While optimism is vital, understanding your business’s financial position tomorrow is equally crucial. Regularly tracking your cash flow and mastering the art of periodic cash flow projections can safeguard your business from future financial woes. If you’re unfamiliar with cash flow projections, this comprehensive guide will lead you through the essentials.
What is a cash flow projection?
Cash flow projections involve forecasting the inflow and outflow of funds within your small business. As the term implies, this approach relies on predicting future business performance through the analysis of cash flow – the net sum of actual cash and “cash equivalents” moving into and out of your business.
This movement is facilitated by accounts payable and accounts receivable. Accounts payable signifies outgoing funds, whereas accounts receivable pertains to incoming funds.
Why is cash flow projection important?
Cash serves as the beating heart of any business, providing the essential flow that keeps operations running. Over time, negative cash flow can breed a spectrum of challenges for a business to grapple with.
The realm of cash flow challenges is one most businesses inevitably traverse. A survey conducted by QuickBooks underscored this, revealing that 60% of small business owners have contended with cash flow issues. While negative cash flow can present hurdles, preplanning can offer a smoother path for mitigation. Here’s where the invaluable role of cash flow projections emerges.
It’s a common misconception for business proprietors to gauge their enterprise’s vitality through assets, intellectual property, and similar metrics. Though these elements hold significance for attracting investors or facilitating business sales, they don’t bear the weight of predicting future business performance, nor do they factor into the realm of cash flow computations.
Regularly engaging in cash flow projections carries substantial weight, steering your business toward a better-informed future. Instead of crafting pivotal strategies based solely on current circumstances, cash flow projections tap into historical data, offering a more accurate blueprint for what lies ahead. Equipped with the right tools, generating precise cash flow forecasts becomes an efficient process, liberating you from manual calculations or spreadsheet sorcery.
Cash flow projection vs. cash flow forecast
In essence, cash flow projections and cash flow forecasts refer to the same concept. Both serve as techniques for anticipating a business’s financial trajectory. Small business owners can seamlessly interchange these terms.
How to perform a cash flow projection
Entrepreneurs must dedicate effort to grasp the intricacies of their cash flow – not solely for constructing robust projections, but also for spotting prospects and anticipating potential shortfalls. Embrace the following guidelines to craft a comprehensive month-to-month, year-long cash flow projection. Alternatively, utilize them as a starting point for in-depth discussions with your bookkeeper concerning your cash flow projections.
1. Estimate your sales
To lay the foundation for an accurate cash flow projection, initiate the process by approximating your sales. Begin by analyzing the figures from the previous year as documented in your financial statements. This retrospective evaluation aids in anticipating the cash influx your business might encounter in the upcoming months of the next year. Within your monthly income statements, both credit and cash sales can be identified. However, while history often informs the future, it’s essential to incorporate potential adjustments.
For instance, the entry of a competitor into your market might necessitate a downward adjustment in your sales forecasts. Conversely, introducing a novel product or service to your offerings could potentially trigger a modest surge in cash inflow, particularly in the immediate term.
If you operate a fledgling business without an established sales history, leveraging industry research becomes crucial to formulate a reasonable sales projection. Be meticulous in estimating sales for each month, not merely the year as a whole.
2. Calculate when you will be paid based on the terms you offer
If your business predominantly engages in cash sales or instant customer payments, you can proceed without this step.
This phase caters to business proprietors who provide credit lines, send invoices, or handle multiple payments per sale. The aim is to anticipate the timing of cash inflows from your sales. This entails calculating your Days Sales Outstanding (DSO).
The DSO computation begins by dividing your monthly accounts receivable by your total sales. This quotient is then multiplied by the number of days in the month. The DSO formula is as follows:
(Monthly accounts receivable ÷ total sales) x days in the month = DSO
The DSO provides insight into the average days taken to receive payment from customers. For instance, if you offer 30-day payment terms to clients, the DSO reveals the actual average time it takes to receive payment. This figure can then be integrated into your estimations.
3. Estimate your fixed and variable expenses
Next, it’s essential to project your monthly fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses, such as rent, employee salaries, and insurance, remain consistent over time, providing a stable baseline.
On the other hand, variable expenses are subject to shifts based on sales. For instance, shipping costs vary based on the volume of products sold and shipped. Similar fluctuations occur in packaging, raw materials, commissions, and labor expenses, all influenced by your sales volume.
Just as you’ve done for sales projections, apply the same estimation process to your fixed and variable expenses for each month of the upcoming year. If you have an accountant overseeing your accounts payable, they can provide valuable insights. They’ll help analyze your sales records and formulate a projection for the upcoming year.
If you’re tackling this process independently, create a spreadsheet with separate columns for fixed and variable costs, and sum them up. Variable costs may be more intricate, requiring a breakdown of components such as material, labor, and product expenses. If you’ve already calculated your breakeven point, you can source much of this data from that analysis as well.
4. Put it all together
With all the necessary numbers at your disposal, it’s time to piece them together for a comprehensive view. Here’s your guide on how to run your projected cash flow for the current month:
Start by taking the cash balance from the previous month’s operations. Add in the projected receipts for this month, factoring in your Days Sales Outstanding (DSO). Then, deduct your projected expenses using the following formula:
(Last month’s cash balance + current month’s projected receipts) – projected expenses = current month’s projected cash flow
Once completed, you can extend this calculation to forecast your cash flow for the upcoming month or even the next 12 months. Carry the balance from the current month’s projected cash flow over to the subsequent month, and repeat the aforementioned steps. Continue this process for the succeeding 12 months.
If the process feels overwhelming, consider leveraging accounting software to streamline the generation of cash flow projections. Some experts also advise crafting both best-case and worst-case scenarios to yield a more realistic projection, as your actual cash flow will likely fall somewhere in between.
4 benefits to cash flow projections
After mastering the art of crafting cash flow projections, you’ll uncover a multitude of advantages in gauging future performance through this strategic approach.
1. Understand your money and where it goes
For numerous small business proprietors, available cash can swiftly diminish. The demands of bills and unforeseen emergencies can deplete your business’s cash reserves and disrupt growth plans. This underscores the importance of gauging when to adapt and when to maintain your current trajectory.
Conducting a cash flow analysis can unearth consistent contributors to negative cash flow, while also offering insights into moments historically suitable for investments or expenditures. Subsequently, a cash flow projection aids in comprehending and foreseeing forthcoming cash inflows and outflows.
2. Make more confident business decisions
According to QuickBooks, a significant 59% of small business owners admit to having made poor business decisions due to worries about insufficient cash flow. Cash flow projections, however, go beyond just enhancing your comprehension – they empower you to take decisive actions.
By gaining insights into your business’s projected performance in the upcoming months, based on real cash flow data, you can make decisions backed by knowledge. This newfound understanding allows you to confidently evaluate whether it’s the right moment to seize a new opportunity or set funds aside. For example, even if your current situation indicates negative cash flow, a positive projection for the next month could suggest that postponing investments might not be necessary.
3. Convince others to trust your plans
Budgets serve as your navigational guide, but it’s the cash flow projections that vividly illustrate your business’s trajectory to both internal and external stakeholders. From those within your organization to potential partners, a robust financial outlook is crucial for instilling confidence in your business’s financial well-being. By aligning cash flow statements with forward-looking cash flow forecasts, you can effectively communicate your business’s current and future performance.
The precision of your financial statements and the foresight embedded in cash flow forecasts play pivotal roles in securing essential resources for your business’s growth. Whether it’s obtaining a business loan to fuel expansion, attracting new investors, securing lucrative contracts, or enhancing your company’s appeal to potential buyers, a well-founded cash flow projection stands as a catalyst for these endeavors.
4. Prevent problems before they arise
While cash flow projections might not foresee every event, they are a valuable tool for proactive preparation. For instance, identifying periods of peak cash flow in your business presents an opportune moment to set aside surplus funds into an emergency reserve. This buffer can provide security against unexpected downturns, maintaining a buffer against unfavorable cash flow.
Consider the scenario of unpaid invoices. Through a cash flow projection, you could uncover trends where outstanding payments accumulate at specific times. Armed with this insight, you can avert such issues by implementing additional communication strategies or offering early payment incentives as a preventive measure.
Cash flow projections, while simple in concept, yield remarkable benefits. While confronting your authentic cash flow might be a reality check, this insight serves as a catalyst for informed choices that foster responsible business expansion.
Incorporate cash flow forecasting into your business regimen, conducting it at least annually to effectively navigate fluctuations. This practice not only aligns you closely with your business but also instills a sense of certainty in your trajectory.
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