Plotting the Trends of Your Company’s Performance

Here’s how to learn whether your company is trending positive or negative in key performance areas.

Image courtesy of Website Magazine (

Image courtesy of Website Magazine (

In my last blog, I told you about a family-owned business I counseled. The firm appeared to be doing well, but had no way of knowing whether its performance was trending positively or negatively. My assignment was to give company officers a means of gaining that insight, through the use of key performance indicators.

The company mentioned is a Web-based business that takes orders through the Web into its system. I first needed to learn how many product lines the company offered. Once I learned that, I identified three different measurements that we would need to help us gauge the cost of producing the revenues that flowed from those lines.

First, we had to determine the direct costs, or in other words, the cost of goods sold. Second, we had to determine the employee cost, split out including payroll tax and temporary help. Finally, we had to determine all other overhead.

Using the revenue from the product lines, we knew the consolidated revenue for the company. From that number we could calculate the average unit selling price. Next, I determined average unit cost for each of those three areas: direct, employee and overhead cost, and came up with total unit cost per period.

When we arrayed all the indicators, we had a lineup of direct costs per unit, summarized for the year. Those costs were clearly coming down. We then looked at the employee cost per unit, and compared that to the average selling price per unit, and that relationship was trending positively. The same was true when we compared overhead per unit with average selling price. We could also determine from those numbers what the unit gross profit was for the company.

Simply put, once we had the unit measurements in each area, we could plot and compare them period to period. Those plot lines revealed trends, and just as quickly, we knew the trends were positive. That knowledge made possible a discussion with management as to why those trends were occurring.

Whether your company is generating reports, offering consulting services, or selling gallons of oil, key performance indicators can determine important trends.

There is a way to measure the company’s performance using two ingredients: the number of employees on staff, and your output.

If you would like assistance in determining and tracking key performance indicators, please contact me. I offer a 100 percent guarantee on my work. I take on only clients I can help. Call me and let’s talk about your business. My phone number is 630-269-7646.

Tracking Performance Trends for Your Business

Key performance indicators that offer important insights into your company

Action Plan Template - Performance Indicators

Action Plan Template – Performance Indicators (Photo credit:

Recently, I assisted a $10-million-a-year, Chicago-based, family-owned company that was anticipating significant growth. The company’s problem was that managers did not know what data they should be tracking to illuminate their operating trends and performance.

The firm’s officers also did not feel they had a handle on their key financial indicators. Once inside the company, I determined that we should look first at the performance indicators, and secondly at the financial indicators, to gauge how well the firm was performing in terms of productivity.

The company was at a point where the second generation had begun to assume leadership. The son, who had a track record of success, had been brought in to learn the business, so he could eventually take the reins.

However, his background did not include finance. The business was starting to grow rapidly due to the son’s efforts. I found the firm had a clean operation, but wasn’t sufficiently sophisticated to try to compile these performance indicators.

Firm managers knew they were doing well from a cash-flow standpoint, but had no measurement system to see if they were better or worse vis-à-vis the previous quarter or previous year. In short, because they didn’t know what trends were taking place, they didn’t know if the firm was trending positively or negatively.

In measuring key performance indicators, you first define the indicators you want to gauge. Some indicators can be compiled in relation to sales, others in relation to employees. Then you line them up quarter to quarter, and month to month, and have a year-to-date measure as well. This way, you learn whether the indicators are moving positively or negatively year to year, and within years.

Back at that company, I asked for the last three years of financial statements and operating statistics, to learn how much was being sold to create the revenues, margins and profits. Having ascertained that what was being sold was reports, I needed to learn the volume of unit sales, and simply concentrated on the number of reports sold. I thought about what happens from the time a customer orders their report to the time the report is issued.

The numbers helped me put together some key indicators to start measuring the company’s productivity and efficiency. As a result of identifying these key performance indicators, the company managers were now well informed, and the indicators showed their company was trending positive.

Here’s the takeaway from this success story. In a fast-growth environment, you must understand what you’re measuring, and what it means.

That’s what key performance indicators provided for this business, and what they will provide for yours. Next time, I’ll show you, again through the example of this company, how to generate and track key performance indicators.

Using Key Financial Indicators Effectively

key financial indicatorsA financial ratio has no single correct value.  It depends on one’s perspective and the competitive strategy employed.  Lenders like a high Current Ratio that suggests strong liquidity and high likelihood of repayment.  From an operating viewpoint, the important question is not whether the current ratio is too high, but whether the chosen strategy is best for the company.

How do you interpret ratios and other key financial indicators?  How do you decide whether a company is healthy or sick?  One way is to compare a company’s ratios to industry ratios (you can look up this information in RMA studies at your local library) to see how a company measures up to its peers.  Keep in mind, though, that company-specific differences can result in entirely justifiable deviations from industry norms.

The most useful way to evaluate ratios and indicators involves trend analysis (monthly), noting how the ratios change over time.  Ratios that show a negative trend mean that less cash is coming in. Here are my most used and recommended ratios:

Gross Profit Margin %Gross Profit / Sales• This is your most crucial ratio as it measures the % of each sales dollar available for covering overhead and producing bottom-line profits
Monthly Overhead $Expected Monthly Overhead Average for Current Year• This number (accumulated on your monthly P&L) will highlight any “creep” or outright jump; allowing you find the cause and take timely action
Interest Coverage RatioEBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation & amortization) / Interest Expense• This measures how easily you can repay your borrowings.  In good times this ratio should be at least 1.25; in bad times, only the banker knows
Current RatioTotal Current Assets / Total Current Liabilities• This measures the ease with which you can pay bills as they come due.  Ratios greater than 1 : 1 are easier to manage than 1 : 1 or less (e.g., .75 : 1)
Quick Ratio(Cash & Accounts Receivable) / Total Current LiabilitiesThis ratio is a good measure of a company’s short-term cash position.  A ratio of less than 1:1 means you’ll have to decide who gets paid when the next dollar comes in.  A worsening condition (i.e., a number lower than 1 in the first postion) means your sales aren’t keeping up with your bills
Days’ Sales in AR(Accounts Receivable / Sales) x 365• This number indicates the days, on average, your customers take to pay you. 45 and under is good; 60 and above is bad.  If this number rises it means you have less cash coming in and may have to borrow money to pay bills
Days’ Sales in AP(Accounts Payable / Sales) x 365• This is the number of days, on average, you take to pay your suppliers.  The closer this number is to the AR number, the easier it will be on cash flow.  Generally, you should pay your suppliers as close to “terms” as possible to maintain good relationships, and focus on tightening your AR collections times
Days’ Sales in Inventory(Inventory / Sales) x 365• This indicator measures the amount of time to convert inventory into sales.  This is another crucial number because you have to create a sale—and then collect that sale.  Bottom line: if this number is higher than the industry median, be sure there’s a valid reason
Debt to Equity RatioTotal Liabilities / Total Equity• You should pay close attention to this ratio.  In tough credit markets you want bankers to see you as a good candidate so manage this ratio by putting more equity into the business or by converting your loans to equity.  A higher ratio will force you to focus intently on cash flow and paying down debt—to the exclusion of business-building activities. What is a good ratio?  Only the banker knows