Dan Lutchansky CPA
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“The more I practice, the luckier I get”

Ben Hogan

Small Business Coaching and Workshops


Coaching! success compass




Personal sales ability is by far the number one skill required for small business success. If you can’t sell your products or services, you will have no revenue and your business simply won’t survive. End of story. However, once you are generating sales, the next skill you must master is understanding the numbers of your business. How well you grasp and process the financial realities of your situation likely will dictate whether you stay in business at all, remain a one-person shop or grow into a viable and sustainable business.

Once you are bringing in sales, running a one-person shop is not that difficult. The formula for success at that level is basic hard work: You generate sales, perform the work and make a net profit. Without employees or payroll, your only investment is time, not overhead. Since you are doing everything yourself, you are in charge of sales, quality control and efficiency.

There is a price to pay to remain a one-person shop, however. There is never enough time to get everything done, and from the simplest chore to the most complex, you have to do it yourself. There is little or no security. If you get sick or lose a big customer, the business could fail. The other downside is the loss of potential: the multi-tasking required of a one-person business means you frequently aren’t working at your highest skill level. And, of course, working at your highest level feels the best and pays the most.

This is all about quality of life, the reason most of us went into business. We wanted to create our own world, one that felt secure, delivered job satisfaction and an excellent income. An added bonus would be having the time to pay attention to family and needs outside of business. Within you is the potential to be able to reach all of those goals, though that reach will be limited by your ability to build an organization.

Building an organization requires deepening your existing skills and developing new ones. Running a one-person shop requires a very narrow focus. Running an organization requires managing sales, gross profit, employees, fixed expenses, net profit and cash flow. Most importantly, it demands you manage yourself. Everything else flows from that ability.


We advocate a “Success by the Numbers” approach in managing yourself and your business. Understanding the numbers should be the foundation from which all your management decisions flow.

Making a net profit allows one to achieve both business and personal goals. That’s why the most important number in business is net profit — the sum of the component parts of your business. Successfully managing each component part should result in net profit. If you are unsatisfied with the net profit, an analysis of each component part will indicate where changes must be made. In turn, knowing where changes need to be made will highlight the knowledge and skills you need to develop in yourself and your employees. Let’s take a look at a recent real-life example of how one of our clients is implementing a “Success by the Numbers” approach in his business.

Our client is a retailer who sells to the general public, and he always made money as a one-person business. In the last two years, his business has grown to five employees. Unfortunately, he now works harder, makes less money and has more headaches. When we first met him, he felt his business was out of control and often thought of going back to being a one-person shop.

Our client didn’t feel in control because he didn’t understand how the component parts of his business fit together financially. He is a great salesperson and deals well with the public, but spent a lot of his time running around putting out fires. His employees never seemed to get their work done and he found himself constantly fixing their problems. As a result, sales suffered and he always ended up hunting for cash to pay the bills. Is it any wonder he often dreamed about going solo again?


After analyzing his business from financial and operational perspectives, we suggested he run his business from a “Success by the Numbers” approach which starts with understanding the “Breakeven Point”: the amount of sales required to cover cost of sales (variable expenses) and the fixed expenses of the business. Fixed expenses include the salary and the profit goal of the owner.

When we reviewed his fixed expenses, he only had a vague notion what his fixed expenses were and what it really cost him to open up his doors every morning. We included in our analysis every fixed expense, ranging from salaries and payroll taxes to office supplies and bottled water. We also included a breakdown of the number of hours worked by each employee.


We next analyzed the gross profit percentage. He thought his gross profit percentage was 50 percent but we determined that it was actually 37 percent. Even though the business did earn a 50 percent gross profit on many products, it earned a lot less on some of the big-ticket items. Although the 50 percent gross profit was the goal, it wasn’t the reality. Since his average sales were about $100,000 a month, that 13 percent difference in gross profit meant a $13,000 difference in net profit per month. You can guess that we now had his attention. He was beginning to find his own “magic answer.”


We looked at his sales process and what his real gross profit percentage was on different items, our client realized he had gradually changed his mix of business from mostly retail and some wholesale to about equal parts retail and wholesale, giving up gross profit percentage to keep the volume up. He made a decision to go after a more retail market and boost his gross profit margin.

He also noticed he dropped his prices at the first hint of resistance in order to make a sale. He had unconsciously gotten away from his vision of offering superior quality and custom design work in favor of lower prices. He quickly realized he had to either go back to his original vision or provide less service and emphasize low price.

Being aware of his gross profit percentage leak also caused him to “work” his vendors harder for better pricing.


Here’s why managing fixed expenses is critical to every business: Let’s say a small business averages net profit of 10 percent of sales. If you increase your fixed expenses by $1,000 per month, you must increase sales $10,000 just to maintain the same net profit margin.

It is easy and fun to spend money and our client had gotten into the habit of buying things that he liked to have in his business, without regard to their real cost and bottom-line effect. Being aware of how his fixed expenses affected his net profit caused him to be much more careful about spending money.


The management of cash flow is much different than the management of net profit. You need to manage both to stay in and grow your business.

Our client spent way too much on inventory. He couldn’t pass up a good deal. Since his sales were averaging roughly $100,000 a month and his average cost of sales was 63 percent, he should have been buying $63,000 of inventory per month to keep pace with his sales. Any purchases in excess of that amount meant that he was increasing inventory too much and tying up much-needed cash unnecessarily.

Awareness of his monthly inventory needs caused our client to change his buying habits. He became much more of a critical thinker when he made buying decisions.

We also developed a software spreadsheet for him to track his cash-flow requirements. This cash-flow spreadsheet included weekly projections for the next month which helped our client control his habit of making unplanned cash expenditures, motivating him to hit the sales goals necessary to make his cash-flow projections.


Based on our work together, our client has set the following goals for next year: Increase sales by 20 percent, increase gross profit by 7 percent, reduce inventory by $100,000 and reduce expenses by 15 percent. With our help he is also designing and implementing work-flow systems to improve employee productivity.

Though this remains a work in progress, if he meets his objectives — and we both expect he will — next year his business will see a net profit increase of $80,000. And that is just the start!

The bottom line is that our client has renewed hope and energy for his business and now feels that with proper planning, he can take his business to the next level. He no longer fantasizes about being a one-person shop and finally feels like he’s living his entrepreneurial dream.


There’s a lot to digest when it comes to managing the numbers. It may be overwhelming for some of you. We understand and are here to help. It can take several months to understand how the component parts fit together in terms of managing a business by the numbers. However, if you are committed to understanding the numbers and are willing to venture outside your comfort zone, the numbers will make sense if you stick with them.

We all know people that are very successful in small business. Ask those people if they understand the numbers of their businesses. Almost without exception they do. Many of them didn’t understand their numbers at first, but they learned over time, sometimes the hard way. If you are patient and make an honest effort, you will develop the understanding necessary to achieve and sustain small business success.

Taking your first comprehensive look at the numbers of your business can be daunting. It is best to get professional help. Let us guide you through a step-by-step approach that will help you gain a deep understanding of the numbers of your business. This knowledge will prove invaluable as you translate specific actions into greater profits.

The best way to get started is with a complimentary business consultation, where we will answer your questions, assess your situation and recommend a course of action. We can be reached at (408) 378-9500 or by completing the form at Contact Us.