Business Planning Papers:
businesses fail for lack of cash than for want of profit. To
avoid running out of cash:
When planning the short- or long-term funding requirements of a business, it is more important to forecast the likely cash requirements than to project profitability etc. Whilst profit, the difference between sales and costs within a specified period, is a vital indicator of the performance of a business, the generation of a profit does not necessarily guarantee its development, or even the survival. Bear in mind that more businesses fail for lack of cash flow than for want of profit.
Sales and costs and, therefore, profits do not necessarily coincide with their associated cash inflows and outflows. While, a sale may have been secured and goods delivered, the related payment may be deferred as a result of giving credit to the customer. At the same time, payments must be made to suppliers, staff etc., cash must be invested in rebuilding depleted stocks, new equipment may have to be purchased etc. For further information on the cash cycle and working capital, click here.
The net result is that cash receipts often lag cash payments and, whilst profits may be reported, the business may experience a short-term cash shortfall. For this reason it is essential to forecast cash flows as well as project likely profits.
The following simplified example illustrates the timing differences between profits and cash flows:
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This shows that the cash associated with the reported profit for Month 1 will not fully materialize until Month 3 and that a serious cash short- fall will be experienced during Month 1 when receipts from sales will total only $20,000 as compared with cash payments to suppliers of $40,000.
Our Exl-Plan range of financial planners generate fully integrated profit & loss accounts with cashflow statements and balance sheets for up to five years ahead and Cashflow Plan is a specialist cashflow planner covering 12 months ahead, with weekly projections for the initial three months.
3. Calculating Cashflow
Normally, the main sources of cash inflows to a business are receipts from sales, increases in bank loans, proceeds of share issues and asset disposals, and other income such as interest earned. Cash outflows include payments to suppliers and staff, capital and interest repayments for loans, dividends, taxation and capital expenditure.
Net cash flow is the difference between the inflows and outflows within a given period. A projected cumulative positive net cash flow over several periods highlights the capacity of a business to generate surplus cash and, conversely, a cumulative negative cash flow indicates the amount of additional cash required to sustain the business.
Cashflow planning entails forecasting and tabulating all significant cash inflows relating to sales, new loans, interest received etc. and then analyzing in detail the timing of expected payments relating to suppliers, wages, other expenses, capital expenditure, loan repayments, dividends, tax, interest payments etc. The difference between the cash in- and out-flows within a given period indicates the net cash flow. When this net cash flow is added to or subtracted from opening bank balances, any likely short-term bank funding requirements can be ascertained.
4. Using a Computer to Forecast Cashflow
With the aid of a computer and suitable software, a mathematical model can be used to prepare cash flow projections and project short-term banking requirements for a business. The use of a computer-based model reduces the tedium of carrying out numerous repetitive calculations and simplifies the alteration of assumptions and the presentation of results. A computer-based model can be constructed using a spreadsheet or acquired as a stand-alone package. If constructing a spreadsheet model, be aware that it is not as easy as it might seem to build a friendly, robust and error-free planner.
A cash flow model can be used to compile forecasts, assess possible funding requirements and explore the likely financial consequences of alternative strategies. Used effectively, a model can help prevent major planning errors, anticipate problems, identify opportunities to improve cash flow or provide a basis for negotiating short-term funding from a bank.
Generally, when seeking external funding, the time horizon covered by a set of projections should be equal to or greater than the period for which the funding is needed. The greater the amount of funding required and the longer the period of exposure for the provider of these funds, the more comprehensive must be the supporting projections and plan.
Typically, a computer model for short-term bank planning uses assumptions on sales, costs, credit, funding etc. to produce monthly cash flow projections for up to a year ahead. The initial assumptions can be readily altered to evaluate alternative scenarios. For example, a model could be used to explore the extent to which future sales could be increased whilst holding bank borrowings within predetermined limits; to assess the effects on cash flow of varying sales, costs or credit terms; or to determine the likely short-term funding requirements for a business.
Once assumptions on sales, expense payments etc. have been established, a model can be used to produce the cash flow projections which, in turn, indicate the likely future cash balances or banking requirements.
However, the quality of these projections will be completely determined by the standard and reliability of the underlying assumptions. For example, if forecasts for sales, working capital or costs are unrealistic or inadequately researched, then the value of the model's output is greatly diminished. An impressive set of projections is of little benefit if it is unsupported by experience or research or based on mere speculation. In fact, they could be very damaging, or even destroy the business.
5. Planning to Project Cashflow
Before using a model for short-term cash flow forecasting, a manager or entrepreneur should:
To produce regularly-updated cashflow projections, have a look at Cashflow Plan, our range of fully-integrated cashflow planners which generate projections for 12 months ahead and incorporate a roll-forward facility to simplify updating of projections. Details and free/trial version downloads.
6. Planning Pitfalls when Forecasting Cash Flow
When preparing cash flow projections, be aware of the dangers of:
These problems can arise as the result of a lack of foresight or knowledge, or because of excessive optimism. They can lead to under-estimation of the cash and other resources required to sustain or develop a business with potentially disastrous consequences.
When forecasting bank requirements and preparing cash flow projections, realistic views should always be taken about future prospects. There is often merit in compiling "worst" case projections to complement "most likely" or "best" forecasts and to accept that the "worst" case might occur and to plan accordingly. Our software planners, Exl-Plan and Cashflow Plan, offer extensive facilities for doing sensitivity analyses.
7. Ways of Improving Cash Flow
Once the cash flow projections have been prepared, they should be critically examined and used as a management tool to control and improve the business's expected cash position. Issues which might be examined include the following:
You can view/print a copy of this table in the form of a management checklist here.
Once a set of cash flow projections have been prepared, a computer model, like Exl-Plan and Cashflow Plan, can be used to explore the impact of alternative measures, such as those described above, on the net cash flow and on bank requirements.
Check out the quotations on our page of Quotations to read what other people have to say about cash.
For further information on planning issues, see other papers in this series which deal with financial planning, strategic planning, devising business strategies, managing working capital and the preparation of business plans.
9. Introducing PlanWare
PlanWare develops and sells a range of financial planning packages - Exl-Plan and Cashflow Plan - for businesses of all sizes & types. Trial versions of all products can be downloaded from our PlanWare site and many other sources on the 'Net.
We also offer an extensive range of commercial software for writing business plans, market planning, assessing business ideas and evaluating strategies.
PlanWare also features:
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