5 Tips for Estimating Your Start-up Costs

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Photo by Katie Harp on Unsplash

We are firm believers in overkill. Especially when it comes to start-ups. Which is why we are sharing these rules for figuring out the realistic costs of setting up a business.

Have a Solid Plan — Then Change It

Most start-up stories say that you need to have a business plan. And that’s true. But that’s not the beginning and the end of figuring out your start-up costs.

Jeff Shuman, who directs entrepreneurial studies at Bentley College, says, “The conventional wisdom is that an entrepreneur sees an opportunity, comes up with a business plan to capitalize on it, determines the capital that needs to be raised, raises the capital and then applies it to building the business described in the business plan.”

There is one major problem with that model, says Shuman. It all hinges on getting the business right the first time, and that does not often happen. “In reality, it’s likely that some of your initial assumptions are pretty good and others aren’t going to be worth the paper they’re written on,” he says.

Shuman and others say that figuring out your start-up costs means regularly reviewing your assumptions and changing your initial model. Writing a plan is good because it forces you to write down everything you are going to need to start your business.

Nevertheless, that initial plan is likely to change repeatedly as you learn new things and incorporate them into the plan.

Be Willing to Pull Back

It is tempting to add up everything you need for the full-fledged business you imagine, and decide it is what you need to start out.

However, pulling back and looking for a smaller model can give you a way to get started while also saving money. Shuman uses the example of someone who calculates the total cost of starting a retail business in a local shopping centre.

“You could start that way and write a business plan based on that amount,” he says. “But maybe you’d be better off renting a stand and testing what the demand is for your products at that location.”

This consumer testing reduces your initial start-up costs. The result is that the initial cycle of your business is dedicated not so much to generating profits as to generating information. “With this, you can fund your business on a cycle-by-cycle basis,” Shuman says. “When you go for the second cycle and for expanding your business, the numbers are now based not on focus groups or surveys but on real-world experience.”

Correctly Estimate Your Start-up Time

Yes, when beginning a business, time can be money. Say you are going to have fixed costs such as a monthly lease. If you have to make improvements to a space before you can actually open for business, those fixed costs are going to be additional start-up costs until you can actually open for business.

I think one of the first places a prospective new business owner should go is to the local government or trade ministry. Construction permits and inspections can push a prospective opening date back by months. If you fail to take into account the cost of this time, you could be short of working capital right at the start.

Calculate Prices and Time Correctly

Calculating your initial cash flow is part of figuring out your start-up costs. It is an area where businesses are sometimes less optimistic than they should be. “Small business owners may under-price their product or service, thinking they have to come in at the lowest price point to compete,” says Barbara Bird. “They don’t necessarily need to do that.”

Be Realistic About the Cost of Money

Many small business owners finance their ventures by running up big balances on their personal savings. Others tap the equity in their homes.

However, self-financing is not a practical option for larger ventures. Tom Emerson, who directs the entrepreneurship centre at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says start-ups should figure in the cost of capital when determining initial expenses and cash flow. “The cost is usually based on what the interest would be, were that cash invested in something with similar risk on the market,” Emerson says. “It’s usually a figure that is a few percentage points or more above the prime rate.”

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