Business owners are often interested in learning how their company performs as compared to their competition; unfortunately, it can be difficult to find reliable data from private company competitors. CPAs who are able to effectively provide this service can be an invaluable resource for their clients, which is a valuable asset when trying to transition from quarterly CPA to trusted business advisors. When providing this kind of analysis, it is important to seek out data with the following characteristics:
After ensuring that your data is relevant, accurate, and current the question turns to which metrics deserve analysis and can be used to identify business strengths and weaknesses. This can be deceptively difficult, as different companies and industries will have their own unique metrics for measuring successes and shortcomings. While industry-specific performance indicators can provide highly specialized information, the following financial metrics are almost universally important to businesses and should allow you to give your client a high-level snapshot of their company’s comparative performance.
Net Profit Margin
One of the most basic and fundamentally important financial metrics, net profit margin, measures how many cents of profit a business earns from each dollar it generates in revenue. Although raw financial data or the formula used by the data source are not always available, seek out these metrics and use them whenever possible to validate that they are consistent with the company’s calculations.
Verification is especially important for this metric, as other firms may make their own adjustments to assist in their analyses. For example, at Sageworks, the net profit margin is adjusted to exclude taxes and include owner compensation in excess of their market-rate salaries — adjustments commonly made to private company financials to provide a more accurate picture of a company’s operational performance.
When looking at liquidity, there are two ratios that must be considered. The company’s Current Ratio – measured as current assets divided by liabilities – measures a company’s general liquidity. However, when including inventory in the calculation the ratio may be misleading in trying to analyze shot term cash flow. This problem is resolved by examining the Quick Ratio – cash plus accounts receivables divided by current liabilities – which provides a shorter-term view of the cash situation.
There are three fundamental turnover ratios to calculate:
Benchmarking Mistakes To Avoid
Benchmarking is an incredibly useful tool, but there are a few easy-to-make mistakes that can lead your analysis astray. Be aware of the following pitfalls of successful benchmarking to ensure that you don’t fall for these commonly seen mistakes:
Comparing Company A to Company B is something that we see all the time. Comparison to a similar group can be useful so long as the group is relevant to the industry, but when analysis becomes focused on specific business to business comparisons there are oftentimes too many significant differences that preclude useful comparisons.
Reporting inconsistencies are another common problem with benchmarking analysis. The metrics discussed in this article are common measurements in financial analysis, and their relevancy is generally not questioned nor their definitions significantly altered. However, should you choose to include other industry-specific performance metrics, make sure that you consistently use the same calculations period after period.
Finally, it is important to remember that a benchmark report is not the conclusion of your analysis, but rather the beginning. Once you have created a report that can clearly display these metrics as compared to the industry at large, you can begin to create a plan of action. Try to frame problematic areas as opportunities to improve the business, and point out in which areas the business is really excelling. Encourage the client to take pride in their strengths, and work with them to try to replicate the winning strategy in other areas of the company.
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