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7 min read

What is a profit and loss account?

A profit and loss account gives you an overview of your business’s trading over a period of time. Understandably then, it’s one of the most important financial documents you’ll need to refer to when running and growing your business. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know including what records you need to keep, plus a profit and loss template to help you with your calculations.


Video: What is a profit and loss account?

A profit and loss account (also known as P&L) is one of two main statements (the other is the balance sheet) that is prepared to measure the performance and position for a business for a period of time – ie a month, quarter or year. The following video uses practical, true-to-life examples to guide you through profit and loss in a business setting, explaining how it is used and what the benefits might be.

Why is profit important?

It is important for a business to understand how much profit they’ve made to give it an idea as to whether the business is successful.

With so much money going in and out of a business, it is not always easy to see whether what a small business owner is doing is actually making money. By calculating profit, it helps give some clarity.

If a business is making a profit it can:

  • expand and grow
  • attract more investment
  • employ more staff.

It is worth mentioning that profit is different to cash. Some things will affect the cash flow of the business, but won’t affect profit e.g. money taken out of the business for personal use. Likewise, some items will affect profit but will not affect cash such as provisions e.g. where a business makes an adjustment for a customer not paying.

How do I calculate profit?

This simplest formula for calculating profit is: total revenue – total expenses = profit.

Profit is calculated by deducting direct costs, such as materials and labour and indirect costs (also known as overheads) from sales. Under normal accounting rules, sales and expenses are included in profit when they occur, not when they are actually paid so profit will include credit sales and purchases, even when they are yet to be paid.

Here is an example. A business buys £3,000 of stock in January and agrees to pay for it in three months’ time. It sells the stock in the month in which it purchased it (January) for £5,000 cash. The profit for the month is £2,000. The fact that the stock wasn’t paid for immediately is not relevant when calculating profit. The profit that is calculated will derive from the ‘profit and loss’ account and will be calculated for a set period, usually a year.

Download: Profit and loss account spreadsheet

Click on the download button below to access and use this profit and loss account.

This spreadsheet will help you calculate your:

  • Sales revenue
  • Cost of sales
  • Operating expenses
  • Net profit
  • Gross margin
  • Net profit margin.

Download: Please login or register to get your download.

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What records do I need to keep for sales?

Any money your business earns from selling goods or services in a trading year is known as turnover. Details of this will need to be included in your profit and loss statement.

To help you prepare your profit and loss statement you need to keep the following:

  • sales receipts
  • sales invoices
  • credit notes and other sales documentation
  • bank statements
  • cash sales listings.

Most people use accounting software so do their bookkeeping as they go e.g. they write up their books periodically – daily or weekly etc. This makes it far less daunting when it comes to preparing the accounts.

What records do I need to keep for purchases and expenses?

To help you prepare your profit and loss statement you need to keep records of all your business costs such as:

  • wages 
  • utility bills
  • material costs
  • insurance 
  • rent and rates etc.

If you are using accounting software you will process these periodically to ease the administrative burden at the accounting year end. Remember if you are VAT registered you will need to keep all of your VAT invoices for 6 years. Make sure that all of your invoices are valid VAT invoices where you have reclaimed the VAT.


Video: How to quickly identify key insights from your financial statements

by Informi

Financial statements are crucial to understanding the health of your business. Whether it’s your balance sheet or profit and loss account, checking in regularly and being able to quickly pick out the good or bad news is a key skill for any business owner. In this video, business growth expert and accountant Tamsyn Jefferson-Harvey explores how to use your statements to work out your business is performing.

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