How much does it cost to start a business in the UK?
Before you can launch a new business, you have to have enough cash to get it off the ground. But, how much exactly does it cost to start a new business?
This figure varies widely depending on your chosen industry, location and venue—launching an online freelance writing business will cost significantly less than opening a brick and mortar retail store.
But, as only 42.4% of SMEs survive past their first five years, the key is budgeting enough to not only launch, but survive and thrive in the long-term.
In this article, we’ll explain the importance of calculating business startup costs, define the types of startup costs you may encounter and provide tools to help you calculate and organise your small business finances to boost your chances of long term success.
Table of contents:
- Why do you need to calculate business startup costs?
- How do you figure out how much cash you’ll require to get started?
- What are startup expenses?
- What are startup assets?
- What are the different types of startup costs?
- 13 common business startup costs
- Should you try to minimise startup costs?
- Where to find capital for your new business
- Wrapping up
Why do you need to calculate business startup costs?
Financial preparedness helps you to budget for expected and unexpected costs. A clear-cut view of your financial health can help you make better business decisions, keep your business afloat and ultimately boost profits.
According to the same Geniac study, approximately two-thirds of small business owners experienced unexpected costs during their first year, leading to reduced profits and stunted growth.
By strategically calculating your own business startup costs and factoring unexpected expenses into your budget, you increase your chances of success.
Calculating startup costs also helps you to:
- Figure out if you can afford to launch your business at all
- Explore multiple funding options if you do not have enough cash to self-fund your venture
- Demonstrate to investors that you understand your startup costs, thus building trust
- Decipher if your business idea is financially viable in the long-term
- Discern if you can afford any staff to help you launch
- Calculate a budget for all areas of your business, such as what and how many materials and equipment you will need to launch, how much it will cost to market and promote your brand, etc.
If you fail to calculate your startup costs before you launch, you may end up grossly underestimating your needs.
How do you figure out how much cash you’ll need to get started?
The best-practice is to overestimate what you’ll need in your business plan. Expenses can rise over time, so account for that inflation in your startup costs. Don’t make the mistake of overestimating revenue and thus underestimating costs—hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
Before you can calculate how much cash you’ll need to get started, you have to fully understand how your own business will run. You may want to seek business advice to help you determine the best legal and financial models for your business type, as they vary based on your business goals.
On the legal side, you have to determine your company formation type before you can register your business. Will you be registering as a sole trader, a limited company, a business partnership, or a limited liability partnership?
Each has its pros and cons as well as varying rules regarding taxes, reporting and responsibilities. We will detail the exact costs of registering your business under each company formation type in a later section.
Quick Tip: To learn more about how to choose your company formation type as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each, read our guide on how to register a business in the UK. Then, register your business for free with Tide and get a free business current account in the process.
On the financial side, you’ll need to grasp the basic fundamentals of accounting to avoid running into cash flow problems. This includes choosing the right accounting method and knowing the three main financial statements so that you can work bookkeeping tasks into your business plan.
Quick Tip: To learn more about how to streamline your small business accounting process, read our complete guide to accounting for startups.
Once you choose your business formation type and accounting principles, you’ll have a much better handle on how your business will operate. This is key for helping you to accurately create a cash flow forecast and determine your projected revenue, things you need to include in your business plan if you are looking for investment.
What are startup expenses?
When starting a new business there are things you’ll need to spend money on in order to get up and running. These are your startup expenses.
Startup expenses are ‘sunk costs’, meaning you won’t get back what you spend, regardless of whether your business succeeds or not. These expenses are essential in not only getting your business to market but determining how successful you are in the early months and years of your operation.
That’s because the money you invest in your business early on will determine how quickly you can attract and engage a loyal audience, thus bringing in enough revenue to stay afloat and scale.
Examples of startup business expenses include:
- Marketing and branding: Money spent on web design, website hosting, logo design, content creation, social media advertising, business signage, flyers, posters, brochures, business cards and any other marketing collateral.
- Professional fees: Money spent on business consultants and advisors to help with writing a business plan, for example, or accountants and solicitor fees for registering your business with Companies House.
- Recruitment fees: Money spent on job boards to advertise vacancies or recruiters to hire new employees.
- Registering your business: As mentioned above, this is a one time fee that you will pay after you choose your company formation type.
What are startup assets?
Unlike startup expenses, startup assets are things you’ll invest in that have ‘asset value’. This simply means they retain their value over time.
For example, if you’re setting up a photography business, your camera, laptop and printer would be assets. These all have sell on (asset) value and could be sold to make your business some money back.
If your asset qualifies, you can deduct the full cost of the item from your profits before tax under HMRC’s annual investment income (AIA). So while you’ll still need to account for assets in your initial startup calculations, these costs aren’t sunk expenses in the same way that a lot of other purchases will be.
AIA can be claimed on most plant and machinery up to the AIA amount. The AIA amount varies frequently, so make sure to check the GOV.UK website for the latest numbers. Here are the most recent reported amounts, as of June 2020:
|Sole traders/partners||Limited Companies||AIA|
|1 January 2019 – 31 December 2020||1 January 2019 – 31 December 2020||£1 million|
|1 January 2016 – 31 December 2018||1 January 2016 – 31 December 2018||£200,000|
|6 April 2014 – 31 December 2015||1 April 2014 – 31 December 2015||£500,000|
|1 January 2013 – 5 April 2014||1 January 2013 – 31 March 2014||£250,000|
|6 April 2012 – 31 December 2012||1 April 2012 – 31 December 2012||£25,000|
|6 April 2010 – 5 April 2012||1 April 2010 – 31 March 2012||£100,000|
|6 April 2008 – 5 April 2010||1 April 2008 – 31 March 2010||£50,000|
According to GOV.UK, you can claim capital allowances on:
- Items that you keep to use in your business (including lorries, vans, trucks and motorcycles, but not cars)
- Costs of demolishing plant and machinery
- Parts of a building considered integral, known as ‘integral features’
- Some fixtures, for example, fitted kitchens or bathroom suites
- Alterations to a building to install other plant and machinery – this does not include repairs
You cannot claim capital allowances on:
- Things you lease (you must own them)
- Buildings, including doors, gates, shutters, mains water and gas systems
- Land and structures, for example, bridges, roads, docks
- Items used only for business entertainment, for example, a yacht or karaoke machine
HMRC also says that you cannot claim AIA on:
- Items you owned for another reason before you started using them in your business
- Items given to you or your business
What are the different types of startup costs?
Not all costs are created equal. With some costs, you will never earn back what you spend, while others are paid with the intention of earning a return on your investment (ROI).
Here are the various startup cost types.
- One-time costs: These are the ‘sunk’ costs that most startups experience, such as the cost to incorporate your business, purchase a top-level domain (TLD) for your website or buy an expensive piece of equipment.
- Fixed or ongoing costs: Ongoing costs are paid on a regular basis and rarely fluctuate. These costs include rent, utilities, interest fees on business loans and labour. Fixed costs are usually contractually agreed upon.
- Variable costs: Conversely, variable costs vary and depend on the amount of goods or services you need to produce in a given time period. For example, seasonal costs affect many retail businesses, causing a spike in purchase orders when demand is higher. As such, the cost of running a business reliant on seasonal demand will fluctuate throughout the year.
- Essential costs: Essential costs are purchases you make that are absolutely necessary in order for your business to either stay afloat or grow. Critical research and development (R&D), new staff hires and game-changing SaaS tools may fall into this category.
- Optional costs: You should only spend on optional costs when you have enough cash to cover crucial expenses and keep your emergency fund fully stocked. If that is the case, you may want to spend money on optimising your website, upgrading to a more advanced subscription-model on a key SaaS tool, or increase your digital ad spend to broaden your reach.
Understanding your business expenses will help you work backwards to determine how much cash you’ll need to launch.
Quick Tip: Learning how to manage your expenses is crucial to business survival. Read more about how to save money, pay the right amount of taxes and keep a pulse on your financial health in our guide to business expenses.
13 common business startup costs
The specific startup expenses, assets, variable costs and fixed costs you’ll incur in getting your small business off the ground depends on the industry you’re in, but there are typical costs for every business. Let’s dive in.
Coming up with solid business ideas and then understanding how to start a business in the UK requires thorough research. And before you launch your business, best practice is to first validate your idea(s) by learning about and talking with your target audience to see if there’s purchasing interest
A lot of research, like searching on Google, scanning social media sites, finding competitors and questioning family and friends, for example, can be done for free. But if you need to dig deep into industry data, you may need to invest in a market research firm or paid online market research platforms.
Rates for market research can vary widely, from £100 for a survey to upwards of £8,000 for online consumer data. This post by B2B product and service directory Approved Index looks at average industry prices.
Equipment costs cover the plant and machinery you’ll need to produce your product or offer your service. This includes office space and/or shop costs.
For example, if you run an ecommerce business, you’ll need a computer, desk, chair and printer, as well as other office furniture such as filing cabinets and bookshelves. If you’re selling products in a shop, you’ll need display units, a till and a contactless payment machine. If you buy stock from a wholesaler, you may need a van to transport goods.
On top of the equipment you need to do the work, you may need other essentials to provide a comfortable workspace – things like kitchen appliances, water coolers, air conditioning and bathroom fittings, for example.
Write down every item you need to run your business and furnish your premises.
3. Registration fees
Depending on the structure of your business, you may need to pay an incorporation fee.
Here is the cost breakdown of registering your business:
- Registering as a sole trader is free
- Registering a limited company costs between £12 and £100 depending on the method you choose, although you can register for free with Tide as we take care of the fee for you
- Registering a limited partnership costs £20 or £100 for same-day registration
- Registering as a limited liability partnership costs between £10 and £100 depending on the method you choose
Quick Tip: You can find out more about business structures and the fees involved in this process by reading our guide on how to register a business in the UK.
4. Business premises
If you’re able to work from home, the cost of your business premises will be free and you’ll be able to claim back a proportion of household bills on your tax return. If you need to rent commercial space, costs vary widely.
According to Statista, the cost of renting prime office space in the UK in 2019 was as high as 468 euros (around £416) per square metre per year in Reading and as low as 298 euros (around £265) per square metre in Newcastle.
For prime industrial space, rent costs in 2019 were as high as 188 euros (around £167) per square metre per year in London Heathrow and as low as 67 euros (around £59) in Newcastle.
According to Realla, prime retail space in UK cities in 2019 varied between £1,030 per square metre per year in Cardiff to £14,355 per square metre per year in London’s West End.
While some office and business space rents include utilities, others don’t. If utilities aren’t included in the space you’re thinking about renting, add the following to your startup costs and ongoing monthly expenses:
If your new business is in retail, manufacturing, wholesale, distribution or hospitality, you’ll need stock to be able to hit the ground running.
Working out how much stock you need can be challenging. Too much can leave you stuck with items you’ll never sell. In the case of hospitality, in particular, this can mean spoilage and, thus, financial losses. On the other hand, too little stock may leave you unable to meet demand.
Estimate your startup inventory costs by working out:
- What products you’re going to sell
- How many products you’ll need to open your business
- The recommended retail price (RRP) of your products (which helps to standardise the price of goods)
- The product markup
Let’s say you plan to sell mugs that retail at £10. The average product markup is between 30% and 40%, which means the wholesale price of the mug would be £6-£7. Multiplying the wholesale price by how many items you’ll need to open your business will give you an estimate of how much you’ll need to spend on stock.
So if the wholesale price of the mug was £6 and you need 300:
£6 x 300 = £1800
Research from the Local Search Association’s Digital Consumer Survey shows that 63% of consumers primarily use a company’s website to find and engage with businesses.
A website is your online business shop front and an important sales and marketing tool for any new startup. The type of website you’ll need depends on what you plan to offer. If your site will primarily promote services, a template-based design on an all-inclusive platform such as Wix or Squarespace may be suitable.
Both include domain, hosting and storage.
If you’re running an ecommerce business, Shopify or WordPress WooCommerce might be better suited, both of which offer templates and simple tools to help you create and manage an online store.
- Shopify plans start from $29 (around £23) a month
- WordPress and WooCommerce are free, but you’ll need to purchase a domain (around £10-15 a year) and hosting (between £3 and £200 a month depending on your demand)
If you want to work with a web designer to create a custom design for your website, the average cost, according to Bidvine, is £500.
Quick Tip: To learn more about joining the online business world, read our guide on how to start a business online.
To get customers or clients to buy from you, you’ll need to market and promote your business.
The good thing about marketing is that it doesn’t have to cost anything. Word of mouth and social media are two of the most effective ways of promoting a business and both are completely free.
However, you may want to get the word out about your business through paid online, print or media advertising, or by hiring a marketing company to promote your business.
According to Nuanced Media founder, Ryan Flannagan, you can work out your marketing budget by calculating your revenue and company size.
According to this study, new companies should spend 12%-20% of their gross revenue on marketing.
Quick Tip: To learn more about creating an effective marketing strategy to drive traffic to your product or service even before you launch, read our guide on how to build a go-to-market strategy that attracts ideal customers. Then, once you’ve achieved initial success, you’ll need to create a strategic marketing strategy moving forward. To learn more about how to grow your customer base through engaging content, read our beginners guide to digital marketing strategy.
Branding is a reflection of who you are and what you do as a company. As a new business, your brand will play a critical role in how customers perceive you and consistent presentation has been shown to increase revenue by as much as 33%.
Like marketing, branding doesn’t have to cost anything. If you have a clear vision in mind and are competent with graphic design, it’s possible to create your own name and logo, brand guidelines, values and mission statement.
However, you’ll need to factor in costs for additional assets related to your brand, such as business cards, product packaging, point of sale, signage or event flyers.
If you’re new to the concept of branding or want to be sure that what you create is going to have the desired impact, hiring a branding agency or freelancer is a worthwhile investment. But it might not be cheap.
Research by canny shows that branding prices range from £300 for stationery design to as much as £50,000 for brand strategy.
Quick Tip: As your business and customers grow, you may need to shift your brand’s tone and voice to stay aligned with current trends. The best practice is to consistently revisit and evaluate your brand presence as your business evolves. To learn more about what makes up a brand and when and how to rebrand as you grow, read our five-step approach to rebranding your company.
9. Office supplies
Along with the equipment you need to furnish your business premises, you’ll need office supplies to help you do the work.
Small purchases like paper, pens, printer ink and first aid supplies can soon add up when purchasing everything at once, so focus only on the things you need and look at where you can save by doing things digitally.
For example, rather than using paper forms, think about using online forms for processes to reduce paper and printer ink usage.
10. Professional services
As tempting as it is to do everything yourself as a new business owner, getting professional help can benefit you in the long run. Whether it’s accounting, legal or IT assistance, or business mentorship, being able to turn to someone skilled in a specific area can help you prevent costly mistakes down the line.
Prices for business consultants vary depending on the discipline and amount of help you need.
However, for specialised, on-going expertise you should add professional services to your startup costs.
According to Bidvine, the average price range for business consultants is £95-£350. This price often covers a specific time period that the business consultant will be working with you. Some consultants charge hourly or daily prices, while others charge based on the project at large. This varies widely from consultant to consultant, so make sure to get a full understanding of how your consultant will charge you before moving forward.
Quick Tip: It may be smart to talk with an accountant or bookkeeper to guarantee your business finances are above board, organised and categorised correctly for tax purposes. To learn more, read our guide on how to choose an accountant for your small business. If you’re interested in learning more on your own before consulting an expert, read our beginners guide to small business accounting.
11. Business insurance
Insurance is important to protect your business, assets and customers should anything go wrong.
Here are some of the typical types of insurances new businesses in the UK need:
- Building and contents insurance: Covering all stock and materials in the event of damage, theft, fire or natural disaster
- Professional indemnity insurance: Protecting you from claims made by unhappy clients/customers
- Public liability insurance: Protecting you against claims from members of the public who have been injured or suffered property damage due to carelessness
- Employer’s liability insurance: The same as public liability insurance, but for employees
- Vehicle insurance: Covering any vehicles used for business purposes
Insurance costs vary depending on the type and amount of cover you need, excess amount and additional features. The easiest way to find out how much a premium will be is to get a quick online quote through a comparison website like Simply Business.
If you plan on recruiting staff or contractors from the start, you’ll need to factor in their salary and/or fees.
Hiring full-time employees will mean paying wages, as well as regular pension and insurance payments. Using contractors or freelancers will give you greater flexibility, but the one-off costs will likely be greater.
You’ll also need to take recruitment costs into account. If you’re sourcing talent through an agency or job board, you’ll most likely need to pay a fee.
Recruitment fees depend on the industry, the salary and whether the vacancy is temporary or permanent, as this infographic by Agency Central shows:
If you’re advertising a role through a job board, prices differ depending on the platform you use.
Here are typical prices for the leading job boards, from Recruitee:
- Indeed: Free or sponsored for $0.10 (around 8p) per click up to $5 per post (around £4).
- Monster: $375 (around £298) for a single job for 30 days or $399 (around £317) for 60 days, with the cost per job reducing on a sliding scale to $135 (around £107) per job for between 100 to 249 postings.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn Recruiter starts at $8,999 (around £7,100) and Recruiter Lite at $2,399 (around £1,900) per annum. The cost of a job post per day is 1.3 times your pay per click budget.
- Facebook: Prices start at $5 (around £4) and increase to what you can afford. The more you pay, the higher the distribution of your job post.
13. Software and licences
Most businesses need some form of software to carry out work.
Whether it’s a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform to manage customer interactions, an email marketing tool to capture email addresses and contact customers, accounting software like Xero or Quickbooks for invoicing or bookkeeping, or a specialist design tool like Adobe Photoshop, most software will require you to pay a one-off licence fee or ongoing subscription cost.
You’ll also need to include the cost of data storage and back-up to protect data should anything go wrong.
Software prices can range from a few pounds a month for a basic page up to hundreds for a top-end premium solution.
Write down every piece of software that’s essential for your business to get started and the cost of the required package.
Where to find prices
Some of your required startup costs will have defined prices that are easy to find. For example, the price of a website builder like Squarespace can be found on the company’s website. Other costs, such as the price of raw materials or office suppliers may be hidden from public view.
If you don’t know the cost of what you need, you can find estimated prices by:
- Searching online and gathering average prices
- Talking directly to vendors and service providers. Based on your business needs, they’ll be able to provide you with a free quote.
- Asking other business owners. A business that’s of a similar size to yours may have similar costs for office supplies, insurance, professional services and branding.
- Asking business mentors. An experienced mentor who has worked with business owners in your industry may be able to help provide ballpark costs for common purchases.
How to calculate your business startup costs
To calculate your startup costs, you need to create an expenses list that covers the costs of everything you need to open your business.
You can do this on a spreadsheet or, if you prefer, using pen and paper.
- Write down all of your required startup expenses and assets (the things you’ll need to start your business) and total how much they’ll cost. Some purchases will have a defined cost, others you’ll need to estimate based on research and average industry prices.
- Organise your startup expenses and assets into a list of one-time expenses.
- Create another list of monthly expenses which includes all of your fixed costs (your monthly outgoings) and estimated variable costs for 12 months (or longer if you prefer). To work out your variable costs, you’ll need to estimate how many products you’ll sell in each month of the first 12 months. For example, you might estimate selling 100 mugs in month one, 500 by month five and 1200 mugs by month twelve. From that, you’ll be able to work out how much you need to spend to meet customer demand.
- Add your one-time expenses list to your list of monthly expenses to get a figure for how much capital you’ll need to start and run your business.
Our free template helps you to easily and automatically calculate these costs. The top half is designated for monthly costs and the bottom half for one-time costs.
In the top half, enter your monthly costs in the “Monthly Costs” column and then enter the number of months those costs apply to your business in the “# of Months” column. The spreadsheet will automatically calculate your Total Monthly Costs in the far right column.
In the bottom half, enter your one-time costs in the “Total Cost” column on the far right. As they are one-time costs, there are no further calculations necessary.
Once complete, the spreadsheet will automatically add up your monthly and one-time costs to produce a “Total Startup Costs” number.
Create a formal report for your costs and add them to your business plan. Having clearly presented figures will help you in securing capital or investment.
Should you try to minimise startup costs?
It’s important to try to keep your startup business costs as low as possible. Why? Because slow and steady wins the race. Avoid investing a lot of money upfront in case your idea doesn’t take off right away or you encounter any problems post-launch.
Because many startup costs are sunk costs, it may take you some time to break even. If you can keep your costs low, you will break even and reach profitability faster.
If you can get into the habit of keeping costs low and thus retaining more revenue, you will give yourself a better chance of successfully scaling your business. Plus, if you can retain more revenue, you can reinvest that money back into your business.
Here are a few ways to minimise your startup costs:
- Work remotely: Renting an office space is incredibly expensive, with the average price in some areas reaching £416 per square metre per year. To avoid that, if possible, try launching your business from home, a cafe or a coworking space, either alone or with a distributed team, and grow from there.
- Opt for low-cost or no-cost alternatives: Avoid paying premium prices for goods or services when starting out. Instead, opt for refurbished or second hand equipment, or use a template website like Squarespace or Wix instead of paying a seasoned developer, in order to cut costs. You can always upgrade later on when you reinvest in your business.
- Prioritise organic marketing initiatives: There are plenty of ways to promote your business online entirely for free. Build an audience on social media, create blog content, ebooks, newsletter content, etc. and distribute it via online channels. Record webinars, create videos on a budget, attend networking events, and so on. Until you have enough money to spend on paid media, build a customer base organically with a thorough digital marketing strategy.
- Look for the best deal from suppliers: Don’t sign a contract with the first supplier you meet with. Often, international suppliers are cheaper than local suppliers, but each has its benefits and drawbacks. Don’t sacrifice quality, especially if it’s for a customer-facing item. When you do find an eligible supplier, negotiate the price, respectfully, to see if you can land an even better deal.
Quick Tip: Working online is a great way to reduce startup costs. It’s also crucial for many businesses who are following work-from-home guidelines in response to COVID-19. Working online allows you to work remotely, often requires little to no large upfront costs and gives you ultimate freedom and flexibility over where and how you spend your workday. To learn more, read our in-depth guide to starting a business online.
Where to find capital for your new business
With the average cost of starting a business in the UK at around £12,600, you may need to secure capital for your new venture.
There are several ways you can do this:
- Bank loan: Many major banks offer unsecured loans of up to £250,000, over one to 15 years
- Start Up Loan: A government-backed unsecured small business loan of £500 to £250,000, with a fixed interest rate of 6% per year payable over one to five years.
- Startup grants: Grants are offered on a case-by-case basis by the British Small Business Grants, InnovateUK and Horizon2020.
- Angel investment: Investment from successful entrepreneurs and long-time investors in exchange for equity.
- Crowdfunding: A large number of people pooling small amounts of capital to finance a business venture.
If your predicted costs are small, utilising an overdraft of your business account or applying for a business credit card might be an option.
Quick Tip: There is also a wide range of government support for startup business. Take a look at this list of grants and funds that could be available to you.
Determining your startup costs depends on your business type, vision and goals. But while budgeting for launch is important, planning for growth is crucial to long-term success.
Business expenses are much more than simply the exact amount it will cost to open. You need to set aside emergency funds in case you run into unexpected hurdles, generate a viable go-to-market strategy to attract your ideal audience and drive purchasing behaviour and plan for paying ongoing fixed and variable costs.
The best place to start is to determine how you are going to formulate your company and the accounting methods you’ll use. From there, you can figure out which common costs apply to your specific business and begin to calculate expenses.
Look for ways to reduce costs where possible. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so start small and slow. The more that you understand your financial health, the better chance you’ll have at surviving far beyond your first few years in business.
When you are ready – you can register your business with Tide for FREE
Registering your business with Tide is fast, easy and free. You not only get to officially start your company, but you get a free business current account at the same time, which is the best way to ensure you’re keeping your finances in order from day one. Be your own boss and register your company with Tide!
Read more from our business startup series:
1.1 How to start a business in the UK: 10 steps to build from scratch
1.2 How to find the perfect name for your small business
1.3 How to register a business? A simple guide
1.4 How to start a business without capital
1.5 10 ways to fund your business
1.6 How to create a business plan: 9 things to consider when starting
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