Break-even point: what it is and how to calculate yours

Let’s explore how your company can use a break-even analysis to assess financial performance, set targets, and make better strategic decisions.

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Picture this: you’ve just started a new business, and all is well (so far). You’ve brought on your team, estimated your outgoings, and worked out your cash flow. But a business is  typically created to serve an important purpose – make a profit. 

Understanding your break-even point can provide you with the answer for when your enterprise will start earning. In this article, we’ll discuss what a break-even point is, why it’s important, and how you can calculate it for your own business. – including some important formulas and breakdowns. 

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of this essential business tool and how it can help you navigate towards profitability. For a full run down on the ins and outs of the break-even point, scroll on for more.

Let’s dive in!

What is a break-even point and why is it important?

A break-even point is the point at which a business neither makes a profit nor incurs a loss, and where the total revenue equals total costs. It is also the tipping point from where your business could operate at a loss, or turn a profit.

When you begin a business and you have start-up costs and many things to set up, there typically aren’t any clients or customers to sell to right away. Until profit starts rolling in, the most important aspect of your break-even point is to help you figure out how long your company will survive during the building and growth stage. 

Your break-even point helps you determine the minimum sales needed to cover costs and make informed pricing decisions. 

It will help you plan production levels effectively, and assess the viability of your business model before you approach any investors for venture capital

It also helps you avoid the disaster of putting too much of your own money into a business that may be unsustainable.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner, or manager, understanding your break-even point can empower you to make better decisions to keep the business sustainable, especially through this crucial beginning period before you reach profit. 

Reaching break-even is also the point when you – as the business owner – can finally shift your mindset from simply surviving to thriving. You can then move on to thinking about your next steps for bigger profits, which is the fun part!

How do you calculate your break-even point?

To calculate your break-even point, you’ll need to consider three main factors: fixed costs, variable costs, and the selling price. The formula for determining the break-even point is relatively straightforward: 

Break-even point = fixed costs ÷ (selling price – variable costs per unit)

How does break-even analysis work?

Break-even analysis is a small-business accounting process to determine the point at which company, or a new product or service, will be profitable. 

It’s a financial calculation used to determine the number of products or services you must sell to, at the least, cover your production costs. 

Break-even analysis: key terms

  • Break-even point: the level of sales at which your total revenue covers all costs, resulting in neither a profit nor a loss.
  • Fixed costs: fixed costs refer to expenses that remain constant, regardless of the level of production or sales. Examples include rent, salaries, insurance, and utilities.
  • Variable costs: variable costs, on the other hand, are directly tied to the level of production or sales. These fluctuate in proportion to the volume of goods or services produced. Examples of variable costs include raw materials, direct labour, and shipping costs.
  • Selling price: the amount you charge customers for your product or service.

Quality accounting software can be an invaluable part of the break-even analysis, helping you surface the most accurate information.

Types of break-even analysis

Here, we will explore three of the most common ways to assess your break-even point, including: unit break-even analysis, sales break-even analysis, and time break-even analysis.

Unit break-even analysis:

Unit break-even analysis focuses on determining the number of units a business needs to sell to cover its total costs and reach a break-even point. This analysis takes into account the fixed and variable costs.


Break-even units = fixed costs ÷ (selling price per unit – variable costs per unit)


A toy company that wants to introduce a new product to the market could use this method to determine the number of units it needs to sell to cover all its costs and start making a profit.

Sales break-even analysis

Sales break-even analysis determines the number of sales required to reach the break-even point. Instead of focusing on the number of units, this analysis looks at the sales volume in terms of monetary value. It takes into account the fixed costs, variable costs, and the unit selling price.


Break-even sales = fixed costs ÷ (1 – variable costs ratio)


A high-street retail chain with multiple stores and wants to evaluate the profitability of each location could use this method to determine the minimum sales revenue required to cover all fixed and variable costs for each of its stores. This method would also help the company identify stores that are not meeting their break-even point, and that may require restructuring or closure. 

It would also allow the chain to compare the performance of its different stores, helping inform their decisions on store expansion or whether to hire more staff.

Time break-even analysis

Time break-even analysis allows you to estimate how long it will take to reach the break-even point and recoup your initial company investments.

This analysis considers the fixed costs, variable costs, and the expected sales revenue over a specific period. 

By analysing the monthly or yearly net cash flow, businesses can determine the time required to recover their initial investment and begin generating profits. Time break-even analysis is particularly useful when evaluating the viability of new ventures or projects with significant upfront costs.


Break-even time = fixed costs ÷ (sales – variable costs per unit) per time period


A startup company that has developed a new software application and has started seeking external funding may use this method. Because investors want to understand when the company is projected to achieve profitability, the company can use this method to estimate the time it will take to reach the break-even point. 

This is crucial information for the company to be able to communicate in order for confidence in the company to be secured, and for investment decisions to go ahead.

Factors affecting your break-even point

There are various factors that can impact your break-even point:

  • Fixed and variable costs: the higher these costs are, the higher they raise the break-even point because more revenue is needed to cover expenses.
  • Selling price: a higher selling price lowers the break-even point, while a lower selling price raises it.
  • Market demand: the level of market demand for a product or service can significantly impact the break-even point. Increased demand can lead to a lower break-even point since more units can be sold, spreading the fixed costs over a larger sales volume. This allows the business to achieve profitability quickly. Decreased demand may raise the break-even point as fewer units are sold, resulting in higher costs per unit and a longer time to break even.
  • Competition: competition within the industry also plays a role when determining the break-even point. In a highly competitive market, intense competition can put pressure on pricing strategies, so a careful cost analysis would be necessary to maintain a viable break-even point.

How do you use your break-even analysis?

Break-even analysis offers valuable insights that can guide your business decisions by helping you to:

  • Set prices: by knowing your break-even point, you can establish pricing strategies that ensure profitability.
  • Plan production: understanding your break-even point helps optimise production levels and avoid over/underproduction.
  • Make financial decisions: break-even analysis assists with the assessment of the financial feasibility of new projects, expansions, or cost-cutting measures.

What are the limitations of break-even analysis?

While break-even analysis is a valuable tool, it has certain limitations:

  • Estimates: your break-even point will always be based on estimates and assumptions about cost behaviour, sales volume, and other factors that, ultimately, may not always hold true in the end. While it is still a worthwhile practice, this is something to keep in mind.
  • Static analysis: break-even analysis assumes a constant cost structure, neglecting potential changes over time.
  • Cash flow: it does not consider the timing of cash inflow and outflow, which is vital for managing liquidity.


Break-even analysis is a crucial tool that every business should have in their business plan as it provides valuable insights into profitability, pricing strategies, production planning, and decision-making. By understanding and calculating your break-even point, you can make better-informed choices that will directly impact the success of your business.

Although it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of break-even analysis – such as its simplifications and assumptions – the knowledge it provides should empower you to set realistic goals, evaluate the feasibility of new ventures, and make adjustments to your operations to ensure long-term sustainability.

So, don’t overlook the power of a break-even analysis. As part of your small business toolkit, it can help you make smart, informed decisions that could contribute to the exponential growth of your business.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the difference between unit break-even analysis and sales break-even analysis?
    Unit break-even analysis calculates the number of units that need to be sold to break even. Sales break-even analysis calculates the sales revenue that needs to be generated to break even.
  • What is the difference between time break-even analysis and unit break-even analysis?
    Time break-even analysis calculates the time it will take to break even, given a certain level of sales. Unit break-even analysis calculates the number of units that need to be sold to break even.
  • What are the limitations of break-even analysis?
    Break-even analysis is based on a number of assumptions, including that costs and revenue are linear. It is also a static analysis, which means it does not take into account changes in the business environment. Finally, the break-even analysis does not take into account cash flow.
Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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