If you plan to start your own business, or if you’ve already had your grand opening, money has probably moved to the top of your list of worries. Will you have enough to pay the bills? Will you sell enough services to cover operating costs or enough product to grow the company?

There are a lot of good business ideas, and just as many entrepreneurs working to make a vision a reality. One key to small business success is developing a balanced budget that covers expenses and leaves enough to expand over time, offering even more services or products.

Creating a workable budget should be one of the first tasks undertaken by the principals, and if you don’t have a knowledgeable stakeholder, you might consider hiring a business consultant to create a business plan that includes a budget.

Do it yourself, or get a little help – either way, these small business budget tips will get you started in the right direction, and lessen the likelihood of business failure.

First, overestimate your expenses and underestimate company earnings. It may sound bleak, but if the numbers don’t work on paper, chances are they won’t work in the real world. By overestimating expenses and underestimating revenues, you develop a “worst-case-scenario” budget, and that’s what you want to prepare for – the worst case.

If the budget isn’t total fantasy, this step alone can save you money by indicating that your business model isn’t going to be very successful very soon.

How long can you survive before you start seeing actual earnings? Weeks? Months? It’s not unusual for a new business to operate in the red for years, using personal stakeholder assets to pay the bills. Partners may mortgage their homes to open the doors. Will you? Can you?

Develop a budget that reflects costs for each department. A lump sum dollar amount for operations can be way off. However, if you break expenses down into costs per department, your budget estimates tend to be more accurate because you’re working with smaller pieces and more detail.

Perform a front-to-back risk analysis. Even a small business can be exposed to some pretty big risks: inventory shrinkage, weather disasters, personal liability claims – we live in a litigious society and you have to mitigate that risk. OSHA, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has trained personnel who can help identify current and future risk your company may face. Cost? $0.

What about the competition? How much of a head start do they have, and can you risk the capital to catch up? Determine how your company can be hurt, then insure against that risk. Insurance may feel like a waste of capital when the company doesn’t have many assets, but you’re building toward a brighter future, and an unidentified risk can slow down the growth process, or stop it altogether.

Track every penny of company spending. As a small business owner, you know the big expenses, but how about the small expenses that can nibble away at the business’ bottom line without notice? Using a business credit card for your expenses can help you track the cash you’re spending; just review monthly statements.

Regularly update the company budget to reflect business circumstances. If you start hiring, payroll goes up. So do federal and state taxes. If you rent a new office or manufacturing space, monthly rental costs and utilities increase. The circumstances of a business change frequently, so be sure the budget reflects current conditions.

Budget for seasonal changes in cash flow. Many business owners fail to recognize the sales cycle their companies follow. Summer or winter businesses, or retail outlets that break even during holiday shopping season – many businesses have periods of hot and cold sales. Make sure you retain enough cash during busy times to float you through the off season.

Plan to make major purchases well in advance. A new piece of equipment or updated computer system can cost a whole lot of money – money that you may not have right now, or money that’s set aside for other uses. Plan ahead before investing company capital in equipment or fixtures.

Pay down company debt ASAP. If you started with venture capital, it’s costing your company money. If you have a few dozen company credit cards, it’s costing money each month you carry a balance. Pay down expensive debt first. Build it into the quarterly budget so you can eliminate that drain on company resources and open more options for growth.

A company budget doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does have to reflect real-world numbers, not numbers you pick out of the air. If numbers aren’t your strong suit, hire an outsourced accountant to track expenses and receivables. Talk to your business banker about developing a budget that helps protect your business as you grow more profitable. Before you spend a penny, work on the numbers to make sure they work for business success. Failure is just too expensive to risk.