calculating roi

The Most Common Mistakes Small Businesses Make in Calculating ROI

Calculating return on investment (ROI) will help you determine whether a new project or purchase is a smart choice for your business. However, if you make mistakes in your ROI calculations, you could be setting yourself up for failure.

Unfortunately, many small business owners make easily avoidable mistakes when calculating ROI, which can cause serious financial issues. By learning about these common mistakes and how to calculate ROI properly, you can make the right financial decisions and achieve success with your business.

The Most Common Mistakes in Calculating ROI

To calculate ROI, you need to compare the gain or loss from an investment to the cash outlay, which refers to the amount of money spent on it. Whether you calculate this manually or by using an ROI calculator, you must consider all of the costs involved and decide if the benefits outweigh the cash outlays.

Most business owners will end up making the same few mistakes when they’re first starting out. Here are the main mistakes you should watch out for:

Mistake 1: Confusing cash and profit

Perhaps the main mistake that small business owners make is confusing cash and profit. This may seem like an insignificant difference if you’re still getting to grips with these financial terms, but using the wrong metric can cause you to overestimate how beneficial an investment would actually be.

So, what’s the difference between cash and profit, and why does this matter for calculating ROI? Cash is measured by a business’s cash flow statement (this statement records cash generated and cash spent), whereas profit is measured in profit and loss statements (also known as income statements).

Profit denotes the amount of revenue left after expenses have been paid, whereas a business’s cash flows indicate how much cash is actually being held.

Profit and cash flows don’t necessarily align. For example, profit is made when a transaction is recorded and not when you receive the cash, so if some of your customers make late payments, you’ll have less cash in the bank than your profit suggests.

When you’re calculating ROI, be aware of whether you’re using profit or cash flow as a metric. Since you’re considering the costs involved in the initial investment on one side of the equation, it may be better to work out the benefits in terms of cash flow. This will give you a clearer picture of your company’s financial position following the investment as you’re comparing cash spent vs. cash generated.

Mistake 2: Underestimating the initial costs

Underestimating the initial costs of investments can lead to serious problems when calculating ROI. You must include all costs and cash transactions in your ROI calculation, not forgetting operational costs, equipment costs, installation costs, shipping costs, and all other expenses.

If you don’t take all the costs into account, then you could end up overestimating the ROI and not receiving as many benefits from the investment as you initially thought. In the worst-case scenario, you could even lose money overall as the total costs may negate any benefits. This becomes even more likely if you were working with a smaller ROI, to begin with.

Mistake 3: Forgetting the value of time

One of the main costs that business owners overlook when calculating ROI is the cost of labour. Your employees and contractors are compensated for their time, so if their time is spent on implementing a new project or installing a new system, then their wages must be factored into the initial cash outlay.

Time is money, so when you’re deciding whether an investment is worthwhile, you need to consider the amount of time you’ll need during the set-up phase and how much you’ll spend on wages during this period. Even if an investment seems to have a high ROI, it still may not be worth it for your business if too much time is required to reach profitability.

Mistake 4: Not setting a minimum rate of return

There’s no point in calculating ROI if you don’t know how you’ll evaluate your results. To get the most out of your ROI calculations, you need to set a minimum rate of return (or hurdle rate) to determine whether an ROI is high enough for you to go ahead with the project or purchase.

Simply calculating an overall net gain isn’t enough when you consider the amount of time, effort, and money that you’ll need to invest. Consider what would be an enticing rate of return for your business and compare this to other businesses in your industry to determine your hurdle rate.

Mistake 5: Not measuring against the right KPIs

Every business needs a set of targets and KPIs (key performance indicators) to measure growth. So, when you’re calculating ROI, it makes sense to consider these KPIs throughout the process to see if an investment will actually help you hit the most important targets for your business. By considering both your KPIs and your minimum rate of return, you’ll be able to accurately determine which investments will help you achieve your goals and grow your business.

Mistake 6: Not accounting for changes over time

Nothing is static in the world of business. Although you can try to anticipate changes, there will always be new developments that take you by surprise. For example, you may run into a series of financial issues if you receive late payments from customers, or trends in your industry may change while you’re in the middle of a project.

To stay afloat, your business needs to remain flexible and adapt to changes. Therefore, when you’re calculating the ROI for a new project, you can’t expect to calculate this value only once. Instead, as a project progresses, you need to continuously recalculate your ROI and measure it against your main KPIs to take new developments into consideration. This will help you monitor the financial performance of a new project at all stages and make adjustments if necessary.

How to Calculate ROI Correctly

Often, young companies focus on making quick ROI calculations and going ahead with any opportunity that shows a net gain. However, as explained above, you must carefully consider your KPIs, hurdle rate, and total investment costs before rushing through any decisions.

In addition, you need to know how to calculate ROI correctly. ROI is a ratio comparing the gain or loss from an investment in relation to the initial investment cost, although it is commonly expressed as a percentage.


So, how do you achieve this percentage? First of all, you need to work out the net return on investment. This is achieved by subtracting the initial value of the investment (IVI) from the final value of the investment (FVI).

Then, you need to divide the net return (FVI – IVI) by the cost of the investment. Multiply the answer by 100 to achieve a percentage. This percentage is your ROI.

Naturally, you’ll want a positive number to go ahead with an investment because a negative number suggests you’ll make a loss. You should also set a minimum rate of return (hurdle rate) for your investment to help you decide whether it’s worthwhile to pursue. If an investment isn’t promising, you can start exploring alternative investment possibilities.

Making Smart Investments

ROI calculations are invaluable in helping business owners analyze investment opportunities. However, if the ROI has been calculated incorrectly, this can have dire financial consequences.

By learning the most common mistakes in calculating ROI, you can avoid these issues and make sound investment decisions. As a result, you’ll be able to take advantage of the best opportunities to grow your business.

To always produce accurate ROI calculations, remember to follow the tips and tricks in this helpful guide. With a detailed and comprehensive ROI analysis strategy, you’ll give yourself the best chance of success.

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.