October 19, 2023

Revenue vs. profit: how to tell the difference

With Firstbase since:

The terms "revenue" and "profit" are thrown around a lot, but what's the difference? And what does it mean for your company?

Although these terms may seem to belong to accountants and bookkeepers, understanding the difference is crucial to know where your business is headed. Let’s take a look at the difference between revenue and profit. 

What is revenue?

Revenue is the total amount of income a business generates in a given period, prior to subtracting any deductions. Taking all of the business’s sales from the year would calculate its annual revenue. 

Note that this only includes money generated from the sale of goods or services – only from typical business operations. Interest in a bank account, for example, would not count toward a company’s revenue.

It is also important to note that there are two kinds of revenue: gross revenue and net revenue (or net sales). Gross revenue is the total sales a company processes in a given period, whereas net revenue takes into account the cost to process those sales. This usually includes discounts on items, returns, and allowances. 

Revenue formula

Here’s a quick formula for calculating net revenue:

Gross Revenue (Net Sales) - Cost of Sales = Net Revenue

Revenue can help you track the growth of your business. If your net revenue has increased from the prior year, it could be due to higher production of goods – or less cost to produce them. It can also help you track how well you are doing compared to competitors. To help you understand the sales your business is making, try asking these questions when calculating your revenue:

  1. How has my amount of goods sold changed from the prior period? If it decreased, was that due to a supply issue or a demand issue? 
  2. Has the cost to create my product/service increased from the prior period? Why? 
  3. Has my revenue increased steadily with my rate increase for services? If not, do my rates need to be further adjusted? 
  4. How has inflation affected my Cost of Sales? 

What is profit? 

Revenue is not the whole story. Profit (also known as net income) is a term that denotes the number of funds left over in a business after all expenses have been paid. Profit can also be called the ‘bottom line’ as that is the number left over at the bottom of a balance sheet. It’s crucial to recognize that this number does not have to be a positive integer. Negative profits are a sure sign that something in a business needs to change – and fast. 

While some would argue that revenue is the key indicator of a business’s success, profits are just as important. After all, you likely wouldn’t invest in a company that is losing money year after year, so why would you run one? 

Profit formula

Here’s a simple formula for calculating your profit from your revenue. 

Gross Revenue - Sales Costs - Operating Expenses = Earnings Before Interest & Taxes (EBIT)

Once you have calculated your Earnings Before Interest and Taxes, simply subtract the amount of interest accumulated. This will give you your Taxable Income amount. Simply calculate your taxes and subtract them from this number to get your net income/profit. Here’s the full breakdown starting from net revenue: 

Net Revenue - Operating Expenses - Interest - Taxes = Profit

Keep in mind that though it may be tempting to just focus on the end profits, the money you get to retain for yourself, every line in the formula is worth paying attention to. Here are some questions you should be asking when you are calculating your annual profits: 

  1. Have my Operating Expenses increased/decreased since the prior period? Have I made any changes to my business that may have affected this change? 
  2. Do I have any unnecessary loans or points of depreciation that I can remove/mitigate to increase my profits? 
  3. How do I plan to use my profits this year (also known as retained earnings)? How will this choice affect my future profits or revenue?
  4. What is the financial trajectory of my business given its net income over the last year or two? Is this projection surprising? Why or why not? 

The bottom line 

To reiterate: revenue is the amount gained solely from sales of your business’s goods/services, whereas profit also takes into account all business expenses and taxes. Both are key performance indicators for the health of a business that shouldn’t be interpreted in isolation.

As a founder, you need to keep a close eye on your financial situation. Firstbase Accounting makes it easy to monitor transactions and generate tax- and investor-ready financial reports. Click the link to sign up and get your company's finances on track.

Get started with Firstbase

Start, grow, and manage your business. We're with you each step of the way.