Understanding your Profit & Loss Account – Part 2

Accounts, Glossary, Planning,

Following on from our earlier Blog, Understanding your Profit & Loss Account Part 1, there are some key numbers that are contained in your Profit & Loss Account. These can give you a really good insight into how your business is performing, and enable you to identify trends as they emerge.

So what are these key numbers?

  1. Turnover
  2. Gross Profit
  3. Overheads
  4. Net Profit

This post will explain what each of these numbers are, and why they are important!


Turnover is the total sales value in any given period. It gives you an indication of the size of the business but it is a mistake to become too focussed on this one!

There is a well worn phrase that says “turnover is vanity, profit is sanity”, and it is well worn for a reason. So many businesses can tell you their Turnover for a period, but when you ask about the profit figure on that Turnover the response is a blank look, yet profit should be the priority.

A business with a high turnover may not necessarily be profitable, and they very often aren’t. This could be because costs could be too high or perhaps management has been distracted by fulfilling the day to day demands of a rapidly growing business. It is possible too that a business can be structured to ‘stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap’, being a low margin business, as Tesco was initially. This should be a conscious decision though!

It is a mistake to chase Turnover without keeping a very close eye on the profitability of a business.

Gross Profit

Calculating Gross Profit enables you to see and track how the trading part of the business has done, and is most useful if you can see a trend over a number of periods.
The best way to compare periods is to calculate the gross profit percentage, or gross profit margin, which is obtained by dividing the gross profit by the turnover and multiplying by 100.
There are a range of ways to improve a gross profit margin, including becoming more efficient, increasing prices or focussing your sales effort on products or services that give a higher gross profit.
Knowing your gross profit margin also allows you to compare your performance to other business in your industry. Bear in mind though that different industries would expect to have very different gross margin figures, so don’t panic if yours is very different to another business!


Also known as Indirect Costs, the overheads of a business are those business costs that are necessary to trade but cannot be directly attributed to a sale. They tend to be fixed rather than variable. Some examples are as follows:

  • Accounting and legal expenses
  • Administrative salaries
  • Depreciation
  • Insurance
  • Rent
  • Water / Heat / Light

Comparing the overheads over time allows you to determine whether you are keeping a tight rein on costs. The best way to do a comparison is to compare the detailed overheads line by line on a regular basis, which can show you the areas you should concentrate on to keep costs under control.

Net Profit

Also referred to as the ‘bottom line’, net profit is the amount left over after paying all the expenses of the business. It is also generally the amount on which you will pay tax.

The net profit margin is a more accurate measure of a business’s profitability than gross profit margin. This is because it’s a true indication of the money you’re making, rather than just the money you’re making on your product or service; it takes full account of all of the businesses expenses. To calculate the net profit margin, you simply have to divide net profit by sales (or Turnover) and multiply by 100.



If you have any questions about your Profit & Loss, calculating any of your business numbers, or how to identify or improve them in your business, do get in touch! Once they are related back to your business, these key numbers can become far clearer, and the benefits of tracking them can be substantial.

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