Calculating business profits and expenses

Net Margin vs. Gross Margin: A Business Owner’s Guide to Profit Metrics

Whether you are a small or mid-size business, understanding profitability metrics like net margin and gross margin is fundamental for your business. These metrics offer insights into your company’s financial health, guiding strategic decisions and impacting your business’s overall success. In this guide, we’ll talk about net margin vs gross margin, their similarities, differences, uses, and how to calculate them. Being a small business ourselves (we’re a boutique digital marketing agency), we often refer to these metrics to understand our profitability and compare ourselves to the market of digital marketing services.

What is Gross Margin?

Gross margin is an important financial indicator that offers insights into your company’s profitability and financial health. It quantifies the difference between total revenue and the cost of goods sold (COGS), shedding light on your business’s pricing strategy and production costs efficiency. The gross margin uncovers the profit made per dollar of revenue after subtracting direct costs associated with production such as raw materials, labor, and overheads. This ratio is often expressed as a percentage, allowing businesses to evaluate their core operations’ profitability.

A higher gross margin suggests that a business can convert its sales into profit effectively, while a lower margin may hint at problems with production costs or pricing.

Calculating Gross Margin

Gross margin is a principal profitability ratio that shows a business’s financial health. The formula for calculating gross margin is:

Gross Margin = [(total revenue – cost of goods sold) / total revenue] x 100

Let’s break down the steps:

  1. Determine the total revenue made by the business over a specific period.
  2. Identify the components of the cost of goods sold (COGS). These are expenses directly linked to the production of goods or services, such as the cost of raw materials, labor, production expenses, and inventory maintenance costs.
  3. Subtract COGS from the total revenue to get the gross profit.
  4. Divide the gross profit by the total revenue and multiply by 100 to receive the gross margin percentage.

By calculating the gross margin, your can evaluate your profitability, assess your pricing strategy, and compare your financial situation to the industry average.

Applications of Gross Margin

Gross margin serves several purposes in a business:

  • Evaluating profitability: Gross margin percentage shows how much profit is made per dollar of revenue after accounting for the cost of goods sold. This information can guide adjustments to the pricing strategy to enhance profitability.
  • Comparing business models: Analyzing gross margin percentages across different business models helps to understand which models are more profitable and sustainable. This knowledge can guide strategic decisions.
  • Assessing financial health: Comparing your business’s gross margin with industry averages and competitors indicates your market position. A higher gross margin shows efficient control over production costs and operations, leading to a healthier financial standing.

Understanding Net Margin

Net margin, also known as net profit margin or net income margin, is another financial metric that measures a business’s profitability after accounting for all expenses, both direct and indirect. It provides a more comprehensive picture of a business’s profitability, taking into account all additional expenses incurred during revenue generation.

A higher net margin indicates more profit per dollar of revenue, suggesting efficient operations and better cost control. Conversely, a lower net margin may point to challenges in controlling expenses or a need to reevaluate the pricing strategy.

How to Calculate Net Margin?

To calculate net margin, you need to determine your business’s net income and total revenue. Net income is the profit made after all expenses are deducted, while total revenue is the total amount generated from sales or services.

The formula for calculating net margin is:

Net Margin = [(total revenue – total costs) / total revenue)] x 100

For instance, if your business has a net income of $50,000 and total revenue of $250,000, you would divide $50,000 by $250,000 to get 0.2, then multiply by 100 to receive a net margin of 20%.

Uses of Net Margin for a Business

Net margin is a key indicator of a company’s financial health and operational efficiency. Here are some ways net margin is utilized:

  • Assessing overall profitability: Net margin provides a holistic view of a company’s profitability by considering all expenses, not just COGS.
  • Comparing performance across industries: It can be used to compare a company’s performance with competitors or industry averages.
  • Strategic planning and decision making: Analyzing net margin can identify areas where expenses might be trimmed or where investment might be needed.
  • Investor and lender attraction: A healthy net margin can attract investors and lenders as it signals a well-managed business with strong earning potential.
  • Understanding price sensitivity: Net margin can guide pricing strategies and help anticipate the impact of market changes.

Net Margin vs Gross Margin: Key Similarities and Differences

While both gross margin and net margin are profitability ratios that assess a company’s financial health, there are significant differences. Gross margin is calculated by subtracting COGS from total revenue, showing the profitability of a company’s core operations. In contrast, net margin considers all additional expenses, providing a more comprehensive view of the company’s profitability.

Interpreting Gross Margin and Net Margin

Both gross margin and net margin offer valuable insights into a business’s profitability and overall financial performance. A declining gross margin could suggest rising production costs or changes in pricing strategy, while a declining net margin might indicate inefficient cost management or higher operating expenses.

Limitations of Gross and Net Margin

While these metrics are useful, they have limitations. You will not be able to directly use them to compare companies across different industries due to varying industry averages for gross and net margins. Moreover, a comparison between gross margin and net margin alone is not sufficient for a robust financial analysis.

Why Tracking Both Margin Metrics is Important

Gross margin and net margin provide valuable insights into a company’s revenue and costs. Tracking both is essential for business owners to make informed decisions about their operations. Both should be analyzed with profitability ratios for a comprehensive understanding of a company’s financial position.

Example: Glamour Cosmetics Online Store

Let’s see how the gross and net margin work with a practical example. We have changed the name of the company, but preserved the numbers.

Gross Margin Calculation:

  • Total Sales Revenue: $50,000 (from selling various cosmetic products)
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS): $30,000 (includes the cost of materials, manufacturing, and packaging)
  • Gross Margin Formula: [(Total Revenue - COGS) / Total Revenue] x 100
  • Gross Margin Calculation: [(50,000 - 30,000) / 50,000] x 100 = 40%

Net Margin Calculation:

  • Operating Expenses: $10,000 (includes rent for storage, administrative costs, marketing, etc.)
  • Total Costs (COGS + Operating Expenses): $40,000
  • Net Margin Formula: [(Total Revenue - Total Costs) / Total Revenue] x 100
  • Net Margin Calculation: [(50,000 - 40,000) / 50,000] x 100 = 20%


  • Gross Margin (40%): This indicates that “Glamour Cosmetics” retains 40 cents for every dollar of revenue after accounting for the cost of producing the goods. It’s a healthy sign, showing that the pricing strategy is effective, and the production costs are well-managed.
  • Net Margin (20%): The net margin considers all business expenses, resulting in a lower percentage. It provides a more detailed view of the profitability, reflecting how efficiently the business is managing all its costs, not just production.


The gross margin helps “Glamour Cosmetics” understand the potential profitability of the products themselves, while the net margin offers insights into the overall financial health of their business. The difference between the two margins might prompt the business owner to look into ways to reduce operating expenses, such as optimizing marketing strategies or marketing spending or renegotiating rent for storage space. By calculating both margins, the business can make further steps to make informed decisions to enhance profitability and sustainability.


The both metrics: net margin and gross margin are crucial for business owners. They help guide strategic decisions and contribute to the financial success of your business. Monitoring these metrics is a wise strategy for any business owner aiming for growth and success.

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