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Determining Your Cost Structure [+What it is & Examples]

by Chenell Tull | Updated: January 6, 2021

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The cost structure piece of the business model canvas helps you create a list of all the costs you will incur to operate your business.

Now, when I say “all costs for your business”, I should clarify that these are the more important and bigger costs. But as you go through this example, if you come up with additional costs I would absolutely keep them on the list. It might be helpful to add a star next to those that are the bigger costs so you can differentiate.

Today’s Business Task: Go through the business model canvas and determine the top line items you’ll have for your business so you can start planning for them.

A Businesses Cost Structure

As with the last exercise in determining key activities, it’s going to be very helpful to look back on all the work you’ve done so far and use that as a guide to figuring out the costs you might take on.

As a reminder, here are the other pieces of the business model canvas you might want to use to jog your memory:

By taking a look at these, you should be able to figure out some costs you will be incurring as well as the type of cost structure you’ll be operating under. But there are probably some more we’ve missed. Let’s turn to the types of cost structures as well to find more.

Types of Cost Structures

Cost-Driven

These types of businesses are hyper-focused on minimizing costs wherever they can. They want to create the lowest price cost structure by taking advantage of systems, automation and outsourcing.

When making a buying decision, they rank cost above all other parts of a transaction.

Some examples of these businesses are:

Cost-driven brands tend to have less loyal customers than those who are driven by value, but that’s not to say these companies aren’t pulling in the big bucks. And I’d argue that there are a TON of people who are loyal to Walmart because they are saving money.

Value-Driven

Value-Driven cost structures are staples to companies that are more concerned about creating value than how much it costs them to do so.

Of course, every business needs to make money, so they aren’t just spending money on the most expensive options all the time. It just means that if it came between 2 options:

They would go with the $10 unit because they aren’t solely focused on being low cost.

Attributes of Cost Structures

It makes sense to talk about the characteristics of costs that come along with either business model because it helps us to determine those main drivers of the cost we’re looking to figure out.

Fixed Costs

Fixed costs are expenses/costs that stay the same no matter how many goods or services are sold. For example, rent or a mortgage is the same if you have 1 client or 10 clients, granted you don’t need to expand your space to accommodate those clients.

Here are some other examples of fixed expenses:

These are expenses that you must pay regardless of whether you have a bad month and have no clients, or if you have 100 clients they are generally the same.

Of course, some of these might vary slightly month to month, but overall they are the same.

Variable Costs

Compare those fixed expenses to variable costs, which change based on the amount of work you do.

Variable costs increase or decrease depending on a company’s production volume; they rise as production increases and fall as production decreases.

Examples of variable expenses:

Economies of Scale

These are benefits a company or business enjoys as their business grows. These benefits are such that they cause “cost per unit” or “cost per customer” to decrease as they produce more work.

Examples of Economies of Scale:

Here is an example of pricing that reflects economies of scale with a company called Jira. For smaller teams, the pricing ends up being around $10 per user. But if you have 11 or more people on your team it’s only $7 per user.

While this might be a basic example of this type of scale benefit, it’s still valid.

economies of scale pricing jira

As a company puts out more work, their vendors generally start giving discounts because they are providing them with more sales.

Economies of Scope

These are cost advantages that businesses get as they expand their operations scope.

Just because a company adds on a new product or service doesn’t mean they’ll get this benefit. It only works if the two services are well-aligned and share processes or use similar resources.

For example, for my marketing team we help clients run Facebook ads so we have marketing software, reporting tools, knowledge on how to run paid traffic, etc.

If I were to add in Google Ads as a service (which I already do, but it’s for the example!) then we would definitely benefit from economies of scale:

Now, if I ran Facebook ads and wanted to help clients with finding caterers for their events, there isn’t much overlap there and I would not be benefiting from economies of scale.

Cost Structure Example Exercise

Now, you can get as granular or broad as you’d like here, but it’s important to do enough to get a good understanding of what your cost structure will allow, and prohibit you from doing.

Here’s a basic example of how you can complete this as an example:

Type of Cost Structure: Value-driven

While cost is important to keep in mind, if we aren’t providing enough value we wouldn’t have any clients. The goal of the business is to help other businesses grow, and to do that we need to put our best foot forward, not our mediocre foot with a cheaper shoe on it.

Fixed Monthly Costs:

Variable Monthly Costs:

Economies of Scale:

Economies of Scope:

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Chenell Tull helps course creators with paid traffic campaigns. She quit her day job in June of 2017 and has been learning the wild world of entrepreneurship ever since. She's sharing what she's learned while building her own business from side hustle to full-time, and the software and marketing tools she can't live without.
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