Q&A: Calculating start-up costs

Sticky notes with startup costs elements written on them

Unsure how to calculate start-up costs? Martin Dunne of Sayers Butterworth chartered accountants explains how to work out your start-up costs and how much it will cost to get your new business off the ground

What are start-up costs?

Your business start-up costs are all the expenses you incur when you start a new business - from setting up premises to buying stock, marketing your new venture and paying employees.

Why do I need to calculate start-up costs?

Firstly, you need to know whether you can afford to start your business. If not, then at least you'll know you need to explore other funding options.

If you're looking for business investment, you'll need a clear idea of the cost of starting up - investors will not be interested if you can't demonstrate you understand your start-up costs.

Finally, you need to know the business idea is financially viable, and your start-up costs are an important part of this equation.

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What's included in start-up costs?

Start-up costs will be different for every business - they can include:

The biggest operating costs are usually premises (rent and rates) and staff (wages, tax, National Insurance and pension contributions).

Should I include petty expenses in start-up costs?

Yes! Small costs can soon mount up, and the business should generate enough money to cover these minor costs - they shouldn't come out of your pocket. We all want to minimise our tax bills, so include all amounts - no matter how small - in your accounts, provided these are allowable business expenses.

Commonly neglected start-up costs include:

  • stationery;
  • utilities;
  • business rates;
  • insurance;
  • professional fees;
  • travel costs;
  • website hosting and cloud service fees;
  • costs associated with moving premises or doing them up;
  • finance-related costs such as interest on loans.

Should I overestimate my start-up costs?

Yes, including some contingency in your start-up costs and operating budget projections is wise - there are always unexpected expenses. Underestimating your costs can be just as disastrous as being overly optimistic with your sales forecasts.

If you underestimate the cost of starting a business, it can put a serious strain on your cash flow and your business will be less profitable. It might not even make any profit at all at first, which means you'll have to arrange funding.

If your predictions are completely inaccurate, your business might not even generate a liveable wage for you. To be safe, I'd also recommend being conservative with revenue projections. What if sales in your first year are 25% less than expected - will the business still be profitable? What if customers are slow to pay their invoices? What is the likely impact on your cash flow.

Do I need to retain proof of expenses?

To claim tax relief (and VAT if applicable), you must have a valid (VAT) invoice and retain all sales receipts and paperwork. If you make a claim for tax relief that cannot be supported by a valid invoice/receipt, HMRC can ask for the tax back, plus interest.

Find out what you can claim for - there's a handy guide to expenses if you're self-employed on the GOV.UK website - and make sure you retain proof of all business purchases.

Why should I minimise my start-up costs?

You stand a better chance of making a profit - or even just surviving - in that crucial first year if you minimise start-up costs because you need to turn over less to break even.

Also, it's a good discipline to get into from day one. You must control business costs as much as possible and avoid buying things you don't need. Your chances of long-term success are much greater if you have a low cost base.

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