with low variable cost structures, the business has more flexibility and can usually outmaneuver larger companies.

3. Industry Analysis: How does the company’s operating margin compare to its peers in the industry? Finding this data is usually quite challenging, however rough guidelines can be found with hard work. Once we have these guidelines, the business is bench marked on various factors compared to the competition. This gives us the ability to compare cost structures, revenue splits as well as overall operating margin comparisons.

This metric allows you to get an idea of how profitable the business actually is, and the potential to grow and scale the business further. 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. As a business owner, keep a sharp eye on operating margins and continue to evaluate how you stack up against the competition.

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