10 Hidden Costs of Running a Small Business

10 Hidden Costs of Running A Small Business

 

Many individuals with a dream and an entrepreneurial spirit set out to start their own business.  That dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t have the financial resources to keep the business running.

The first thing every entrepreneur should do is get educated about the costs that go into running a business. A good budget helps, but there are many hidden costs of running a business that can quickly run you into the red.

These overlooked items include:

1) Permits, Licenses and Dues

It all starts with paper – the permits and licenses you might need to do business in your community. These are rarely one-time expenses. Factor in how often they need to be renewed and what the renewals will cost.

You should also set aside a little money for membership dues with networking organizations like your local chamber of commerce or industry/professional groups. Participation in these groups can keep you up-to-date on the latest news and can provide you with great exposure, but be selective about the groups you join because annual memberships can easily run hundreds of dollars.

How to save money:
As an extra perk for members, many of these organizations provide their members with various kinds of business-related discounts on items such as insurance, loans, credit card fees, supplies, training and more.  If you can’t afford to join a group, you may be able to attend some of their events at a nominal fee as a guest.

2) Office Space and Utilities

The idea of a dedicated office goes hand-in-hand with the birth of a small business, but do you need the space?  A home office can work for many start-ups, but zoning and other regulations might require you to have something more official.

Before renting office space or purchasing property, think about how much space you need now and what you’ll need once your business starts to grow. Does your business require more than a home office can provide? Will temporary office space work?

How to save money:
Temporary office space, like that offered by companies such as Regus, Liquid Space and Share Desk, can be a great option, especially if you’re not sure of what the future will hold. These arrangements often include office equipment, Internet access, receptionist services, and meeting space that are shared among all the leasing businesses.

Utility costs can also eat into your budget. Leased spaces often include these costs as part of the agreement; however, things can be a little tougher if you’re on your own.  Look into utility providers that offer options such as flex-pay, competitive rates or budget billing, and energy audit programs that can help improve your business’ energy efficiency and offset the cost of improvements.

What Makes A Successful SMB Owner

3) Equipment, Maintenance and Upgrades

The tools you need for your small business to create a product or run a service should be known to you, but smaller equipment costs can be forgotten in the mix. Remember to include basic office equipment in your budget, items like computers, copier, paper, scanner, desks and chairs.

How to save money:
Second-hand and discount sites such as eBay, ROE and Overstock can lead to big savings on these purchases, as can government auctions and surplus sales.

Don’t jump to buy the latest model if you don’t need it. A cell phone that keeps signal and holds a charge is worth more than an upgrade that offers no significant improvements. However, you should plan to upgrade or replace computer equipment on a regular basis.  A laptop has a functional life expectancy of five years, and planned obsolescence, an intentional limit to a product’s usefulness, cuts that span to less than half.

Most major electronics retailers such as Best Buy offer protection plans for around $50 for two years of maintenance. Compare that bill with the total cost of ownership, which can easily run $8,500 annually per PC. (Total cost includes direct costs such as hardware, software, operations and administration and indirect costs such as end-user operations and downtime.)

4) Employees and Benefits

The people that help your business run significantly impact its potential. Salaries, personal and medical leave, health insurance and training costs factor into the budget.

Failing to invest properly in your employees, providing a living wage, a clean environment, office perks and other benefits can lead to high employee turnover. Furthermore, it costs about one-fifth of a worker’s salary to replace that person when they leave.  In some industries that cost is even higher.

How to save money:
Provide perks. It’s more cost-effective to retain good employees than recruit new ones. These perks don’t have to be pricey; benefits such as flexible schedules, telecommuting and casual dress codes can do a lot to boost retention.

It’s also a good idea to negotiate annually with your health insurance provider so you can better budget for premium costs and other fees.


Business Cost Calculator

Click To Visit the WSJ Startup Cost Calculator

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Use the Small Business Start-Up Cost Calculator

 


5)  Insurance

These will be the most important checks your business will write every month. At minimum, you will need both employer liability and public liability coverage. It’s also a good idea to carry insurance for negligence, property, illnesses and injuries.

How to save money:
Don’t be afraid to negotiate with your insurance providers.  If you’ve got a good record, they’ll want to keep your business, which will encourage them to find as many “discounts” as possible. It’s also a good idea to periodically review your coverage to see if it still meets your business needs. If something needs to change, talk to your provider and other insurers to get the best rates and best coverage.

6) Shrinkage

Shrinkage refers to a loss of inventory at some point between its purchase from your supplier and its purchase by your customer. According to Fortune, retail shrinkage cost U.S. retailers approximately 1.4 percent of their total sales – roughly $32 billion per year.

No one plans to lose inventory, but causes for shrinkage can include short shipments from a vendor, picking errors that lead to customers receiving more than they ordered, damaged goods, or theft.

How to save money
An inventory management system that uses barcodes and scanners can reduce the risk of shrinkage and enable you to maintain real-time data on everything from raw materials needed for production to small consumer products such as individual screws.


Related Article: Reasons Small Businesses Fail

7) Payment Delays

Lost revenue from shrinkage isn’t the only financial pitfall that can hit small businesses. The books suffer when demand gets fulfilled but payment gets delayed. Customers forget to mail the check. Banks hold transactions over a certain amount. Holidays cause payments to post later than expected. Your payments, on the other hand, never seem to miss a date.

Payment delays can seriously hurt your financial bottom line, especially when payments are expected or necessary to cover costs. Bounced checks and overage charges chip away at your credit rating. Limited funds can force you to decide which bills to pay.  Even with payment delay problems, payroll, insurance, rent and utilities MUST be covered – no matter what.

How to save money
Set payment terms with your customers and hold them accountable. No one ever said you had to use net-30. Frankly, while net-30 terms can work for large businesses, many small businesses simply don’t have the cash flow to wait a month (or longer) to get paid for goods or services that have already been provided.  Don’t be afraid to pursue late fees if a customer does not pay according to your terms. You should also talk with your bank about overdraft protection; it may involve a small fee, but it’s definitely much less expensive than dealing with bounced checks.

8) Time

Your time is (a) valuable resource, and you can’t afford to waste it. Are you spending too much time and energy on business tasks that could be farmed out or delegated to another employee? Are you neglecting yourself, friends or family?  The opportunity cost can be too high if you’re constantly putting out fires or balancing books instead of focusing on your well-being and personal relationships.


While we wish there were only 10 hidden expenses that hit small businesses, in reality, there can be hundreds more. Save and set aside 20 percent of your revenue for those “just in case” expenses.

9) Professional Services

Legal and accounting fees can run into thousands of dollars annually, but these specialists can save you money and time. Legal professionals can untangle red tape. Accounting specialists can translate tax codes, help maintain accurate payment and inventory records, and find grants to help fund your endeavors.

How to save money
Negotiate with these professionals to keep fees manageable. You need the CPA or lawyer to do the heavy lifting that merits higher fees, but other tasks can easily be done (and billed to) their less-expensive support staff.  Some professionals and university programs may also offer pro-bono or discounted rates for advice or other services; it never hurts to ask.

10) Credit Card Fees

Can customers buy your product or service with a credit card? Depending on the credit card used, you should expect to pay roughly 3 percent of total charges in vendor fees.

Small businesses also need to very careful about using credit to finance expenses or provide cash flow. If you can’t pay your full balance each month, you can easily accumulate unmanageable debt due to late payments, high interest rates and continued reliance on these accounts.

How to save money
Every credit card company charges different vendor fees, so do a little research on current rates and find the companies that offer you the best service and best rates. You may also wish to consider building part of that fee into your pricing structure or offering customers a discount for cash payments.

It’s best to avoid credit card debt at all costs. Look into other forms of business financing such as Small Business Administration loans and grants. Loans from credit unions and online micro-lenders may also be an option because they offer interest rates significantly below those offered by credit cards.

 

What other hidden costs have you found in starting or running a small business?

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Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter

Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode
Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing at Wasp, responsible for the development and execution of the company’s marketing strategy. His role encompasses brand management, direct and channel marketing, public relations, advertising, and social media. He also writes and speaks on topics related to helping small business owners grow their business and improve operational efficiency.
Brian Sutter
Brian Sutter

Comments

  1. And you call these costs hidden. Why?
    If you don’t take these basic costs into consideration before opening your business you don’t have business being in business.

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    Rating: 3.9/5 (9 votes cast)
  2. Great article

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    Rating: 4.0/5 (3 votes cast)
  3. Gerardo Barria says:

    very helpful tips for small businessman ….

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  4. Great post Brian, starting a small business seems like a lot to take on considering some of these costs.

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    Rating: 4.0/5 (3 votes cast)
  5. Not so much hidden Brian, sometimes I think some these are just overlooked. Ex. you know you’re going to have employees and all the expenses that go w/ – but if you ignore things like turnover, the costs of recruiting and retraining can add up in a hurry. As to office set-up and workflows, small businesses need to look at how they work in order to see the best way. Ex. are paper reports and files really necessary? Or would investing in Cloud services actually pay off both in terms of long-term equipment and supply savings, as well as increased returns via more productive employees? Something to consider.

    Much of these others certainly creep up on a small biz manager – and nothing more than time. It’s often a case, much like technology, the ‘savings’ of going cheap or DIY won’t add up in the long run vs. outsourcing, delegating those tasks so that everyone gets the most from their valuable time. FWIW.

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    Rating: 3.4/5 (5 votes cast)
    • Davina, You are right, “overlooked” is a more accurate word than “hidden”. Cloud services can definitely help small businesses save money. You may be interested in the article my colleague wrote on that topic— http://bit.ly/ZCveJX.

      Time is a big overlooked factor, and you make a good point about DIYing. It doesn’t always result in savings if you consider the time (money) spent trying to learn a task you aren’t already trained in.

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      Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  6. Brian – Not all of these expenses are hidden. Now there may be ways in which you can reduce these expenses. I wrote an article on how to systematically reduce the costs. it addresses many of the expenses you have mentioned here. Would love to hear your view on that article – http://www.smallbizviewpoints.com/2011/08/17/a-systematic-approach-to-cost-reduction-for-small-business-owners/

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    Rating: 3.7/5 (3 votes cast)
    • Harry, I think you mention some fine strategies in your article – thanks for sharing. Ultimately we wanted to provide readers a laundry list of things to be conscious of as its easier than ever for nominal, “hidden” expenses to add up to rather important, big expenses. Being aware of what some refer to as your “latte” factor is the first step to financial self analysis and reduction of wasteful spending.

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      Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  7. Nice post! Thanks for sharing!

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  8. Very helpful! An excellent way to save on
    office space rent is to have a virtual office. Particularly if you work
    from home or spend much of your time on the road, a firm such as Cloud Virtual
    Offices can provide everything from a professional address and phone service to
    meeting rooms when you have important client meetings.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  9. Deborah Osgood says:

    This article is quite helpful as the categories listed can be easily underestimated. Depending up on the size of your business, there is a cloud-based app for improving expense management offered by a company called ExpenseWatch. It not only offers detailed categories to gain a better picture on where and what you’re spending money on, but also includes features for logging actual expenses and receipts when you’re traveling and viewing an update in real time of costs.
    Your tip on networking to grow a small business is also EXCELLENT! Many business owners put this off. However, the old adage about who you know versus what you know applies well to growing a business. A key word search that includes your state followed by the words “trade associations” will return a nonprofit, public service directory of small business specific options by industry.
    Thanks for the article!

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    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  10. अतुल गुप्ता says:

    This article really is very helpful & necessory to increase your small own business

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    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  11. Ebola

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    Rating: 1.5/5 (2 votes cast)
  12. Hidden costs what do it mean? I don’t hunderstand it yet.

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    Rating: 1.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  13. Don’t know if this was said already, but you must not forget advertising costs. As well as uniforms if you require your staff to wear them.

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    Rating: 1.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  14. Thank you for the mention! Your link provides some great information.

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    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

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