10 Financial Metrics Small Business Owners Should Know


Owning and operating a small business can be both exciting and stressful.  When it comes to financial statements, there is a lot of information at your disposal, so much so that you can easily suffer from “analysis paralysis” if you don’t understand what your financial metrics are trying to tell you or how they can be used to implement change.  

In today’s fast-paced world, it is incredibly important to not only have timely financial information to make management decisions, but to also have relevant financial information. Knowing which numbers are most important to your business, the financial ratios applicable and beneficial to your business, and how to interpret that data to make well-timed and impactful decisions is vital to your success. Below we detail 10 of the most important financial metrics and how to leverage them.

1. Understand the Industry

Nobody understands your business like you; however, it’s equally important to understand your industry. Are you staying up to date on issues, technology, regulations, etc. that impact your industry? If not, look into industry publications that have this information readily available. There are also numerous online resources for industry financial data and benchmarks, which is valuable in comparing the metrics discussed in this blog to your peers. For example, your business may have a quick ratio (see #6) of 1.00, which is technically considered “acceptable”. However, your peers may have a quick ratio of 1.20 which may be indicative that you have some adjustments to make.

2. Cash Flow

Cash flow is the most telling metric of all since cash is the lifeblood of any company. This financial metric demonstrates your cash inflows and outflows and helps identify any potential issues in your business. If you’re not keeping an eye on your cash flow you could find yourself caught by surprise when it comes to collection issues or making essential payments to vendors or paying off debt.

3. Sales to Receivables

This metric is the number of times your receivables have turned over, or collected, for a given period. The higher the number, the more times the receivables have been converted to cash during that period. Conversely, the lower the number, the less frequently accounts receivable is being collected and may suggest collection issues. As many businesses fluctuate during the year due to business seasonality, it is often best to compute this metric using average receivable balances rather than using a “snapshot” balance, which can produce misleading results.

4. Day’s Receivables

Similar to sales to receivables, day’s receivables express the average number of days that receivables are outstanding. The greater the number of days, the greater the probability of delinquencies in accounts receivable as this represents how quickly your sales are converted to cash from the date of the sale to when it hits your bank account.

5. Accounts Receivables Aging Schedule

The aging schedule within your accounting software is a standard report. This information is compiled and calculated based on the dates in which your sales/receivables are entered into the system and lays out the aging of your customer receivables in “buckets”. Typically, these buckets are “Current”, “31-60 days”, “61-90 days” and “90+ days”. This metric helps you identify not only potential collection issues, but the customer or balance that is delinquent. Further, it can also help you determine if there are any errors in your accounts receivable balance. For example, does it make sense that your customer is paying their current receivables but not the balance that is 91+ days outstanding? It might be an invoice that was overlooked or an accounting error.

6. Current Ratio and Quick Ratio

Current ratio and quick ratio are listed together because they both show your business’ ability to service its current obligations. The difference is that the current ratio considers all current assets and the quick ratio only utilizes the business’ most liquid current assets, such as cash and accounts receivable. You want both ratios to be greater than 1.00.

7. Budget Versus Actual

Have you created a budget and then compared it to your actual activity? Budgets should be created based on experiences and trends, as well as any known future occurrences (i.e. planned asset acquisitions or annual pay raises). If you compare what you’ve budgeted to what you’ve actually spent, it will give you a far better sense of whether you’re staying on track and what kind of adjustments you need to make.

8. Fixed Charge Coverage

No matter how well you are doing, there is always a chance that you will encounter an unforeseen circumstance that will drive the need to cut costs. The best way to prepare for this is to take a close look at your fixed charges and compare them to your Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, and Depreciation – known as EBITDA. This ratio shows how many times your company’s earnings can cover its fixed expenses such as leases, rent, debt, etc. This is extremely valuable in assessing whether you may be overextended, or it can help determine if any loan, lease, or contract that you sign may overextend your business. Furthermore, banks will often calculate this ratio when determining whether to lend you money.

9. Debt Service Coverage

This is similar to the fixed charge coverage, with the difference being that debt obligations are assessed with the business’ net operating income rather than EBITDA. If this ratio is greater than 1.00, the business is well equipped with profits to cover debt payments. If the coverage ratio is less than 1.00, the business has not generated sufficient income to cover its debt obligations. This ratio is particularly important because banks will often require this to be at a certain level, which may be greater than 1.00, as a condition of their loan. Expect your lender to monitor this ratio on an ongoing basis during the terms of the loan.

10. Working Capital

It’s important to know and understand your working capital not only from a financial standpoint, but also from a regulatory or compliance standpoint. Working capital assesses your business’ ability to pay its current liabilities with its current assets, which gives you an indication of your business’ short-term health. Depending on your industry, you may be required to keep a minimum working capital amount or follow any covenants outlined in your business’ loan agreement. In addition, it can also help you determine if you have too much cash on hand and/or if you’re not effectively putting your cash to work by re-investing in the business to facilitate growth (i.e. with asset acquisitions, technology upgrades, or other capital expenditures). For example, if you have approximately $1 million in current assets but only $100,000 in short-term liabilities (including short-term debt), you may have approximately $900,000 that you can re-invest in your business.

Each of these financial metrics are extremely beneficial in helping you understand the performance of your business. However, this list is not comprehensive; there are many more metrics that are vital to understand.

All businesses are different and operate in different industries and often have different objectives and external influences. If you would like to discuss these financial metrics or how Cray Kaiser can help you, please contact us today.