How to improve your business profits by reviewing your cost base

How to improve your business profits by reviewing your cost base
Riina Trkulja
Riina TrkuljaAccounts Assistants

Posted: Tue 5th May 2020

Riina Trkulja, founder of, shares six tips how you can improve your profits by changing the way you run your business.

Now more than ever, businesses are looking at their cost base but it should not just be practice during a crisis, it should be business as usual. Care should be taken to avoid false economy by cutting out necessary cost that would improve productivity.

Aim to achieve 'good' gross profit margins

If you are looking to reduce your cost base, a good starting point would be to analyse expenditures in your management accounts as a percentage of revenue. You will need to look at each cost in your business rather than just focus on the biggest items, as small cuts can often add up to big savings.

Most businesses will have variable and fixed costs. Variable costs change in line with your output or sales so if your sales decrease these costs should also decrease and vice versa. Each industry is different, but most commonly your variable cost should be 30-50% of your revenue (cost divided by revenue x 100) giving you 50-70% gross profit margin.

If that is not the case, try to increase your prices perhaps by selling add on services or bundling up your products in a way that improves your margins or alternatively look ways to cut costs which we will discuss below.

Negotiate with your suppliers

If you have historically been paying higher prices it doesn't mean that you need to continue with these prices in the middle of a crisis. Read your contract and understand your termination clause. In addition, see what the alternatives are. Your supplier wants to continue in business too and they might just work with you to get through the crisis together.

If you are negotiating new contracts, try to have option to terminate at 30 days' notice, if there are price gains to be had, then perhaps a maximum term should be a year. That also goes for rent, where break clauses are common. It gives you the flexibility to change suppliers if necessary.

Watch out for additional charges which may be more expensively priced than average market value just because of convenience.

Understand the true cost of hiring someone

Good people can make or break your business but there are some skills you can outsource, hire part-time or get apprentices for.

When hiring someone, people often forget to consider the full cost of having an employee. On top of gross salary there is employers' national insurance at 13.8% and employer pension contributions at 3%. For example, on £30,000 gross annual salary, the additional cost to the employer would be £3,641. In addition, there is the cost of providing office space, IT equipment, training, drinks and entertainment. You must also stay up to date with employment law and consider how you motivate and manage people.

It might be cheaper and easier to outsource certain services like accounting, bookkeeping, HR services and marketing. There are many virtual assistants and finance directors that provide their services by the hour or on a day rate offering you the flexibility that small businesses so often need.

If you have the capacity to train then having a bright and enthusiastic apprentice might work out better than someone more experienced but undermotivated. The minimum hourly rate for apprentices is £4.15 vs living wage of £8.72 for 25 year olds and over. National minimum wage is £8.20 for people under 25 years of age.

Are your processes simple and clear?

Inefficient processes can be one of the biggest costs to the business but they are often hard to identify and quantify. Once that is done, the solution becomes pretty clear. If you have defined the process, it is important to communicate it to your colleagues so they know what is expected of them.

Most common causes of delays and wasted resources would be poor system integration and manual data entry, idle staff time, poor communication, lack of good data and relevant market analysis resulting in slow adjustment to changing demands, not enough clarity in job roles and responsibilities, no clear purchase order process where there are limits and authorisations in place before cost is incurred.

Each business is different and has different challenges. Start by mapping out your production or work processes and see if there is anywhere you can make it more efficient.

Produce management accounts and budgets regularly

In your management accounts include your variable costs and profit as a percentage of sales and monitor absolute value as well as percentage in addition to other key performance indicators. This way you know what you are spending and which products have lower margins.

Budgeting will help you plan ahead and anticipate resources needed to run your business and achieve your goals successfully. As you understand your purchasing needs, you will be in a better position to negotiate with your suppliers and buy in bulk if necessary. Do not worry about trying to create budgets that are 100% accurate.

Be creative with your costs

If the current coronavirus crisis has thought us anything, it is how much can be done by using the internet and staying at home. There are some businesses that will need face to face interaction, but there are many that can use working from home if not full, then part of the time, which should reduce their rent and office costs.

Advertising and marketing is where creativity will really pay dividends. In an ideal world you would look to get a five times return on your marketing spend and that would include the cost of marketing personnel. It is unlikely to be the case now but if you try different marketing and PR channels, you may discover some new avenues that are cheaper and give you better return on investment.

Stay well and safe!

Riina Trkulja
Riina TrkuljaAccounts Assistants
I founded Accounts Assistants after many years of experience of working with businesses - big and small. I qualified as ACA accountant when working as trainee auditor with KPMG, then moved on to PwC due diligence practice. My most recent job was with James Caan, the Dragons' Den investor. I worked in his private equity business as Investment Director and also Finance Director. I held numerous non-executive board positions with sole focus of growing and advising our portfolio businesses. I have been lucky enough to be able to drive change by improving cash management and efficiency of finance functions in big and small UK businesses. The ethos of Accounts Assistants is efficiency and value add. We feel so passionate about efficiency. We don't like wasting resources. We operate in a way that maximises the use of technology to provide you reliable service with high accuracy. We are accountants who think like entrepreneurs. Over the years we have developed methods and processes to run back-office functions more efficiently and saved companies significant amount of time and money. We are on the constant lookout to find ways to make accountancy and back office support seamless and invisible. The result is not only higher accuracy levels but lower price, better visibility of your business and faster results. We also have experience in management consulting streamlining processes which is absolutely valuable when you are trying to maximise your profits or restructure. We are members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). Our business is fully insured.

You might also like…

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.