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Small Business Tips

How small business calculates break-even point

Manasa Reddigari

Is your small business in the red, profitable, or perhaps somewhere in between? Whatever the financial status of your business venture today, the break-even point can help you improve upon it in the future.

Continue reading to learn the definition of the term and how to calculate the break-even point.

What's a break-even point?

You might have heard the term "breaking even" used in personal finance to describe a point at which your expenses and income are equal. The term "break-even point" has a similar meaning in business accounting.

The break-even point refers to the point at which total revenue equals total cost. When a business has reached that point for a product or project, it has generated the product or project sales volume needed to cover both the fixed and variable costs of the business during a certain period of time.

The business incurs neither a profit nor a loss at the point of breaking even. The good news? This means your business did not spend more money than it pulled in for a venture. The bad news is that it did not make gains, either.

Why should small businesses know their break-even point?

Calculating the break-even point, a process sometimes undertaken as part of a larger financial analysis, is useful for multiple reasons:

  • It tells you how many units of a business offering you need to sell to avoid losses.
  • It helps you forecast when you will turn a profit.
  • Fixed and variable costs are identified and controlled.
  • It helps you identify whether or not your per-unit selling price needs adjustment.
  • It helps you assess your margin of safety. This figure amounts to actual sales minus break-even sales, which tells you much sales could still fall before a venture turns unprofitable).
  • The viability and risk of a venture before undertaking it is assessed.
  • It can easily and quickly be calculated.

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How to calculate a break-even point

You can calculate the break-even point either in terms of units or sales dollars.

The formula based on units is:

Break-Even Point (in units) = Fixed Costs √∑ Contribution Margin

  • Contribution Margin = Per-Unit Sales Price - Variable Costs
  • Fixed costs are those that don't change as sales volume changes (e.g., insurance or rent)
  • Variable costs change based on sales volume (e.g., labor, material and manufacturing costs)

Let's take a look at an example. MileHigh Inc. wants to calculate its break-even point for a new widget. It estimates its fixed costs at $10,000, variable costs at $1.00 per unit of product and assigns a per-unit sales price of $5.00.

We can calculate the break-even point in units as follows:

$10,000 √∑ ($5.00 - $1.00)

$10,000 √∑ $4.00 = 2,500 units

Therefore, MileHigh Inc. needs to sell 2,500 widgets to cover its fixed and variable costs.

The break-even formula based on sales dollars is:

Break-Even Point (sales in dollars) = Fixed Costs √∑ Contribution Margin Ratio


Contribution Margin Ratio = Contribution Margin √∑ Per-Unit Sales Price

Using the same example above, we can calculate the break-even point in sales dollars as follows:

$10,000 √∑ ($4.00 / $5.00)

$10,000 √∑ $0.80 = $12,500

Therefore, MileHigh needs to sell $12,500 worth of widgets to cover its fixed and variable costs. As you might have noted, making $12,500 is the equivalent of selling 2,500 widgets as noted above. So while they use different variables, both formulas can be used to reach a similar conclusion about the financial prospects of a business venture.

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