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Key takeaways

  • A business budget is a financial plan that helps estimate a company's revenue and expenses, making it an essential tool for small businesses
  • The steps to creating a business budget include choosing budget and accounting software, listing expenses and forecasting revenue
  • If a business finds itself in a budget deficit, strategies such as cutting costs, negotiating with suppliers and diversifying revenue streams can help

As a small business owner, keeping your finances organized through a business budget is crucial to running a successful company.

Business budgeting involves creating a financial plan that estimates future revenue and expenses to make informed financial decisions, which can ultimately move the needle on your business’s financial goals and help it grow in profitability.

What is a business budget?

A business budget is a financial plan that outlines the company’s current revenue and expenses. The budget also forecasts expected revenue that can be used for future business activities, such as purchasing equipment. It sets targets for your business’s revenue, expenses and profit and helps you determine if you’ll have more money coming in than you pay out.

A business budget is an essential tool that helps you make wise business decisions. Without it, it’s difficult to gauge your business’s financial health.

What is the difference between a cash flow statement and a business budget?

A cash flow statement (CFS) is a financial document that summarizes the movement of cash coming in and going out of a company. The CFS gauges how effectively a company manages its finances, including how it manages debt responsibilities and funds day-to-day operations.

It’s similar to a business budget in that you can see expenses and revenue. But while a budget gives a moment-in-time snapshot of your business’s financial performance compared to forecasts, the cash flow statement focuses on the actual inflows and outflows of money through your business.

How to create a business budget

Follow these steps to ensure a well-developed budget, from understanding your expenses to generating revenue and adjusting expenses to balance the budget.

1. Choose a budget and accounting software

First, you’ll want to store your expense and revenue information with accounting software to help you track your numbers and generate reports. Some software may also help you assign categories to the transactions, identify tax deductions and file taxes. Quickbooks is an example of accounting software.

Some business bank accounts also have accounting software built in, helping you stay organized by keeping your accounting and banking in one place.

2. List your business expenses

The next step in creating a small business budget is to list all your business expenses. Here are the types of expenses you want to include in your budget:

  • Fixed expenses: Fixed expenses cost a fixed amount monthly or within the assessed period. Those costs include rent, insurance, salaries and loan payments.
  • Variable expenses: Variable expenses can change monthly or over time, making them trickier to budget. This might include materials, direct labor, utility bills or marketing expenses.
  • Annual or one-time costs: Some costs only occur a few times per year, while others you’ll only pay for as needed, such as buying new equipment. You still want to budget for these expenses by allocating a portion of your weekly or monthly budget toward one-time expenses.
  • Contingency funds: Unexpected business costs can throw a wrench in your budget if not planned for. Such costs could include emergency repairs, necessary equipment purchases, sudden tax increases or unforeseen legal fees. To plan for these costs, you can create a contingency or emergency fund that’s separate from your operational budget.
  • Maintenance costs: To allocate funds for maintenance costs, begin by including regular inspections and maintenance in your budget. Then, make sure to leave room for changes and unexpected maintenance costs.

3. Forecast your revenue

To estimate your future revenue, start by deciding on a timeline for your forecast. A good place to start is the previous 12 months. Your accounting software may also include revenue forecasting as one of its features, which can automate this step for you.

The timeline and your recent past growth can help you understand how much revenue you’ll generate in the future. Consider external factors that could drive revenue growth, such as planned business activities like expansion, marketing campaigns or new product launches.

You’ll also want to think about anything that might slow your growth. Many businesses experience seasonal fluctuations, which can impact your budget if you don’t plan for it. To account for these changes, list the minimum expenses required to keep your business running. Use your financial statements to understand these costs, and consider averaging out irregular expenses over the year to avoid surprises.

Ideally, your business should build a cash reserve during profitable periods to cover expenses during slower seasons. If necessary, consider various financing options, such as a business credit card or line of credit, that you can draw from to manage cash flow during peak or off times.

Bankrate insight
If you use debt financing to cover an expense, make sure that you can manage the debt in your regular business budget. Avoid going into debt when you don’t have a clear plan to pay it off or when you’re uncertain about your business’s profitability.

4. Calculate your profits

The next step in creating a business budget is to calculate your business profits. You can look at your total profits by calculating revenue minus expenses. That way, you see how much money you have to work with, called your working capital.

You should also understand your profit margins for each of your products and services, which can help you set prices or decide whether to offer a new product or service.

How to calculate your profit margins

To find out your gross profit margin, you’ll first need to calculate the gross profit. To calculate your business’s gross profit, subtract the cost of goods sold (COGS) from your total revenue. COGS includes all the expenses related to producing your products and services.

Once you have the gross profit, use the gross profit margin formula: (Revenue – COGS) / Revenue x 100. This will give you a percentage that shows how much profit you gain from that particular product after accounting for the product’s costs.

Bankrate insight
If your total product revenue is $50 and the total production costs are $35, your gross profit would be $15. To find the gross profit margin, you’d do the following calculation: ($50-$35) / $50 x 100 = 30%. The gross profit margin in this example is 30 percent.

5. Make a strategy for your working capital

Knowing what to do with extra revenue, which is your working capital, is crucial for managing your business finances and growth. Here’s how to get started with a financial strategy that propels your business goals forward:

  • Set spending limits for different categories in your budget. When listing your expenses, you should have set a dollar amount for each category. You can estimate this by a monthly average or a general forecasted amount.
  • Set realistic short- and long-term goals. These goals will motivate you to stick to your budget and guide your spending decisions.
  • Compare your actual spending with your net income and priorities. Look at the areas you’re spending and consider whether you need to reallocate money to different categories. Consider separating expenses into business needs and extras.
  • Adjust your budget and actual spending. Adjust your spending to ensure you do not overspend and can allocate money towards your goals. If you need to cut spending, consider the categories that are extras, such as types of marketing that you don’t know will generate a return on investment.

6. Review your budget and forecasts regularly

Finally, review your budget regularly. By frequently checking in on your budget, you can identify any discrepancies between your planned and actual expenses and adjust accordingly. This allows you to proactively handle any financial issues that may arise rather than reacting to them after they’ve become a problem.

Regular reviews also allow you to refine your budgeting process and improve its accuracy over time. Keep in mind that your budget is not set in stone but rather a tool to guide your financial decisions and help you achieve your business goals.

Bankrate insight
As you create your business budget and make business decisions, you can write or adjust your business plan to match your evolving priorities. The business plan outlines your business goals and the steps and strategies you’ll take to achieve them.

What to do if you have a deficit in your business budget

Finding a deficit in your small business budget can be alarming, but there are several strategies you can employ to handle this situation.

  • Do a cash flow analysis. Begin by doing a cash flow analysis to review what your business is earning and spending money on. Identify potential problems and adjust the budget as needed to prevent overspending.
  • Cut nonessential business costs. Cutting spending may involve eliminating nonessential costs and transferring funds from other categories to overspent categories. Your goal is a balanced or profitable budget.
  • Negotiate with suppliers. Be transparent in your communications with suppliers and explain your quality standards and why you’re seeking cost reduction. Explore options for cost reduction that do not compromise quality, such as process improvements or ordering in larger quantities.
  • Create a lean business model. By removing anything that doesn’t benefit your customer, your business can potentially save time and resources. Lean business models focus on continually improving processes and customer experience without adding additional resources, time or funds.
  • Add revenue and diversify revenue streams. Raising revenue requires a realistic plan with measurable goals to increase sales and overall business income. You can also consider other products and services you could offer that would make your business profitable.
  • Use financing to cover temporary gaps. Applying for a small business loan can help pay bills during an unplanned shortfall. Since this will add an expense to your budget, make sure you can handle the loan repayments and your regular expenses.
  • Plan for a deficit. In some cases, a planned budget deficit might be a strategic decision, such as investing in new opportunities that promise long-term benefits.

Bottom line

Having a well-developed business budget is crucial for making informed decisions. You can effectively manage your small business’s finances by tracking and analyzing your business’s inflows and outflows, forecasting your expected revenue and adjusting your budget to stay balanced.

Even in the face of a budget deficit, there are various strategies you can use to keep your business profitable, including negotiating costs with your suppliers, assessing your business operations and offering new products and services.

With a solid business budget in place, you can confidently navigate financial challenges and drive long-term success for your small business.

Frequently asked questions

  • The advantages of having a business budget include ensuring that resources are available, setting and tracking internal goals, helping determine project priorities and opening up financing opportunities. Budgeting is important for making sure that an organization has enough resources to achieve its objectives and plan for the future.
  • A business budget consists of several components. A business budget will focus on projected sales revenue, ongoing expenses, fluctuating and unexpected costs, cash flow and net profit.
  • When preparing a business budget, you’ll want to list out your business’s fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs are consistent, expected expenses that do not typically change, such as rent, loan payments, insurance and subscriptions. Variable expenses can fluctuate monthly, including utility bills, entertainment expenses, travel costs and emergency repairs.