Connections for Success



The 28 Accounting Terms Every Entrepreneur Should Know
Chris Arndt

Don’t Be the Entrepreneur that Says Gross Profit when what You Actually Mean is Gross Margin

It happens more often than you might think. High-growth business owners that think they are “in the know” when it comes to finance and accounting jargon. But, in reality, they do not understand the most important accounting terms every entrepreneur should know. That is a problem because one, it makes their communication with their accounting services that much more difficult to navigate and two, it makes them look bad to potential investors. Do not be like them. Familiarize yourself with these terms so you can talk the finance talk.

1. Accounts Payable

Money owed by your company.

2. Accounts Receivable

Money due to your company.

3. Accrual-Basis Accounting

Expenses you account for when the expense occurs not when the cash is paid, and accounts receivable accounted for as assets before the cash is received. Accrual-basis accounting allows for a better measure of the profitability during a specific window of time.

4. Assets

Items of value which can include: cash, accounts receivable, inventory, investments, ownership of land or buildings, equipment.

5. Balance Sheet

This statement should reflect your company’s assets, liabilities, and capital at a specific time while listing the income and expenditure before that time. This statement is important for potential investors to determine the liquidity of your business.

6. Cash Disbursements

Any outgoing cash payments made for things related to your business’ operating expenses, capital expenditures or interest on loans for example.

7. Cash-Basis Accounting

As opposed to accrual-based accounting (see number 3), cash-basis accounts for revenue and expenses when the cash is physically received or paid.

8. Churn Rate

In simple terms, the rate at which customers stop supporting your business. Often seen as an important Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for Service as a Software (SaaS) business models, it is especially useful for looking at the rate at which customers end their subscriptions within a certain time. Generally, you want your growth rate to exceed your churn rate in order to scale.

9. Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

The total direct cost to produce and sell your goods. This total should include all direct labor, materials and supplies and any overhead you incur. You want to know and understand your COGS as it is directly related to knowing your gross margin (see number 14). If you can lower your COGS, you increase your gross margin, and increasing your gross margin = awesome!

10. Customer Acquisition Costs

A KPI measuring the cost to your company for acquiring one customer.  Although we are happy to crunch these numbers for you, you can find the formula and read more about KPIs for Growth here.

11. Equity

The excess value of your business assets above the value of the business liabilities. If you have more liabilities than assets, then you have negative equity.

12. Financial Statements

Typically the combination of the business income statement, balance sheet and statement of cash flows.

13. Gross Margin

A percentage value found from the difference between your revenue and COGS.

14. Gross Profit

Not to be confused with your gross margin, gross profit is a dollar amount found from your net sales minus your COGS.

15. Income Statement

Sometimes referred to as the Profit & Loss (P&L) statement, your income statement reflects your financial performance over a certain period of time. It includes all revenue and expenses and any net profit or net loss over the same period of time.

16. Inventory Turnover

The number of times inventory is sold within a specific time period. It is found from your COGS divided by the average inventory.

17. Liabilities

Any financial debt or obligation your company has like accounts payable, mortgage or accrued expenses. Liabilities are something we often see overlooked in startups and small- to medium-sized businesses that have yet to hire an accounting service to look after their books! And, a reminder that if you are not correctly accounting for your liabilities, then your balance sheet is also incorrect. That spells a problem for investors or your stakeholders.

18. Lifetime Value

Lifetime Value (LTV) is the value given to the estimated profit gained from a customer during that same customer’s “lifetime” as your customer.

19. Net Cash Flow

The actual amount of cash made or lost within a specific period of time. Cash flow is an important valuation component to investors because you cannot fake it, unlike other metrics like price to earnings ratio, which can be manipulated.

20. Net Profit

The actual profit after all expenses during a specific period of time.

21. Operating Expenses

Expenses that your business incurs from its main operating activities that are reported on your income statement including the production of your goods or services, salaries, insurance and rent.

22. Payback Period

Surprise! We’ve got a whole blog post on this particular KPI. Your Payback Period (PBP) is the length of time required to earn back the cost of your investment. A shorter PBP means more profit cycles within a specific time period which means less capital needed to fund your growth!

23. Price to Earnings

A ratio that determines your share price or stock relative to your earnings. A reminder that being profitable is not the same as being cash-flow positive as Mark Suster points out in this great post on profitability. Also, why your Price to Earnings or Price to Growth ratio is not the most important ratio to focus on to impress your investors.

24. Profit & Loss Statement (P&L)

Your income statement, commonly referred to as the P&L. Your profit and loss statement reflects your financial performance over a certain period of time. It includes all revenue and expenses and any net profit or net loss over the same period of time.

25. Recurring Revenue

Any portion of your revenue that is likely to continue or repeat. This is not relevant to all business models, of course, but it is good to be aware of it as it is the most predictable of models over time. So, even if all your revenue is not recurring, if you can find a way to have a portion of your earnings recur, then you are setting up your business in a very stable way.

26. Return on Investment (ROI)

The benefit to a shareholder from investing in your business.  A high ROI is good for your investors.

27. Revenue

Income from your business’ goods or services.

28. Trial Balance

A statement or report that lists all income statement and balance sheet balances you hold (debits or credits), noting anything without a balance of zero. This should help catch any accounting errors as debits must equal credits. (Which never happens right?!)

This is not a complete list of accounting terms, of course; it simply includes the ones we deem the most important for high-growth entrepreneurs. We are not trying to write ourselves out of a job here, either, we just know that if you better understand these accounting terms then we can do an even better job of getting your books ready to scale!

For more information, contact Chris Arndt at or call him at 312.494.7014. Visit to learn more about our Cloud CFO Services. .

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