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Start Your Business Startup Funding

Startup Costs: How Much Cash Will You Need?

Startup Costs: How Much Cash Will You Need?
Credit: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock

Starting a business is an exciting venture. You get to channel your talents and ingenuity to create an organization you believe in. But the process isn't simple. It requires time, dedication and – you guessed it – money.

If you're thinking about launching a new business, you may not know where to start with your finances. However, if you are organized and thorough, you can plan out your financing and keep your startup budget on track. Here's how to figure out how much you'll need to launch your business and the best ways to get funding. [Looking for accounting software for your small business? Check out our best picks for small business accounting software.]

You most likely have high expectations for your company. However, blind optimism may cause you to invest too much money too quickly. At the very beginning, it's smart to keep an open mind and prepare for issues that may arise, experts say.

Cynthia McCahon, founder and CEO of business plan software company Enloop, said business owners should start with a bit of healthy skepticism.

Editor's note: Looking for information on business loans? Fill in the questionnaire below, and you will be contacted by alternative lenders ready to discuss your loan needs. 

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"A prospective business owner should start planning a small business by simply understanding the potential of the business idea," said McCahon. "What this means is not assuming your idea will be successful."

The best approach is to test your idea in a small, inexpensive way that gives you a good indication of whether customers need your product and how much they're willing to pay for it, McCahon said. If the test seems successful, then you can start planning your business based on what you learned. [See related story: Creative Financing Methods for Startups]

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, most microbusinesses cost around $3,000, while most home-based franchises cost $2,000 to $5,000 to start.

While every type of business has its own financing needs, experts have some tips to help you figure out how much cash you'll require. Entrepreneur Drew Gerber, who started a technology company, a publicity firm and a financial planning company, estimates that an entrepreneur will need six months' worth of fixed costs on hand at startup.

"Have a plan to cover your expenses in the first month," he said. "Identify your customers before you open the door so you can have a way to start covering those expenses."

When planning your costs, don't underestimate the expenses, and remember that they can rise as the business grows, Gerber said. It's easy to overlook costs when you're thinking about the big picture, but you should be more precise when planning for your fixed expenses, he added.

Indeed, underestimating costs can decimate your company, McCahon said.

"One of the main reasons most small businesses fail is that they simply run out of cash," she said. "Writing a business plan without basing your forecasts on reality often leads to an unfortunate, and often unnecessary, business failure. Without the benefit of experience or actual historical financials, it's easy to overestimate a new company's revenue and underestimate costs."

The SBA states that there are various types of expenses to consider when starting your business. It's important to differentiate these types of costs to properly manage your business's cash flow for the short and long term, said Eyal Shinar, CEO of Fundbox, a cash flow management company. Here are a few types of costs for new business owners to consider.

1. One-time vs. ongoing costs: One-time expenses will be relevant mostly in the startup process, such as the expenses for incorporating a company. If there's a month when you must make a one-time equipment purchase, your money going out will likely be greater than the money coming in, Shinar said. This means your cash flow will be disrupted that month, and you will need to make up for it the following month. Ongoing costs, by contrast, are paid on a regular basis and include expenses such as utilities. These generally do not fluctuate as much from month to month.

2. Essential vs. optional costs: Essential costs are expenses that are absolutely necessary for the company's growth and development. Optional purchases should be made only if the budget allows. "If you have an optional and nonurgent cost, it may be best to wait until you have enough cash reserves for that purchase," Shinar said.

3. Fixed vs. variable costs: Fixed expenses, such as rent, are consistent from month to month, whereas variable expenses depend on the direct sale of products or services. Shinar noted that fixed costs may eat up a high percentage of revenue in the early days, but as you scale up, their relative burden becomes negligible. [Read related story: Direct Costs vs. Indirect Costs: Understanding Each]

Another important aspect of a startup's financial planning is to project the business's cash flow. Bill Brigham, director of the New York State Small Business Development Center in Albany, New York, advised new business owners to project their cash flows for at least the first three months of the business's life. He said to add up not only fixed costs but also the estimated costs of goods and best- and worst-case revenues.

If you borrow money, make sure you know not only how much you borrowed but also the interest you owe, Brigham said. Calculating these costs puts a floor on the revenues needed to keep the business viable and provides a good picture of the cash necessary to start it up.

Gerber recommended starting a business without borrowing at all, if possible. Borrowing puts a lot of pressure on any business and its owners, he said, as it leaves less room for error.

Once you get your business going, use QuickBooks or FreshBooks, which can connect directly to a bank account, to track expenses throughout each month and during tax season, Shinar advised.

Once you've determined your costs and cash flow projections, you'll need to consider how to pursue financing. How you obtain funds will affect the future of your business for years to come. Personal savings, loans from family and friends, bank and government loans, and grants are just a few of the many potential funding sources. Many companies use a combination of sources.

According to Herndon Davis, mortgage loan officer and real estate agent at Mortgage Real Estate Services, most startups are self-funded. However, there are other options.

"Additional funding can come through establishing business credit and different lines of credit through piggybacking scenarios," Davis said. "There's also small business loans and angel investors willing to step in at certain stages. At this point, your startup should show established client/customers, growth since inception, a unique positioning in the marketplace, and a clear business plan on how to grow with the additional funding."

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, added that bootstrapping, grants or venture capital from a VC firm are great options for startups.

One place to go for help is SCORE, which advises small business owners. Formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, this volunteer organization partners with the SBA and offers training and workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs. Most importantly, SCORE offers counseling from people who have been in the business you might want to be in and know the specific issues you're likely to encounter.

You can find tools for calculating and managing your startup costs on the following websites:

Editor's note: Looking for information on business loans? Fill in the questionnaire below, and you will be contacted by alternative lenders ready to discuss your loan needs. 

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Additional reporting by Katherine Arline and Jesse Emspak. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.