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Year-Over-Year Growth: What It Is and How to Calculate It

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood

Editor-in-Chief at Fundera
Meredith is Editor-in-Chief at Fundera. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.
Meredith Wood

Every small business owner wants to know how their business is doing over time. Some might look to monthly profit and loss statements; others quarterly statements. To really see how your business is doing, few metrics beat year-over-year growth as a dependable benchmark to track your company’s progress.

Don’t get us wrong—other calculations are great for tracking your company’s health and progress, too. Year-over-year growth projection, however, gives you a top-level look at whether your company’s beating last year’s performance. This helps make seasonal business fluctuations look less dire, and gives you broad insights into whether or not your short-term goals are leading to long-term success.

Year-over-year growth is a simple metric to calculate, which makes it a great tool to have in your arsenal as the year draws to a close. You’ll be able to look at the big picture as a simple percentage point. This way, you can know at a glance if you had a good financial year and whether you’re going into the next year strong, Plus, if you want to approach lenders for a small business loan, they’ll want to see your year-over-year growth before giving you the go-ahead for financing.

What Is Year-Over-Year Growth, and Why Is It Important?

Year-over-year growth comparisons pit one period against the same period from the year prior. For example, you’d compare Q3 in 2017 against Q3 in 2018, as they share the same period length. This is the same as a month-over-month or a week-over-week calculation—the methods remain the same, but the amount of time under consideration is longer.

There are two major reasons why you’d want to know your company’s year-over-year growth: to better understand your business at a top level and to provide would-be lenders with a sense of your company’s overall health. Year-over-year growth demonstrates to lenders that your company’s in good financial health overall, almost as a thumbnail sketch of whether or not you’re likely to have continued success.

Most (if not all) lenders will want to see your year-over-year growth stats as part of the loan application process. You might have to submit this number alongside others within your loan application, such as your cash flow, debt-to-earnings ratio, and other helpful financial stats about your enterprise.

Thankfully, year-over-year growth is one of the easier figures to tally. Here’s how to do it.

Year-Over-Year Growth Formula: How to Calculate It

Determining your year-over-year growth is fairly simple. All you need to do is subtract your current year earnings by last year’s earnings, then divide by last year’s earnings. Then, you multiply the resulting figure by 100, which provides you with a percentage figure.

Typically, business owners use year-over-year growth to compare their revenue from one period to another, but know that you can use the year-to-year growth formula to compare almost any figure. Also, you can do the year-over-year growth formula to calculate your performance over a year, month, or quarter.

Where to Find the Information to Calculate Year-Over-Year Growth

Finding your year-over-year figures is as easy as looking at your balance sheet.

Check out your yearly balance sheet for a quick reference, but if you don’t have a yearly balance sheet handy, take your monthly or quarterly earnings and tally each of them up from throughout a single calendar or fiscal year. Be sure that you compare the same amount of time from each period; otherwise you won’t arrive at an accurate figure.

How to Use the Year-Over-Year Growth Formula

Let’s say that you’re in your early stages with a new company and want to see how things are progressing. You’ve noticed some seasonal patterns during your first two years in operation, and you’re concerned that these fluctuations might demonstrate overarching problems in terms of your company’s financial health. You’re not sure, however, if this is actually the case—this is where year-over-year growth helps you understand the big picture.

If your company brought in $145,000 in 2017 and $150,000 in 2018, then in this scenario your year-over-year growth percentage would be just over 3%. Here’s what the year-over-year growth calculation would look like:

$150,000 (Current Year) — $145,000 (Last Year) / $145,000 (Last Year) = $5,000 (Year-Over-Year Growth in Cash)

$5,000 (Year-Over-Year Growth in Cash) / 100 = 3.44% Year-Over-Year Growth

This growth rate shows that your business is making slow, steady progress. You might have seasonal fluctuations, but on the whole, your company is still growing.

So, what do you do with this information? First, you can tweak your business strategy to increase your growth rate. Or you can approach lenders with this quick stat, which demonstrates how well you’re doing over the long term.

year over year growth

What the Year-Over-Year Growth Figure Can Help Small Business Owners Understand

The benefits of calculating your year-over-year growth figure go way beyond giving you a baseline indicator of success, however. Most companies can use this calculation as a starting point to discover inefficiencies in how they spend money, price discrepancies, or logistical issues that might be eating into revenue over time.

Here are a few of the many insights that a year-over-year growth calculation can provide:

Productivity

Say you’ve opened up a second location for your business within the last year, and you want to determine if it’s been a success so far. Your year-over-year growth will help you determine if you’ve brought in more money as a result of the second shop, or if the costs associated with expansion haven’t been covered by the extra revenue that your new location should provide. A drop in year-over-year growth can help tip you off to any potential financial problems due to expansion, since it’ll give you a clear assessment of how well your company did compared to the year before.

Efficiency

If you’ve seen an increase in sales from last year, but your year-over-year growth percentage hasn’t jumped as high as you expected, you may have an issue with your company’s efficiency.

Perhaps the higher sales figure has made it harder for you to manufacture goods as quickly, which means you’ve got longer lead times before you can fulfill orders. Or, alternatively, your robust sales growth has taken its toll on your manufacturing equipment, which has slowed down the production process. An unexpectedly low year-over-year growth percentage may help you see if this additional work hasn’t translated into financial success.

Overhead Issues

Overhead is a tricky issue for most small businesses. The cost of goods sold may not decrease, even if you’re making more money and moving more inventory. On the other hand, you might not be getting the best price possible for your materials if you haven’t renegotiated your bulk pricing with vendors. If your year-over-year growth percentage is unexpectedly low, you might want to investigate whether there are overhead costs you can cut in order to maximize your profits.

year over year growth

An Important Consideration About the Year-Over-Year Growth Figure for Seasonal Businesses

As we mentioned earlier, your company’s year-over-year growth figure is particularly important if you operate a seasonal business. You might see that certain months or quarters are higher or lower in terms of profit, which can be disheartening.

The year-over-year growth figure helps you even out these fluctuations, since it factors in existing seasonality concerns when providing you with a bigger-picture financial view.

It’s important to bear in mind any seasonal fluctuations in their own right, however. Any time you can avoid seasonal cycles—be they dry spells or loss-leading months around the holidays—do so. Make sure that your seasonal cycles still match up against one another in terms of revenue, as a smaller peak one year versus another could point toward bigger issues. In other words, don’t neglect smaller trends just because your year-over-year growth looks robust.

In this case, make sure to calculate month-over-month growth, as well. You can do so with a similar formula as year-over-year growth, except you’ll compare one month against the month prior, rather than two year-long periods. You’ll determine what kind of seasonal patterns exist, and how you might be able to anticipate or hedge against them in the future.

Calculating Your Year-Over-Year Growth Is Easy

In the big, wide world of business financial calculations, there are enough tricky formulas and arcane calculations to make even the strongest calculator short circuit. Thankfully, however, some of the numbers you’ll need to know are easy. Year-over-year growth is one of them.

By simply determining two years’ worth of revenue, subtracting the difference, and dividing it by the earlier year’s total revenue, you have a handy metric that’ll enable you to track your overall success—and be able to show business lenders how well you’re doing.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood

Editor-in-Chief at Fundera
Meredith is Editor-in-Chief at Fundera. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.
Meredith Wood

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