Finding Your Business's Break-even Point

financial charts and graphs on the table

Before you start a business - and perhaps leave a job to do so - make an effort to determine if your idea will be worth the risk.

If you’re confident there’s a genuine demand for your potential product or service, at the price you seek to elicit, the next step is to work out how much you need to sell each month to make a profit.

Will your business venture be worth it?

It’s unlikely your business will be profitable from day one. Sales are likely to be slow at first, but you’ll be hoping they gain momentum.

Meanwhile, you have certain fixed costs (overhead) that you have to pay each month to keep your operation running. These include:

  • Rent or mortgage payments.
  • Utilities.
  • Interest on debt.
  • Communication costs.

You'll also have other expenses that will vary with sales levels. These variable costs include supplies to make a product or to stock shelves (if you sell more, you’ll need more), freight, commissions and extra labor to produce your goods.

When sales equal costs

All of this means that a typical business in its early stages will run at a loss until the point at which sales match costs. This is known as the break-even point. If sales continue to climb after that, you'll start making a profit each month.

Below are two quick and ready ways to test the feasibility of your business. They presume you know both the fixed costs of running your business and the variable costs of producing a product or selling a service.

How a manufacturing business breaks even

Here’s an example of a business making garden benches out of wood.

First, work out the gross profit on each bench - the difference between the product's sale price and its variable production costs.

The cost of each bench

Your research shows a realistic market price for each bench is: $120

Labor cost ($40) and materials ($25) for each chair come to: $65

The difference between $120 and $65 is your gross profit: $55

What you want from your business

To justify the risk, you want a salary each year of: $80,000

The overhead costs of running your business are: $20,000

Therefore, the annual gross profit you need on sales is: $100,000

How many sales do you need?

To find out how many benches you have to sell each year to meet your salary goal, divide the required $100,000 gross profit by the gross profit per bench of $55. The result shows you need to sell 1,818 benches a year.

How does that average per week? If you decide you want at least a four-week break every year, divide 1,818 by 48 weeks, which makes 38 benches a week your break-even sales target. Do you think you can meet that?

Remember, this is a break-even point only. It will pay your required salary, but there’s no extra profit margin in there to grow your business.

Try your own figures to determine what your company's break-even will be.

How service businesses break even

In a service business, you’re selling time, so you take a slightly different angle. Let’s presume the goals remain similar and you’re working alone, except for one part-time employee who handles office tasks so you can spend more time with customers. This salary adds $20,000 to your overhead.

What you want from your business

To justify the risk, you want a salary each year of: $80,000

The overhead costs of running your business are: $40,000

Therefore, you need to bill out: $120,000

What time do you have available

You decide to work 5 days a week for 48 weeks, or 240 days a year. Subtract another 15 days for sickness and holidays, leaving a total of 225 working days.

You plan to put in at least 8 hours a day, but allow 3 hours for travelling and work such as marketing and quotations. This leaves 5 billable hours a day.

Your hourly charge-out rate

Now you’re ready to calculate your charge-out rate.

Billable hours per year = 5 hours per day x 225 working days – or 1,125 billable hours.

Divide your goal of $120,000 by 1,125 billable hours, and your minimum charge-out rate per hour must be $107. Again, this is just the break-even figure to cover costs and salary, with no profit involved.

Some questions to ask include:

  • How does an hourly rate of $107 compare with the industry average? Is it competitive?
  • Can you feasibly bill out $535 a day (107 x 5 billable hours) or $2,675 each five-day workweek?

Try your own figures to see what hourly rate you come up with and decide if it's both competitive and feasible. Will you be able to meet that goal of 25 billable hours each week?

Use our break-even template to calculate your business’s break-even point.

Use a cash-flow forecast

Use a cash-flow forecast to check your break-even calculations. This will force you to think more carefully about both variable and fixed costs. Get advice from an accountant if necessary, because a portion of some costs, such as extra power use, may belong in variable costs of production rather than fixed expenditures.

Completing the sales side of your cash-flow forecast will also help you identify how long it might take for your venture to break even.

For example, in the manufacturing example above, the business needs to sell 1,818 garden benches over the course of the year. However, demand would likely be slow in the winter months before picking up again in the spring, and the business’s running costs must still be paid. The bottom-line figure for each month will show you both when your business is likely to break even and how much funding you’ll need to keep your business going until then. 

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

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