Information-rich and insight-poor. It’s one of the most frustrating places. It’s the feeling that comes with standing in front of a gas station cooler full of cold drinks looking for a “fruity one” for your navigator. It’s the feeling you get when you open a 1994 TV Guide. It’s the feeling you get when you sit down in front of your accounting software to do your taxes.
There are thousands of data points about your business which, seemingly, tell you nothing about your business. This is where classic accounting steps aside and needs to be replaced by a strategic, consultant view.
My old boss used to say, “Every set of numbers tells a story.” A good analyst looks for that story in the numbers. Here’s how a smart business owner can do the same.
Ignore the first reaction
When you get to the end of a month, the end of the year, or tax time, you’re in perfect place to look back at what you’ve done and either be overjoyed or furious. Maybe you crushed you plan. Maybe you fell well short. Maybe you owe the government. Maybe you are getting a check. Whatever it is, that first reaction needs to settle before you can dive into analyzing your performance.
If you start working before you’ve had to time to calm yourself, you’re going to jade the story you tell with the numbers. Instead of seeing the late payments as opportunities to setup a better collection system, you’ll see them as your customers letting you down. Instead of seeing the one-time bump from a tax-free week, you’ll see an organic jump in sales because “marketing must finally be paying off.”
Set it aside. Cry, celebrate, do whatever you have to do, and then get down to business.
Use the tools you have available
When you’re looking at a business as a consultant, you’re trying to figure out why the things that happened, happened. Why did we make more or less money? Sure, we sold these things, but what about those sales tells me what to do next? Success needs to be repeatable.
To find out what you did right, first you need to look at what you did. If you’re using a quality accounting software package, you’re going to get a whole bunch reports to tear through whenever you want. Don’t ignore these. The standard reporting tools that come with accounting software can get you a long ways without adding a lot of extra effort to your day.
Sage 50 Pro, for instance, comes with a series of reports that includes sales analysis and a project report. These alone can give you a massive leg up on the competition, if you know how to use them to your advantage.
The sales report – which you can recreate in almost any accounting environment – details not only what you’re selling, but who you’re selling it to and how much you’re actually making off of those sales. Discovering that your big profit boost in November came, not from the company that spent the most, but from the company that bought a handful of your most profitable items can have a huge impact on what you try to sell in December.
Talk to your customers
Now that you’ve gotten some basic information about your business’s successes or shortfalls, we’re closer to understanding why things happened. However, we still only have one side of the story. We can look at the purchases that were made and make some educated guess about why they happened, but we can’t know until we go to the source.
Talking to clients and customers is one of the easiest, most valuable, and most often overlooked things a company can do. We too often rely on our gut instincts and basic understanding to get at why people do things, when we should just be asking them.
Get out there and talk to your best clients. Take them out to lunch or coffee, send them a survey, or just call them up and ask. Why did they buy all those high margin widgets last month? Will they do it again? Do they need another widget that they’re getting somewhere else?
In the corporate world, this would count as market research. You’re finding out what makes your customers tick so that you can fill in the gaps. It starts with understanding where you’re seeing success and then finding out why a particular customer is bringing you that success. Once you understand it, you can do it again.
Do something with the numbers
Once you’ve complied all your data, checked the easy reports, and talked to your customers, it’s time to dig into the next level. Performance and financial reporting tools can give you additional insight into your business by giving you the tools you need to project your sales out into the future and to combine demand with supply.
Instead of just thinking about selling more, software like Tagetik can help you combine that selling increase with a staffing plan so that you’ve got enough folks on hand to make all the money you want to make.
You can also give yourself more options by running what-if scenarios. Take the lessons you learned from your earlier explorations and figure out what happen if that best customer left or how many more people you would need to staff if your sales grew 10% each quarter.
Knowing what your accounts look like is just the beginning of understanding your business. The best businesses know why their accounts look the way they do and understand how to pull the levers that increase their revenue and decrease their costs.
As accounting tools advance, more and more of what your accountant does is going to be focused on adding value to your business. Get a head start on the process and dive in to your numbers to understand the story behind your business. For more tips and insights, check out the Capterra finance blog.
Header by Rachel Wille
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