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Business Planning Papers:
Making Cash Flow Forecasts

Page Contents

  1. Importance of Cash Flow
  2. Cash Flow vs Profit
  3. Calculating Cashflow
  4. Using a Computer to Forecast Cashflow
  5. Planning to Project Cashflow
  6. Planning Pitfalls when Forecasting Cash Flow
  7. Ways of Improving Cash Flow
  8. Conclusion
  9. Introducing PlanWare
  10. Copyright & Legal Stuff

More businesses fail for lack of cash than for want of profit. To avoid running out of cash:
     - Use Cashflow Plan to anticipate your cash needs
     - See Checklist for Improving Cashflow*
     *Cashflow Plan contains a dynamic checklist linked to your actual projections.


1. Importance of Cash Flow

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.

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2. Cash Flow vs 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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Income Statement: Month 1
Sales ($000) 75
Costs ($000) 65
Profit ($000) 10

Cashflows relating to Month 1: Month 1 Month 2 Month 3 Total
Receipts from sales ($000) 20 35 20 75
Payments to suppliers etc. ($000) 40 20 5 65
Net cash flow ($000) (20) 15 15 10
Cumulative net cash flow ($000) (20) (5) 10 10

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.

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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.

If you need 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.

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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.

Our Exl-Plan range can be used to compile 3-5 year cash flow projections by month for the first year, by quarter for the next two years and annually for the final two years. Also, 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.

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.

Get a Cash Flow Planner for Free
Cashflow Plan Free generates comprehensive short-term cashflow and financial projections. It is useful in its own right and a great introduction to our Cashflow Plan and Exl-Plan ranges. Get details and download.

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5. Planning to Project Cashflow

Before using a model for short-term cash flow forecasting, a manager or entrepreneur should:

  • Decide the central purpose of the exercise (internal planning and control, negotiate a loan etc.).
  • Identify the target audience (directors, bank manager etc.)
  • Set the time intervals and horizon (e.g. monthly for twelve months)
  • Sort out the level of detail required.
  • Check that all the necessary key assumptions and data are to hand and have been adequately researched.
  • Compile opening balances for all items which will involve cash flows within the forecasting period.
  • Think through the likely impact of the critical assumptions on the cash flow projections. If necessary, prepare preliminary forecasts manually to confirm their overall direction and consider the underlying strategic issues relating to sales, funding, costs, stocks etc. As a guide, sales forecasts and debtor & creditor terms are likely to have the most profound impacts on short-term cash flows.

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.

Get Help with Cash
Flow Planning
financial projections Cashflow Plan - Comprehensive Cash Flow Forecasts
Requires: Excel 5, 7, 8, 95, 97, 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, 2010 or 2013 with Windows. 95/98/
Me/NT/2000/XP/Vista/Win7
Prices: Free to US$ 199.
Details  Trial Downloads
Buy + Use Now

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6. Planning Pitfalls when Forecasting Cash Flow

When preparing cash flow projections, be aware of the dangers of:

  • Overstating sales forecasts
  • Underestimating costs and delays likely to be encountered
  • Ignoring historic trends or performances by debtors etc.
  • Making unduly-optimistic assumptions about the availability of bank loans, credit, grants, equity etc.
  • Seeking spurious accuracy whilst failing to recognize matters of strategic importance

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.

Get Help with Financial
Projections
financial projections Exl-Plan - Integrated Multi- Year Financial Planner
Requires: Excel 5, 7, 8, 95, 97, 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, 2010 or 2013 with Windows 95/98/
Me/NT/2000/XP/Vista/Win7.
Prices: Free to US$ 289.
Details  Trial Downloads
Buy + Use Now

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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:

30+ Ways of Improving Net Cashflow
  1. Increase sales (particularly those involving cash payments).
  2. Reduce direct and indirect costs and overhead expenses.
  3. Defer discretionary projects which cannot achieve acceptable cash paybacks (e.g. within one year ???).
  4. Increase prices especially to slow payers.
  5. Review the payment performances of customers - involve sales force.
  6. Become more selective when granting credit.
  7. Seek deposits or multiple stage payments.
  8. Reduce the amount/time of credit given to customers.
  9. Bill as soon as work has been done or order fulfilled.
  10. Improve systems for billing and collection.
  11. Use the 80/20 rule to control inventories, receivables and payables.
  12. Improve systems for paying suppliers.
  13. Generate regular reports on receivable ratios and aging.
  14. Establish and adhere to sound credit practices - train staff.
  15. Use more pro-active collection techniques.
  16. Add late payment charges or fees where possible.
  17. Increase the credit taken from suppliers.
  18. Negotiate extended credit from suppliers.
  19. Make prompt payments only when worthwhile discounts apply.
  20. Reduce inventory (stock) levels and improve control over work-in-progress.
  21. Sell off or return obsolete/excess inventory.
  22. Utilize factoring, or discount facilities, to accelerate receipts from sales.
  23. Defer or re-stage all capital expenditure.
  24. Use alternative financing methods, such as leasing, to gain access to the use (but not ownership) of productive assets.
  25. Re-negotiate bank facilities to reduce charges.
  26. Seek to extend debt repayment periods.
  27. Net off or consolidate bank balances.
  28. Sell off surplus assets or make them productive.
  29. Enter into sale and lease-back arrangements for productive assets.
  30. Defer dividend payments.
  31. Raise additional equity.
  32. Convert debt into equity.
  33. Make medium- and short-term cashflow forecasts and update them regularly - see Cashflow Plan.

You can view/print a copy of this table in the form of a management checklist here.

More businesses fail for lack of cash than for want of profit. To avoid running out of cash:
     - Use Cashflow Plan to anticipate your cash needs
     - See Checklist for Improving Cashflow*
     *Cashflow Plan contains a dynamic checklist linked to your actual projections.

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.

Free Tools from PlanWare
  • Business financial planner for high-level, integrated 2-year projections using Excel - details and download links for Exl-Plan Free.
  • Excel-based, comprehensive, rolling 6-month cash flow planner - details and download links for Cashflow Plan Free.
  • Business plan template & guidelines (Word format) - details & download link for Free-Plan.
  • Online strategic planner for creating a 3-page strategic plan - details and sample plan.
  • More free tools here.

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8. Conclusion

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.

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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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10. Copyright & Legal Stuff

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  Financial  
 Projection 
  Software  
 Cashflow 
  Forecasting  
  Software  
  Business  
      Plan      
  Software  
  Marketing 
       Plan       
  Software  
  Strategic  
    Planning    
  Software  
  Business  
      Plan      
     Guide     
   Business   
   Planning   
   Freeware   
    Online     
  Planning   
      Tools      
   Business   
   Planning   
    Papers    
     Other     
     Items     
                     
PlanWare, Invest-Tech Limited, Ardmeen Park, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland
International Tel:
+353-1-283 4083
International Fax:
+353-1-278 2391
Email:
info@planware.org
WWW:
http://www.planware.org
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