Deferred Revenue and its Impact on your Small Business

Most small business owners are familiar with the concept of revenues, which is essentially the total sales of their product or service, to customers and clients, prior to deducting any costs.  Revenues are a crucial component of business’ profit and loss statement and it is essential that they are accurate so that the business owners may effectively analyze the profitability of their businesses.  Additionally there are third parties for which the accuracy of the revenues, and corresponding financial statements, is essential for effective decision making.  Third parties include tax authorities, banks, partners and key employees (on which remuneration/bonuses might be based). 

At first glance the calculation of total sales/revenues seems fairly straightforward.  Add up your total sales (or ideally have your accounting software do it for you) and voila – you have your gross sales. There are, however, several types of adjustments that need to be made depending on the nature of the sale, including any amounts that might be construed as deferred revenues.  Essentially (and quite simply) deferred revenues represent sales that are invoiced their customers now for goods or services to be provided at a later date.   Revenue recognition principles dictate that, unless the sale has actually occurred, the revenue cannot be recognized.  In other words these amounts must be reflected as deferred revenues.  Once the product or service has been delivered or performed, the deferred revenue is then considered to be an actual sale/revenue.  To a non-accountant, this can sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo.  The examples of deferred revenue below should help illustrate the concept more clearly:

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