Planning, Startups, Stories

Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Standard Business Plan Financials: How to Project Cash Flow

No matter what your business planning objectives, cash flow is still the most vital resource in the business, and managing cash is the single most important business function. Without cash, you go under. So I always assume cash flow is included in every kind of real business plan. And it is the most important component of standard business plan financials. This is another of my series on standard business plan financials.

After all, all the strategy, tactics, and ongoing business activities mean nothing if there isn’t enough money to pay the bills. And that’s what a cash flow projection is about – predicting your money needs in advance. You need to know how to project cash flow. profits-vs-cash-small

(Important: If you’re using LivePlan, life gets a lot easier for you. Please read LivePlan Cash Flow instead of this post. )

The Projected Cash Flow is what links the other two of the three essential projections, the Projected Profit and Loss and Projected Balance Sheet, together. The cash flow completes the system. It reconciles the Profit and Loss with the Balance.

Experts can be annoying. There are several ways to do a cash flow plan. Sometimes it seems like as soon as you use one method, somebody who is supposed to know tells you you’ve done it wrong. Often that means that expert doesn’t know enough to realize there is more than one way to do it.  I’m doing direct cash flow for this post. I may do indirect in a later post.

Direct Cash Flow

So here is a direct cash flow plan. You can see the potential complications and the need for linking up the numbers from the other statements. Your estimated receipts from accounts receivable must have a logical relationship to sales and the balance of accounts receivable. Likewise, your payments of accounts payable have to relate to the balances of payables and the costs and expenses that created the payables. Vital as this is to business survival, it is not nearly as intuitive as the sales forecast, personnel plan, or income statement. The mathematics and the financial projections are more complex.

Here’s a sample Projected Cash Flow for a bicycle shop, so you can see how that works:

Cash Flow Example


Estimating Receipts from Receivables

The first two rows of Garrett’s cash flow projection depend on detailed estimates of money coming in as his customers on account pay their invoices. To estimate that, he lays out his guess based on the assumption that only 10% of his sales are on credit (on account), and that his customers pay their invoices in about one month on average. That estimate looks like this:


In this case, the sales on credit are 10% of the estimated total sales in the Sales Forecast, $26,630. That’s the result of Garrett’s assumption, based on the nature of his business. And the money involved comes in one month later. This worksheet projects the Accounts Receivable value in Garrett’s Projected Balance Sheet, as well as the Received from AR value in the Projected Cash Flow. The receivables analysis depends on information in the Profit and Loss Projection, plus an assumption about Sales on Credit, and another on waiting time before payment. And it affects the Projected Balance and the Projected Cash Flow, as shown in this next illustration:

Cash and Receivables


Estimating the Impact of Inventory

Inventory presents another set of important cash-related assumptions. I explained earlier that in the case of inventory, proper accounting practices require special details. The cost of inventory that shows up in the Projected Profit and Loss is related to timing of sales. The actual cash flow implications of inventory depend on when new inventory is purchased, as shown here:


As with Accounts Receivable in the previous illustration, the inventory analysis depends on information from the Sales Forecast, and it sends information to both the Projected Balance Sheet (Ending Inventory) and the Projected Cash Flow (Inventory Purchase).

Estimating the Impact of Payables

Most businesses wait a month or so before they pay invoices for goods and services received from other businesses. That means we can save on our cash flow by holding back some money and paying it later. With proper accrual accounting, that money is recorded on the Balance Sheet as Accounts Payable. Estimating Accounts Payable takes a careful combination of calculations and assumptions. First we have to collect the full amount of payments. Then we account for payments made immediately, not held in Accounts Payable. After that, we estimate how long, on average, we hold payments. That analysis is shown below:

Cash and Payables


In this case, it is assumed that the store will pay its bills about a month after it receives them.

Cash Flow is About Management

Reminder: you should know how to project cash flow using competent educated guesses based on an understanding of the flow in your business of sales, sales on credit, receivables, inventory, and payables. These are useful projections. But real management is minding the projections every month with plan vs. actual analysis so you can catch changes in time to manage them. The illustration here shows projected profits for the bicycle store compared to the projected cash flow, using the projections presented in this chapter:

Profits vs. Cash