5 Business Acumen Concepts Every Manager Should Know

In order to make smart decisions affecting their organization’s financial resources, all managers must understand basic business acumen concepts. Lacking some or all of this knowledge can create barriers in a leader’s decision-making process, including – but not limited to – creating budgets, forecasting, and even managing costs. 

Below is a shortlist of five business acumen concepts that every manager should know.

1. Basic financial literacy

Basic financial literacy is the ability to interpret financial statements and get a clear view of the story behind the numbers (at a high level). This allows managers to translate and retell that story to their teams – providing context for the organization’s financial objectives to help create ownership among everyone in the organization. 

2. Money, money, money

There is a huge difference between cash, profit (gross profit, operating profit, net profit – see below for definitions), and revenue. Using these terms interchangeably (or simply referring to them all as “money”) can muddy the business acumen waters and further complicate someone’s path to financial literacy.

  • Cash – Money available in cash, money on deposit in banks, and any items available for immediate deposit. Those items might include checks, money orders, charge slips, etc. They may also be called “liquid funds.”
  • Revenue – The inflow of cash or other assets received in exchange for goods or services provided to customers; also called “sales.”

Three Types of Profit

  • Gross Profit – Sometimes called “gross margin” or “gross profit,” and calculated as net sales minus cost of goods sold. 
  • Operating Profit – The difference between sales/revenue and operating costs. Also known as “operating income.” You might also hear this called EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). Many organizations track EBITDA closely because it is the profit number on which managers have the most impact (driving efficiencies, keeping operating costs closely managed, etc.).
  • Net Profit – The amount remaining after deducting all costs (including taxes and interest) from all income. Losses are indicated in parentheses on financial statements.

3. Profit margin

You might hear profit, margin, or profit margin – they all refer to the same thing: how much money the company gets to keep after all expenses are paid out. The difference between profit and margin is that profit is expressed as a number and margin is expressed as a percentage. Being able to calculate and understand the story told by these formulas gives managers deeper insight into the health of their organization.

Gross Profit Margin = Gross Profit ÷ Net Sales

Operating Margin = Operating Income ÷ Net Sales (this can also be called EBITDA Margin)

Net Profit Margin = Net Profit ÷ Net Sales (this can also be called Return on Sales [ROS])

4. Unbudgeted expenses

The impact on margin of an unbudgeted expense cannot be overstated. To most, the amount of revenue needed to offset even a relatively “small” expenditure comes as a shock.

Here’s a simple example:

Imagine that an organization has a ROS of 10% on $1,000,000 in sales. This means they keep 10 cents for every dollar sold. 

Now let’s say they have to spend $4,000 on a new computer. How much would the company have to sell to make up for this expense? 

$4,000 (expense) ÷ 10% (ROS) = $40,000 in additional sales

As you can see, even a relatively small expense can require a lot of additional revenue to offset. And in today’s competitive business world, slimmer profit margins require even more sales to cover these expenditures. 

5. Financial levers

Armed with business acumen, managers can use the financial levers they pull to increase top-line revenue, manage costs, maintain or improve bottom-line profit, allocate resources wisely, and maximize the use of assets. 

With comprehensive business acumen training, your managers can gain the financial literacy that is necessary to make a meaningful impact.

Level up your business acumen skills through virtual, classroom, or hybrid-based learning.  

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