Small business owners soon learn that Cash Flow and Profit are not one and the same thing. The two may be related but are not always in concert. There can be high profits reported during a period of extremely tight cash flow and low profits reported during a cash rich period.
Profitability is based on invoicing and the relationship of costs, either expended or accrued, to those sales. The actual payment of expenses or receipt of invoice payments can, and often do, occur in periods different that when the sales occurred, so that cash flow can be widely different from reported profit in any period.
Cash Flow is based on changes in cash balance and can be affected by changes in assets that don’t affect profitability. Allowing inventories to build or accounts receivable to go uncollected and grow can have a tremendous cash draining effect on the business. In effect you are converting cash to an investment in these other assets.
During a period of strong growth even a very profitable business can (and usually will) experience cash flow problems. Therefore, corporate growth or sales success should not be viewed as a reason to stop performing a cash flow forecast. On the contrary, it is more important, even critical, that management has access to timely cash management information during growth periods.
Just as many businesses have succumbed to poor cash management as have been adversely affected by bad profitability. It is imperative, therefore, that cash be monitored and managed efficiently, separate and apart from budgeting and auditing of profit performance.
There are two types of cash flow forecasting that can be done: short term and long term. We focus in this article on short term forecasting only.
What a Cash Flow Forecast Is and Does
A cash flow projection is a forecast of anticipated cash expenditures and receipts over a time span. Typically for short term forecasting the time period is expressed in weeks and covers a projection of 4 to 8 weeks out. As a minimum, the cash flow forecast should take into consideration the following possibilities:
CASH RECEIVED (each week):
Cash Balance Day1, Week 1
Accounts Receivable Payments
Draw from Line of Credit
Loan Proceeds or Stockholder Funding
CASH EXPENDITURES – Recurring Expenditures
Payroll Taxes & Fees
Utilities (Gas & Electric, Water/Sewer/Trash)
Telephone (Office, Cell, Pagers/Answering Services)
Computer Services (Internet, Maintenance, Equipment Lease)
Other Equipment Leases or Loan Payments
Vehicle Lease and Loan Payments
Insurance (Health, Business, Life, Property)
CASH EXPENDITURES – Accounts Payable
Vendor Payments for Merchandise (by Invoice)
Vendor Payments for Services (by Invoice)
All Other Non-Recurring Payments
You can devise a spreadsheet that accounts for all these items or purchase a pre-designed system that automates the forecasting process and tracks payments, including the ability to adjust receipt and payment dates quickly and easily. One such system is available at the reference given at the Bio at the end of this article.
The goal of cash flow forecasting is to determine deficiencies or excesses in cash position that may occur in the business during the periods for which the projection is prepared. In the event projected cash balance goes negative or below a safety factor, financial plans must be altered, either to provide more cash through aggressive collections, loans, draws on lines of credit, increased (cash) sales, and/or delaying payments as necessary, until a proper cash balance is reached.
If excessive cash is projected, it may indicate idle money that could be put to other possible uses such as prepaying expenses or for investment into short-term money market instruments.
The objective is to develop a plan that, if followed, will provide a well-managed flow of cash and its efficient, optimum use.