Read the first part of the article here where we discussed the “who, what and when” of a typical budgeting process. In this part we shall discuss the “how” of tackling the key challenges of the budgeting process.Step 1: Prepare an exhaustive list of service lines/revenue streams
A budgetary exercise typically focusses on only costs – but in this author’s experience that may be inappropriate because a lot of costs depend on your strategy and revenue plans. For example, if you are an Indian firm, planning on serving customers in Asia, the travelling costs will differ vastly from those if you serve clients in USA. So a better approach is to first prepare a revenue plan after discussion with the top leadership. Very often in small firms, this can be a key challenge because of lack of clarity on customers and sales locations. The sales team will typically provide an inflated lump sum. Here (just as in life) the devil is in the details. One approach is to ask for a list of prospective customers– categorized by location, probability of conversion, (expected) deal size, etc. After agreement on which projects to consider, add a lump sum for other unforeseen new revenue opportunities but it should be justifiable in terms of prospects.
Step 2: Classify costs into revenue buckets
Costs can be divided into Capital Expenditure (Capex) and Operational Expenditure (Opex).
Capex is typically a large investment say investing in a new plant or R&D, etc. whose benefit will accrue to the business for multiple periods.It shall help to first prepare the exhaustive list of service lines and revenue types and then identify capex required for each item. This will ensure that any key capex item is not missed. Typically for R&D projects, further break-down details may be sought for on-going vs. new investments planned along with phase wise commitment information. Such soul-searching questions shall lead to numbers closer to reality and force Capex spend to align more closely with the long term strategy.
Step 3: Determine Multiples
One approach for budgeting for variable cost items is to identify multiples from either industry benchmarks or from the business leaders based on their past experience. For example, in services industry, one can come up with the number of resources required per unit size of project, volume of raw materials (respective) required per unit of final product volume, etc.
Material or input acquisition expenses should again be broken down by as much details as possible. For example if a media company is acquiring content, it shall help to identify what form of media – which language, which provider, which vendor, etc.
Similarly G&A and travel costs can be estimated from past experiences but again there should be quantifiable assumptions behind those numbers –
Let’s take travel costs as an example.
Travel Cost (separately for domestic and for foreign):
i. Flight fare: No. of trips * Fare per round trip (including Visa etc. for foreign trips)
ii. Hotel Cost: No of trips * Average hotel stay duration/trip in days * Avg. per day rate
iii. Local Conveyance: No. of trips * Avg. fare per trip (normal taxi fare, etc.)
The key is to ask for details and break any cost into its components so as to get more clarity and base the numbers on a strong foundation.
Step 4: Prepare estimates for all financial statements
Typically small companies will only project their P&L along with capex. Don’t fall into this trap. Estimate both P&L and Balance Sheet so that Cash flows can be estimated. This will also bring into focus exact funding requirements including sources of funding and associated financing costs. Probably the most valuable commodity for an investee firm is cashand without a diligent mapping of both P&L and Assets/Liabilities, the business may find itself with insufficient funding (or untimely funding).
Step 5: Integrate
Once the above steps are followed, it is imperative to run them by the Sales, Procurement, HR, R&D and other department leaders along with the top management or board to check the sanctity and to ensure that they make sense as a whole.
A diligentbudgeting process enforces discipline in a business. Thus robust budgeting helps a start-up mature and enables it to grow without hiccups. In sum, budgeting is an indispensable business activity and needs to be looked at not as a necessary evil but as an important value generating step in a young business’ growth.
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