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How to Approach Budgeting During an Economic Downturn

How to Approach Budgeting During an Economic Downturn

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Pilot Team
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Published: 
June 7, 2022
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How to Approach Budgeting During an Economic Downturn

If you’re struggling to create a business budgeting strategy in the current economic climate, you’re not alone. Budgeting can be a daunting process when the stock market takes sustained hits, economic uncertainty becomes the norm, supply chain issues lead to costly losses, companies of all sizes are retrenching, and cost-reduction measures are suddenly on the table. 

A business budget is still one of the best ways to avoid financial disaster when unforeseen challenges arise. Use the strategies below to keep your business on track during these uncertain times.

Annual Business Budgeting Process

Before we dive into creating a business budget in uncertain times, here’s a quick recap of what the annual business budgeting process looks like in simpler, “regular” times.

1. Work With the Best Data You Can Find

Use accurate, historical data to inform your budget—such as your business’s sales analytics, up-to-date books, and accurate financial statements.

2. Identify Key Business Drivers

Figure out which business drivers are having the biggest impact on your business’s performance. These can vary significantly by industry, but common examples include sales leads and quota attainments, internal efficiency, and supplier costs. Find yours by looking at your financial statements and asking: “What drives this line item?”

3. Assess the Financial Impact of Known Upcoming Changes

Are you planning to hire more employees, purchase new equipment, or lease a new physical location? Make sure your business budget reflects the financial impact of any known upcoming changes you’ll be making in the next 24 months.

4. Pull It All Together

With all of the above information on hand, it’s time to pull your business budgeting plan together. Make sure it includes:

Want a detailed guide on creating a business budget and a downloadable budgeting and forecasting checklist? Check out our Annual Budgeting Guide for Startups.

Annual Business Budgeting During a Downturn

The catch with creating a business budget in regular times is that it relies on typically predictable variables, but much of them can be thrown into flux during an economic downturn. 

Things like market stability, supplier availability, and even the ability to hire staff are all no longer guaranteed.

So, as you begin to create a recession-proof budget for your business, there’s a list of new considerations that you’ll need to keep in mind.

Expect Long-Term Uncertainty Around Market Conditions

Every industry will be impacted differently by an economic downturn. Demand has skyrocketed for some and trickled for others.

While you may be able to forecast how market conditions will impact your business in the months to come, it’s important to accept long-term uncertainty and be prepared for things to change suddenly at any time.

Business Growth Plans May Need to be Postponed

Given how the economic downturn could impact your business, it’s time to ask a tough question: are your original business growth plans still viable, do they need a slight tweak, or is it time to pivot and create a new growth strategy altogether?

The answer to this question will be different for every business. 

Some things to think about include:

  • If you have plans to expand into new geographic areas or launch a new product or strategy in the near future, is now the right time to do so? 
  • What about hiring? Can you source employees?
  • Can you afford to bring on all of the new hires you need to accomplish your original growth objectives? 

It May Be Harder to Secure New Funding

Investors tend to be more cautious in a downturn. If your business relies on funding, make sure you’re clear on how easy or how difficult it will be to secure investment in the next 24 months. 

Navigating a downturn will require you—and everyone within your organization—to make critical decisions quickly. 

If you’re in the midst of a raising round, be sure to close it as soon as possible. And, if you can raise more capital now, it’s probably a good idea to do so—just don’t get too caught up on your previous valuation or the terms that another person’s company secured a few months ago. 

It’s also imperative to understand what your company must achieve before you can start fundraising. Whether you need to launch a new product or reach a certain dollar amount of annual recurring revenue, make sure your team understands why this goal is important and has a clear plan in place to achieve it. 

Addressing Uncertainty in Your Budget

It’s never fun to imagine your business in crisis, but coming up with a plan to deal with financial challenges before they happen can help you change course and avoid disaster.

The following strategies can help you plan for future uncertainty in your budget.

Re-Examine Your Key Drivers

You know what drives business in regular times. And based on the last six months, you also have some rough historical data on how an economic downturn has affected your industry.

To plan for future uncertainty, use what you know to assess how your key drivers may be impacted over the next 24 months.

Ask the following questions:

  • If governmental regulations suddenly change in response to an economic downturn, what impact will that have on any of your key drivers?
  • Will all (or any) of your physical locations (stores or offices) remain open?
  • Is it likely that all of the services/suppliers that support your key drivers will remain fully operational?

Plan for Multiple Scenarios

Based on what could happen to your business drivers, create several versions of your business budget and put a plan in place to navigate the best- and worst-case scenarios.

Use these questions to get started:

  • What will revenue look like if churn increases by 20, 30, or 50 percent?
  • What if sales increase, hold steady, decrease slightly, or decrease dramatically?
  • How will headcount and payroll change in relation to the items above?
  • Will utilities, lease, and other operational expenses change for better or for worse?

With a contingency plan on hand for each of these scenarios, you’ll be able to course-correct the second an unforeseen challenge arises.

Recalculate Your Cash Burn Rate. Extend Your Runway.

For better or worse, all of these scenarios are going to impact your business’s financial runway

Make sure you’re clear on your runway needs in each scenario by asking some tough questions:

  • How will your cash burn rate increase or decrease in each scenario? 
  • When will your business run out of money in each scenario?
  • What does this mean for future fundraising plans? Do you need to find money fast, or can you delay the need for investment by reducing your cash burn rate?

If you find that your runway is shorter than expected, run the numbers and recalculate your cash burn rate

By extending your runway, you may be able to give your business more time to find its footing again and reduce your startup operating expenses before turning to investors or creditors for support.

Revisit Your Growth Plans and Adjust Accordingly

Remember those business growth plans you had before the economic downturn? It’s time to re-examine them and decide if they need to be adjusted, postponed, or shelved.

Use the following questions to assess your growth plans for each of your business budgeting scenarios:

  • Based on your current cash reserves and revenue forecasts, what growth plans are you likely to accomplish in the next 24 months?
  • What growth targets do you need to hit to increase revenue by 20, 30, or 50 percent?
  • What growth initiatives do you need to invest in to achieve those targets?
  • Do you need to reduce your operating expenses to stay on track and set these initiatives into motion?

It’s challenging to create a business budget in the face of so much uncertainty—but it’s also more important than ever. Adapting your business budgeting strategy for uncertain times can keep your business on track as the economy recovers. 

Remember: you’ll need to have accurate books and up-to-date financial statements to work through the strategies we outlined above. If you need some help with that, Pilot’s expert bookkeeping and CFO services can set up the foundation you need.

Want even more insights on how to navigate turbulent markets or what to do when your business strategies aren’t working? Don’t miss Founder Tactics, our one-day virtual conference for startup entrepreneurs on June 15. Get the tactical advice you need to take action immediately and answers to questions that only experienced startup founders, operators, and investors know how to answer.


Check out these other helpful resources as you navigate these times:

Suggested Reading

What Is a Fractional CFO and Do I Need One?

The Recovery Startup Business Tax Credit

How to Reduce Your Startup’s Operating Expenses

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