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Gross, Operational and Net Profit (Differences)

The word ‘Profit’ is used loosely in the business word. Profit refers to the amount earned net of costs in a transaction. The key is defining a transaction. There is the direct transaction whereby a customer purchases a product and so it is simple math; sales value less cost of item sold equals profit. Then there is the cost of selling large quantities of goods to various customers like a retail store. Now additional costs come into play including staging the products, labor to process the sales and answer customer questions, marketing to get the customer there etc. Finally there is the profit earned after taking into consideration other indirect costs such as back office operations, cost of capital and taxes.

In effect the term profit changes names as it becomes more inclusive of additional costs. The profit earned after every single cost is considered is called ‘Net Profit’. Net profit refers to the final amount of business earnings available for transfer to owners.

Each of the following sections explain the one of the various terms of ‘Profit’ from the most exclusive to the variant that includes every revenue and cost possible.

Gross Profit

The most simplistic definition of gross profit is a sale less cost of product sold or service rendered. A good example is the lawn maintenance guy. He charges by the yard. If the fee for service is $50 and he pays his laborer $9 for that one hour of service, the gross profit is $41. Is it this simple? No, it is actually a little more complex than this.

The laborer used the following tools and supplies:

– Zero turn lawnmower
– Weed eater
– Some of the line spool in the weed eater head
– Gasoline
– Gas/Oil mixture for the weed eater
– Leaf blower
– Trash bag
– Broom

Notice now it really is not as simple as it initially appears. The problem with this is that all these costs are spread over several jobs that day. Maybe $1.50 of the fuel was used for this particular job but unless the owner measures it out precisely he’ll never know.

To complicate this even more, how do you incorporate other indirectly related costs including?

– Transportation to the job site
– Trailer costs to haul the equipment
– Insurance including worker’s compensation
Employer’s payroll taxes

The answer lies in defining costs associated with the respective sale. There are two types of costs related to the actual sale process.

Direct Costs

Direct costs are sometimes referred to as prime costs. It means those costs that are undeniably associated with the sale of the product or service. The most common direct costs include materials and labor. Sometimes it is difficult to definitively state that a particular cost is directly attributable to that sales of a unit. Labor is a good example.

* A dealership sells a car, therefore the cost of the car is a prime cost. The salesman’s commission is also a prime cost. However, is the labor of the lot attendant (washes the cars) directly attributable to the sale of this particular car? No.
* When dealing with a group of homogeneous items sold to various customers like retail, auto repair, restaurants or personal care the various labors of the clerks are direct costs.

The key is that direct costs physically handle the items sold or services rendered in some form. Direct cost broadens as the subject of the sale moves from a single item to multiple similar items.

Indirect Costs

Indirect costs consist of expenditures necessary to complete the sale but can not be directly assignable to a particular unit or units of sale or service(s) rendered. These costs are spread over two or more units and in general are not involved in directly handling the items sold. But these costs are necessary to facilitate the sales on a day-to-day basis. Examples include production management, store manager, shipping/receiving, packaging, marketing etc.

Go back to the lawn maintenance example above; those costs not directly identifiable to the job are indirect costs.

So gross profit is simply sales minus direct and indirect costs for the item and/or service sold. These costs include materials, labor, transportation (shipping/receiving) and costs to make the item ready for sale. Different industries calculate and present the gross profit in different ways. The following are some examples:

Sales                                                                      $ZZZ,ZZZ
Cost of Goods Sold:
    Product                                            $ZZ,ZZZ
    Retail Labor                                        Z,ZZZ
    Shipping/Receiving                            Z,ZZZ
    Supplies                                                 ZZZ
    Sub-Total Cost of Goods Sold                              ZZ,ZZZ
Gross Profit                                                             $ZZ,ZZZ

Sales                                                                      $ZZZ,ZZZ
Cost of Services Rendered:
   Professional Staff                        $ZZZ,ZZZ
   Outside Consulting                          ZZ,ZZZ
   Reimbursements                                Z,ZZZ
   Technology                                        Z,ZZZ
   Sub-Total Cost of Services Rendered                  ZZZ,ZZZ
Gross Profit                                                             $ZZ,ZZZ

Contract Income % of Completion Method       $Z,ZZZ,ZZZ
Direct Costs of Construction
     Materials                                    $ZZZ,ZZZ
     Labor                                            ZZZ,ZZZ
     Sub-Contractors                           ZZZ,ZZZ
     Other                                               ZZ,ZZZ
     Sub-Total Direct Costs of Construction              ZZZ,ZZZ
Direct Margin                                                           ZZZ,ZZZ
Indirect Costs of Construction
    Management                                $ZZZ,ZZZ
    Transportation                                  ZZ,ZZZ
    Communication                                ZZ,ZZZ
    Insurance                                          ZZ,ZZZ
    Equipment                                        ZZ,ZZZ
    Sub-Total Indirect Costs of Construction               ZZZ,ZZZ
Gross Profit                                                                 $ZZ,ZZZ

Notice the difference between the three different reporting formats? The construction format is driven by direct and indirect costs of actual construction. All of these costs in all three formats are incurred before office and general expenses.

One last note concerning the term ‘Direct Margin’. Sometimes it is called ‘Direct Profit’. This is another variance of the term ‘Profit’.

The next step in calculating the final net profit is to the determine operational profit.

Operational Profit

From gross profit is subtracted front and back office expenses. In business this commonly referred to as general and administrative (G&A) or overhead expenses. As accountants we call them expenses. In general expenses are grouped into six major sets:

* Management – front and back office payroll including any outside consultants (accounting and legal), benefits; production management is a function of gross profit and is included in cost of sales.
* Facilities – rent, utilities, real estate taxes, repairs and maintenance
* Communications – telephone, cell phones, internet, cable and radios
* Insurance – general liability, property, professional, umbrella, life
* Office – office supplies, postage, technology, training, meals and entertainment
* Taxes and Licenses – revenue, personal and business property; certification, continuing education, franchise license, assessments  

Expenses generally have very little to do with the day-to-day sales of products or rendering services. These costs are long-term in nature and are required to run the business but not sell the product.

Notice how operational profit is more inclusive of other generic expenses. There is another term often substituted for operational profit and it is called Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA). The taxes refers to income taxes and not the group of taxes found within the expenses as identified above.

The following is an example of a profit and loss statement through the operational profit line.

Sales                                                         $ZZ,ZZZ
Adjustments                                                   (ZZZ)
Net Sales                                                    ZZ,ZZZ
Other Revenue                                              Z,ZZZ
Total Revenue                                           $ZZ,ZZZ
Cost of Goods Sold:
    Product                                 $ZZ,ZZZ
    Labor                                        Z,ZZZ
    Shipping                                       ZZZ
    Supplies                                       ZZZ
    Sub-Total Cost of Goods Sold                ZZ,ZZZ
Gross Profit                                                 ZZ,ZZZ
    Management                        $ZZ,ZZZ
    Facilities                                  Z,ZZZ
    Insurance                                  Z,ZZZ
   Office                                         Z,ZZZ
   Taxes & Licenses                       Z,ZZZ
   Communications                           ZZZ
   Sub-Total Expenses                                  ZZ,ZZZ
Operational Profit                                        $Z,ZZZ

The reader should see a pattern develop. Each variance of profit increasingly gets more inclusive of costs. Gross profit is the least inclusive because it is limited to direct costs associated to what the customer purchased. Operational profit is more refined because it includes general operational costs (expenses). To further clarify profit, capital costs must be subtracted to get profit.


Operational profit or EBITDA doesn’t include depreciation , amortization or interest. These three expenses are a function of capital financing. The purchase of fixed and intangible assets are depreciated and amortized over time. Most of these assets are financed and the interest to service that debt is also a capital cost. From operational profit capital costs are subtracted and the business has its profit, not net profit, but profit. Three are still three more sets of costs a business may incur to get the final net profit.

Net Profit

Net profit is defined as the final amount of earnings that are available for payment to owners. There are no other obligations. Between profit and net profit exists three distinct groups of monetary transactions.

1) Unusual Events – ordinary transactions that either generate costs or create additional revenue. This includes insurance proceeds and costs associated with that event, sale of equipment, write-down of value for intangible assets and so on.
2) Extraordinary these are unusual and infrequent events causing a significant change in value for the business. Examples include a major lawsuit (gain or damages), sale of a division or any event that is rare.
3) Income Taxes – some small businesses do not pay income taxes due to their legal standing with the IRS (S-Corporations, Partnerships and Limited Liability Companies).

Now let’s take a look at a full income statement identifying the various points of profit.

                     Income Statement
           Year Ending December 31, 2015

Revenue                                               $1,318,205
Co-Share Rights                                       (131,821)
Net Revenue                                           1,186,384
Costs of Mining:
    Labor Cuts (Shares)             $394,202
    Fuel                                        410,610
    Equipment                              108,918
    Safety                                          3,401
    Licenses (Mining)                       7,012
    Sub-Total Costs of Mining                     924,143
Gross Profit                                               262,241
    Management                         $107,000
    Transportation                          19,402
    Lodging/Camp                         13,212
    Leases                                        6,010
    Office                                         3,401
    Professional Fees                     10,619
    Insurance                                  12,621
    Taxes & Licenses                       7,402
    Sub-Total Expenses                                   179,667
Operational Profit                                         82,574
Costs of Capital:
    Interest                                    $41,202
    Depreciation                             13,181
    Depletion                                  17,402
    Sub-Total Costs of Cap                                71,785
Profit                                                                10,789
Add: Gain on Sale of D-9 (Dozier)                    9,402
Less: Income Taxes (Income/Capital Gains)     6,018
Net Profit                                                       $14,173


The term profit must be qualified to identify the particular point in the income statement (profit and loss statement). There are four well accepted variances of the term profit.

Gross Profit – most restrictive in that it pertains to value earned off the sale of products or services to customers.
Operational Profit– a profit more encompassing as it is inclusive of general expenses.
Profit – after operational profit but includes capital costs such as depreciation, amortization and interest.
Net Profit – the final amount available to investors after including unusual, extraordinary events and income taxes.

As a business entrepreneur understanding these various forms of profit (qualified terms of profit) elevates your understanding of business terminology from the novice level to the more sophisticated position.  ACT ON KNOWLEDGE. 

If you have any comments or questions, e-mail me at dave (insert the usual ‘at’ symbol)  I would love to hear from you.   If interested in my help as an accountant or consultant, contact me through the ‘My Services’ page in the footer.

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About David J Hoare (420 Articles)
I spent 12 Years as a Certified Public Accountant, Over 20 Years of Practice in Accounting and Consulting, Controller in Management of Closely Held Operations, Masters of Science in Accounting, Prepared over 1,000 Business Tax Returns and Hundreds of Individual Returns