Starting a business is an exciting decision, but it can also be intimidating for a first-time entrepreneur. It may be difficult to obtain initial capital, examine long-term viability, and calculate startup costs for a business.
Many experts advise that when estimating your startup costs, it’s a good idea to anticipate you’ll be able to cover six months of expenses upfront. It should be emphasised, however, that the real startup costs will vary depending on your specific business and industry.
In this week’s Let’s Talk, our experts discuss a few typical startup costs that you should factor into your budget.
Craig Dangar, Senior Partner Principal, Vault Group
“In starting up your new business, depending on the industry there are a lot of costs that are often overlooked or unexpected; branding and marketing is critical with business owners often underestimating the costs of these. If you are intending to have premises; lease costs, solicitors fees, bank fees for bank guarantees and lease payments in advance are often required. For online only businesses or those with a physical premises, technology costs and backup, building an online presence and branding are all expenses that may be incurred.
“Ensuring that you have properly established your business, including the ownership structure, the business name and website domain, licensing and council or government approvals and whether or not you need insurances to protect your business are all costs that should be considered before you start out.
“For businesses in start up phase we often recommend to establish a budget and then add 50% for unexpected costs, delays and difficulties, it is better to overestimate and be surprises than underestimate and fall short.”
Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho
“Today, technology has evolved from a nice to have to an essential for small businesses, and represents the savviest investment business owners can make as they start and scale their operations. It’s a non-negotiable cost, today, but can be a revenue-generating one. However, if not approached strategically, technology can become very expensive, very quickly. It’s easy to think the more platforms you invest in, the better – that’s not the case. Not only is this more expensive, it creates business silos which hurt productivity and ultimately a business’ bottom line.
“Instead, businesses should invest in an integrated technology stack that contains multiple, integrated applications and solutions that carry out essential functions and collaborate seamlessly. Not only is it more cost-effective, allowing you to invest in other areas of your business, too, it drives operational efficiencies that allow businesses to work smarter, not harder. Business ownership is not easy, particularly the early stages, but those that invest in the right integrated technology will be better placed to succeed.”
Jason Toshack, Vice President and General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite
“Every start-up faces a unique set of expenses depending on industry and its business model. However, most new ventures can expect to incur costs for equipment and supplies, collaboration technologies, licenses and permits, professional services such as a bookkeeper or accountant, marketing, and communications to engage customers.
“For a start-up, investing freely while relying on sales to keep the business successful is a risky strategy. Profitability is driven by keeping a lid on costs right from the start. It is critical that small business owners scrutinise all spending – and not just at the start. The first stages of a business’ development are the hardest, financially. Entrepreneurs should follow an iterative process to prioritise, document, and continually assess spending.
“Technology can help track how and where the budget is allocated, and have a remarkable impact on the business’ growth trajectory. For example, software can also help automate costs like expenses, allowing clear visibility into how much of the funding goes to paying for reimbursable operating costs. Plus, having a single source of data that syncs in real-time makes collaboration, reporting and auditing easier, leaving entrepreneurs to focus on building the start-up.”
Kate Freeman, Chief Executive Officer, Second Sphere Partners
“Business plans are great as a starting point, but costs will invariably change once you start building the foundations of your business, open your doors and find yourself navigating all sorts of operating conditions.
“There’s the obvious costs like wages – including founders paying themselves! – rent on office space, shopfronts, warehouses or other facilities, tech costs, legal fees, accounting and the like. The unexpected costs, though, need their own bucket because relying on being bootstrapped won’t get you through every situation. Legal fees can easily spike if your business is complex. Insurance costs can’t be underestimated. At the moment, hard costs for materials have gone through the roof.
“My advice is to negotiate fixed costs where possible. Businesses will always have lumpy expenses and cashflow in the beginning, but this approach can help provide at least a degree of cost certainty.
“While startups are lean n’ mean by nature, knowing that you don’t know what’s around the corner, and ensuring that you have cash in reserves to navigate the unexpected without having to rattle the investor tin too soon and too often, can spell the difference between a premature closing party and a thriving business that can duck and weave as macro conditions dictate.”
Danny Lessem, CEO & Co-founder, ELMO Software
“Developing and nurturing the talent team is crucial for start-ups because they’re on the hunt for the most dynamic and innovative minds in the market. However, the process of hiring – searching for the right people, interviewing, and getting a candidate over the line, not to mention the paperwork that’s required for each new hire, can take a lot of time, and time is money for a new company. For start-ups with limited capital, automating HR processes through the use of a technology provider is a cost-effective route.
“Advancements in cloud technology have made it easier than ever to configure HR processes and modules to suit your business needs and save unnecessary costs. HR technology solutions like ELMO’s Integrated HR Information System (HRIS) help start-ups automate and streamline their operations to reduce costs, increase efficiency and bolster productivity.”
Angus Stevens, Co-Founder & CEO, Start Beyond
“Lots of folks focus on the tangible start-up costs and put an emphasis on making sure that you have the right equipment, a good account keeping system, effective website and general office related activities, but the single biggest cost for a new business is recruitment.
“Whether it’s allocating your own time to rigorously go through the hiring process, or (if you’re flat out on the other aspects of the business) making sure you spend sufficient energy and budget in getting a recruiter who understands your business – the investment in hiring the right person is going to cost more than you expect but is absolutely critical.
“Quality staff and a strong culture from the outset is the most valuable asset and it can’t be highlighted enough. Don’t assume spending lots of money means you’ll get the right person; that is not the case, the true cost for a smart hire is taking the time to invest in seeing lots of candidates and making sure you find the right person. Skills and knowledge can be taught but who they are as person is what counts. So, take the time to recruit wisely, as it’ll be money well spent.”
Brian Renvoize, Director of Growth AU & NZ, Wayflyer
“Startup costs will vary by industry and type of business, but some of the most significant expenses are shop fit-outs, hiring staff and inventory purchases. eCommerce businesses can be easier to start, but costs such as website development, customer acquisition through marketing and warehousing can quickly add up and get out of hand if you suffer a setback, such as a delayed shipment from your supplier.
“Despite Australia’s bustling eCommerce space, traditional finance providers struggle to serve this market segment due to rigid funding criteria. This can leave eCommerce entrepreneurs stuck in a vicious cycle – they need cash to fund inventory to make sales but need sales to get funding. Luckily, there are now alternative finance providers that cater specifically to eCommerce businesses’ needs, providing revenue-based funding. The bottom line – map out your expected costs, revenue and cash flow projections before getting started. This will help you plan well ahead and anticipate what funding you will need and when, so you can focus on growing your business with minimal interruptions.”
Nikki Weaver, Managing Director, Brand Artisans
“There’s lots to think about when you’re first starting up, and usually it’s a financial juggling act. It’s hard to know where to invest your hard-earned dollars before the business starts generating an income, but here’s my top tips on where to save and where to splurge:
- Company set-up – do you want to start as a sole trader, or do you expect to grow quickly?
- Business Name – if you’re pondering a name, make sure you search the ASIC business name register for availability.
- Logo – it’s great to start out as you intend to go on, but budget doesn’t always stretch to a fancy logo, invest in professional branding if you can.
- Website – without a doubt, you need a website. Yes, you can sell directly from Facebook and Instagram, but a website gives you credibility and a certain level of professional legitimacy.”
Grayson Milbourne, Security Intelligence Director, OpenText Security Solutions
“The 2022 BrightCloud Threat Report revealed 44 percent of cyberattacks targeted businesses with 100 employees or less. It also revealed ransomware doubled year over year in 2021 resulting to a total of $322,168 lost – meaning small business start-ups should invest in strong cybersecurity infrastructure or risk enduring cost-crippling cyberattacks.
“Reassuringly, there isn’t a need to blow the budget when investing in cybersecurity tools. For instance, antivirus software adds several layers of protection into one solution so it’s a one stop shop for emerging small businesses. Antivirus software not only protects against malware but also prevents users from visiting malicious URL’s including phishing sites along with providing password protection to online accounts through secure encryption.
“Integrating strong cybersecurity into your start-up business plan is an approach to ensure business continuity and negate loss of revenue from malicious actors. It only takes one slip up to lose hundreds and thousands of dollars, so the cost of investment in cyber tools equates to money saved.”
Shannon Karaka, Head of Expansion ANZ, Deel
“Start-up costs for new businesses can vary widely depending on the industry and type of business. For example, a bricks and mortar model can be cash intensive to get started while eCommerce businesses can be set up with nothing more than a laptop and internet connection.
“Regardless of industry, one of the biggest – and most important costs – is your people. Employees often account for a large portion of start-up costs, and time – there’s onboarding, compliance, payroll, etc. Finding talent in the first place can also be challenging, particularly when there are ongoing skills shortages in many industries. However, adopting a global view to hiring – finding the best person for the job no matter where they are based – is helping many Aussie businesses find great talent quickly. In fact, Deel’s recent Global Hiring Report H2 2022 shows that Australia is the APAC country with the most organisations hiring overseas remote workers. Hiring a remote team may not work for every scenario, but it opens up a whole new world of opportunities for growth and international expansion.”
Rael Ross, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Butn
“For Butn, we found investing in research and product development was one of the most important costs associated with starting the business. Understanding our target market through research, exploratory sessions and feedback helped shape our product as we became extremely familiar with the problem we were trying to solve and the types of people and businesses who needed this solution. Doing so allowed us to allocate budget to developing a full suite of financial products that were targeted and met the needs of the businesses we were going after. This meant that by the time we had built the product, we already had a sales pipeline and several businesses who were ready to sign a contract allowing revenue to almost immediately be injected into our business. Conducting research was fundamental to our business success and had a profound influence on the creation of Butn and what it is today.”
Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager of APJ, GoTo
“When starting up a business, it is important to consider costs that come with managing a hybrid or remote team. For a growing business, early implementation of hybrid working can be a great way to save on office space costs and attract talent wherever they may be based. A survey by GoTo and Frost and Sullivan found only 22% of hybrid working SMBs reported a higher turnover in 2021 vs 2020, compared to 44% reporting higher turnover in office working SMBs.
“To successfully implement hybrid working, start-ups should consider investing in communication and collaboration applications that foster employee and customer engagement and increase productivity. Additionally, IT support solutions should be a key investment consideration in order to reduce IT pressures in managing employee endpoints when remote working, as 76% of SMBs believe their IT’s workload had risen since 2020. Although this can all sound expensive, solutions that unify all these features into one platform save the start-up costs whilst improving business productivity.
“Small businesses who understand and prepare for these costs will be able to hit the ground running as they attract employee candidates, satisfy new customers and easily manage IT issues.”
Michael Judge, Head of Australia and New Zealand, OFX
“If your business is looking to sell internationally, there are a host of new cost considerations, from foreign exchange (FX) rates to shipping arrangements. Often FX costs are overlooked, particularly for time- and resource-poor businesses just getting off the ground.
“Traditionally, you might have believed using your local bank was the easiest option. However, if you’ve been stung by conversion fees or made overseas payments on someone else’s schedule, you’ll know this can have significant impacts on your cash flow.
“Thankfully, there are solutions available such as a multi-currency account, which allow businesses to make and receive payments directly in the same currency (e.g., USD in a US account), to help combat increased FX costs.
“For SMEs selling via their website or eCommerce marketplaces, or exporters establishing systems to receive business payments, it’s worth familiarising yourself with upfront and ongoing fees and competitive solutions to minimise unanticipated FX costs.”
Brodie Haupt, Co-Founder and CEO, WLTH
“Great things come with a price, and starting up a business is no exception. Aspiring business owners need a vision, enormous passion and tenacity, plus the capital to fund the venture. Avoid the surprise with some of these common start-up costs to expect:
- Marketing/Social Media
No matter what product or service the new business is providing, marketing expenses are inevitable. Acquiring new customers can be costly through Facebook/Google ads, logo designs, website development, posters or any customer-facing media. While organic growth is definitely viable through word of mouth, a baseline amount of marketing is required, with associated costs included.
Licences and permits give businesses approval to do certain activities. These come with costs that are unavoidable.
We often can’t manufacture value for our customers out of thin air. Raw materials, equipment, products all need to be purchased initially, before it can be turned into revenue through customers.”
Aaron Bassin, Co-Founder and CEO, Bridgit
“When establishing your own business it is vital to understand your budgeting requirements and forecast your expenses. In the pre-launch stage, you’ll be looking at the costs of incorporating the company which can be anywhere between $500 – $1k, with additional costs of establishing a shareholders agreement. When building a website, the cost depends on the complexity of the site, it can run anywhere between $3-5k, up to tens of thousands. Branding and logos are also costs to consider.
“Office space is another start-up cost, when I founded Bridgit, I was working out of my bedroom, then we moved into a shared office space which cost $1k per month per desk, now we have our own office in the Sydney CBD.
“Post-launch of the start up, you are looking at ongoing costs of hiring staff, marketing, advertising and office utilities. Investing in your company culture is also essential, for us that means table tennis, a well-stocked snack cupboard and staff events, set these budgets and stick to them. For Bridgit, investing in growth was a priority, this meant hiring the right talent, building custom technology, and raising both debt and equity capital to support the business.”
Lionel Legros, VP – General Manager Asia-Pacific, OVHcloud
“From securing funding, hiring staff, and attracting customers, starting a business comes with a number of challenges from the outset. This is particularly true off the back of a global pandemic, where it is now more critical than ever for small businesses to automate their processes to keep up with consumer demand. However, this rush to digitise means many start-ups fail to protect their most important asset – data.
“One cost that entrepreneurs should expect is investment in cloud technology. Cloud serves as the foundation of any data-driven technology ecosystem and has proven to be a turnkey tactic for businesses looking to expedite innovation and drive market disruption.
“Partnering with the right cloud provider can be a valuable strategy for start-ups, yet business leaders often fail to look beyond the initial investment and recognise its long-term advantages. Not only can the cloud allow start-ups to streamline their processes through automation, but it also delivers accessibility, reliability, flexibility, and scalability to enhance efficiency when managing data and information.
“Start-ups must take the costs associated with accelerating cloud technology into consideration when kick-starting their business, to fast-track digital efficiency whilst ensuring business-critical data remains protected.”
Nathan Reichstein, Chairman of the Business Advisory Committee, Moore Australia
“Understanding how best to structure your business at the outset is extremely important. There are a range of potential costs involved, which will depend on your business requirements. For example, you may incur legal and accounting fees for the setup of structures (such as companies, trusts etc.) or even registration costs for business names, tax file numbers etc. None of these are deal breakers, but often people set up structures by themselves to save on costs. The risk is that these setups may then have to be untangled later. This could lead to additional higher costs down the line. Speaking to a business advisor from the start makes good business sense and will help to make sure you get it right from the ground up.
“Anyone getting into business and who is going to hire employees should factor in all costs associated with managing their employer obligations. This includes (but is not limited to) superannuation guarantee and workers compensation.
“Hiring a bookkeeper or accountant to manage your files will allow you to focus your attention to bringing in more business.”
Mark Collins, CEO, JUMP! Swim School
“When starting a new business, there are costs that are essential, depending on the nature of your business – equipment, leasehold improvements, signage, inventory, professional fees (legal, accounting), insurances and training. Despite how busy the initial start-up period is, ensure you get multiple quotes for every expense to secure the best deal. Alternatively, joining a franchise network gives you the benefit of scale and lower preferred supplier rates than you can achieve on your own. There are also costs that can be minimised with a little thought and creativity, so slow down and think before you spend. In saying that, don’t assume it’s more economical to do everything yourself. The number of hours available to you in a day is limited, so play to your strengths and get help where it’s needed. In some areas of the business, it’s likely someone else can do it more efficiently and effectively than you – identifying that is the first step in starting a successful business that’s primed for growth.”
Luke Dean-Weymar, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Compass Studio
“Understand your environmental impact. Even if your business model isn’t centred around impact or providing sustainable goods or services, the sentiment around these issues has grown and is gaining more momentum from both a consumer and internal talent perspective. It’s now an expectation that the businesses people work with or shop from are actively reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impact – rather than just a bonus.
“For startups in the very early stages, having an environmental or ethics policy may seem like overkill, however the costs of building sustainability infrastructure later down the track can end up being a huge unforeseen expense. Developing these systems at more mature stages of the business costs more money as you seek to reverse engineer all of your previous systems and processes to fit new guidelines.
“Not every organisation needs to become a B Corp or be an industry leader in reducing their environmental impact, but every business leader has some responsibility to act in the best interests of people and the planet. Having these objectives in mind from the start will save you time and money in the long run, and can also help attract new customers and talent to grow your business in the short term.”
Julia Thomson, Head of Data Analytics and Content, The Benchmarking Group
“When starting a business, owners should create two budgets: ongoing operating expenses and start-up costs. Operating expenses are ongoing business costs, whereas start-up costs are one-off purchases to support the business launch.
“These costs vary by industry; however, all new owners should consider budgeting for the following areas:
- Business viability
- Market research (confirm the idea is viable)
- Competitor research (help set pricing and business strategy)
- Consultants to prepare business plan
- Business registration and constitution
- Accounting and/or legal fees to develop required documents/contracts
- Computer hardware and software
- Computer’s/laptops, screens, printers, docking stations
- Point Of Sale (POS) systems
- Computer programs
- Operating and data storage systems
- Cyber security protection
- Internet connections/upgrades
- Office/venue setup
- Desks, chairs, and ergonomic requirements
- Custom venue fit-outs (tables, chairs, commercial kitchen etc.)
- Phones/communication systems
- Hard copy filing systems
- Fridge and coffee supplies
- Bathroom setup and supplies
- Rental bond payment
- Assets and stock
- Assets (tools, machinery, vehicles, etc.)
- Initial stock orders for sale/production
- Marketing & Branding
- Logo design
- Website (including e-commerce)
- Promotional materials
- Business cards”
“As a general rule, owners should also have enough cash on hand to cover three months of operating expenses in the event of revenue shortfalls.”
Ryan Gair, Co-Founder and CEO, Rate Money
“In my experience, there are five costs to look out for. There are the obvious costs to expect such as your start-up capital and your wage bill if you decide to employ staff, as well as their super. You will also need to account for the GST on the business you’re bringing in as well as different insurances you need depending on the industry you’re entering. Next is location, whilst you may be able to start from your garage, some businesses require a retail space, some require an office space.
“Most commercial spaces are not only expensive but 9 times out of 10 require a bank guarantee and that’s before you’ve turned your space into an environment people want to work in. If you’re moving into retail you’ll need merchant terminals, software and hardware, and then further down the line you are going to want a CRM to manage and market to your newfound clientele.
“As for accounting, there are two options – DIY (e.g., Xero/MYOB) or an accountant. One will cost more than the other, but one will also save you more than the other in the long run. Lastly, you have to create your brand, you’re just starting up so that can be as simple as some signage and a website but then you have to work out how you’re going to drive people to your newly created brand.”
Lachlan Grant, CEO, Vital Addition
“Most people dramatically underestimate the cost it takes to start a business. Overarching expenditure will depend on the type of business that’s being established, but there are some common costs that support the foundations of startups.
‘Setting up your TFN, ABN and banking facilities costs money as does setting up the right tax structure. There are legal costs; think partnership, shareholder agreements and legal documentation about business operations, responsibilities and profit sharing, even before the first sale.
“To attract customers, you’ll need branding, website and marketing, and an investment strategy to present your brand, sales pitch and value proposition. The biggest and most underestimated expense for first time business owners is the ‘cash deficit’ both personally and operationally.
“Personally, startup owners need to realise that working for no pay is a big reality, so savings are needed to get them to a more positive place. In the business, outgoings will almost always outweigh incoming funds at the start, and the deficit can be significant. Enough working capital is imperative, to bridge the gap and grow the business.
“Finally, it’s an exit strategy. It’s important to legalise, as grey areas can result in substantial financial loss, and worse.
Adam Tapai, TrexPRO Carpenter and owner of Stay Sharp Carpentry
“Unforeseen costs in starting a business go beyond tool and transport costs. Pitching is one of the greatest costs in my business as we don’t charge for quotes, meaning it’s a huge risk when we only get 1 in 3 jobs we pitch for. This is why advertising is such an important tool to use to get your name out there. When I first started my business, I realised I had to consider how I would continue to pay myself and staff if we didn’t get any work. To help keep the business running in this case, you need to save three months’ worth of potential earnings to cover bills before starting.
“In the construction industry, the timeline on a build is completely dependent on the availability of workers which can leave you vulnerable. Given that maintaining deadlines is important to clients, it’s crucial that you have the right team around you. Completing jobs on time is made easier by Trex, as the decking has set lengths which means I can put the decking down faster.”