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Building A Financial Budget

Creating a financial plan lets you control your business's cash flow...instead of it controlling you.
April 20, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/21942

For many small-business owners, the process of budgeting is limited to figuring out where to get the cash to meet next week's payroll. There are so many financial fires to put out in a given week that it's hard to find the time to do any short- or long-range financial planning. But failing to plan financially might mean that you are unknowingly planning to fail.

Business budgeting is one of the most powerful financial tools available to any small-business owner. Put simply, maintaining a good short- and long-range financial plan enables you to control your cash flow instead of having it control you.

The most effective financial budget includes both a short-range month-to-month plan for at least a calendar year and a quarter-to-quarter long-range plan you use for financial statement reporting. It should be prepared during the two months preceding the fiscal year-end to allow ample time for sufficient information-gathering.

The long-range plan should cover a period of at least three years (some go up to five years) on a quarterly basis, or even an annual basis. The long-term budget should be updated when the short-range plan is prepared.

While some owners prefer to leave the one-year budget unchanged for the year for which it provides projections, others adjust the budget during the year based on certain financial occurrences, such as an unplanned equipment purchase or a larger-than-expected upward sales trend. Using the budget as an ongoing planning tool during a given year certainly is recommended. However, here is a word to the wise: Financial budgeting is vital, but it is important to avoid getting so caught up in the budget process that you forget to keep doing business.

What Do You Budget?
Many financial budgets provide a plan only for the income statement; however, it is important to budget both the income statement and balance sheet. This enables you to consider potential cash flow needs for your entire operation, not just as they pertain to income and expenses. For instance, if you had already been in business for a couple of years and were adding a new product line, you would need to consider the impact of inventory purchases on cash flow.

Budgeting the income statement only also doesn't allow a full analysis of potential capital expenditures on your financial picture. For instance, if you are planning to purchase real estate for your operation, you need to budget the effect the debt service will have on cash flow. In the future, a budget can also help you determine the potential effects of expanding your facilities and the resulting higher rent payments or debt service.

How Do You Budget?
In the start-up phase, you will have to make reasonable assumptions about your business in establishing your budget. You will need to ask questions such as:

As for the actual preparation of the budget, you can create it manually or with the budgeting function that comes with most bookkeeping software packages. You can also purchase separate budgeting software such as Quicken or WinFast.

Yes, this seems like a lot of information to forecast. But it is not as cumbersome as it looks. The first step is to set up a plan for the following year on a month-to-month basis. Starting with the first month, establish specific budgeted dollar levels for each category of the budget. The sales numbers will be critical since they will be used to compute gross profit margin and will help determine operating expenses, as well as the accounts receivable and inventory levels necessary to support the business. In determining how much of your product or service you can sell, study the market in which you will operate, your competition, potential demand that you might already have seen, and economic conditions. For cost of goods sold, you will need to calculate the actual costs associated with producing each item on a percentage basis.

For operating expenses, consider items such as advertising, auto, depreciation, insurance, etc. Then factor in a tax rate based on actual business tax rates that you can obtain from your accountant. On the balance sheet, break down inventory by category. For instance, a clothing manufacturer has raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods. For inventory, accounts receivable and accounts payable, you will figure the total amounts based on a projected number of days on hand.

Consider each specific item in fixed assets broken out for real estate, equipment, investments, etc. If your new business requires a franchise fee or copyrights or patents, this will be reflected as an intangible asset. On the liability side, break down each bank loan separately. Do the same for the stockholders' equity-common stock, preferred stock, paid-in-capital, treasury stock and retained earnings.

Do this for each month for the first 12 months. Then, prepare the quarter-to-quarter budgets for years two and three. For the first year's budget, you will want to consider seasonality factors. For example, most retailers experience heavy sales from October to December. If your business will be highly seasonal, you will have wide-ranging changes in cash flow needs. For this reason, you will want to consider seasonality in the budget rather than take your annual projected year-one sales level and divide by 12.

As for the process, you will need to prepare the income statement budgets first, then balance sheet, then cash flow. You will need to know the net income figure before you can prepare a pro forma balance sheet because the profit number must be plugged into retained earnings. And for the cash flow projection, you will need both income statement and balance sheet numbers.

No matter whether you will budget manually or using software, it is advisable to seek input from your CPA in preparing your initial budget. His or her role will depend on the internal resources available to you and your background in finance. You may want to hire your CPA to prepare the financial plan for you, or you may simply involve him or her in an advisory role. Regardless of the level of involvement, your CPA's input will prove invaluable in providing an independent review of your short- and long-term financial plan. In future years, your monthly financial statements and accountant-prepared year-end statements will be very useful in preparing a budget.

Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of Entrepreneur Magazine, © 1998 Entrepreneur Press