SG&A or Selling, General and Administrative Expenses

SG&A or Selling, General and Administrative Expenses

Keeping track of your KPIs is a pillar of every business’s stability and financial success. This statement is hardly debatable. What can be discussed though, is what KPIs are necessary to follow in this or that particular case and which modern Business Intelligence software can help you do it seamlessly and consistently.

Luis Mocsa, a certified public accountant, the owner of several small businesses and a consultant with American Management Services, argues that KPIs, known as a flash report or dashboard, give business owners and managers an overview of how their companies or individual departments  are performing at any given time. If a business owner fails to grasp that, a company may be stuck with its problems for quite some time. On the contrary, tracking the right combination of KPIs may prove effective for making data-driven decisions and as a result building a successful and modern business. 

In this article, we’re looking into SG&A or selling, general and administrative expenses. This KPI is vital in terms of a company’s profitability and the calculation of its break-even point. We’ll explore the following points:

1. What is SG&A or selling, general and administrative expenses and why is it important for any business?

2. Components of SG&A expenses

3. Calculating and reporting SG&A expenses

4. SG&A vs Operating expenses

5. SG&A vs COGS (Cost of Goods Sold)

6. SG&A Ratio and financial success of a company

1. What is SG&A or selling, general and administrative expenses and why is it important for any business?

According to Investopedia, SG&A expenses are made of all the costs of running a business that aren’t related to production of goods and services.

In other words, SG&A comprises the non-production, everyday expenses of an operating business, like the costs to promote, sell, and deliver its products and services, rent company’s premises, salaries of some staff, advertising and marketing of goods and services. Sustainable profitability depends on managing and controlling SG&A expenses. Modern accounting software is one of the best solutions that helps to effectively track a company’s SG&A expenses among other vital KPIs.

SG&A is also known to be one of the first KPIs managers look into with the aim of reducing redundancies. Minimizing SG&A can be seen as a quick way of boosting a company’s profit. There’s a twist though, such a quick boost of profits may come at a cost of long-term profitability. Cutting on advertising and some delivery services, for example, may be seen as a quick fix at first, but later on it can prove to be ineffective and can even cause a profit loss.

It has to be noted that SG&A expenses are reported in a company’s income statement under the expenses section.

SG&A expenses are sort of the opposite for the cost of goods sold (COGS) in the sense that SG&A aren’t attributed to any product or service unlike COGS. SG&A expenses are the part of operating expenses, though they sometimes are used interchangeably. We’ll look into it in detail a bit later.

2. Components of SG&A expenses

SG&A expenses are broken down into three categories as it’s seen from the very letters of this initialism: “S” for selling, “G” for general and “A” for administrative. We’ll take a closer look at them. 

Selling expenses

When it comes to selling expenses, they’re often divided into direct and indirect costs. 

Direct selling expenses occur only when the product is sold. Packing and shipping costs as well as commissions of salespeople, partners or representatives can be a good example of direct selling expenses. Direct selling expenses are often variable, unlike other SG&A expenses.

Indirect selling expenses are incurred during the manufacturing process and after the product is finished. Indirect costs are generated before or after a sale. Marketing, advertising and promotion expenses, including social media costs are a good example of indirect selling expenses. Base salaries of salespeople and travel expenses refer to this category as well, even if they don’t generate income.

The most typical types of selling expenses include:

  • Marketing expenses are related to a company’s product line, services, brand and image. Marketing includes advertising and some companies don’t divide it into separate categories, others do for various reasons. Marketing expenses cover the work of professionals on creating marketing strategies and techniques as well as market research for a particular product or service.
  • Advertising expenses come in lots of forms of goods or services promotion starting with good-old TV/Radio ads, billboards all the way to social network campaigns and collaborations with influencers.  
  • Sales expenses which are made of salaries and wages of salespeople together with commissions, payroll taxes, and benefits.
  • Travel expenses cover the fares for trips of the staff to various events like trade shows, meeting with clients. These may include transport expenses, accommodation fees, cost of meals, calls, and whatever is reasonably needed by a person on a business trip.

G&A or general and administrative expenses are called a company’s overhead (important to differentiate from manufacturing overhead which is a part of COGS). They occur in the daily functioning of a business and aren’t directly tied to any specific function or department in a company. G&A expenses are usually fixed regardless of the amount of production or sales over a period of time and normally reported together.

General expenses

General expenses are incurred by a company regardless of the industry or products/services it creates. These expenses keep any business functioning on a daily basis.

General expenses include the following:

  • Rent. Any place for an office or headquarters of a company brings its costs. This also includes any other items that aren’t attributed to the manufacturing process, for example equipment that’s not involved in manufacturing, like coffee machines, vending machines or professional cleaning equipment.
  • Utilities. These costs cover electricity, water, sewer, or garbage expenses that aren’t part of the manufacturing process. 
  • Office equipment. This category comprises the cost of equipment like computers, internet connection equipment, printers, telephones or their rent. 
  • Supplies. This is all that’s necessary for administrative personnel to perform their functions, like stationery.
  • Insurance. Any insurance costs that are necessary for operating a business.

Administrative expenses

Administrative expenses can be called the cost of personnel, including internal or external staff, if a company outsources any services. It has to be mentioned here, that these people’s work isn’t directly related to making a product or providing a service by a company. These types of expenses include: 

  • Accounting payroll; 
  • Information technology payroll;
  • Human resources payroll;
  • Legal council;
  • Consulting fees.

3. Calculating and reporting SG&A expenses

Calculating SG&A is rather straightforward as it’s the sum of all non-product related expenses, but there are some points to consider along the way:

  • Define the expenses that aren’t directly related to the manufacturing of the product.
  • It’s necessary to remember that interest and taxes aren’t part of SG&A as they’re deducted from operating income.
  • Determine your reporting period (i.e. a month, quarter, or a year). Bear in mind that nominal accounts, such as expenses, are closed at the end of the accounting year.
  • The accounting method of the company does matter. While accrual basis accounting recognizes expenses that may have occurred but haven’t been paid for, cash basis accounting will only consider expenses that have been paid for.

The most important thing in SG&A calculation is to define which expenses are to be added into the category and this procedure is way simpler when using accounting software which automatically categorizes expenses based on the initial setup. Business accounting systems or software like Synder are able to not only categorize and sum up all the expenses your business incurs but also give visualized information on how your metrics, in our case expenses, increase or decrease. The following pictures reflect how payment processing fees are changing over time.

Synder Insights allows to accumulate, analyze and visualize business data effortlessly with the help of the following features:

  • Hourly multichannel data imports;
  • Sales analytics;
  • Product and COGS analytics;
  • Customer cohort reports;
  • Cross platform e-commerce KPIs.

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SG&A is reported in the section of expenses on a company’s income statement. 

Net/total revenue is always found at the top, then COGS is deducted to get the gross margin or gross profit. Then there comes the section of operating expenses with SG&A, R&D and any other expenses are listed below the gross margin. Operating/net profit is the result of deduction of these expenses from the gross margin/profit. Some expenses, such as interest expense or tax expense, are reported below operating income.

4. SG&A vs Operating expenses

When it comes to the difference between SG&A and operating expenses, often there’s none, especially in the way many companies report them on the income statement. What’s different is the degree of granularity when reporting operating expenses. This degree depends on the size of the company.

Larger companies often separate the components of SG&A and find it useful for tracking purposes. Thus selling, general and administrative categories come separate on their income statement, while smaller companies may file SG&A or even operating expenses, meaning all the expenses necessary to run a business and not related to making a product or a service.

There are also a few specific categories that are part of operating expenses but are excluded from SG&A.  For example, R&D or research and development costs are often not included in SG&A, as well as depreciation costs. Both categories are separately reported in the same section Operating Expenses of the income statement as SG&A.

5. SG&A vs COGS (Cost of Goods Sold)

SG&A and COGS represent different categories of expenses.

COGS or COS (cost of services, the term that works for service companies) represent all the costs directly associated with producing a product or delivering a service, while SG&A cover all the expenses that aren’t directly attributed to the manufacturing process or creating a service. 

It has to be said that there are no direct regulations from GAAP and the accounting department of a company decides what should go into COGS and what should go into SG&A. This seems easy at first glance, but in practice there are some ambiguous situations. For example, the cost of the materials for making the goods, and the wages of the people making them are directly related to the final product for sale, so they go into COGS. There’s no doubt here as COGS by definition includes direct labor costs and any direct material costs associated with the production process. On the contrary, the salary of the human resources manager and the cost of supplies used by the sales department go into SG&A.

But sometimes this line of division becomes so thin that it’s hard to decide. What do we do with the salary of managers of a company or quality supervisors? GAAP doesn’t say “yes” to one and “no” to the other unfortunately and companies use GAAP guidelines, a logical approach to apply them according to their particular situations. The key moment here is to apply these guidelines logically and consistently so that all the expenses end up under some category.

6. SG&A Ratio and financial success of a company

SG&A ratio may help to estimate non-product related expenses over a period of time and clearly see the tendency, because just growing SG&A might be a very positive thing, while growing SG&A ratio is a signal to look into the expenses. 

The SG&A ratio is the relationship between SG&A and revenue or the expense expressed as a percentage of total sales. SG&A ratio formula is:

SG&A Ratio = SG&A / Total Revenue

This indicator shows what percentage of a dollar earned is spent on SG&A expenses.

If we take an example of a company with $3 million in SG&A and $15 million in total revenue, we would get SG&A ratio of 20%, which means that every dollar of revenue gives $0.20 on SG&A expenses.

3,000/15,000=0.2 or 20%

Tracking SG&A ratio over time allows us to predict future expenses and take some steps in case of their fast increase. It’s clear that the lower this ratio is, the better it’s for the company. SG&A ratio is compared to the average benchmark in the industry, because this indicator varies a lot.

For example, the SG&A ratio for manufacturers can be around 20% of revenue, while in healthcare it can be up to 50% of revenue. Reducing costs is never complete without attempts to minimize SG&A expenses. According to the Deloitte article “Selling, General & Administration (SG&A) Cost Reduction Focus”, finding ways to lower SG&A expenses goes a long way toward cutting overall expenses. Those who succeeded in such attempts advise to focus on the following points:

  • Reassign staff from transactional to more value-added work, like planning, decision support and business, performance management;
  • Lower indirect expenses company wide (procurement and travel for example);
  • Create a flexible cost structure.

Cutting SG&A should be systematic and based on opportunity assessment.

Bottom line:

Tracking SG&A and generally knowing the numbers is a must for any aspiring businessman, but it’s even more important to make use of these numbers by taking necessary steps based on data-driven decisions, which demands analytical skills and experience. At the same time the process of gathering business information and turning it into visually perceptible sources for such analysis is streamlined by a good business accounting software. A good combination of Business Intelligence and management talent can work wonders.

Irina Seagull

Irina Seagull

Irina has a degree in Linguistics, 15 years of teaching experience and 3 years of experience in managing a team of 15 in a small business. Irina believes that a good structure and logic as well as in-depth research should be the attributes of every blog post.

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