Not many people are interested in creating a budget for their personal finances, and business owners don’t feel much different about their business finances.
But learning how to create a budget for your small business is crucial for two reasons:
- Businesses fail more often due to poor cash management than due to lack of interest in their product or service.
- Worrying and wondering about your current and future cash situation will be your biggest source of stress as a business owner. Proactive budgeting minimizes that stress.
Based on my experience, here are the most critical (and most often ignored) elements of a small business budget template:
1. Taxes (or as I usually refer to them…”Blasted Taxes”) – 20% to 35% of Estimated Profits
If you don’t want to be in a constant state of worrying about how much you’re going to owe Uncle Sam at the end of the year, budget your taxes first. If you’ve been in business more than a year you have plenty of information to estimate what you’re going to owe on tax day, so do yourself a favor and set it aside now instead of scrambling at year end to come up with the money.
I do my books on the first of each month, which means I know exactly how much profit I earned in the previous month…which means I can estimate what the government’s (or, the “blasted government’s”) take is going to be. If you’re wise, you’ll set the blasted government’s money aside in a savings account right then and there. You’ll be angry as you do it, but on April 15th you’ll be glad you did.
2. Refunds – 5% to 15% of Revenue
Like it or not, refunds are part of running a business. As business owners we want to tell ourselves that because a) we offer a great product or service and b) we treat our customers well we won’t have refunds. But of course we do. Sometimes people who shouldn’t buy your product DO buy your product. And once they realize it wasn’t the right product for them, they’re going to ask for a refund.
(By the way – just give it to them. Unless giving the refund would actually threaten your business’s survival, the money you give back is not worth the anger a person feels when she/he can’t get a refund for a product that doesn’t work for them or just isn’t what they wanted or needed.)
My business’s refund rate (with three years of data to look at), averages about 3% to 5% of revenue. That’s pretty low – my customers usually know whether they’re going to be happy with the purchase. If you’re in an industry where size, color, shape, fit etc matter you might have a higher refund rate.
3. Miscellaneous Items and Waste – 2% to 3% of Revenue
If I added up all the miscellaneous expenses I’ve incurred in three years of small business ownership – including purchases which seemed crucial at the time but turned out to be a total waste – the number would run easily into the tens of thousands.
Now, the better you understand yourself and your business, the less money you’ll lose to this category. But don’t kid yourself – you’re going to spend money every single month in ways that you didn’t anticipate. You might have to buy an employee a new computer. You might have to pay for an employee’s car registration so he can get to work (yes, that kind of thing happens).
Here’s a doosie of an unexpected expense. My friend runs a pest control company with 10 or 15 service trucks. He’s a nice guy and he took his service guys on a trip to a beach house. Then he caught the clowns smoking pot in the basement of the beach house, and of course fired the lot of them on the spot.
Within days he found that someone had drilled holes in the gas tanks of five of his service trucks (which were parked behind a locked gate). Five new gas tanks took $1,500 out of his pocket just like that. Stuff happens, so make room in your budget for it.
4. Advertising and Promotion 10% to 25% of Revenue (and sometimes much higher)
Even if you don’t spend much on marketing, promotion is one I think can sneak up on you. For example, I’ve run promotions with my customers where I offer a $1,000 cash prize along with some other items for some of my most active customers (I have a program where I teach people to make extra income online).
A $1,000 promotion isn’t an enormous expense, but if you run them quarterly (as I was) and tack on a few smaller prizes to go with the grand prize, you end up spending thousands of dollars per year. Spread out over the 12 months, it ends up being a pretty substantial line item in the budget.
I’m not saying this kind of thing will break the bank, but if you don’t plan for it you’re going to be annoyed at the end of the year when you’re working on your profit and loss statement.
5. Your Own Salary
In personal finance you always hear the expression “pay yourself first.” For business owners, I’d add “pay yourself first, or you’re going to be mad all the time, wondering why you bother trying to build this stupid business just to give all your money to your employees and the government.”
When you’re building your first small business budget – make sure you set your own salary at a level where your family will be able to maintain an okay lifestyle. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat beans and rice while you get things going – that’s part of the joy of starting your own small business. But if you know that it costs you $5,000 per month to live your life, don’t set your own salary at $3,000 just to try to play the hero.
You are the most important employee in the business, so make sure you take care of yourself.
Oh, and by the way – I use personal finance software to do my books. I got it from youneedabudget.com. After taking one look at Quickbooks and wanting to throw up, I started using ynab and I’ve loved it.