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[Part 1] Budget for Success!

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11th Apr 2013
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budget scale

Yes it’s that time of the year again. The sales and the procurement people who passed snide remarks against the “bean counters” all year round suddenly seem to be smiling pleasantly – even waving and exchanging pleasantries with the “finance wizards”. No, it’s not Christmas or Diwali time. It’s time for the budget. This is the time the finance department suddenly becomes the cynosure of the organization.All departments from HR to Procurement to Sales need the finance team to sign-off on their budgets for the next year. Hence the dramatic change in attitude. Most business teams treat the budgeting exercise with either dread or dispassion. This author has been in budgetary meetings where department heads joke about having two budgets – one presented to promoters or investors to keep them happy and another that resides in the business teams’ minds which shall actually be realized.

A few weeks before start of the new FY,the various teams get together (probably for the first time in months) and put something down on paper (or excel as the case may be) just to have the budget done with. Like most organizations, if you follow this cycle of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behaviour towards budgeting, expect the process to end similarly – in a tragedy. The main reason for a budgeting activity is to better plan for the future – to get a handle of what is required to achieve the revenue targets.Additionally a budget may also aid in evaluating resourcing requirements. A sound budget is also mandatory to justify a funding request to a (potential) investor.

Thus unless due diligence is carried out while preparing a budget, the business may be in danger of facing cash flow risk going forward. This due diligence along with a strong framework should be provided by the finance team.It is vital that finance team is involved throughout the year on planning and the strategic decision making process to prepare the various types of budgets.

A budget is typically of two types – a one year detailed budget and a 3-5 year long-term budget.

The one year budget is used to predict monthly, weekly and sometimes even daily cash flows and expenses. This may become very important for a trading company as it typically prepares a 15-day rolling budget and a rolling P&L because the business is extremely dynamic and the risk management has to be timely and highly granular. Thus any business that has a trading angle to it needs to have a rolling short interval budget and a constantly updatable one year budget. Every business nonetheless needs to have a monthly or at least a quarterly budget that will help plan ahead.

The longer duration 5-year (or 3 year) budget helps put the long term goals in perspective. Of course the 1st year of such a budget needs to be in sync with the one-year budget discussed above. The longer term budget may not have as objective a set of assumptions as a one-year budget but each item needs to be based on solid references. For example,5-year revenue growth may be benchmarked against 5-year industry growth, 5-year SG&A percentage rise may be benchmarked against 5-year expected inflation and so on.

The challenges faced by all companies are broadly similar for both types of budgets. The task gets more complicated for a young company because of lack of past data. In an established firm, the budget numbers typically vary by a small fraction of last year’s values unless the management is investing heavily in a new plant or acquiring a company, etc. However, for a small and fast growing company, the challenge is absence of any past indicators.

The task is further complicated by the nature of investments and expenditures: whether capex or opex, whether fixed or variable, etc. The uncertain future of a nascent technology and sometimes of even the industry adds to this complexity.

In short, a budget is a dangerous animal and a structured well-thought out approach is required to tame it.

In the next part of this article which will be released tomorrow, we shall look at a set of steps that may be followed to do exactly that.

About the Author

Priyom Sarkar
Priyom Sarkar is an experienced Strategy and Investment professional who’s worked with firms ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 conglomerates. Having earned his BE degree from Jadavpur University and MBA from the Indian School of Business, he worked as a Strategy Consultant in India and in USA. He is now helps a Fortune 100 conglomerate plan investments in new ventures and transform existing ones. Telecom, Oil & Gas and Financial Services industries excite him professionally. In his free time he enjoys traveling, reading and listening to jazz. He can be reached at priyom.sarkar@gmail.com.
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