budget

Budgeting is key to a successful start-up

More than half of recent college graduates plan to start a business someday, according to the results of a survey published in August by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Unfortunately, the AICPA estimates that only half of new businesses survive the five-year mark, and only about one in three reach the 10-year mark.

What can you do to improve your start-up’s odds of success? Comprehensive, realistic budgets can help entrepreneurs navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

3 financial statements

Many businesses base their budgets on the prior year’s financial results. But start-ups lack historical financial statements, which can make budgeting difficult.

In your first year of operation, it’s helpful to create an annual budget that forecasts all three financial statements on a monthly basis:

1. The income statement. Start your annual budget by estimating how much you expect to sell each month. Then estimate direct costs (such as materials, labor, sales tax and shipping) based on that sales volume. Many operating costs, such as rent, salaries and insurance, will be fixed over the short run.

Once you spread overhead costs over your sales, it’s unlikely that you’ll report a net profit in your first year of operation. Profitability takes time and hard work! Once you turn a profit, however, remember to save room in your budget for income taxes.

2. The balance sheet. To start generating revenue, you’ll also need equipment and marketing materials (including a website). Other operating assets (like accounts receivable and inventory) typically move in tandem with revenue. How will you finance these assets? Entrepreneurs may invest personal funds, receive money from other investors or take out loans. These items fall under liabilities and equity on the balance sheet.

3. The statement of cash flows. This report tracks sources and uses of cash from operating, investing and financing activities. Essentially, it shows how your business will make ends meet each month. In addition to acquiring assets, start-ups need cash to cover fixed expenses each month.

By forecasting these statements on a monthly basis, you can identify when cash shortfalls, as well as seasonal peaks and troughs, are likely to occur.

Reality check

Budgeting isn’t a static process. Each month, entrepreneurs must compare actual results to the budget — and then adjust the budget based on what they’ve learned. For instance, you may have underbudgeted or overbudgeted on some items and, thus, spent more or less than you anticipated.

Some variances may be the result of macroeconomic forces. For example, increased government regulation, new competition or an economic downturn can adversely affect your budget. Although these items may be outside of an entrepreneur’s control, it’s important to identify them early and develop a contingency plan before variances spiral out of control.

Outside input

An accounting professional can help your start-up put together a realistic budget based on industry benchmarks and demand for your products and services in the marketplace. A CPA-prepared budget can serve as more than just a management tool — it also can be presented to lenders and investors who want to know more about your start-up’s operations and its expected financial results.

© 2019

Flexible Budgets for Not-For-Profits

by Tyler Mosley

Audit Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP

Many of the not-for-profit organizations we provide services for use budgets. For the most part, those budgets are static budgets that are set and approved by the board of directors at the beginning of the year and only modified if a significant event occurs during the year. I have seen a growing trend of companies moving towards flexible budgets which can be modified throughout the year based on updated information and current organizational conditions.

While static budgets are usually set at the beginning of a fiscal year and rarely modified, flexible budgets can be modified weekly, monthly or quarterly based on changing conditions. Most of the not-for-profit organizations that use a budget base their budget on projected cash inflows. While some not-for-profit organizations may have steady cash inflows and can reasonably project the fiscal year’s total revenues, many do not. Many not-for-profit organizations rely on donations from businesses and individuals which can vary in timing and magnitude. For these organizations a flexible budget would provide a more useful benchmark with which to manage program expenses. Program expenses could be budgeted for at the beginning of the year based on projected total cash inflow and then increased or decreased each month or quarter based on updated cash inflow information.

Updating the budget throughout the year will prevent surprises each period in which expenses may be under budget but exceed cash inflows. Alternatively, it would also prevent program expenses coming in well below cash inflows when the organization has a great fundraising year. When it is time for your organization to establish a budget, consider setting up so that it can be updated periodically throughout the year as you get more accurate information about your current cash flow situation.