3 Company Numbers to Closely Watch

First-time entrepreneurs often have a hard time figuring out company financials--but you don't need to be an accountant to do the basic math.

The value of knowing your key financial numbers while starting and growing a new company is priceless. If you have an intimate understanding of your financial numbers, then you will feel more in control of your business and your life. Also, the numbers tell you how you can make the most money with the least amount of time and effort, which should be a goal of any entrepreneur.

There are many stories of entrepreneurs who go for lengthy time periods without paying themselves or their taxes. Others find themselves paying their bills late, forcing creditors to chase them down. Many of these problems can be avoided by proper planning and discipline. You do not need to have a CPA license to do this effectively--basic math and a lot of discipline will take you a long way with this task.

What Numbers Are You Watching?

To accurately determine your company's financial health, track your three most important numbers:

1. Net profit. Net profit is also known as the "bottom line." In the end, you are in business to make a profit; it doesn't matter how many sales that you've made if you continually spend more than you make. To calculate this number, take your company's total revenue and subtract your total expenses from that. [Net Profit = Total Revenue - Total Expenses]

2. Return on investment. Return on investment (ROI) is a measure of how effectively you're using your capital to grow your business. To calculate ROI, just take your net profit and divide it by the total amount invested to earn that profit. So if you earn $400 on a $1,000 investment, then your ROI is 40 percent. Judgment on a good ROI depends greatly on your industry and which segment of the market that you serve. For example, you would not expect a large blockbuster like Transformers to have nearly as high an ROI as an independent film that has been nominated for an Oscar.

3. Cash flow. Cash flow is the movement of money in and out of your business. In the early stages of growing your company, this will be the number that you will need to track most closely. If you run out of cash, then it's game over. Consider tracking cash flow on a weekly basis with a simple spreadsheet, with a column for the money coming in and another column for the money going out. Then, add or subtract that number from the starting balance.

Many people want to measure financial health by the amount of sales earned, but this is a huge fallacy. Sales don't make a company successful--profits and cash flow do. Furthermore, there is often an inverse relationship between sales and cash flow. Companies go out of business because they have increased their sales receivables without identifying sources of short-term cash influxes or by cutting their profit margins just to make a deal work.

How to Keep Track of Your Numbers

Understanding which numbers to track is vital, but so is understanding how those numbers positively and negatively impact your business. One good thing to start doing early on is calculating your important numbers by hand. This will help you stop seeing these numbers as an abstract concept, but instead as a concrete cornerstone of your business. You can still use many of the financial accounting software tools on the market, such as QuickBooks Online or FreshBooks, but it might be easier to disconnect those reports from the current reality of your business. Also, tracking numbers by hand forces you to move slower and study the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing your business.

In the early stages of your business, you should track your numbers weekly. Over time, you can scale back to biweekly, and then monthly. The more practice you can get early on, the better. Understanding your company's financial numbers in the early stages will raise the likelihood of business growth and reduce the likelihood of company failure.

Lawrence Watkins is the founder of Great Black Speakers Bureau, a company that helps organizations find African American public speakers for various events. He is also the Co-Founder of Ujamaa Deals, a daily deal site that promotes African American-owned businesses. After graduating from college in 2006, Lawrence stepped out on a limb and turned down job offers from two Fortune 500 companies to help grow the speaking career of his older brother, Dr. Boyce Watkins. Great Black Speakers was born in January of 2007 and has grown from a roster of 12 speakers to one that includes over 200 of the best and well known speakers in the nation.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.



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