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8 Best Practices for Forecasting and Managing Cash Flow

In the finance realm cash shortages represent the pinnacle of stress. Even mega companies can find themselves in tight predicaments from time to time.


These liquidity challenges give rise to issues like payroll complications, mounting pressure to settle accounts receivable, and the risk of material shortages.



What is Cash Flow?


Cash flow pertains to the funds flowing into and out of a business. The inflow of cash is typically derived from sales, but it could also encompass funds from debt repayments, selling unnecessary assets, rebates, and grants.


Keeping a close eye on cash flow and maintaining a sound budget truly cements a business’ stability. A single cash shortage can drastically alter the course of an organization. When used effectively, forecasts serve as powerful planning tools, enabling consideration of various potential scenarios, allowing the executive team to devise tentative plans based on multiple projections.


In this article, we delve into the 8 best practices that will empower you to optimize your cash flow processes, enhance forecasting accuracy, and make informed decisions to steer your organization towards lasting prosperity.


1. Combine Short-Term and Mid-Term Projections


Short-term forecasting proves valuable in boosting KPI. This comprises various smaller components, akin to building blocks, which together form a comprehensive view of the business. By delving into specific chunks or metrics such as sales quotas, ROI on marketing spend, and overall profitability, critical issues become more evident.


Short-term profitability can be improved by either raising prices or reducing expenses, both of which lead to increased cash inflow and retention within the business. However, relying solely on the short-term view is insufficient, and it should be complemented by a mid-term, more strategic perspective. Mid-term projections typically cover forecasts for 6 to 18 months, with monthly updates. This timeframe provides a broader understanding of the business's overall situation and its surrounding environment.


2. Engage in Scenario Planning


Scenario planning is a crucial step in improving forecasting accuracy and aiding the company's preparedness for any situation. Whether the economy is thriving, struggling, or staying neutral, examine multiple scenarios and plan ahead for how the company would respond from a cash flow perspective in each circumstance.


Through this, your team can expedite implementation, avoiding the need to start from scratch in case of unexpected events. Also, it's equally important to consider positive scenarios. Planning for favorable outcomes ensures that the business is ready to capitalize on a prosperous environment.


3. Automate Cash Flow Data Collection


When your forecasting processes and financial tools are integrated, cloud-based, and automated, the forecast becomes a valuable business tool that you are more likely to utilize effectively. Setting up these tools to function seamlessly allows your team to concentrate on critical tasks.


Rather than spending time on data collection and spreadsheet building, your team can actively define action plans and tackle challenges. By transforming your cash flow forecast from a mere visual report into an actionable resource, it becomes a driving force for positive change.


4. Frequently Compare Actuals with Forecasts


Consistently comparing your actual results with the forecast is a highly effective method to improve accuracy and reliability. Generate automated variance reports that can be shared with the team. By providing clear insights into where targets are being met, exceeded, or missed, team members can grasp the impact of their actions on the business's success.


Through this comparison, they can identify what's working well in the forecast and where adjustments in processes and assumptions are needed. The ultimate objective is to enhance the reliability of your projected figures. As a result, more precise forecasting fosters increased confidence in the accuracy of the predictions, enabling better-informed decision-making throughout the organization.


5. Utilize Variances for Pivot Points and Informed Decision Making


It is crucial to thoroughly analyze and account for forecast vs. actual variances. This examination should focus on understanding the underlying causes and exploring ways to prevent such discrepancies in the future.


Through this systematic analysis, you can pinpoint the factors contributing to the gaps between your forecast and actual results. Over time, this practice not only enhances forecast accuracy but also enables the company to identify performance improvement opportunities.


6. Enhance Forecasts Continuously


In life, change is inevitable, and forecasting is no exception. Adopt a constantly-updated forecast that spans the upcoming 6-18 months. As time progresses, your forecast will gain precision and evolve into a valuable tool for sustained organizational success. This dynamic forecast will guide critical operational decisions, ensuring adaptability in a dynamic business environment.


Forecasts that receive infrequent updates, such as once a year or once a quarter, suffer from several drawbacks. Stale assumptions underpin such forecasts, leading to less reliable decision-making. Longer intervals between updates delay the identification of process breakdowns or areas with less accurate data. Only through continuous updates can the organization learn quickly and enhance forecast reliability effectively.


7. Ensure Clear Comprehension of Your Reporting by the Executive Team


The primary purpose of a forecast is to facilitate better decision-making, empowering the executive team to make well-informed choices based on the forecast data.


To achieve this, utilize visually intuitive reports that present relevant forecast information and its variances in a clear manner. Implementing easy-to-use dashboards and reports ensures that the team can readily access and engage with the data, focusing on its significance rather than spending time creating reports merely for the sake of reporting.


8. Adopt a Dynamic Rolling Forecast


Rolling forecasts bring about a significant improvement of approximately 14% in forecasted and budgeted revenue accuracy compared to static forecasting and budgeting processes commonly used by many organizations. However, beyond enhanced accuracy, their true value lies in the superior agility they provide.


For instance, in the event of sudden product demand fluctuations, a static forecast would hinder adjustments until the next forecasting period, making it challenging to assess the impact on supplier payments and overall financial health. On the contrary, a rolling forecast offers a more precise view of cash flow, enabling better optimization of planned expenses and timely arrangement of any necessary financing to cover costs.


Final Words


Incorporating these best practices empowers businesses to optimize cash flow management, improve forecasting accuracy, and make informed decisions for sustained financial success. By embracing rolling forecasts, analyzing variances, and maintaining agile strategies, organizations can thrive in dynamic market conditions and maintain a stable financial position.


FAQs


What is the optimal approach to cash flow forecasting?


The best practice for cash flow forecasting is to use a rolling forecast, continuously updated to reflect changing circumstances and improve accuracy and agility.


What are some of the best ways to manage cash flow for business?


Effective cash flow management involves maintaining a cash buffer, optimizing accounts receivable and payable, managing inventory efficiently, and creating a comprehensive budget.


How can you improve the forecast of cash flows?


To enhance cash flow forecasting, regularly compare actuals to forecasts, engage in scenario planning, use variances for decision-making, and ensure integration of financial tools and processes.


Why does good management of cash flow start with good forecasting?


Good forecasting provides a clear understanding of expected cash inflows and outflows, enabling businesses to plan, make informed decisions, and take proactive measures to maintain financial stability.


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