Avoid these profit mistakes and gain more from your business

March 15, 2019

With money in the bank it is easy to assume that your business is profitable.  But how much profit are you really making? Many entrepreneurs may be missing out and not achieving the level of profits that reflect their hard work and that their business can generate.

Let’s look at some profit mistakes that you don’t need to make and how you can increase profits to help you enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Accounting via your bank

As a business owner, you’ve heard the phrase “Cash Is King” so many times that it starts to feel like more cash means more profit. You then start to gauge the profitability of your business based on the bank balance. This is a common mistake I see so often. Here are 7 reasons why you might be making a loss in your business despite the cash in your bank account:

  • You have not paid your suppliers or other creditors
  • You have received advance cash from your customers
  • Payroll expenses have not been reflected in the accounts
  • You haven’t made adjustments for all expenses
  • You have not taken any reasonable drawings or dividends
  • The cash is from last year’s profits
  • You are not paying yourself a reasonable salary

The above list is not exhaustive but covers the common areas where your cash will go. So, the next time your accountant presents you with accounts with less than expected profit figure, have a conversation and go through the above list together with other factors specific to your business.

Understanding margins

This is an important indicator to profitability, but it’s vastly ignored or misunderstood among most entrepreneurs. The next time you get your accounts, take the direct costs of sales or direct expenses out from the revenue. Then divide that number by the revenue. That is your gross profit margin. Let’s say your revenue is £1,000 and your materials or direct labour or direct expenses cost you £700. The difference of £300 divided by £1,000 revenue gives you a margin of 30%. This means that for every £1 of sale, you are making 30p in gross profit. This tells you how profitable you are at the gross margin level. You can also compare this 30% to the industry average to gauge where you are at. If this margin is so low, then you’re unlikely to be making net profit because there won’t be enough to cover your overheads.

Calculating Price

Having ascertained your profit margins of 30%, a common and huge mistake I see is as follows. You go to see a new project. You take your costs. Let’s say 1,000. What do you do next? You apply 30% to the costs. You then quote £1,300 for the job. Sounds familiar? And it makes sense, right? Well not quite. If you take your £1,000 costs from the £1300 revenue (price) you get £300. Now divide that by £1,300. You now get 23%. You’ve just lost 7% profit margin without even blinking.

And this mistake will make its way down to the net profit figure causing you to be less profitable year after year.

Putting off price Increase 

Having realised that you’ve been under quoting for jobs or that your costs have gone up, another classic mistake is to put off price increases for fear of losing customers. Yes, you will lose some customers but let’s do some maths. Let’s say you have 20 customers and your price is £1,300 per customer. (£26,000 revenue) If you put prices up by 10%, your new revenue will £28,600. If you lose 10% of your customers (2 customers x 1,300 = £2,600), your revenue will revert to £26,000 but with two fewer customers and less resources needed to service the remaining 18 customers. And depending on how you approach the price increase and how you communicate it, you might be pleasantly surprised that less than 10% of your customers will leave.

Getting cost-cutting wrong

You realise the cash at bank is not yours and that you are not making profits. So panic sets in and you’re determined to cut costs to make profits. Here’s the thing though: Not all expenses will have a greater impact on your profits. A study by McKinsey and Co (global consulting firm) revealed that whilst a 1% reduction in fixed costs can have around 2% increase in profits, the same reduction in variable costs has a bigger 7% increase in profits. So instead of going for cost cutting at all cost (no pun intended here) conduct a cost benefit analysis and focus on variable or direct costs first.

Impact of 1%

Incidentally, the same studies also revealed that increasing pricing has a bigger influence over your profits than reducing costs or increasing sales volumes.

But here is what most entrepreneurs do not consider doing: Assessing the power of a mere 1% increase in price, 1% increase in sales, 1% decrease in variable costs and 1% decrease in fixed costs.

Next time you sit down with your accountant, ask him or her to run these numbers and show you the impact it will have on your profits. Would you lose a lot of customers due to a mere 1% increase in price?

Dragons Den challenge?

When it comes to profits, the biggest mistake is not knowing the profit numbers that matter in your business. Your gross profit margin, profit per staff, profit per client or project, net profit margin, breakeven number, your monthly costs and your prices are all important numbers to track and focus on.

The good news is that with so many online accounting apps on the market, (FreeAgent, QuickBooks and Xero), entrepreneurs should no longer be flying blind in their businesses.

Discounting mistakes

You’ve quoted a price for the job. The customer says, “what can you do about the price” Do you instantly offer a discount? Let’s return to the above example (on margins) where you were making 30% margin on sales of 1000. Let’s then assume you offer a 10% discount. Your revenue drops to £900 but you’ve kept your costs the same. Your margins drop to 22% (£900 less £700 divided by £900) The 10% discount now means a 26.6% drop in your margins (the original 30% less the current 22% dividedby the original 30%. This gets worse if we look at the impact this will have on the bottom line (net profit margin), assuming you keep all your overheads the same. Were you intending to have a 26.6% drop in your margins by offering a 10% discount?

Be aware of the profit effect of price discounts and use it to negotiate a better win-win deal for all.

Securing profits

In his book Profit First, Mike Michalowicz makes a compelling case for opening another bank account and transferring your profits before you make payments to anyone. So, if you’ve worked out that your net profit on every sale is 10%, then a safe way to see and secure those profits is to transfer it straight away to your “profit bank account”. That way you are forced to make do with the remaining 90%.

Good luck and I hope you achieve more business profits from now on.


Jonathan Amponsah CTA FCCA is an award-winning chartered accountant and tax adviser who advises entrepreneurs on business and profit improvement. Jonathan is the founder and CEO of The Tax Guys.



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