What are lost opportunity costs and how do I measure them?

August 15, 2011

Many business owners know how to calculate fixed and variable costs related to providing goods and services, but there is another kind of cost known as lost opportunity costs that should be considered when weighing business decisions.

Lost opportunity costs may not be recognized in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), but they are very real. Savvy business owners understand how to measure them and respond to them as they arise.


Scale of lost opportunity verses risk

Think of lost opportunity costs this way. If your company has an opportunity to make a sale to a credit worthy customer that will generate a net profit margin greater than the cost of financing the project or service, then the opportunity should be considered. If the opportunity can’t generate enough profit to pay fixed, variable, and financing costs than perhaps it shouldn't be considered.

When measuring the cost of lost opportunities, you should estimate the cost of financing an opportunity in dollars rather than percentage points (APR). By estimating the total dollars that it will take to finance a project or large increase in business then comparing then to the amount of net profit the service or product will generate you can compare apples to apples.

As the economy rebounds, companies that have not thrived during the recession will have a difficult time finding new inexpensive credit. It will likely take showing several years of profitable growth to regain the ability to find traditional bank financing.

In order to finance growth during the recovery, many companies will have to turn to non-traditional forms of financing like factoring and asset-based loans. Often times alternative financing sources cost more than traditional sources, but may be still worthwhile to use while your company is building net profits and retained earnings.

Commercial finance companies often charge a discount rate for providing working capital financing to a business. That rate is customarily charged on the funds employed by the borrower with a discount fee range of .9% for 30 days to as much as 3% for 30 days use of proceeds. If your price will allow some adjustment to it, one of the ways to have your customer carry some or all of your financing cost is to add 2% to 3% the cost of a project or job. If you can do that you will be able to cover some or all of your financing costs and as long as your gross and net profit margins are in your target range, the decision to use an alternative commercial finance company is easy.

If you find that your company is starting to strain its working capital, think about opportunity costs. Either you can turn down a sale or project because you don’t have enough working capital or you can compute the opportunity costs. If they opportunity costs are less than the profit you will earn on the business, the alternative financing might be worthwhile.

Topics: Featured, Blog Posts, Accounting & Finance

Sam Thacker

Business Finance Solutions

Sam Thacker is a partner in Austin Texas-based Business Finance Solutions. He has spent the last 16 years in the banking and finance industry as a commercial lending officer, banking consultant and advocate for small business financing. He has originated over $400 million in loans to hundreds of businesses in many industries. Sam has been on the financing end of numerous businesses over his banking career. Sam is a nationally respected working capital finance professional and writer. In addition to helping small companies obtain working capital financing using a variety of assets, Sam writes a widely read finance column which appears three times a week in many traditional and online news outlets throughout the United States. He writes about the challenges of small business finance, accounting, and best business practices. He has been praised by readers for his ability to explain a complicated financial concept in easy to understand terms. Sam also writes a once a month business column for the Austin Business Journal . Sam regularly teaches classes at Texas State University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on financing small businesses, financing government contracts, and other topics of interest to small businesses.
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