Know your business’s financial health by understanding two key figures: operating income and net income. Use them to tweak your strategy, check how you’re doing, or show off your financial health to investors and lenders.

Here’s a straightforward guide to help you, the small business owner, get the hang of operating and net income.

This guide is similar to our articles on how to calculate profit margin, operating income vs ebitda and how to calculate break-even point in sales.

“operating expenses” and “net income,” showcasing various icons representing different financial elementsWhat we’ll cover:

  • Defining Operating Income
  • Defining Net Income
  • Checking a Company’s Financial Health
  • Adjustments and Non-Operating Items

By the end, you’ll know all about operating and net income, how they’re different, and how to use them for a full view of your company’s financial state. Let’s get started!

Operating Income vs. Net Income

Operating Income and Net Income are critical numbers for your business, but they show different sides of its financial health. It’s key to understand what each represents and how they differ.

What Each Metric Shows

  • Operating Income measures profit from your main business activities. It’s about the money made from what your company does day-to-day, leaving out any side income or expenses, taxes, and one-off events. This number shows how efficiently your core business runs.
  • Net Income is your total profit after everything operating costs, side incomes and expenses, taxes, and unusual items have been counted. It gives the full picture of your business’s financial health, including every bit of money in and out.

Why the Difference Matters

  • Operating Income zooms in on your main business’s performance, ignoring external financial activities. It’s great for comparing your operational efficiency with competitors since it only looks at core business activities.
  • Net Income offers a wider view, showing total profitability by including all financial activities. It’s what investors and lenders look at to understand your overall financial status, growth potential, and how well you’re managing expenses.

Defining Operating Income

Operating Income is your business’s profit from its main activities, not counting money made or spent on things outside the everyday business. Think of it as what your company earns from its usual work after paying for the costs of doing that work.

How to calculate it: Start with your gross income (sales minus the cost of goods sold, like materials and labor for your products). Then subtract all the costs to run your business that aren’t directly tied to making your product or service. These costs can be rent, utilities, payroll for office staff, and marketing. Here’s the formula:

Operating Income = Gross Income − Operating Expenses

For example, if you sell handmade candles, first figure out your sales revenue minus the cost of wax, wicks, and labor. From this number, subtract your shop’s rent, utilities, and marketing costs to get your operating income.

Why it matters: Operating income shows how profitable your main business activities are without mixing in other money matters like loans or taxes. It helps you see where you might spend too much or find chances to make more money. This number is key for making big decisions, like expanding your business or changing your prices. It’s also useful for comparing your business to others since it focuses just on the main business activities.

In short, keep a close eye on your operating income. It’s a clear indicator of how well your business’s main operations are doing, guiding you toward better financial decisions and strategies.

Defining Net Income

Net income, often called the bottom line, is the total profit your business has made after all expenses, taxes, and costs have been subtracted from total revenue. It’s a comprehensive measure that includes every aspect of your business’s financial activity, from the core operations to non-operating income and expenses, taxes, and even one-time events.

Calculating net income starts with your total revenue, which is the sum of all income generated by your business, including sales of goods or services, investment income, and any other income sources. From this, you subtract the cost of goods sold (COGS) to arrive at the gross profit. Then, all operating expenses like rent, utilities, marketing, and payroll are subtracted to find the operating income.

To get to net income, you further subtract non-operating expenses (interest on debt, for example), add non-operating income, and finally, deduct taxes. Here’s a simplified formula to illustrate the process:

Net Income = Total Revenue − COGS − Operating Expenses − Non-Operating Expenses + Non-Operating Income − Taxes

Let’s put this into context. Imagine your business also gains some income from investments or perhaps you’ve sold an old piece of equipment this year. These are examples of non-operating income since they’re not related to the primary activities of your business.

Similarly, if your business has taken a loan, the interest paid on that loan is a non-operating expense. Both these types of income and expenses, along with taxes, must be factored in after calculating operating income to find your net income.

The role of net income is multifaceted. Primarily, it serves as a clear indicator of your company’s overall profitability. It answers the question: “After all is said and done, how much money did we actually make?” Because it includes every financial aspect of your business, net income is often used by investors, creditors, and analysts to gauge the financial health and potential of your company.

A positive and growing net income suggests that a company is doing well and managing its expenses effectively, while a negative net income might indicate potential problems that need to be addressed.

Adjustments and Non-Operating Items

When analyzing your business’s finances, it’s important to understand adjustments and non-operating items. They can change how operating and net income look, affecting decisions.

Common Adjustments

  • Depreciation and Amortization: Non-cash costs for asset wear or intangible asset dilution. Adjusting these gives a clearer view of cash operations.
  • Stock-based Compensation: Another non-cash cost for employee stock options. Adjusting shows better cash profitability.
  • Restructuring Costs: One-time costs for reorganizing operations. Adjusting helps see profitability without these temporary impacts.
  • Interest Expense and Income: These relate to financing, not day-to-day operations, affecting net income but not operating income.

Impact of Non-Operating Items and One-Time Events

  • Non-Operating Items: Include things like investment gains or losses, which are outside regular business operations. They affect net income and the overall financial view.
  • Extraordinary Items and One-Time Events: Rare or one-off situations (like natural disasters or asset sales) that don’t regularly happen. Adjusting these out helps show what the business usually makes.

Why Adjusting Matters

Adjusting for these factors helps you get a true sense of how your business is doing, ignoring things that don’t happen regularly. This clearer picture helps make better decisions, focusing on actual operational efficiency and profitability. It’s about understanding your business’s real health, beyond temporary ups and downs or outside factors.

Operating Income in Business Analysis

Operating Income focuses on how much money your business makes from its main activities, ignoring stuff like loans, taxes, and unusual gains or losses. It’s key for checking how well your business is doing at its core job.

Why It’s Important

  • Evaluating Operational Efficiency: Helps you see if you’re managing costs well in your main business areas. Rising operating income means good cost control or better efficiency; falling numbers might point to cost issues or less effective operations.
  • Use in Financial Analysis:
    • Performance Over Time: Track it to spot trends, showing if your business strategies are working.
    • Benchmarking: Compare your business’s operational efficiency with competitors, focusing just on the core business activities.
    • Margin Analysis: Operating margin (operating income divided by revenue) shows how well you turn sales into profit, reflecting your pricing and management efficiency.

Making Decisions

  • Cost and Pricing: If operating income is squeezed by rising costs, you might need to cut expenses or tweak prices to stay profitable.
  • Investing in Operations: Decisions on expanding or improving your business can be based on their effect on operating income.
  • Strategic Planning: Identifies which parts of your business are the most profitable, guiding growth or cuts.

In short, operating income tells you a lot about the health of your business’s main operations, guiding smarter strategies and decisions to boost profitability.

Importance of Net Income for Stakeholders

Net Income is crucial because it shows your business’s profit after all expenses. Everyone from shareholders to creditors pays close attention to this number. It’s the bottom line that tells if your business is truly making money.

For Shareholders

  • Key to Financial Health: Shows if the business is profitable and can grow. Rising net income can boost stock value and lead to dividends. It’s a sign your investment might pay off.

For Investors

  • Signals Profitability and Growth: Investors look at net income to predict future earnings and decide if your company is a good bet. High net income attracts investors, showing your business is run well.

For Creditors

  • Assesses Debt Repayment Ability: Creditors check net income to see if your business can pay its debts. A healthy net income means lower lending risks, possibly leading to better loan terms.

Influencing Company Perceptions

  • Shows Success and Stability: A good track record of net income makes your business look strong, adaptable, and growth-ready. It’s vital for valuation, affecting your market position and investment attractiveness.

Net income isn’t just a number, it’s a major indicator of your company’s financial health, influencing decisions and views of key players. Keeping it healthy is essential for your business’s success and growth.

Analyzing the Financial Health of a Company

Operating Income and Net Income are key to checking your business’s financial health. They show different things:

Operating Income for Operational Analysis

  • Focus: Just your core business activities. Perfect for a deep dive into the main operations.
  • When to Use:
    • To check how well you’re running the main parts of your business.
    • To compare your operational efficiency with competitors.
    • To see the financial effects of changes in operations or strategies.
  • Pros and Cons: Great for focusing on the core business but doesn’t show the whole financial picture.

Net Income for Overall Financial Health

  • Focus: Everything. It’s your final profit after all costs, showing your business’s total profitability.
  • When to Use:
    • To understand your business’s total profit.
    • For big financial decisions like dividends or reinvestments.
    • To show investors and creditors how healthy your business is.
  • Pros and Cons: Shows the full financial performance but can mix operational success with other financial factors.


We’ve looked at operating income and net income to understand your business’s financial health. Here’s what they mean for you:

  • Operating Income zooms in on your main business activities. It shows how well you’re doing without mixing in other money matters. It’s great for spotting where you can improve daily operations or make strategic changes.
  • Net Income captures everything the full picture of your profit after all costs, including those outside your main business activities. It shows how successful your overall strategies are and matters a lot to people like investors and lenders.

Together, these metrics give you a full view of your financial health. In short, getting a grip on these financial basics lets you steer your business more effectively towards long-term success.

Next, check out our articles on understanding and calculating ebitda, understanding owner’s equity, and double-entry accounting: the basics.

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FAQ: Operating Income vs. Net Income

Here's some answers to commonly asked questions about Operating Income vs. Net Income.

What’s the difference between operating and net income?

Operating income represents the profit a company makes from its core business operations, excluding the effects of interest, taxes, and non-operational income and expenses. It focuses purely on the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the company’s primary activities.

Net income, on the other hand, is the total profit a company earns after all expenses, taxes, and additional incomes, including non-operational activities, have been accounted for. It provides a comprehensive overview of the company’s overall financial health, encapsulating every financial activity within the reporting period.

How do non-operating and one-time events affect net income?

Non-operating items and one-time events can significantly impact net income but do not usually affect operating income. Non-operating items include any revenues and expenses not related to the core operations of the business, such as interest earned on investments or losses from asset sales.

One-time events or extraordinary items might include gains or losses from events like lawsuits or natural disasters. While these factors are accounted for in net income, providing a broad measure of profitability, operating income remains focused on the earnings from regular business activities, offering clarity on operational success.

Why adjust operating and net income figures in financial analysis?

Adjustments to operating and net income figures are made to strip away factors that may obscure a company’s operational efficiency or overall financial health. Adjustments might include removing non-cash expenses like depreciation and amortization or one-time gains and losses that don’t reflect regular business performance.

These adjustments help stakeholders understand the true profitability of a company’s core operations (via adjusted operating income) and its financial health in a broader context (via adjusted net income).