One thing that virtually all small businesses have in common is a smaller budget than they would like. But, fear not, the amazing CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs is here to share their best budgeting tips for small businesses. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Make Your Credit Card Work
When creating a budget, it's hard to remember every single thing your business spends money on. I always recommend to use a business credit card for all of your transactions. That way, at the end of the month, you can take a look at your spending and then, make a budget from there. You can see exactly what you're spending, what you're spending it on, and how you can adjust.
2. The 10% Rule
One easy way to painlessly trim a budget is to use the 10% rule. Go through your business budget and pinpoint all of your variable expenses and cut them by 10%. Then, move that 10% into your savings or your profits. For example, if you budget $200 a month for office supplies, cut it to $180 and save the $20. You likely won't notice a difference and the savings can add up if done over multiple categories.
3. Budgeting For My Business
One of the easiest and most effective way to budget for a small business is to overestimate your expenses. Always round up when budgeting your business because it will give you a more realistic projection of your revenue and expenses. It's always better to account for under-spending because overspending has the potential to kill a small business. Finding your own technique for allocating business expenses will help you develop a refined budgeting structure.
4. Local Businesses Love Barter
Look to barter with other small businesses for local services and products that you use. Depending on the type of business that you have, you might be able to barter with your account or your favorite pizza place. You don't have to barter for the entire amount. You can do half cash and half barter to cover your hard costs!
5. Start with Zero
Zero-based budgeting forces you to reevaluate and justify every expense on a granular basis against your current business strategy. You can increase profit by optimizing costs, not just income. Although it takes more effort, it is much more effective than blindly maintaining or even increasing your budget each year.
6. Power Down
Turning off the HVAC to my commercial studio when not in use has been a huge savings over the years. In areas with freezing temps, the heat needs to be set so the pipes won't freeze or burst. Painting the flat roof with approved white paint also brought the temp down 5 degrees in summer. Curtains or blinds account for a large part of a room's cooling when in direct sunlight, so that's another way to avoid expensive electric bills or to maximize heat exposure in winter.
7. Don't Do Everything Yourself!
As a marketing and public relations pro, don't do everything yourself. This is best way of saving money. Look at it this way: to save money, you wouldn't perform surgery on a family member. It's the same thing with building a website, creating video or producing a podcast. Hire a professional who has experience in helping you create something for a client. What often happens when you do it yourself is either the client or you really hate the end result. Hire a pro and save money!
8. Divvy the Deposit
I usually set up project deposits to be divvied into four different accounts, budgeted as follows:
* Premium Paid Subscription Service (project-relevant data)
* A-Game (advanced conferences & executive training)
* Tech (maintenance)
* Murphy's Law (emergencies)
As an independent ghostwriter, it's imperative to my clients that I have the relevant data, know-how, functional technology & other means to ensure their deliverables will not only be on-point, but on-time, as well.
9. Schedule AP Checkup
Growth often comes from attempting new things and attempting new things often involves added expenses. Enter the monthly service fee. These fees are used to make a service palatable to a company budget. But, whether the purchased service adds to company growth or not, the monthly fees often become just a number absorbed in your company's P&L - a blip on the credit card statement. Schedule quarterly reviews of your AP ledger to eliminate fees that are no longer necessary for growth.
10. Be a Smarter Printer
Printing documents has a higher cost than you might imagine - for the environment and your small business budget. As much as possible, limit how much paper you're using by printing on both sides of each sheet (this option is usually available in your computer's Printer menu), and filling in forms online rather than printing, completing and re-scanning them (there are plenty of free editing tools like PDF Pro that make this simple). You'll save money on paper, toner cartridges, and your time.
11. Partner with Your Manufacturer
We have learned to partner with our manufacturer on production. For those items we are low on sizes, we ask for production first and are billed for it. In this way, we are not paying for an entire production run at once and they can fill in to keep all their workers working!
12. Advertising Budgeting Tips
First, find out how much similar businesses are spending on their advertising and take a look at what they are saying in their advertising. Then, set up your own advertising budget at a level that makes sense for you and work with an advertising agency to help you make your media and copy as effective as possible.
Then, continue to test and track and fine-tune your advertising copy and media to help make it even more effective. How much should you spend? As much as makes sense for your business.
13. Pay for Everything You Buy
Don't finance if you can avoid it. Let your business finance itself. Because we were able to grow organically, I can pay for everything we buy. We've got no loans and clean credit, so we now have net 60 terms with our vendors. When things get tight, I can call and ask for net 90. Because I’ve been so reliable, the vendors are happy to extend that to me.
14. Keep "Sum" in Reserve
As you are building your business, one consideration that should be maintained from month to month is a reserve for those contingent elements that will arise unexpectedly, that could impede your business growth and progress. Make sure to budget a fixed amount or percentage of funds generated, then periodically throughout the year, review the contingency fund you have created to ensure that the allocation will be adequate to carry through the balance of that year.
Myles Miller of LeadUP
15. Employee Benefits
The most meaningful way for a business to save money is by keeping salary costs down. The best and fairest way to do this is to be generous with equity to round out your employees pay packages. I can't compete with a high performing public company like Facebook or Salesforce on salary, but they can't compete with me in my ability to award employees with ownership in the business. This has the added benefit of aligning employees with the long term success of the business and keep them motivated.
16. Don't Forget to Celebrate!
It's certainly responsible to make sure that you have enough money to pay your bills. Yet, it's also important to allocate funds to celebrate the successes - however small. The celebrations can be as simple as cafe coffee instead of home brewed or lunch out instead of brown bagging it. By doing this, you'll be reinforcing the great things you're accomplishing - and be less inclined to go on a spending spree because you've been denying yourself everything. So, go ahead, toast yourself!
17. Maximize Free Software
With both my speaking business and my social media agency, we use free software (and later, the upgraded paid versions) to help maximize our productivity.
We use Trello for handling workflows, Canva for creating professional-looking graphics, Evernote for sharing reference documents, iMovie for editing video clips, and of course, all the various social channels for doing business development.
Compared to even a few years ago, software tools are so cheap (or free). Take advantage!
18. The Best Budget Tip in 8 Words
"Profit is an opinion. Cash is a fact."
19. Lose the Office Gain 500 Hours
Getting ready for work and commuting to/from an office can waste an average of 2 hours per day, 5 days per week. Figure 2 weeks for vacation & that’s 50 workweeks at 10 hours of wasted time per. This works out to 500 hours (or 20.83 DAYS) of lost productivity! This waste can be eliminated— or at least mitigated— by ditching the physical office whenever possible and having employees work from home (or workation) while staying connected digitally via Slack, Skype, Drive, email, text and phone.
20. A No-Debt Business
I strongly believe in running my business with no debt. Because we serve a number of clients with our virtual support business, we hold pre-paid retainers but don't draw from them until work is done. I always want to be able to pay back an unused retainer balance in the event of an emergency. All expenses are handled with the income we have--no borrowing. I can rest easy knowing I don't owe anyone anything for my business.
21. Time is Money!
One of the biggest mistakes I made was forgetting to incorporate my time into a budget plan. Time is money, especially when working with people who are paid for their time.
Timing underestimation directly increases costs. Treat your time like your bank account.
22. Discerning Taste
We test everything for at least a month before we invest in anything. It allows us the time to discover the benefits and the downfalls of each product or service. If we find it is useful and, more importantly, will help us deliver a superior service to our clients, we move forward. Conversely, if we find it's not worth the money or it has too many downfalls, we scrap and test another avenue. We continually evaluate the paid services and make sure to maximize our investment.
Stephanie Larson of AmpliPhi
23. Use a Budgeting System
The best way to manage your budget is to *know* it and your major spending categories month over month. To be able to efficiently track and make use of this data, you'll need to employ a tool to assist in your efforts. Mint provides an easy way to visualize this data and you can see at-a-glance if you're over a budgeting amount in a certain spending category. Alternatively, you can use a tool like Quickbooks to see how expenses compare to profits.
24. Don't Rule Out Outsourcing
One way small businesses and startups can save money is to outsource aspects of marketing. Marketing is a department any small business should and can have. Outsourcing content writing and finding marketing assistants abroad is a great way to cut costs. It’s also not difficult to find quality team members who are living in areas of the world with low costs of living who want to work remotely. This tip can save small businesses and entrepreneurs thousands in their budgets.
25. Hire a Remote Team
Limit travel expenses by having remote team members in key cities your company does business. This has saved our company so much time and money previously spent traveling between clients. We've found that having a contact close by and more easily accessible is also more preferred by our clients.
26. Fixed Expense Paycheck
Create a paycheck structure where money flows from your business into your personal checking account. This eliminates business owners simply pulling money from their business whenever they need it, causing personal spending decisions to affect the growth of their business. Instead, decide how much you need to live off and then, take this money on a set schedule e.g., half on the 1st and half on the 15th. That becomes a fixed business expense and also helps you live off a personal budget.
27. Scratch the Office
My best budgeting tip for small businesses is to allow employees to work remotely. With tools like Slack, Skype and Go2Meeting, having a remote office has really never been easier. Considering the money saved in office space and the positive impact it has had on employee satisfaction and productivity, it has been one of the best decisions we've made.
28. “Right-size” Your Printer
Inkjet Printer- Best for printing photos and color. Inkjets are the best choice for a combination of printing text, graphics & photos, but high cost per page model. Laser Printer- Faster at producing black-and-white text documents than inkjet, these printers are the best option for offices supporting a small team. They will almost always outperform traditional inkjets, and often have the lowest cost per page. Multi-function Printer- The all-in-one, offering the ability to print, copy, scan & fax.
29. Money Saved or Time Lost?
Not every last dollar is worth cutting, especially if it means lost productivity. Some small business owners think that outsourcing is to be avoided at all costs. Consider IT support. Few employees are computer-savvy enough to fix their own problems. Asking them to do so can mean hours of lost time. Instead, budget for outsourced IT help for difficulties that require a specialized skillset and keep your people doing what you pay them for. Remember, don't step over a dollar to pick up a dime.
30. Don't Budget in the Dark Ages
The best budgeting practice is to use an online software tool (such as waveapps) that downloads all of your expenses from your credit cards and banks. There are lots of other options, though. This will help you tremendously, as you can see almost in real time your expense lined up against your income.
By seeing the numbers real time, you will prevent so many of the unnecessary cash crunches that can ruin some small businesses. Don't do your budgeting and accounting in the dark ages!
31. Small Business Budgeting
Taking the time to learn how to build/maintain your own website will save you thousands of dollars over time. It’s given me the freedom of adding or changing things on the website that may take weeks had I hired a designer. Four years ago, I paid someone $4000 to set up a web template. I had to email him anytime I needed color changes, font changes, or moving around headers and images. It became an expensive nightmare that took months for a job that on my own could have been done in a week.
Dimitri Villanueva of MYLABFAX
32. NEVER Borrow Money for This
I’ve learned a lot from unsuccessfully starting several small businesses in the past.
My biggest budgeting mistake has been borrowing money for marketing. NEVER finance marketing because there is no promise on getting that money back.
Only borrow money when you can reasonably expect to at least get your money back. For example, financing is great if you have a lot of demand, but can’t afford to satisfy that demand.
33. Saving Time
Outsourcing your email can help alleviate your time and allow you to focus on revenue generating tasks. Receiving over 500 per day, I knew that getting a virtual assistant was inevitable. I posted a job on Upwork.com and finally decided on one.
It took about two weeks to teach her exactly what was needed, but now, it's a well-oiled machine.
It's pennies on the dollar for what I would pay for an actual assistant and it gives me back about two hours of my day.
34. Be Diligent About Your Budget
Previously, I founded a landscaping firm with over 100 employees and $8 million a year in annual revenue and last year, I navigated the successful acquisition of that company to a national organization.
Managing cash flow was a significant challenge in that business, in large part because our payments from customers were spread over 12 months; however, our costs of delivering services were variable and spiked at certain parts of the season like springtime.
35. Save Money and the Planet!
Go green! Not only are you doing something positive for the environment, but your bottom line will thank you,too. Cloud based software can be acquired for little to no money, depending on your needs. Your team can save time when locating notes and documents and also saves on supplies. One way DVG saves on emissions is by working remotely; this removes 2 or more hours of travel time and carbon emissions per team member per day and saves on premises costs!
36. Pay Yourself First
Trusted business coaches advise small business owners to “pay yourself first". In keeping with this guidance, I have a set amount of money that automatically transfers each month to a savings account and therefore, is set aside for the future.
37. Take Spending Off of Autopilot
One of my tips for small business owners to save money is scrutinize all of their automatically billed expenses to make sure they are really utilizing those services. I find that these overhead expenses are easy to add and easy to forget about. But, if you have signed up for a video email service that costs $50 a month and you rarely use it, that's $600 a year better spent elsewhere.
38. Write Every Check
While your business is small, you should be the only person writing checks, receiving and paying invoices from contractors, and so on. Don't give anybody else spending authority unless it's absolutely necessary. More than any reporting you could set up, this will give you a feel for where you could save money, which unnecessary expenses you have, and so on. You will also set the right tone in your organization by showing how to be appropriately frugal.
39. Stay Clear of Friend-Funding
When starting your business, avoid reaching out to family and friends for start-up money. There is no quicker way to ruin otherwise great relationships - and part of your success as a business owner will be generated from the confidence and satisfaction that can only come from building your venture on your own (or through other means that don't have the potential to sink your support system).
40. No Ad Budget? No Problem!
It amazes me how most business owners, who have 0 advertising budgets won't leverage a key relationship in their business- media.
As a business owner, I'm always looking to keep expenses down and revenues up. I know that relationship building is key to that, so who better than media?
1) Speak to people constantly- good source of info
2) Look for good content- good source to share info
3) Share quality- good source of credibility
And, you can be a great source for them- WIN-WIN-WIN!
41. Fail Fast and Cheap
Budgeting in small business can feel oxymoronic. In a world of hypothesis and experimentation, it can feel impossible to forecast and predict hurdles, errors, or pay to play scenarios that will grow your business - spending money is forever an art. For startups and small business, I always give the same financial advice - fail fast and cheap. To give a business more of a leg to stand, spend money on your people - more space to work/hire, computer/phone, tools, education.
42. Software Subscription Control
Whether your business is 'brick and mortar' or not, we're doing more work online. Software subscriptions really add up. If you multiply your monthly spend by 5 years, you might get a surprise.
Here are 2 ways to bring these costs down:
1) Your small business might only need the 'lite' version. Check that you're using what you pay for.
2) Find offers that reduce monthly costs, sometimes to zero. I've replaced 3 different monthly spends with lifetime packages that cost less than $50 each.
43. Are You Throwing Away Money?
The BIGGEST mistake I see business owners making with their money is spending money on ineffective advertising. Most often this is due to 'throwing money at the wall' to test Google Adwords or some other source of internet traffic, *before* investing in a website that is built to turn those potential customers into actual paying customers. The solution is actually pretty simple; spend some time and money figuring out what will turn those prospects into paying customers before advertising.
44. Honey is an App for Free Money
My favorite way to save money is with a Google Chrome extension called Honey. It’s an app you can install for free, and when you purchase something on a website, it will automatically hunt down any active coupons or discounts. It’s basically free money.
45. Make Someone Else Decide
It's so easy to be swayed by a number of cool tools out there that could help your business and are only $20 a month; a bargain if it meant that it could save you time, money, improve your service, etc.
But, signing up to too many means that you pay hundreds of dollars every month for all the new tools.
Next time, make it a commitment that you are to report to whoever is responsible for your new expenses. And, if that person says no, then you must accept it and move on.
46. Be a Savvy Social Networker
Marketing is at the heart of business success and thanks to cheap and free marketing opportunities available, you can attract more clients and more income in ways that don’t cost you a small fortune. Utilize Facebook and other social media sites to generate awareness and brand recognition, in addition to ‘building your tribe’. By publishing great content and advertising on social media sites, you engage with your TPOP (Target Population) and you are well on your way to success.
47. Don't Rehire Immediately
When an employee leaves, don’t replace them for four weeks. Working for four weeks without a member of staff will let you know how essential they are. Did your remaining team shoulder their responsibilities or has it been four weeks of complete stress? Believe me, after those four weeks have run out, you will know exactly how essential that role was.
48. One Smart Tip
One of the best budgeting tips is to move into the cloud. Cloud computing spares companies the time and money-consuming processes of installation and maintenance, and thus, it is a lifesaver for small businesses and start-ups.
A significant number of companies across various industries already prefer cloud solutions. The most popular cloud-based solutions are inventory management system, e-commerce, accounting, finance, CRM marketing and the list can go on.
49. Overestimate Expenses
My tip for budgeting as a small business is to overestimate your expenses. If you budget for things being slightly more expensive than they actually are, this will help to ensure you are always prepared for any contingency in your costings, helping you to keep your company’s bank balance out of the red and safely in the black. Underspending is much easier to explain when it comes to doing the accounts than spending too much.
50. Cut the Expectations
Expectations about what a successful small business represents are everywhere. You hear them in your conversation with your family, friends, fellow entrepreneurs and dedicated media outlets. Expectations will take your focus off business development and into unnecessary expenses like renting beautiful company headquarters with leisure rooms and high-end equipment, when you and your team could very well work remotely, be more productive and profitable. Cut the expectations and your budget.
51. Outsourcing Cuts Cost By 60%
Managing a company becomes much easier when you outsource your non-core functions.
Retailer giant Wal-Mart outsources their non-essential data entry tasks of converting shopping bills into e-format. They choose to outsource because it saves them almost 70% of their data entry budget when performed by an outsourcing partner.
This outsourcing strategy will be handier for small business owners like you, as they can save nearly 60% of your operating expenses without compromising quality.
52. Use Your Body's Wisdom
The week after menstruation, estrogen is at an all time high causing women to feel optimistic, while testosterone is increasing, causing us to look for pleasure wherever you can get it. If splurging brings pleasure, your optimism during this week may lead to spending with an "I'll figure it out somehow!" attitude that can bite you in the ass later. Owning your cycle can help curb outrageous spending and keep tabs on your credit card bills a little better.
53. Make Life Easier With Software
My recommendation is to invest in software that will help you track your finances, instead of trying to do it all manually. There are great services available that will help you keep track of your expenses, time and even mileage, as well as provide you with detailed reports on your payables vs. receivables. We created our own software initially for internal use, and it was such a game changer for us that we decided to share it with other small businesses!
Lankitha Wimalarathna of Hiveage
54. Time is Money, Too
One of the biggest pitfalls businesses run into is not accounting for their time as a line item. As an entrepreneur, I'm acutely aware of time. Underestimation of time and deliverables directly increases costs and can have first, second, and third order effects on your bottom line. Assign currency to your time and set external deadlines for projects a little beyond the realistic deliverable date; by doing so, you're over budgeting, and coming in on time and under budget is always a good thing.
55. Make Decisions Based on Data
My best tip would be to run the numbers, always and on everything. Too often, we make business decisions based on what we believe makes sense. Then, the numbers say something entirely different. So, run the numbers first, on what makes sense, then run them on scenarios that don't. You'll find the numbers surprise you quite often and you'll learn to look at things in different and more creative ways.
56. Retire Early
Buy specials from your wholesaler. Then mark them at the normal price, but take a best seller stock and cut the price by the amount you saved on buying the special if they purchase the original special you purchased. Buy 'X' and you will receive 'y' at a special price.
Jacob Singer of Regnis
57. Margin of Error
My favorite budgeting tip is to always overestimate your burn rate and monthly costs. This gives you a little more wiggle room and cushion in case an unexpected expense arises. It's best to be conservative with your calculations.
58. Budget the Fun Stuff!
As a business owner, you are investing time and money to achieve your business and personal lifestyle dreams. Often, your budget includes items like rent, marketing, and supplies/equipment. Take a moment and add to your budget funds to improve the culture of your business. Whether it be a summer party for employees, a fun night out seeing a show, or just a surprise pizza party lunch.
This way you are building a culture, staying in tune with your expenses, and having fun all at the same time.
Brett Shraiar of MaidPro
59. Price Increases? Ask Why!
When a vendor asks or shares with you that you are going to have a price increase, ASK WHY? Am I going to get an improved service or any additional benefits? Just by questioning prices increase, you often can get a lower price or no price increase.
60. Financially Stretch for Growth
Most small business owners should expect to allocate 1 to 10 percent of sales to marketing budgets as they grow and gain market; when starting out, it's whatever they can afford.
Along with tried and true activities that return steady results, add at least one strategy to the budget that'll stretch the business a bit. When done strategically, these stretches allow owners to test limits and raises their confidence. If there is no return at first, try a different route for the same outcome.
61. Phone Budgeting for Small Biz
If cell phones are necessary for employees, prepaid phones are a great option. The inexpensive phone choices and pay-as-you-go plans will keep costs down. It's also a good way for managers to make sure employees are not using work phones for personal use.
62. Budgeting Tips for Small Biz
Cash flow is the life blood of every business. Budgeting helps from joining the list of small businesses that go under in the first 5 yrs.
Think big, act small: Create categories like Marketing, Finance, etc.
Be proactive, not reactive: Keep track monthly on how you're doing. Different results? Understand why. Next? Overestimate expenses + realistic cash projections: No matter how successful you dream you will be, be realistic with your projections to avoid problems & accommodate surprises.
63. Pinpoint Your Target Market
It is so important to take the time to research and pinpoint your target market. Then, you won't spend unnecessary dollars trying to reach the wrong consumer segment. The toughest business lesson I learned was: don't spend years developing a product that doesn't have a distinct customer base. I wish someone had given us that advice earlier, but maybe it's one of those things you have to learn yourself.
64. Always Pay Profit First!
The best strategy that we use is to pay our profit first! To do this, you must first establish a baseline net profit percentage, even if it has to be 1%. You then take that money every month before you pay any expenses and use it as savings or as an owner bonus. After that, you can budget for the rest of your expenses.
65. Remember the Wu-Tang Clan
Know your Wu-Tang songs to help remember key rules of budgeting:
C.R.E.A.M. Cash Rules Everything Around Me. How it applies: You can't live on outstanding invoices. It's what's in your bank account that counts. Successful cash flow management is critical to your survival as an early business.
M.E.T.H.O.D. Man - In other words: You've got to have a method, or you're in trouble, man.
Budgets don't work if you can't execute on them and organization can either make or break your plans.
66. Live Like a Local
As an entrepreneur, I'm footing the bill in the early stages of growth & 90% of my time is allocated for extended travel to grow my brand. Keeping my numbers in line while traveling is critical, so one of my favorite budgeting tips is to "live like a local". A 5-star dining experience every night of travel is not worth the sacrifices you'll make in other areas of your business. Preserve funds for true costs. Forego paying for convenience, grab local fare from the market, and get to hustlin'.
67. Pay Yourself First
The best budgeting tip is to “automatically pay yourself first”. So, every time you get paid, you automatically fund your retirement, travel & “dream” account. By doing this, you are forcing yourself to save for your financial future and avoid using your credit cards for “big-ticket items”. You stick to this, I guarantee you - not only will you build wealth but you will be debt-free for life!
68. Invest $10 to Make More Sales
For all those retailers, restaurants, art galleries, etc., the first thing new and old customers see when they visit your business is your "Closed" sign. It's negative and anti-sales. Change it to: "See You Tomorrow At 6:00 AM."
69. Your Time Is Valuable
Every small business owner faces having to do repetitive tasks. This kills the growth of their company because as they can't focus on what will boost their revenue.
Most entrepreneurs can't hire their way out of this problem. It's too expensive.
Instead, they grind themselves into the ground by working far too many hours.
Never fall into this trap.
Remember that your time is valuable. Outsource repetitive tasks. Use software, apps or tools to automate as much as you can.
70. Make Every Dollar Count!
Be scrappy! Go without the nice to have items, such as a fixed office location.
In the early days of a business, it's far easier to control how much you spend then it is to control how much you earn. Look closely at every dollar spent and ask yourself if it's a necessity.
If you spend like you're already a big, successful business, you won't survive long enough to become one.
Do you know any tips for business budgeting that weren’t included? Please share your thoughts below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!