It is second nature for business owners to know their largest customers, products and markets by revenue, but the work involved to track profit by customer, product or market is more cumbersome. According to SunTrust Business Owner Research, only 20 percent of business owners measure profit by market. Knowing which customer and markets are most profitable makes it easier for business owners to properly allocate time and other resources.
Use the following steps to transform your financial data into a strategic asset:
Your first step is to make your accounting system specific and meaningful to your business and your drivers of growth. Analyze each customer and sale from the past year, looking for common characteristics. Then organize your findings into groups. You can also look at job proposals to help you think about business for which you competed and your success rates in landing different types of customers and jobs. With this history in mind, you can now create categories for customer groups. The key is to create enough categories that you can mine your accounting data for opportunities, but not so many that the data is difficult to gather and track on an ongoing basis.
By using the same grouping process as described above for customers, you can identify the groups of products and services to track.
Most businesses track basic direct cost information such as labor and materials. Build on this by having your accountant set-up your accounting structure to assign direct costs to jobs and customers. Work with your accounting staff to revise how cost data is gathered to tie it to specific jobs. You may need to revise or implement timesheets or other record keeping to tie hours to specific jobs and customers. You can then easily assess profit margins on specific customers, products and services. Share your goals for tracking profitability with employees, so that they understand the outcome that you seek. Employees sometimes resist the implementation of timekeeping, because they misunderstand the objective of the exercise.
With your newly organized database, you will be able to generate profit and loss statements by product, project/job or customer. By filtering these reports based on the categories you have developed, you can now quickly and easily generate reports showing profit margins with specific insight to what drives the cost structure for each category. For example, you may find that certain projects “cost” more than you thought because of costs that were previously disguised by only looking at costs in aggregate.
To leverage this information, use company forecasts, industry data, and competitive analysis to establish benchmarks (e.g., targeted sales size, targeted profit margin on each service sold, employee efficiency ratios, etc.). Use this information to create strategic customer and product plans, so that you can prioritize and allocate resources. Analyze the pockets of unprofitability to determine the types of projects to avoid or products to cull. Compare your actual profit margins by customer, products and services to forecasts and benchmarks on a periodic basis throughout the year.
About SunTrust Business Owner Research: SunTrust surveys small business owners and advisors as part of its ongoing business seminars and symposiums. The small business owners attending these events include both SunTrust client and non-client business owners and are representative of the broad spectrum of businesses located in the SunTrust markets. The research cited in this report is extracted from these 5,425 small business owner surveys collected between 2007 and 2011.
This article is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, or investment advice. SunTrust makes no warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, does not endorse any non-SunTrust companies, products, or services described here, and takes no liability for your use of this information.