Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Financial Metric #3: Gross Margin

“An important and often overlooked aspect of operational excellence is regularly comparing actual costs to budget assumptions – not just the numbers in the plan. Understanding assumption deviations will help improve the accuracy of future forecasting.”Bob Prcsen

Before we calculate gross margin, we first need to know the cost of goods sold (COGS). These are direct expenses incurred in the manufacturing of a product, or the rendering of a service. There are many methods used to calculate this metric. Firstly it has a lot to do with the type of business one is running. For example, if you are running a DVD store do you include the store rent in the COGS, or as an indirect expense. Such questions will definitely come up when you are doing COGS calculations. You need to ask yourself “how is this expense related to the product/service?”and “if you were to take away this expense would you still be able to deliver the product or service?” Ultimately this will depend upon the product or service you are providing, the goal being to reach a figure which is an accurate representation of how much it costs to produce or deliver a product/service.

After calculating our COGS we can calculate gross margin by dividing gross profit (Revenue – COGS) with Revenue. If we sell a widget for $1 and we incur a direct cost of $0.4 to produce it, our gross margins are 60%. This is a very important financial indicator as it indicates how much cash will be  flowing into the business. When gross margin falls dramatically due to increase in raw material prices for example, it impacts detrimentally on every part of the business. It is therefore critical that management keep a keen eye on this metric and not let it drop below levels that will make it difficult for the organization to grow. A couple of things to keep in mind when looking at gross margins are:

1. Pricing Policies: When evaluating your business and finding ways to improve gross margins, pricing policies play an important role. When a business is in a competitive field, for example retailing of basic computer components, margins tend to erode due to competitive downward pressure. As a business owner one needs to continuously check on pricing strategies employed by competitors and how one can outmaneuver competition based on complementary services rather than price wars. Evaluating pricing strategies is hence critical to maintaining and improving gross margins.

2. Inventory Management: If your business currently holds large stock of products that are manufactured or purchased one needs to manage this rolled over inventory carefully. Left over inventory is a component of calculating COGS and when a business begins to hold on to larger quantities of inventory, margins begin to erode because of stock depreciation. Inventory must be managed intelligently to ensure that the business does not expose itself to unnecessary risks which will impact both its margins and cash flows.

3. Periodic Review: In today’s world where massive price fluctuations are a norm, one needs to pay very close attention to gross margins. This is especially true for business owners who operate with slim margins. In the past when I have been involved with product based retailing ventures, I set up weekly meetings to access this metric to understand how we were faring through various distribution channels so as to continuously adapt our strategy and plan according to prevailing market conditions.

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.

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Financial Metric #2: Revenue Growth

“Always be closing…That doesn’t mean you’re always closing the deal, but it does mean that you need to be always closing on the next step in the process.” Shane Gibson

Revenue growth is a metric which is spoken about widely whether you are a brand new start-up or an established business. It is the one metric which investors are always keen to learn about. Revenue is quite simply the number of products or services sold, multiplied by the price. Calculating revenue is fairly  straightforward. Evaluating growth of revenue over a stipulated period of time provides a lot of information regarding the future prospects of the company.

Early stage start-ups that do not have any present revenue, or then very little, need to develop projections to gauge future revenue. Hockey stick graphs are a norm when this information is produced, I  strongly advise backing up projections with sound assumptions and research. For established companies,  regular evaluations of revenue growth projections are required to ensure that they are being met. Some key factors to keep in mind regarding revenue growth are:

1. Industry Growth: One needs to first evaluate the growth speed of the market they operate in . This helps create broad benchmarks for future prospects. For example the overall print media industry is witnessing a massive slowdown in the west. Getting into this particular industry at this point in time is not a viable future growth prospect. However, the online media industry is booming and is growing at a phenomenal pace these days. When evaluating a business it is good to get a broader perspective on what is happening in the bigger picture.

2. Market Share: Depending on the market share the business currently holds, will directly impact its ability to grow revenue. For instance, if you are a market leader in office automation products like Microsoft and control over 70% of the market, a 10% yearly growth is not a realistic target. However if the market is fragmented like the hand held mobile sector, a new entrant like Apple was able to come in, almost immediately take a substantial share in the market, and has aggressive growth targets for the next couple of years. Therefore, evaluate your market position when creating revenue growth estimates.

3. Pricing: Depending on the type of pricing strategy adopted, one can determine what sort of revenue growth is possible. If for instance,  the business is planning on increasing prices next year, and even though this could positively impact margins, it could have a negative impact on units sold. This will impact directly on revenue and thus growth estimates will have to be adjusted likewise. The business must find a balance between its pricing and revenue growth strategy to reach its target.

Evaluating and estimating revenue growth is a tricky and challenging process. It requires a lot of assumptions to be made and does not take into account unexpected events and scenarios. However from a historical perspective this metric can provide a reliable indicator to judge how the business has performed and what sort of average growth figures to expect.

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