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Where Did All My Profits Go?

Understanding cash flow vs. profit can affect how you manage your business.

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A COMMON COMPLAINT FROM retailers after the CPA has completed the end of year financials is, “Where is the money?” Often, they have reported a healthy profit (which also leads to a bigger tax liability to the IRS), yet their bank account never seems to reflect the profit the business makes.

It’s a common issue. Most store owners expect their profit to show up in the bank account — and that’s perfectly understandable. After all, profit is supposed to be what you have left after paying your operating costs and vendors. Yet, rarely does it align.

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The reality is that cash flow and profits are two different things. Cash flow reflects the ins and outs of your bank account over a period of time. Profit is about your income and the expenses that relate to that income. That means the expenses don’t necessarily line up with when you paid them.

One of the best examples of this is the inventory you buy. For instance, let’s say Bob’s business does $1 million in sales for the year. With a keystone markup, Bob makes a gross profit of $500,000 from his business. After expenses of $400,000, his net profit is $100,000.

The bank account tells a very different story. Although the cost of goods sold is $500,000, Bob didn’t necessarily spend that much on inventory for the year. If he spent $600,000 on inventory purchases, he would have increased his inventory holding by $100,000. However, he didn’t sell the extra inventory, and therefore, it doesn’t pay for itself, but it will still come out of his bank account!

Timing is another important factor in paying vendors, too. Whether you pay your vendors immediately or pay the amount six months later, this will affect your bank balance, but it won’t affect your profit — the item is an expense when you sell it, not when you pay your vendor.

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Your bank account can also be affected by assets that you buy. A new vehicle that is deemed a business asset may leave a hole in your bank account now if you pay cash, but as a business asset, its cost will be spread over several years to reflect when it is used. Your profit will look healthier than your bank account in this situation.

Of course, another factor to consider is personal spending. Withdrawing a good deal of money from your business account to support your lifestyle isn’t a business expense and won’t decrease your profit. It will, however, certainly lower the balance of your bank account.

It’s important to understand this difference between cash flow and profit so you don’t get caught spending money you don’t have.

Sherry Smith is the director of business development for The Edge Retail Academy.

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