How to create a business budget for your startup: A guide


Start your company in a few clicks and get ready to charge customers, hire your team, and fundraise.

Learn more 
  1. Introduction
  2. Why are business budgets important for startups?
  3. How much should your business budget be?
  4. How to create a business budget for your startup
    1. Assess your startup’s financial situation
    2. Set business goals and objectives
    3. Research business costs and channels
    4. Allocate budget to different business activities
    5. Plan for contingencies and unexpected costs
  5. Best practices for creating and managing startup business budgets

Startups are often defined by their relationship with money. How much funding do they have? Where did the money come from? Who owns a share of the business, and how much control do they have over the business? How much money is in the bank, and how long can it sustain the business? Who should be hired, and can the business afford it? What trade-offs must the business make to expand its offerings?

Most businesses, startup or not, have to think about budgets. But startups often have less money to spend, which makes budgeting important for survival. Below, we’ll talk about how to create a business budget for your startup.

What’s in this article?

  • Why are business budgets important for startups?
  • How much should your business budget be?
  • How to create a business budget for your startup
  • Best practices for creating and managing startup business budgets

Why are business budgets important for startups?

An analysis of more than 100 startup postmortems found that 29% failed because they ran out of money, emphasizing the importance of careful budgeting. Here are more details on why budgets are key for startups:

  • Financial planning and control: Budgets give startups a road map for financial planning. They make it possible for startups to allocate resources efficiently, manage cash flow, and make informed decisions about expenditures. A well-planned budget controls spending, in line with the business’s strategic objectives and revenue forecasts.

  • Risk mitigation: Startups, by their nature, operate in environments of high uncertainty. Budgets can identify potential financial risks and set aside contingency funds. By planning for various scenarios, a startup can better handle unforeseen challenges and avoid financial distress.

  • Investor confidence and funding: Startups seeking investment need a well-structured budget. It demonstrates to investors that the business has a clear understanding of its financial needs, growth trajectory, and revenue potential. Budgets assure investors of the viability of the business model.

  • Performance measurement and management: Budgets serve as a benchmark for measuring performance. By comparing actual financial outcomes with budgeted figures, startups can assess their operational efficiency and financial health. This analysis can lead to more effective management decisions and adjustments in strategy.

  • Cash flow management: Startups often face challenges with cash flow management. A budget can help cash flow needs and timing so that there are sufficient funds to cover operational expenses and avoid cash crunches. Effective management of funds leads to sustainable operations and growth.

  • Strategic decision-making: How funds are allocated in a budget signals what the business values and where it intends to grow. The budgeting process forces a startup to prioritize particular initiatives and resources, facilitating strategic decision-making.

  • Resource optimization: Startups typically operate with limited resources. A budget compels startups to be intentional about how they use those resources, including employees, capital, and time. This increases operational efficiency and can spur innovative solutions to overcome resource constraints.

  • Market positioning and competitive advantage: A well-managed budget can give startups a competitive edge. By strategically allocating funds to key areas such as research and development (R&D), marketing, and customer service, startups can strengthen their market position and build a sustainable competitive advantage.

  • Long-term sustainability and growth: A startup’s budget sets the business up for long-term sustainability and growth. A budget guides a startup through its various stages, helping it to scale effectively while maintaining financial health.

  • Building a culture of financial discipline: Budgeting instills a culture of financial discipline within the startup. It encourages team accountability and a responsible approach to spending.

How much should your business budget be?

There are many perspectives about how big a startup’s overall budget should be. Ultimately, the best approach is the one you feel most comfortable with. Here are some common ways to size a startup budget:

  • Percentage of revenue approach: One common method is to set the budget as a percentage of the projected revenue. This percentage varies depending on the industry and growth stage of the startup. For instance, a tech startup in its growth phase might allocate a higher percentage of its revenue to R&D, compared with a mature retail business’s plan.

  • Zero-based budgeting: This approach involves rebuilding the budget (“zero base”) for each new period, analyzing and justifying each expense. Zero-based budgeting is useful for making sure all expenditures are necessary and match the business’s current objectives. It can be a good fit for startups, where priorities can shift quickly.

  • Historical budgeting: This method uses past financial data as the basis for creating the new budget. For startups with a few years of operational history, this approach can provide a realistic baseline. However, it’s important to adjust for anticipated changes in the market or business model.

  • Goal-oriented budgeting: A goal-oriented budget is structured around specific business goals or milestones. This approach is particularly useful for startups focused on achieving certain targets, such as product development milestones, market expansion, or customer acquisition goals.

  • Flexible budgeting: This method involves creating a budget with built-in flexibility to adjust for changes in revenue or business conditions. For startups operating in dynamic markets or those experiencing rapid growth, a flexible budget can accommodate unexpected shifts.

  • Benchmarking against industry standards: Comparing your budget with industry norms can provide valuable insights. This involves researching what similar businesses in your industry are spending and adjusting your budget accordingly.

  • Lean budgeting: This approach reduces spending to key expenditures only. This is particularly common in the early stages to conserve cash. The focus is on creating a minimum viable product and achieving product-market fit before scaling up spending.

  • Project-based budgeting: If your startup operates on a project basis, creating individual budgets for each project can be effective. This allows for a more precise allocation of resources based on the specific needs and returns of each project.

  • Investor-driven budgeting: If your startup is funded by investors, their expectations and requirements might influence the budget. An investor-driven budget might be based on agreed-upon milestones or growth targets.

  • Contingency budgeting: Startups are more susceptible to unforeseen costs or revenue fluctuations, so include a contingency budget to cover unexpected expenses or shortfalls.

How to create a business budget for your startup

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a business budget that works for your startup:

Assess your startup’s financial situation

  • Gather your financial basics: Start by collecting your key financial documents, such as balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements. These will give you a full picture of your startup’s financial position.

  • Check your assets and liabilities: Look closely at your balance sheet. How healthy are your assets, including cash, receivables, and inventory? Also monitor your liabilities: loans, payables, and other debts. Calculate liquidity ratios. These numbers will tell you how ready you are for unexpected challenges.

  • Know your income sources: Thoroughly analyze your revenue history. Are there patterns, peaks, or plateaus? Make sure to diversify your income streams.

  • Track your expenses: Categorize your costs: which are fixed, and which fluctuate? Monitor rising costs. Spotting trends early can prevent issues.

  • Assess your cash flow: Your cash flow statement shows how cash moves in and out of the business. Assess your working capital situation. How quickly does your inventory turn into sales, and how fast do you collect cash from customers?

  • Determine your debts and investments: Review your debts. What are the terms and interest rates, and how do they fit into your broader financial strategy? If you have investors, assess how their stake affects your finances.

  • Find your break-even point: The break-even point is how much revenue you need to cover the bills.

  • Do an industry comparison: How do you compare with others in your industry? Comparing your financial health with industry norms can offer valuable insights.

  • Check the tax and regulation landscape: Don’t overlook the impact of taxes and regulations. They can heavily shape your financial picture.

Set business goals and objectives

  • Make sure your goals match your vision: Start by revisiting your startup’s vision. What are you trying to achieve in the long term? Your goals should signify progress toward this vision.

  • Use SMART goal-setting: Embrace the SMART framework for goal-setting: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This keeps your goals clear, trackable, and realistic. For instance, instead of setting a general goal to increase revenue, set a specific target, such as a 20% increase in sales over the next quarter.

  • Understand short-term vs. long-term objectives: Balance is key. Set immediate, short-term goals (such as launching a product feature in the next six months) alongside long-term objectives (such as becoming a market leader in five years). This approach keeps your team motivated and focused on immediate and future achievements.

  • Involve your team: Involve your team in the goal-setting process so everyone’s perspective can be heard. As a result, the team will be aligned and committed to shared objectives.

  • Do market and competitor analysis: Know your market and competitors to set realistic and relevant goals. For example, if you’re in a quickly changing industry, your objectives might include staying ahead of certain tech trends or innovations.

  • Have financial goals: Set clear financial targets. This could include funding goals, revenue targets, profit margins, or cost reduction objectives. These targets keep your financial health on track.

  • Target customer-centric goals: Set goals for customer acquisition, retention, satisfaction scores, or net promoter scores. Happy customers often translate to a successful business.

Research business costs and channels

  • Identify all potential costs: List every possible expense, no matter how small. This includes direct costs, such as raw materials and production, and indirect costs, such as rent, utilities, and administrative expenses. Don’t overlook less obvious expenses such as software subscriptions, professional fees, or travel expenses.

  • Research industry standards: Investigate what businesses in your industry typically spend in various areas. This information can provide a benchmark and help you identify whether any cost category is disproportionately high or low in your budget.

  • Understand fixed vs. variable costs: Distinguish between fixed costs (which remain the same regardless of business activity, such as rent or salaries) and variable costs (which fluctuate with business volume, such as shipping costs or raw material expenses). This will enable you to adjust your budget in response to business cycles.

  • Analyze the cost benefit of each expense: For every major expense, conduct a cost-benefit analysis. This involves evaluating the potential return on investment (ROI) for that expense. For instance, if you’re considering a marketing campaign, weigh the expected increase in sales against the campaign’s cost.

  • Review pricing strategies: Your sales prices directly affect your revenue, so you need a clear understanding of your pricing strategy. Research competitor pricing and set prices that are competitive but also cover your costs and desired profit margin.

  • Examine distribution and sales channels: Identify the costs associated with each sales and distribution channel you plan to use. This includes online platforms, retail locations, and third-party distributors. Each channel will have different associated costs and potential revenue streams.

  • Include technology and software costs: Technology and software are major parts of most modern businesses. Include costs for important software, cybersecurity measures, and any tech support or development you might need.

  • Account for employee costs: Beyond salaries, include employee-related expenses such as benefits, training, taxes, and insurance. These expenses can add substantially to your personnel costs.

  • Plan for marketing and advertising: Determine how much you need to spend on marketing and advertising to reach your target audience effectively. This could include social media advertising, content marketing, email campaigns, and traditional advertising.

  • Consider legal and compliance costs: Compliance with laws and regulations can incur costs, including those related to legal fees, licensing, and compliance with industry standards.

  • Weigh R&D expenses: If your startup is in an industry that requires ongoing R&D, allocate a budget for these activities so your business can remain competitive.

  • Prepare for unexpected costs: Always include a buffer for unexpected costs. This contingency fund can be a lifesaver in situations such as equipment breakdowns or sudden market changes.

Allocate budget to different business activities

Allocate your budget based on your goals and objectives. High-priority areas that directly contribute to your key objectives should receive more funding.

  • Balance between departments: Distribute funds across different departments such as R&D, marketing, sales, operations, and administration. Each department should have enough resources to function efficiently while using funds judiciously.

  • Consider revenue-generating vs. support activities: Allocate more budget to revenue-generating activities such as sales and marketing. Additionally, ensure support functions such as human resources (HR), information technology (IT), and customer service—which are key for operations—have adequate funding.

  • Include fixed and variable costs: Remember to cover fixed costs in your budget allocation first because these are unavoidable expenses. Then distribute the remaining funds to cover variable costs, which can fluctuate based on business performance.

  • Invest in growth opportunities: Allocate a portion of the budget to growth and innovation. This could include new product development, market expansion, or technology upgrades.

  • Plan for marketing and advertising: Allocate a specific portion of your budget to marketing and advertising. This amount should be based on your market analysis and the expected ROI from these activities.

Plan for contingencies and unexpected costs

Set aside a portion of your budget as a contingency fund. A general rule is to allocate 5%–10% of your total budget, but this can vary depending on your industry and the stage of your startup. This fund can be used for unexpected expenses.

  • Assess potential risks: Analyze potential risks that could affect your financial stability, including market fluctuations, operational disruptions, changes in supplier costs, or technological failures. Remaining aware of these risks helps in estimating how much you might need in your contingency fund.

  • Get insurance coverage: Have appropriate insurance policies in place. This can include general liability insurance, property insurance, professional liability insurance, and other forms of insurance relevant to your industry. Insurance can mitigate financial losses from various unforeseen events.

  • Practice flexible budgeting: Design your budget to be flexible so you can adjust certain line items if an unexpected expense arises—without derailing your financial planning.

  • Plan for economic uncertainties: Watch economic indicators and trends that could affect your business. Amid economic uncertainty, you might want to increase your contingency fund.

  • Create an emergency response plan: Develop an emergency response plan that includes financial strategies to handle sudden crises. This plan should outline steps to reduce costs quickly if needed.

  • Consider a line of credit: Establishing a line of credit with a financial institution can provide an additional safety net. This line of credit can give you access to funds when you need them, without having to dip in to other areas of your budget.

Best practices for creating and managing startup business budgets

When creating and managing a business budget for your startup, consider these best practices that can refine your approach:

  • Regular monitoring and review: Track and review your budget against actual performance, monthly or quarterly. This will help you identify any variances early and make timely adjustments.

  • Use of financial management tools: Use technology for budget management. Numerous financial software products and tools are available to help track expenses, forecast revenues, and provide real-time financial insights.

  • Stakeholder involvement: Keep key stakeholders informed about the budget and its performance. This includes your team and investors, board members, and key partners. Transparency builds trust and can make room for valuable feedback.

  • Flexible and adaptive approach: Be prepared to adjust your budget as your business evolves. Startups often encounter rapid changes in their operating environment, and your budget should be flexible enough to accommodate these changes.

  • Focus on key performance indicators (KPIs): Identify KPIs that are most meaningful for your business success, and connect your budget with these metrics. Regularly track these KPIs to measure the effectiveness of your budget allocation.

  • Cost-benefit analysis for major expenditures: Before making large investments or expenditures, conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis. This analysis will help you make informed decisions that match your business objectives and financial capacity.

  • Prioritized spending based on ROI: Allocate more budget to areas with the highest potential ROI. This could mean investing more in marketing, new product development, or sales channels that have shown strong results.

  • Implementing strong financial controls: Establish internal controls to prevent overspending and fraud. This includes approval processes for expenditures, regular audits, and delegating duties to different team members.

  • Planning for long-term financial health: While focusing on immediate needs, also consider the long-term financial implications of your decisions. This involves balancing short-term expenditures with long-term investments in growth and sustainability.

  • Learning from past budgets: Use historical budget data to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of future budgets. Analyze what worked well and what didn’t in previous periods.

  • Integrating budget with overall business strategy: Your budget should support your overall business strategy and goals, whether your focus is market expansion, product innovation, or customer acquisition.

  • Employee engagement and accountability: Involve your team in the budgeting process. This promotes a sense of ownership and encourages accountability for managing expenses and achieving budget targets.

  • Preparing for funding rounds: If you’re planning to raise funds, design your budget to show potential investors how you will use their funding to generate growth and returns.

  • Regular scenario planning: Conduct regular scenario planning exercises to prepare for different financial outcomes. This will help you understand how your budget will perform under various market conditions and business scenarios.

Stripe Atlas offers discounts on some accounting and tax tools.

Ready to get started?

Create an account and start accepting payments—no contracts or banking details required. Or, contact us to design a custom package for your business.