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How to Determine Your Salary as a Small Business Owner


By Bola Onada Sokunbi
, Clever Girl Finance

As a small business owner, one of your biggest concerns may be how to pay yourself a salary, especially as your business starts making money. Sure, you’ve heard the stories of the founders who didn’t take a salary for several years and lived on someone’s couch while they grew their business, but that scenario is not realistic for everyone and for the most part, you need money to pay your bills and live your life while you are growing your business. So what do you do? Fortunately, you can figure out how to determine your salary as a business owner in two easy steps from Credibly.

How to Determine Your Salary, Step 1: Subtract Your Business Expenses From Your Sales

The first thing you want to do before you pay yourself a salary is make sure your business will remain afloat. This means making sure that your operating expenses are paid first (including your tax estimates).

Your monthly business operating expenses as a total amount is something you should be tracking in your business budget.  For the most part, a lot of your operating expenses will be fixed each month e.g. rent, website hosting, salaries, etc., but when it comes to your variable expenses, you’ll have to make estimates based on what you know is coming up.

Your business taxes are dependent on how much your business is making, and is something you can calculate on a month-to-month basis based on your earnings.

How to Determine Your Salary, Step 2: Break Things Down Into Percentages

After you have paid your operating expenses, you can take what you have left over from your business earnings in that given month and break things out into percentages. For example, your break out could be as follows:

  • 20% towards your business emergency fund or cash reserves account. Ideally you want to have at least six months of business expenses available in this account to help weather a business decline (i.e. for operating expenses, salaries etc).
  • 30% towards your estimated taxes. This way you are not overwhelmed with figuring out how to come up with funds to pay a large tax bill, depending on how much money your business has earned.
  • 20% to put back into the business towards new projects, marketing, branding and other business needs outside of your typical expenses to keep your business growing.
  • 30% as a salary to yourself

Once your business starts making a consistent income or a large amount of money, you definitely want to consider paying yourself a base salary. This way, you are not pulling out too much money to pay yourself and instead you can implement a bonus system for you (and your employees) where you earn a bonus based on how profitable the company is over the course of the year.


Paying yourself a salary does not have to complicated but keep in mind that if your business is still in the early phases of growth and becoming profitable, you want to be mindful of much money you are pulling out to pay yourself a salary. You don’t have to live on someone’s couch but at the same time paying yourself a salary should not bankrupt your business.

If your business is not yet profitable, it might not be a bad idea to have a part-time job to earn extra income, if your schedule permits it, until your business starts earning a profit.

For more business ownership tips from Bola Onada Sokunbi, follow Clever Girl Finance on Facebook and Twitter.

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