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Budgeting for a Small Business: Make Your Money Work for You

A man works at a desk next to stacks of cash and a laptop, he makes notes on a notebook

You face many daunting challenges when you’re a business owner, but budgeting for a small business may be the most intimidating. Figuring out what you need to include and estimating the correct financial information is overwhelming enough, let alone organizing it into an orderly budget.

But budgeting for a small business shouldn’t scare you. In fact, it should empower you.

Having a budget is crucial to creating a successful and sustainable business, and it isn’t as complicated as you might imagine. Stick with us as we break down why you should have one and how to navigate budgeting for a small business so that you always know where your money is going.

Why budgeting for a small business is important

Before we get started, you may be curious why budgeting is so essential, especially when your business is small or just getting started.

A business budget is something that you regularly update, giving you the best overview of how your brand’s future finances should look. You fill it with your day-to-day expenses, future income, and upcoming investment, and it will help you better prepare to meet your long-term goals.

Some examples of what a business budget can help with include:

  • Spotting opportunities to increase your revenue
  • Identifying areas to cut spending
  • Predicting slow months to avoid debt
  • Reinvesting untouched funds
  • Making your business profitable
  • Keeping your financials in order for possible loans or investors

In short, having a budget for a business helps you make better informed financial decisions. It means you’re knowledgeable in areas where you spend and highlights opportunities where you could grow.

According to a 2021 study, just 54% of small businesses have an official budget—that’s almost half of all small businesses going without a tool that helps evaluate their performance and properly plan their future.

Now that you know why a budget is important, follow the steps below to produce a budget that will help you stay on top of your finances and keep your business solid and stable.

1. Add all your revenue sources

The first step in preparing a budget for a company is examining all your sources of income. This lets you see what money is flowing in every month.

If you run an online store and that’s your only revenue source, then all you need are those sales numbers. However, depending on your business model, you may need to factor in things like:

  • Sale from trade shows
  • Sales from a brick-and-mortar store
  • Consulting fees
  • Freelance projects

After identifying all income, it’s time to work out your monthly revenue. Remember that you want to calculate your revenue numbers—you don’t need to calculate profit at this stage.

Ideally, you’ll tally income from over the previous 12 months or as far back as is possible, but you can always make informed estimations if your business is newer. The longer you’ve been in business, the more you have to look back over, and the easier it is for you to start identifying trends and patterns. For example, spotting seasonal changes resulting in slower months. Knowing this means you can better prepare for those times.

2. Figure out your fixed costs

a mids hot of a woman's handholding a calculator with one hand and writing notes with the other handWith your revenue worked out, you have a top line figure. Now it’s time to factor in your fixed costs.

Your fixed costs are your business’s recurring expenses. These might be weekly, monthly, or yearly expenses, so it’s important to identify them all carefully—this is why looking back for a full 12 months can be beneficial. Suppose you have a business money management account, such as Shopify Balance. In that case, you’ll have good separation between your personal and business accounts. It will be simple to scroll back through your transactions to identify any regular payments you make.

Some examples include:

  • Rent
  • Internet and phone
  • Supplies
  • Insurance
  • Payroll
  • Website hosting

If your business is new, you’ll want to use projected costs, such as your monthly rent going forward, your expected utility bills, and so on.

Once you’ve got all your fixed costs, add them together and you’ll have your total monthly fixed cost expenses.

3. Factor in variable costs

An overhead shot showing an ipad, Shopify Balance card, and open note book amongst flower potsAfter tallying up your fixed costs, you should now think about variable expenses. As the name implies, these are recurring costs, but the amount isn’t fixed and can fluctuate month to month, depending on many factors.

  • Variable costs could include:
  • Materials
  • Shipping and delivery costs
  • Utilities
  • Travel costs
  • Freelancers
  • Marketing costs
  • Training courses and professional development

As you note your variable costs, you might start identifying costs that you could easily cut during slower months, when it makes sense to reduce spending. On the flip side, you’ll also get a good idea of the ideal time to increase variable spending to invest in your business. Training courses and marketing costs are good examples of these.

4. Consider upcoming one-time spends and investments

The next category of expenses for a business budget is those things that happen infrequently, but still need to be accounted for.

Items in this category could be new hardware such as laptops or label makers—these aren’t going to be items you buy every six months but will likely pop up every couple of years. And when you consider these one-time spends are often for things crucial to the running of your business, you’ll quickly realize why it’s essential to budget for them.

5. Have a contingency fund

Hands in the foreground cont cash, while in the background a woman uses a calculator and makes notesThis step goes hand-in-hand with the one above—budgeting for unexpected costs should not be left out.

Running a business is complex, and there are many aspects to consider. It’s also totally understandable—and likely—that an unexpected cost will arise. Maybe an important piece of machinery unexpectedly breaks down during your busiest period, or perhaps an accident puts your van out of commission.

These types of unpredictable events are stressful enough on their own, but having money budgeted for and set aside for them will go a way to alleviating the stress.

When your business isn’t at the stage where it’s feasible to have a sum of money in an emergency fund just waiting, other services can help, including Shopify Capital’s small business funding. However, a solid contingency fund offers a little more protection and comfort.

6. Do the math and find your profit margin

Once you’ve noted all your income and various expenses, you now need to put everything together and create your profit and loss statement.

First, add all your income streams together, then add up your different expenses. You should end up with two numbers. Next, subtract your total expenses from your total revenue and you’ll have either a positive number, meaning your business turned a profit, or a negative number, which is a loss.

Here’s an example of a small business budget:

Expenses:

Fixed costs

Internet: $65
Shopify plan: $29
Insurance: $50
Bank fees: $20
Accountant and tax adviser: $100

Total fixed costs: $264

Variable expenses

Freelancer wages: $500
Travel: $100
Trade show event registration: $300
Marketing: $500
Raw materials: $750
Shipping: $300
Printing supplies: $120

Total variable expenses: $2,570

One-time spends

New label maker: $150
New office chair: $200
Free samples for trade show: $120

Total one-time expenses: $470

Total expenses: $3304

Total income ($4,500) – Total expenses ($3,304) = Total net income ($1,196)

If you see loss, don’t be disheartened. Not all small businesses are profitable every month. By making a business budget, you’ve put yourself in a position to examine all your finances better. Perhaps now you can spot areas where you can cut back costs and see where you drive the most income and invest more resources into those areas.

For businesses that are turning a high profit, study your business budget to find areas where you can make investments to streamline and scale. Perhaps this is training courses or new software, or maybe it’s marketing or research and development of new products.

7. Set your budget for the coming months

A man wearing glasses works at a laptop on a bench in a workshop

With all of that work done, you now have something that accurately documents your business finances. While this is incredibly helpful and can help inform sound financial decision making, a good budget is future facing and should help you plan future investments—or avoid them.

Although it’s impossible to know precisely what your future income and expenses will be, you’ll be able to make relatively accurate estimates if you’ve tracked previous years and months. If your business is new, start by making conservative, educated guesses. You can revise and refine your budget to become more accurate with time.

Spend some time creating your future-focused budget document using the historical profit and loss statement you created with the steps above, including all your revenue and expenses.

Consider things like when key pieces of equipment or hardware were last purchased and budget for buying new items or paying to get them professionally serviced.

Take a look at the trends and patterns you saw last year and make plans in your budget accordingly. For example, if you sell children’s backpacks, you might see that the back-to-school season is one of your busiest periods. You can use that information to decide if you want to hire more staff during this period, increase your marketing budget, or extend your business hours.

Don’t stop now—keep up with your budget

If you’ve completed all these steps, you should now have a comprehensive future-focused budget, built from your historical financial data.

But don’t stop there!

A business budget isn’t a set-and-forget type of thing. It needs to be kept up to date and as accurate as possible for it to be of any use. As a business owner, you probably have a million other things that also need your attention, so find a budgeting system that works for you.

If you’re a new business owner or have time but not money to invest in your budget, set aside dedicated time each week to keep your budget updated. Create folders and processes for anything related to your budget, so you don’t waste time looking for lost receipts or sales data.

If you want to invest a small amount of money, pay for an accounting software subscription. This will integrate with your online store and can be set up to automatically track your incoming and outgoing.

Finally, for many small business owners, using an accountant can be worth the investment so they can manage your budget and let you know things such as when spending is on track and what you need to set aside for business taxes.

Conclusion

Constructing a business budget can be intimidating, but as you’ve just discovered, it isn’t as hard as you may think.

Putting in a bit of time will produce a document that reveals your revenue and spending patterns. And using what you find, you’ll be in a better position to keep your debt to a minimum, maximize your profits, and protect your small business from whatever challenges may arise.

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