Mark Zuckerberg Was Right: Dear Start-up Founder, Know Your Numbers!

In a nearly 6,000-word letter, Mark Zuckerberg writeson corporate purpose and as one of the five basics tenets of a good statement of corporate purpose, he mentioned‘measuring what matters’as a major key. And according to Nancy Mahon SSIR:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t grow it”

With the roaring competition of the modern day, having instant and accurate results for how to adjust your marketing plan, your products or services, your website, is crucial beyond imagination. Having an Analytics system that gives you real-time data can dictate the difference between you and the market leader or your closest competitor. In this post however, we are narrowing in on your financials.

As a startup founder/small business owner, you need to know a lot of numbers. Even for the most experienced, trying to figure out what exactly to look at while simultaneously trying to manage your company can be confusing and discouraging. In fact, most owners do a lousy job of reviewing the information they could easily find in financial reports from their accounting system. In most cases, they either fail to look at them regularly or simply don’t understand what the numbers mean.

These numbers, however, are a very powerful and essential tool for managing any business. Without knowing how a company has performed financially, it is impossible to predict where it can go. During my research for this post, I found that reviewing the monthly financial statements is a given, and in addition to that, here are five other numbers that matter in all businesses.

1. The Quick Ratio (> 1)

By definition, the quick ratio, or sometimes called “The Acid Test,” is found on a company’s balance sheet and is the business’ current assets (cash, cash equivalents, accounts receivables) divided by its current liabilities. A favorite metric of every bank when considering a loan, the quick ratio is a measure of the financial stability of a business. It shows that the company has more cash available than the current money it owes. In most industries, a healthy quick ratio should be greater than 1. A quick ratio can be improved through higher profitability.

2. Sales Close Ratio (> 30%, but not too high)

It is critical to know the business’ sales process close ratio, which you get from dividing the number of sales proposals you make by the number of sales you ultimately close. Of all the prospects the company writes proposals for, how many do they win? This information should be captured and calculated in a sales customer relationship management system (CRM).

This is a key number, which should not be too low or too high. If it is too high, the company is not talking to enough prospects or its prices are too low. If it is below 30%, sales reps may not be qualifying their prospects enough before spending valuable time preparing proposals. A close ratio can be improved by using focused qualifying questions.

3. Your 10 Most Important Customers

While all customers are important, not all of them are created equal. Who are the 10 most important customers that contribute to the success of a company? This is measured not only by revenue, but by their referrals, the additional products they buy, the feedback they give and their superior brand power.

Some of this information will be captured in CRM, but other metrics will need to be collected qualitatively from the team. In many companies, these top customers contribute 70-80% of the revenue. Remember, it is typically easier to sell more to these large customers than find new ones.

4. Days Sales Outstanding (< 133%)

Days sales outstanding (DSO) is the average number of days it takes for customers to pay. The smaller the number, the better, since the business can use that cash more quickly by reinvesting it or taking it out as profit. The number should be less than 133% of the payment terms with a customer. For example, if terms are 30 days, the DSO should be 40 or less. This information on DSO can be found in the company’s accounting system. DSO can be improved by giving out less customer credit or collecting payments more quickly.

5. Operating Cash Flow (> $1)

How much positive operating cash flow did the business produce last month? Profit is important, but cash flow is king. This number is found in the business’ cash flow statements. By definition, cash flow is simply the sum of your monthly profit and any changes in accounts payable, accounts receivable and inventory. The higher this number is monthly, the healthier the company is. Most accounting systems will produce this statement.

Alternately, look at the company’s bank statement and subtract the ending cash balance from the beginning cash balance to see if the number is greater than 1. Cash flow can be increased by collecting customer payments faster, getting longer terms to pay bills and increasing inventory turns.

If this is all confusing, get an accounting system that can easily report the data. Next, find an accountant or consultant that can explain it in terms you can understand. Only by knowing these numbers can you know your business?

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