Profit and Loss Statement (P&L): A Beginner’s Guide

Profit and Loss Statement (P&L): A Beginner’s Guide

Whether you’re running a successful business or just starting out, chances are that you know how much of a difference financial statements can make when it comes to attracting investors or applying for loans. 

One of the three pillars of financial reporting, the P&L report provides information about the business’s progress, trends in its development, and helps to identify strong points that drive the business forward, as well as weak spots that require special attention.

Let’s take a closer look at what a profit and loss statement (P&L) is, how exactly it works, why your business needs it and the way automatic accounting software can help you manage it.


1. What is a profit and loss statement (P&L)?

2. Profit and loss statement vs cash flow statement and balance sheet

3. Is my business required to prepare a profit and loss statement?

4. Types of profit and loss statements

5. Profit and loss statement template: which one is the best?

6. Profit and loss statement with Synder: an automated income statement

7. What to do with your income statement

What is a profit and loss statement (P&L)?

A profit and loss statement is a financial statement that provides a record of the revenues, expenses, and profits/losses incurred by a business over a specified time frame, typically issued monthly, quarterly and annually. This type of financial statement is prepared using the cash or accrual accounting method and gives information about how much your business is making or losing.

A profit and loss statement can sometimes be referred to as an income statement, expense statement, earnings statement, statement of operations, or statement of financial results.

Regardless of the name, it’s a valuable source of information about the financial health of your business, so you should know exactly how it works. 

Profit and loss statement vs cash flow statement and balance sheet

The P&L statement is one of the three financial statements every public company has to release every quarter or fiscal year, along with the balance sheet and cash flow statement. Let’s break down the differences so that you know why you need all three.

Profit and loss statement vs cash flow statement

The P&L statement shows the overall performance of your business – revenues, total expenses, profits and losses, while the cash flow statement demonstrates how these profits or losses flow through your business.

The cash flow statement shows the amount of cash inflows and outflows over a specific time frame, which means that you can see whether your business generated cash or not.

As you can see, your income statement and cash flow statement are closely connected and reflected on your balance sheet.

! Check out our article on the differences between direct and indirect cash flows.

Profit and loss statement vs balance sheet

While the P&L statement shows the income, expenditures and profitability of your business over a specific period, the balance sheet gives you an overview of the assets, liabilities and shareholder equity of your business up to a given date. 

The balance sheet is usually used to understand the financial position of the company and specifically to compare the amount and quality of assets against liabilities – how much a business owns and owes at a single moment. That’s why it’s extremely important for investors and creditors as they evaluate the resources of your business and how effectively they’re managed.

! Check out our article on what a balance sheet is from a business owner’s perspective.

Now that you know the difference between the three basic financial statements – profit and loss, balance sheet and cash flow statement – let’s focus on your income statement and why you need it. 

Is my business required to prepare a profit and loss statement?

If your company is publicly traded, you’re required to prepare a P&L statement and file this and other annual financial reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). When you prepare these financial reports, you must comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The financial information disclosed in your income statement is further evaluated by regulators, analysts and potential investors.

While public companies are required to prepare an income statement, private companies, especially very small ones, sometimes aren’t required to comply with GAAP and may choose not to prepare formal financial statements at all. However, in such cases it’s extremely difficult for them to apply for funding and it virtually eliminates their attractiveness to investors. As you can see, preparing an income statement is a condition for the growth of your business.

Types of profit and loss statements

There are two ways a business may use to prepare profit and loss statements – using the cash or accrual accounting method. Let’s break them down.

Cash method for calculation of profit and loss

The cash accounting or one-entry method is perfect if you’re running a small business and your revenue doesn’t exceed $5 million or if you’re an individual in need of managing your personal finances. This approach is used to account for cash that goes in and out of the business, which means that you take into consideration only the cash received or paid. When cash is received, it’s recorded as revenue, while when you pay bills, these transactions come out as liabilities.

Accrual method for calculation of profit and loss

As soon as the revenue of your business reaches $5 million, you’re required to use the accrual accounting or double-entry method. Under this method you record revenue as it’s earned, which means that your business accounts for money that is expected to be received in the future. Whenever you sell a product or service, you instantly record this transaction as a revenue on your P&L statement, even though the payment will take time to be received. Likewise, liabilities should be recorded as expenses.

Profit and loss statement template: which one is the best?

Under GAAP, there’s no universal template for a P&L statement. However, lots of websites and even governmental authorities provide a variety of templates which typically include income or revenue, expenses, total expenses and net income. These categories are conventionally divided into the top line and bottom line sections or entries:

  • Top line. All the income statements begin with the top line which is an entry for the total revenue or income generated by a business through its primary operations.
  • Bottom line. The last line of your profit and loss is extremely important and is commonly referred to as the bottom line (also known as net income or net profit). The net income is also referred to as earnings or profit and represents the amount of profit a business has left after deducting all of its expenses.

NB! It’s essential to understand the difference between revenue and net profit. Though the terms may sometimes be used interchangeably, the concepts differ critically. While high revenue is undoubtedly a sign of success at the moment, it’s not the only metric that matters. It’s profit that indicates how sustainable your business is in the long term. In case of net loss, gross profit value is negative.

While knowing what a top line and bottom lines are and following a suggested template make calculating your profit and loss statement simpler, you’ve got to know how exactly the whole process works. Creating P&L and other accounting financial statements involves keeping track of your numbers, paying attention to the slightest detail and allowing time for corrections. If it doesn’t feel like something you’d like to devote a significant part of your resources to and you want to have some kind of insurance against inevitable discrepancies, automated software is here to help. 

Let us describe how calculation of the statement works in Synder, one of the best automation tools on the market.

Profit and loss statement with Synder: an automated income statement

Synder is a comprehensive and easy-to-use e-commerce accounting solution that automates a significant part of your accounting and helps you get rid of mundane work. It solves multiple problems: captures detailed data from all your connected platforms (Stripe, eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify, etc.), categorizes it, facilitates reconciliation and creates flawless reports, including P&L, in just a few clicks. Once you’ve set up everything correctly, you can enjoy one of the best things Synder has to offer – perfect reporting.

As it has already been noted, a profit and loss statement is a source of information about the profitability or losses of a given business that summarizes its total income and expenses at a specific time. What it means is that all of your income and expense transactions (invoices, sales receipts, bills, checks, etc.) recorded in your accounting software, let’s say for example, QuickBooks Desktop will post to this report (check out Synder’s integrations for QuickBooks and QuickDooks Desktop). Naturally, in order to create an income statement, you or your CPA need to start with stating the revenue, proceed with accounting for incurred expenses and finally state the net income which indicates the company’s profit or loss. 

With Synder’s automation, the starting point, of course, is choosing the period for calculation. You can prepare P&L statements for various periods: this month to date, last month, this year to date, or you can choose a custom interval (this Monday or last ten days, for example).

Columns in the statement may be displayed by:

  • location,
  • contact, 
  • e-commerce stores,
  • product, 
  • tags, 
  • tax, 
  • payment processor, 
  • month.
Synder’s P&L displayed by month

Synder’s P&L displayed by product

The filters give you an opportunity to use the most detailed info to your advantage. Now you’ll have a clear understanding of which client, product, class, and payment platform is bringing you more revenue and which aspects of your business are slowing you down. 

Your profit and loss report displayed by period (the most frequently chosen option) might look like this:

Synder’s P&L displayed by period

Once you’ve chosen a period, you’re ready to see the magic. Let’s break down the process of creating an accurate and detailed P&L statement in Synder and have a closer look at the steps that Synder makes FOR you while you spend your time on other things that matter.

1. Calculating revenue or total income

Tracking the income or the funds you’ve received in payment for goods and services over the accounting period gives you your total operating revenue. Synder calculates everything your business has earned, including the payments collected for the non-operating activities and displays the number under the ‘Total Income’.

2. Calculating cost of goods sold

Synder gathers the details on the cost of goods and services – any expenses associated with manufacturing, selling, and shipping a product, sums everything up and puts them under ‘Total Cost of Goods Sold’.

3. Determining gross profit

Now that Synder knows your total income and COGS, it subtracts the COGS to determine your gross profit or gross margin – the profit you’ve earned from selling your goods and services. 

4. Calculating operating expenses

The next thing is calculating all of your operating expenses – the costs spent on running your business (administrative, general or selling): fees, rent, utilities, payroll, maintenance, etc. Synder labels the total number as ‘Total Expenses’. For example, if you’re running a SaaS company, your expected costs typically include salaries, web hosting fees, software subscriptions, hardware repairs, equipment purchases, transport and advertising fees. See what Synder has to offer to SaaS companies here.

5. Obtaining net operating income

After subtracting operating expenses from your gross profit, Synder gets the total operating profit (or loss) of your business, also known as net operating income – the total amount you make before taxes, depreciation, interest and authorization. The operating profit is labeled as ‘Net Operating Income’ on the statement.

6. Calculating other expenses

If your business has an additional income or expenses not related to its primary activities, you’ll want to adjust for them. Interest and dividends from investments, interest paid on loans – they all fall into this category. Synder calculates interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization expenses, sums them up, and displays the total amount under ‘Total Other Expenses’.

7. Obtaining net income

Finally, Synder subtracts the total expenses from your gross profit and arrives at your net profit which is labeled as ‘Net Income’. Now you know if you have profit or loss after deducting all the expenses. Your ideal profit and loss statement is ready.

Synder takes a very precise and detailed approach towards calculating an income statement and makes sure that everything is as smooth as possible. Apart from impeccable reporting, the solution also provides you with data for business insights. Now you have unlimited access to consolidated reports on customer behavior, product performance, etc., that allow you to make informed and timely decisions.

Time to see one of the best accounting solutions in action – register for a demo session with our best specialists. Learn about Synder’s general flow and bonus features, ask  questions and dispel your doubts. Sign up to activate your 7-day free trial (no credit card needed) to explore everything yourself. Simplify your reporting and get actionable insights with Synder!

What to do with your income statement

Now that you know how to calculate your P&L statement with the help of automated software, you might wonder why you need it in the first place. Well, income statement is the most scrutinized document your business has to prepare, but it’s worth the effort for a number of reasons:

  1. P&L is one of the crucial financial statements that provide you with a thorough understanding of the current financial standing of your business. It allows you not only to estimate your profits and losses, but also plan budgets and make future projections. 
  1. P&L contains 3 most important metrics in business for investors – gross profit, operating profit and net profit. Investors turn to P&Ls for insights into the financial health of the business. They decide if your business is worth external investment based on the numbers and trends that they see on the statement.
  1. Healthy P&L secures the loans small business owners might need for growth and development.   If you need to apply for funding or loans, creditors often require an income statement as part of the application process.
  1. P&Ls are used by the government for tax purposes. They’re required in order to estimate how much your company has to pay in revenue taxes. 

Final words on profit and loss

There are many financial statements that should be regularly prepared by a business, and one of the most important ones is a profit and loss statement. P&L allows you to manage the money that goes in and out of your business, gives you a clear understanding of how much you’re making or losing and why, and allows you to look into the future with more confidence. Required by business owners, investors, creditors and governmental authorities, P&Ls call for special attention when calculated. While calculating might seem easy, the process is time-consuming and usually calls for additional resources. Automation is the best way to streamline the process and ensure the quality of your final financial statements. Make your life and the life of your CPA easier – implement Synder to have total control and access to the most detailed and precise info at any time! Work smarter! 

Ana Misiuro

Ana Misiuro

Ana Misiuro is an editor and content creator with Synder who writes about the intricacies of online marketing and e-commerce. Once a newbie herself, she knows the importance of understanding the basic concepts and learning from best practices when you’re just starting in the world of e-commerce. She holds a degree in Linguistics and her interests span public relations, advertising, sales, marketing, psychology and health.

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