Small Business Glossary

Variable Cost

Variable Costs are expenses that change in relation to production volume, like direct materials and labour. They increase or decrease, corresponding to activity.

In the realm of small business, the term 'Variable Cost' holds a significant position. It is a fundamental concept that every aspiring entrepreneur and established business owner should understand thoroughly. The term 'Variable Cost' refers to those costs that change in proportion to the volume of goods or services that a business produces. Unlike fixed costs, which remain constant regardless of the level of production, variable costs fluctuate based on the business's operational activity.

Understanding variable costs is crucial for small businesses, as it directly impacts their profitability and sustainability. It plays a pivotal role in pricing strategies, budgeting, and financial planning. By comprehending the nature and implications of variable costs, small businesses can make informed decisions, optimise their operations, and enhance their financial performance.

Components of Variable Cost

Variable costs encompass a wide range of expenses that a business incurs. These costs are directly associated with the production and delivery of goods or services. The more a business produces or sells, the higher these costs will be. Conversely, if the business's production or sales volume decreases, these costs will decrease as well.

It's important to note that what constitutes a variable cost can differ from one business to another, depending on the nature of their operations. However, some common examples of variable costs include raw materials, direct labour costs, and utilities like electricity and water used in the production process.

Raw Materials

Raw materials are a primary component of variable costs. These are the essential elements that a business uses to produce its goods or services. The cost of raw materials is directly proportional to the quantity produced. For instance, if a bakery needs two kilograms of flour to bake a batch of bread, the cost of flour will double if the bakery decides to bake two batches.

Therefore, managing the cost of raw materials effectively can significantly influence a business's profitability. Businesses can do this by negotiating better prices with suppliers, reducing waste, or finding alternative materials that are less expensive but do not compromise the quality of the end product.

Direct Labour Costs

Direct labour costs are another significant component of variable costs. These are the wages paid to employees who are directly involved in the production process. Similar to raw materials, direct labour costs increase with an increase in production volume.

For instance, if a restaurant needs to hire more chefs and waitstaff to cater to increased customer demand, the cost of wages will increase. Therefore, effective management of labour costs, such as optimising staff schedules and improving operational efficiency, can help businesses control their variable costs.


Utilities such as electricity, water, and gas used in the production process are also considered variable costs. The more a business produces, the more utilities it will consume. For example, a manufacturing plant that operates machinery will use more electricity when production volumes increase.

While utilities are a necessary expense for businesses, they can be managed to some extent. Businesses can invest in energy-efficient equipment, implement energy-saving practices, or negotiate better rates with utility providers to reduce these costs.

Impact of Variable Costs on Profitability

Variable costs have a direct impact on a business's profitability. The relationship between variable costs and sales revenue determines the gross profit margin, a key indicator of a business's financial health. If a business can manage its variable costs effectively, it can improve its gross profit margin and overall profitability.

However, if variable costs rise without a corresponding increase in sales revenue, the gross profit margin will shrink, potentially leading to financial difficulties. Therefore, understanding and managing variable costs is crucial for a business's financial success.

Cost-Volume-Profit Analysis

Cost-Volume-Profit (CVP) analysis is a useful tool that businesses can use to understand the relationship between variable costs, sales volume, and profitability. It helps businesses determine the sales volume needed to cover all costs and start making a profit.

By using CVP analysis, businesses can make informed decisions about pricing strategies, production volumes, and cost management. It can also help businesses forecast the impact of changes in variable costs, sales volume, and price on their profitability.

Break-Even Analysis

Break-even analysis is another important tool that businesses can use to manage their variable costs. It helps businesses determine the sales volume at which total revenue equals total costs, i.e., the point at which the business neither makes a profit nor incurs a loss.

Understanding the break-even point can help businesses set realistic sales targets, price their products or services appropriately, and make strategic decisions about cost management. If a business's variable costs are too high, it may need to increase its sales volume significantly to reach the break-even point, which could be challenging.

Variable Costs and Pricing Strategies

Variable costs play a crucial role in a business's pricing strategies. The cost-plus pricing method, for instance, involves adding a markup to the total cost (including both fixed and variable costs) to determine the selling price. Therefore, if a business's variable costs increase, it may need to increase its prices to maintain its profit margins.

However, businesses also need to consider market conditions and customer demand when setting prices. If the market is highly competitive, or if customers are price-sensitive, businesses may not be able to pass on the increased costs to customers through higher prices. In such cases, they may need to find ways to reduce their variable costs to maintain profitability.

Cost-Plus Pricing

Cost-plus pricing is a straightforward method that businesses can use to set their prices. It involves adding a markup to the total cost of producing a product or service. The total cost includes both fixed and variable costs. Therefore, if variable costs increase, the selling price under the cost-plus pricing method will also increase.

However, while cost-plus pricing is simple and ensures that all costs are covered, it does not take into account market conditions or customer demand. Therefore, businesses need to use this method judiciously and consider other factors when setting prices.

Value-Based Pricing

Value-based pricing, on the other hand, involves setting prices based on the perceived value of a product or service to customers. While costs are still a consideration, the primary focus is on the value that customers derive from the product or service.

Under this method, even if variable costs increase, businesses may not necessarily increase their prices if they believe that customers may not perceive the product or service to be worth the higher price. Instead, they may need to find ways to reduce their variable costs or enhance the perceived value to maintain their profit margins.

Managing Variable Costs

Managing variable costs effectively is crucial for a business's financial success. By reducing variable costs, businesses can improve their gross profit margin, increase their profitability, and enhance their financial sustainability.

There are several strategies that businesses can use to manage their variable costs. These include improving operational efficiency, negotiating better prices with suppliers, reducing waste, and investing in cost-effective technology.

Improving Operational Efficiency

Improving operational efficiency can help businesses reduce their variable costs. This involves optimising the production process to use resources more efficiently. For example, businesses can implement lean manufacturing principles to eliminate waste, reduce defects, and improve productivity.

By improving operational efficiency, businesses can produce more with the same amount of resources, effectively reducing their variable costs per unit of output. This can lead to significant cost savings and improved profitability.

Negotiating Better Prices with Suppliers

Negotiating better prices with suppliers is another effective strategy to manage variable costs. By building strong relationships with suppliers and leveraging their purchasing power, businesses can negotiate lower prices for raw materials and other inputs.

Lower input costs can lead to lower variable costs, improving the business's gross profit margin and profitability. However, businesses need to ensure that cost reductions do not compromise the quality of their products or services.

Investing in Cost-Effective Technology

Investing in cost-effective technology can also help businesses manage their variable costs. Technology can improve operational efficiency, reduce waste, and lower labour costs. For example, automation can reduce the need for manual labour, while advanced manufacturing technologies can improve productivity and reduce waste.

While investing in technology involves an upfront cost, the long-term savings in variable costs can more than offset this cost. Therefore, businesses need to consider the potential cost savings when evaluating the return on investment of technology.


Understanding and managing variable costs is crucial for the financial success of small businesses. Variable costs have a direct impact on profitability and play a significant role in pricing strategies and financial planning. By understanding the components of variable costs and using tools like CVP analysis and break-even analysis, businesses can make informed decisions and enhance their financial performance.

Effective management of variable costs involves strategies like improving operational efficiency, negotiating better prices with suppliers, and investing in cost-effective technology. By implementing these strategies, businesses can reduce their variable costs, improve their gross profit margin, and increase their profitability.

Remember, the journey of entrepreneurship is filled with challenges and opportunities. Understanding the financial aspects, such as variable costs, is a stepping stone towards success. So, embrace the learning process, apply your knowledge, and let your small business thrive in the competitive marketplace.

Why waste time on financial admin when Thriday can do it for you?

Already have an account? Login here
Thriday Debit Card