Successful small businesses depend on the effectiveness of a business owner's planning process. One of the most critical elements of the planning process is business budget planning, which is also one of the final stages of the planning process. To begin, you have to gather company financial data, forecasts, and industry analysis to help you build your business budget.
Along with the valuable financial information and analytics, however, you also need to keep the company's general business and strategic plans in mind in order to build your budget.
What Is a Business Budget?
A business budget is a dynamic, financial plan used to estimate a company's anticipated revenue and expenses for an upcoming time period. It is essentially a financial plan a business makes for a month, quarter, or year. It should be dynamic and flexible so it can be adjusted as business plans and the market environment change.
Business budgets should include every source of revenue, or income, anticipated by a firm along with all possible expenditures the firm might make during a specified time period.
A detailed and realistic budget is one of the most important tools for guiding your business. A budget provides essential information for operating within your means, managing unexpected challenges, and turning a profit. A proper budget will identify available capital, estimate expenditures, and anticipate revenues. Business owners must continually refer to their budget as a way of measuring forecasted budget figures against actual budgetary results in order to know where to make adjustments.
Planning should account for long-term needs as well. For example, if you anticipate a large expenditure one or two years down the road for computer upgrades or equipment maintenance, it's a good idea to start budgeting in advance.
Business Budget Planning Steps
A budget is a foundational framework for your business finances, detailing past performance and providing a tool for forecasting the fiscal year, or another time period, with a view of assets, revenue, and expenses. Here is an overview of the budgetary process:
Budgets enable a business to accurately set goals, priorities, and spending caps, and detail where funding originates and where new strategies might bring revenue into the company coffers. The line items that command the most funding are high-priority items like the sources of revenue and the different types of expenses. These items demand precise bookkeeping and serve as performance indicators of the overall business strategy.
An effective budget should break down revenue and anticipated expenses by month, by quarter, or fiscal year. Depending on the size of your business, it should include separate budgets for each department. These departmental budgets should also be broken down by month or by quarter, and collectively, they will come together to form your master budget.
Businesses that rely heavily on seasonal sales revenue serve as a good example of why a budget is so important. If the months of June, July, August, and December typically generate 75% of your business's revenue, your budget will allow you to plan ahead. Having a strategy for distributing your revenue most effectively over the course of a full fiscal year will help maximize profits.
Budget to Evaluate Company Performance
In addition to being an important part of the planning process, budgets are necessary for evaluating the performance of your company over the course of each fiscal year. Common types of budgeting in business are:
- Static budgets: Static budgets are a type of operating budget that uses historical financial data to budget for revenue and expenses expected in the next time period. Typically used by very small businesses, these budgets require taking each line item and adding a percentage increase or decrease to it to reflect the next budget.
- Performance-based budgeting: This type of budget takes into account the inputs and outputs per unit of product or service in order to achieve maximum efficiency.
- Zero-based budgeting: A zero-based budget starts from scratch every time period and builds a new budget based on the conditions at that time. In other words, it starts from zero for each line item and uses internal and industry financial data to build the budget.
- Variance analysis: A variance-based budget is one where actual and expected values for every revenue and expense item are calculated. The results are used to try to bring the budget items back within a certain range and achieve improved efficiency
The use of one of these types of company budgets can be another tool for the financial analysis of the firm.
For example, if sales in the first quarter are lower than what you budgeted, you'll know to find expenses to cut later in the fiscal year in order to stay profitable. A more positive example might be sales of a new product that exceeds expectations. By tracking this trend and comparing it to what was budgeted, you will see that you have the additional revenue to perhaps revise the budget with plans to increase production or hire additional staff to handle the extra business.
Budget to Obtain Financing
A history of writing sound, detailed budgets and sticking to them can help show lenders or potential investors that you can develop a business plan and make it work.
Lenders and investors want to dig deeply into your finances and history. If they don't see evidence of strong budgeting practices, it might be a red flag that would turn them away.
If you're opening a new business and have little or no history, you need to make up for that lack of a track record with detailed support for your budget. This means doing research on the marketplace and showing how past trends or, perhaps a void in the industry, supports the numbers you present. This kind of attention to detail can help you gain serious consideration from lenders or investors.
Staffing for Budgeting
Even small businesses with only a few employees need to make sure they're staffed properly for writing and maintaining a budget. If, for example, you own and operate a small cafe, you might have a unique menu and a reputation for quality customer service, but that doesn't mean you're a financial professional.
If hiring a full-time person to handle your budget and other financial affairs is not realistic, consider part-time help or working with an outside consulting firm, especially early on and annually when it comes time to write a new budget for the next fiscal year. SCORE, a business mentorship organization affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is made up largely of volunteers with backgrounds in business and finance who provide guidance and advice to small businesses. This can be a valuable resource when you're just getting started or when you're confronted with a significant challenge. In addition to helping with budgeting or other problems, organizations like SCORE can put you in touch with other resources in your community.
Some of the best tools for writing a detailed budget and sticking to it are software programs, and they go beyond just Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet programs. Some of the most useful budget software programs are:
- QuickBooks: One of the most user-friendly and inexpensive software programs that include budgeting.
- Budgyt: A user-friendly budget software program allowing for more than one profit and loss statement.
- PlanningMaestro by Centage: A cloud-based budgeting software program, including forecasting, for small and medium-sized businesses.
In addition, you already might be utilizing PayPal, Square, or other similar online services with your point-of-sale (POS) system. And like the software programs above, they offer tools for writing a budget and tracking revenue and expenses.
When looking for a budgeting software program, you usually want to look for these features:
- Departmentalized budgeting: Gives you the ability to create budgets by department, division, or profit center and merge them all into the master budget.
- Collaboration: Gives more than one person in your organization the ability to work on the budgetary planning process.
- Variance comparison: Gives you the ability to see actual vs. budgeted amounts on a line-by-line basis.
Benefits of Business Budget Planning
If a business does not develop a budget, it will face a host of problems. It is, effectively, flying blind if it is not aware how much revenue to expect or expenses to plan to during a given time period. Such a business will likely fail within the first two years after it opens.
The benefits of business budget planning are many. Here are some of the most important:
- Financial health: Without a business budget, it is impossible for you to know the financial health of your company. You will have no idea if you met or exceeded your goals.
- Strategic planning: A business budget allows you to develop a strategic plan since you will know the answer to issues like whether you can expand.
- Obtain debt financing: If a small business tries to obtain debt financing from a bank or other financial institution, it must produce a budget to show potential lenders.
- Attract investors: If a business wants to attract investors in the business, those investors will not put their money into the business unless they can see a budget.
- Tax preparation: A business budget assists in the preparation of income, sales, and payroll taxes.
- Decision making: In order to make decisions about any facet of the business, you have to know how much money is allocated to that item.