How to Build a Budget

Eric Weynand, Founder

This post was adapted from our workshop “How to Build a Budget for SMBs”. If you’d like to review the full presentation, including tools and additional details, download it below.

Download how to Build a Budget for SMBs

Having a budget for your business is non-negotiable, no matter the size of the business. It serves as a road map to guide your financial and operational decisions. Without one, it’s easy to push sales targets off to the next month or to overspend on monthly expenses.

How detailed should your budget be? Well, that depends on your Chart of Accounts (COA) (If you don’t have one of those, check out our post here first). Matching your budget to your COA serves two purposes – first, it gives you a framework to set it up, and second, you are able to easily compare your budget to your actual results.

When creating your first budget, you’ll want to keep some things in mind:

Start with Strategy

Creating a budget is important, but you have to make sure the business has a direction. Your goals are essential as you build a budget.

While one one hand, you’ll mostly be tracking transactions. Another big element of you budget is that it’s a guide toward your goals.

What are your Top Business Priorities?

You need to clearly state your priorities and direction so you can build a budget. Is your goal massive growth? Are you trying for steady 10% growh?

Your budget will be involved in all of these decisions and your spending will be different based on your goals.

Clearly list out your top goals, especially your goals for cash. Then when you have a budget, you’ll have additional motiviation. Essentially your budget is just a scorecard to help you stay on track for your goals.

Now let’s build a budget.

Identify Your Revenue

Identify your separate revenue streams and work backwards to identify the drivers. For example, if you run an electronics business, you may have revenue streams from product sales and services.

You can further break down product sales into key product lines or categories, and services into repairs and initial setups, or by product line.  

The key is that the level of detail you select should be specific enough to drive business decisions (units to purchase, sales needed by product line for overall targets, targets for your sales teams, etc), but not too detailed that you’re tracking inconsequential dollar amounts. A good rule of thumb is to track a minimum of 5% of your revenue per budget item.

The max can be anything you can’t reasonably split further.

Match Your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

This section is easy. Simply match your COGS accounts to your revenue streams identified above. The benefit of matching the two is that you’ll be able to determine your margin by line of business.  And, since you’ve modeled your budget after your chart of accounts, you can compare your budgeted margin to your actual margin to determine the variance.

It’s likely that you will have multiple COGS accounts per revenue driver – i.e. raw materials and labor for each product line. For smaller lines, you may want to group all items together for simplicity.

Group Your Expenses

Expenses (or “Overhead”) should follow a hierarchy that allows you to monitor the big, important expense ‘buckets’ (e.g. Total Travel) and create detailed budgets for specific costs (e.g. Air, Meals, and Lodging). Grouping your expense accounts into these larger categories lets you include details where necessary (e.g. in the travel example above).

When such detail isn’t required, you can create a generic budget to reduce the administrative burden. For example, an account for Professional Development will break out into Training, Materials, etc. on your actuals, but for the sake of budgeting, just one total target spend amount is probably adequate. For miscellaneous or uncategorizable accounts, use an “other” category.

You’ll find that there is a balance between including details for informational purposes and aggregating accounts for simplicity.  Keep the day-to-day management of your budget in mind when setting it up. You can always refine your budget categories as your needs evolve.

Use the Right Tools

As you set up your budget, the right accounting software will be a huge part of the budgeting equation. Automation in your accounting workflow will create efficiency in the reconciliation process.

This is important, because fast, accurate data is essential for keeping up with your budget.

Where Budgeting Goes Wrong

Most businesses have great intentions when they create a budget. However, starting with a budget is the easy part.

Where businesses fail in budgeting is when there is no commitment or follow through. In order to see success with budgeting, you need regular tracking and reporting.

That’s when the magic of budgeting kicks in, when you can see where you are off and make corrections.

Make the Budget Commitment

So how about you? Are you willing to follow through in creating, following and reporting on your budget?

If you do, there is a much greater likelihood of keeping your financial goals on track. And you will have. much more intimate understanding of your business to make proactive decisions going forward.

If you’d like to learn more about how to build a budget, download our full presentation adapted from our workshop “How to Build a Budget for SMBs”.


Download how to Build a Budget for SMBs