Start-up Tip: Building The Budget Side Of Your Revenue Model

Mike and I stated working on crowdSPRING in the summer of 2006. We incorporated the company in May 2007 and launched the crowdSPRING marketplace in May 2008. We’ve learned many important lessons along the way. In some ways, our experience is typical of other start-ups. In other ways, it is not. I want to share some of our adventures (and mis-adventures) in the hope that it’ll help others looking to start a company or those who’ve already launched a start-up. So, once or twice every week for the next few months, I’ll post a new tip, based on our experience with crowdSPRING over the past two years (and my experience advising technology start-ups over my 13 year career as an attorney).

Start-up Tip 6: Building the Budget Side Of Your Revenue Model

Earlier this week we talked about the need for companies to develop a compelling revenue generating model. Although it’s not necessary to understand your expenses when you are developing a revenue model, it’s difficult to properly evaluate a revenue model without considering your expenses. After all, you want to develop a revenue model that allows you to build a sustainable business, and no business operates without expenses.

For us, the first step in building our revenue model was to anticipate and develop our budget models (we did this in Microsoft Excel, but there are existing tools, such as Quicken, that can help you to build your budget). Building a solid budget is an involving process and requires a great deal of thought and error-checking. We had a separate budget for development and also prepared a budget for the first five years of operation (our model actually covered the first 10 years, but most people focus only on a three or five year budget, given the difficulty of anticipating expenses with any degree of accuracy looking forward beyond five years).

In building our budget model, we had to anticipate our cost of sales, operational expenses (not including salaries), direct salary expenses, and employee related expenses. For the current or upcoming year, you’ll want a month by month breakdown; for full years after the upcoming year, you’ll want the annual breakdown at this point (some people will do quarterly projections).

To better understand your budget, you’ll want to include in your worksheet your cash on hand, interest income, and the anticipated revenues, by month for the upcoming year (we’ll look at building the revenue side of your financial model next week). You don’t need the level of detail for revenue on your budget worksheet that you’d include on the revenue worksheet, but you’ll want to know these numbers. Let’s look at the categories for the budget items:

1. COS (cost of sales).

You’ll need to understand how much it will cost you to produce and sell your product and/or service. COS is a variable cost because it will have a direct relationship to the amount of your sales. Generally, as sales increase, you’ll pay higher COS costs. Some COS categories are less variable than others. For example, we assumed we’d pay a fixed amount for web hosting during our first year because we anticipated that our technical infrastructure could support a level of traffic through our third year of operation (we were wrong about traffic – we had to upgrade after three months, but we budgeted more money than we needed for this and so ultimately, we projected correctly). On the other hand, credit card fees are variable because they represent a percentage of sales. As sales increase, the fees would stay constant but would represent a higher total.

The following categories may differ for you, but here are the categories that we included in our budget: Hosting, Commission – Sales (anticipating an affiliate program), Subcontracting, Design, Programming, Credit Card Fees, Other costs (bad debt), Payment Gateway Services, and Disbursement Expenses (the cost to pay out). All but Hosting and Payment Gateway Services were truly variable and were stated as a percentage. Hosting and Payment Gateway Services in our first budget were fixed numbers.

You’ll want to Total your COS.

2. Operational

You’ll need to consider how many employees you’ll need, how much you’ll pay them, how much you’ll pay yourself, what benefits you’ll offer, other expenses, what office space will cost, what equipment and software you’ll need to buy, etc. There are many items to consider in operational expenses. There are all of your expenses in operating your business (other than salaries and COS). If you’re operating your business in your kitchen, these expenses should be lower. If you’re renting office space, they’ll be higher.

The following categories may differ for you, but here are the categories that we included in our budget: Fixed Assets: furniture and fixtures, Fixed Assets: software, Fixed Assets: equipment, Bank Charges, Auto, Insurance: Liability, Interest, Investment Expenses, Marketing, Marketing: Conventions & Seminars, Marketing: Meals and Entertainment, Marketing: Viral, Miscellaneous, Office Supplies, Office expense, Office expense: housekeeping, Dues and Subscriptions, Recruitment, Rent, R&D, Shipping & Postage, Telephone, Travel, Utilities, Utilities: internet service, Professional fees, Professional fees: designs, Professional fees: accountant. (we would have added Professional fees: lawyer, but I scraped by doing our legal work).

You’ll want to Total your Operational Expenses.

3. Salaries

You’ll want to include salaries to anyone in the company that will be drawing a salary during that budget year. If you anticipate hiring mid-year, prorate the anticipated salary. Make sure you list each person on a separate line so that you can easily tweak as necessary.

You’ll want to Total your Salary Expenses.

4. Employee Related

Here, you’ll want to include the expenses related to the salaries you listed in section 3.

The following categories may differ for you, but here are the categories that we included in our budget: Employee Benefits: 401k admin, Employee Benefits: Disability insurance, Employee Benefits: Health Insurance, Employee Benefits: Gifts; Insurance: Workmans Comp, Payroll fee, and Payroll tax.

You’ll want to Total your Employee Related Expenses. And you’ll also want to Total your Operating Expenses (including sections 1, 2, 3 and 4).

So that you better understand your budget, you should consider including a few other calculations here. For example, after we totaled our Operating Expenses, we took into account our anticipated Operating Profit, Depreciation, Earnings Before Taxes, Taxes, and projected our Net Income.

We also created a summary for ourselves that reflected our anticipated gross sales, total COS, Gross Profit, Margin %, Total Operating Expenses, to project our Earnings Before Income Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA).

Finally, because we were developing software, we calculated our Research and Development Credit (this is a more complicated subject – we’ll talk about that in another post).


There you have it. Once you create a worksheet for the upcoming year broken-up into months, you’ll easily be able to create a budget worksheet for your first five years of operation.

If this post didn’t put you to sleep and you’re reading this – you get a bonus! If you need some help to get started, email me (ross at crowdspring dot com) and I’ll be happy to email you the Excel worksheet for our budget (without the numbers, of course), but with the formulas intact.

If you have your own tips or stories, please feel free to share in the comments. And if you enjoyed this post, please also take a look at our other start-up tips:

Start-up Tip: What’s Your Revenue Model?

Start-up Tip: Ten Suggestions For Raising Start-up Capital From Angels

Start-up Tip: When To Leave Your Full-Time Job

Start-up Tip: Lead by Example, Not By Title

Start-up Tip: Surround Yourself With Smart People