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How to Do a Breakeven Analysis

Breakeven analysis helps determine when your business revenues equal your costs

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If you can accurately forecast your costs and sales, conducting a breakeven analysis is a matter of simple math. A company has broken even when its total sales or revenues equal its total expenses. At the breakeven point, no profit has been made, nor have any losses been incurred. This calculation is critical for any business owner, because the breakeven point is the lower limit of profit when determining margins.

Defining Costs

There are several types of costs to consider when conducting a breakeven analysis, so here's a refresher on the most relevant.

  • Fixed costs: These are costs that are the same regardless of how many items you sell. All start-up costs, such as rent, insurance and computers, are considered fixed costs since you have to make these outlays before you sell your first item.
  • Variable costs: These are recurring costs that you absorb with each unit you sell. For example, if you were operating a greeting card store where you had to buy greeting cards from a stationary company for $1 each, then that dollar represents a variable cost. As your business and sales grow, you can begin appropriating labor and other items as variable costs if it makes sense for your industry.
Setting a Price

This is critical to your breakeven analysis; you can't calculate likely revenues if you don't know what the unit price will be. Unit price refers to the amount you plan to charge customers to buy a single unit of your product.

  • Psychology of Pricing: Pricing can involve a complicated decision-making process on the part of the consumer, and there is plenty of research on the marketing and psychology of how consumers perceive price. Take the time to review articles on pricing strategy and the psychology of pricing before choosing how to price your product or service.
  • Pricing Methods: There are several different schools of thought on how to treat price when conducting a breakeven analysis. It is a mix of quantitative and qualitative factors. If you've created a brand new, unique product, you should be able to charge a premium price, but if you're entering a competitive industry, you'll have to keep the price in line with the going rate or perhaps even offer a discount to get customers to switch to your company.

    One common strategy is "cost-based pricing", which calls for figuring out how much it will cost to produce one unit of an item and setting the price to that amount plus a predetermined profit margin. This approach is frowned upon since it allows competitors who can make the product for less than you to easily undercut you on price. Another method, referred to by David G. Bakken of Harris Interactive as "price-based costing" encourages business owners to "start with the price that consumers are willing to pay (when they have competitive alternatives) and whittle down costs to meet that price." That way if you encounter new competition, you can lower your price and still turn a profit. There are always different pricing methods that can be used.

The formula: Don't worry, it's fairly simple. To conduct your breakeven analysis, take your fixed costs, divided by your price, minus your variable costs. As an equation, this is defined as:
Breakeven Point = Fixed Costs/(Unit Selling Price - Variable Costs)
This calculation will let you know how many units of a product you'll need to sell to break even. Once you've reached that point, you've recovered all costs associated with producing your product (both variable and fixed).

Above the breakeven point, every additional unit sold increases profit by the amount of the unit contribution margin, which is defined as the amount each unit contributes to covering fixed costs and increasing profits. As an equation, this is defined as:

Unit Contribution Margin = Sales Price - Variable Costs
Recording this information in a spreadsheet will allow you to easily make adjustments as costs change over time, as well as play with different price options and easily calculate the resulting breakeven point. You could use a program such as Excel's Goal Seek, if you wanted to give yourself a goal of a certain profit, say $1 million, and then work backwards to see how many units you would need to sell to hit that number. (This online tutorial will show you how to use Goal Seek.)

Calculators

There are several online calculators to assist you with your breakeven analysis:

  • Case Western Reserve University offers a breakeven analysis calculator that includes a review of relevant microeconomic terms.
  • This financial calculator allows you to chart your costs and profits appear in a graph.
  • Inc.com offers a breakeven analysis calculator that requires a user to enter in total annual overhead and annual year-to-date sales and cost of sales, and lets the user delineate the period for the YTD calculations in terms of weeks.
Limitations

It is important to understand what the results of your breakeven analysis are telling you. If, for example, the calculation reports that you would break even when you sold your 500th unit, decide whether this seems feasible. If you don't think you can sell 500 units within a reasonable period of time (dictated by your financial situation, patience and personal expectations), then this may not be the right business for you to go into. If you think 500 units is possible but would take a while, try lowering your price and calculating and analyzing the new breakeven point.

Alternatively, take a look at your costs - both fixed and variable - and identify areas where you might be able to make cuts.

Lastly, understand that breakeven analysis is not a predictor of demand, so if you go into market with the wrong product or the wrong price, it may be tough to ever hit the breakeven point.

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