7 Accounting Terms Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know

Business Numbers Blog - Accounting Terms Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know

There's a lot to think about when starting a small business, and learning basic accounting terms may be a low priority. However, it is imperative to familiarise yourself with accounting basics to get a grip on your finances and build a thriving business. Even if you outsource your accounting, it's essential that you can talk openly with your accountant and understand the advice they are giving you. Let's review seven key terms you need to know to gain insight into your finances and steer your business towards success.

1) Cash Flow

Cash flow is the money entering and leaving your business in a set time period. This includes funds spent on utilities, salaries and operations, and money collected from clients or customers.

It's possible to be profitable and still run out of cash, which is why it's crucial to collect payments as soon as possible and time purchases carefully. Remember that a decision which may increase your profits could also damage your cash flow. For example, buying equipment outright rather than taking out an equipment loan may save you money in the long run and thus boost your margins. However, it also requires a large lump sum payment which puts you at risk of running out of cash.

Poor cash flow management is one of the biggest reasons that so many small businesses fail, so it's important to keep a close eye on your cash flow and strive to keep your accounts flush with funds.

2) Cash Flow Forecast

A cash flow forecast estimates how much money will move through your business in the future - over the next three months or year, for example. This can help you time new purchases and investments carefully to ensure that you always have enough cash to continue operations and protect your business in an emergency.

3) Burn Rate

Your burn rate is the speed at which your cash reserves are decreasing. Knowing your burn rate is an integral part of good cash flow management. In addition, your burn rate allows you to calculate the length of time you can cover your operating costs if nothing changes in your business. This is a fundamental metric for your survival and can help you identify when to cut back or seek additional funding.

4) Income Sheet

An income sheet is a document that details your revenue, expenses and net profit over a set period of time. Comparing income sheets can help you to understand how your company is performing, what works well for you and where changes need to be made.

5) Marginal Costs

Marginal cost is the change to your profit margin when you sell one more unit. This allows you to understand whether or not increasing production will prove profitable. However, it would help if you remembered that increasing production might also require hiring additional staff or purchasing new equipment.

You can calculate the marginal cost by dividing the change in the total cost of production by the change in quantity.

Let’s say it costs £100 to produce 10 units = £10/unit.

If it costs £105 to produce 11 units = £9.55 per unit.

Therefore, in this case, it would prove more profitable to produce and sell an extra unit.

6) Gross Profit

Calculating gross profit is simple: take your total revenue and subtract the cost of goods sold.

For example, if you sold £100,000 worth of products but spent £40,000 in order to do so, your gross profit would be £60,000.

7) Net Profit

It’s important not to confuse gross and net profit. Gross profit only looks at production and labour costs, whilst net profit is the amount left after all business expenses have been deducted, such as marketing, debt repayments, overheads and taxes.

If your gross profit was £60,000, but you spent an additional £20,000 on marketing and overheads and paid £10,000 in tax and interest, your net profit would be £30,000.


Whilst it is advisable for small business owners to seek professional financial guidance from an accountant, it's also essential to have a basic knowledge of common terms and calculations. The greater your insight into your company's finances, the better equipped you will handle problems head-on and prepare your organisation for the future. So it really does pay to know your numbers.


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!