What is cash flow forecasting?
A comprehensive guide

Cash flow can be the reoccurring nightmare that keeps business owners awake at night.  

One of the common issues for many businesses is anticipating the amount of cash flowing in and out, which can be hard to predict, especially for smaller businesses with fewer in-house resources overseeing cash management.

In our article, we'll take an in-depth look into cash flow forecasting, why it is crucial, how to forecast cash flow, and how a cash flow forecasting software compares against a plain old spreadsheet so you'll better understand how effective forecasting can remove uncertainty within your business.

What is a cash flow forecast?

Cash flow forecasting (also called cash flow projection) is a financial planning concept that estimates your future cash positioning. It does this by measuring the cash that flows in and out of a business based on business performance over a specific period.  

Cash flow forecasting is a handy tool for businesses looking to plan their finances better. Forecasting can provide insights to better manage your activities based on your uses of cash. Importantly, you can also leverage these insights to create a contingency plan that'll help you be more prepared for when you have a change of circumstances in future.  

Although cash flow forecasting acts as an estimation, it plays a crucial role as your guide for cash flow position and liquidity.

The benefits of cash flow forecasting

Cash flow forecasting has many benefits for businesses, including:  

  • Better planning: identifying and planning for when you may have a negative cash flow.
  • Risk mitigation: detecting problems before they happen and doing something about them.  
  • Better relationships: have greater confidence to protect your relationships by paying your staff members and suppliers promptly.  
  • Greater financial control: take control of your cash flow management and plan your spending and investments more effectively.  
  • Managing your debts: with an accurate cash flow projection, you'll better handle your debt obligations. This means you can plan for your loan payments and achieve greater financial stability.  
  • Confidence from stakeholders: Cash forecasting may be required by a bank, investors and other stakeholders who need to assess the financial health of your business. An accurate, well-structured forecast may boost their confidence in your financial stability.  
  • Improving adaptability: with the flexibility of cash flow forecasting, your business will be better equipped to move into a more adaptable mindset regarding your future financial planning, ensuring it remains relevant and practical.

What is three-way cash flow projection?

So now you've read all about cash flow forecasts, it's time to dive deep into three-way forecasting, which is how we structure our forecasting tool at Fathom.  

Three-way forecasting, also known as a three-statement model, is essentially a combination of the following reports:  

  • Cash flow statements: a cash flow statement will help you predict future cash shortages.
  • Profit and loss: demonstrating your expected profitability compared to the previous period based on your revenue, cost of goods and services, and net profit.
  • Balance sheet forecasts: showing what your business owns and owes including your assets, liabilities and equity.

A three-way projection is vital to the future planning of your business, as you'll be able to use different scenarios to create a more comprehensive understanding of what may happen to your business over the coming few years. Your projection will give you a closer lens on what works well and tweak your strategy as needed.  

Learn how to start with Fathom's forecasting tool in our Introduction to Forecasting video series.

What is the objective of a cash flow forecast?

A cash flow forecast could be one of the most essential pieces in your business plan, as it can predict your future monetary needs over a specific period.  

The primary objectives of cash flow projections include:  

  • Ensuring that your company can avoid cash shortfalls much earlier;  
  • Better plot cash outflows such as salaries and supplier payments;  
  • Track the amount of cash inflowing and outflowing through your business;  
  • Estimate the cash on hand you'll need to run your business effectively in the short term;  
  • Make more informed decisions around business growth, financing and investments;  
  • Creating and monitoring your budgets.
  • Banks and other finance lenders may require a cash flow forecast when applying for more funding.

Why is a cash flow forecast important for your business?

Large and small business owners are alike in one way: they both want to know what's around the corner.

With a cash forecast, you can identify future opportunities, plan your growth trajectory, and look out for potential pitfalls and dangers.  

The forecasting process lets you know the difference between your total cash flow and profits and develop steps to examine both elements closely.  

A cash flow analysis can encourage you to have greater control over your spending so you can be more active in managing your large or small business finances effectively and be more accountable for how much cash you're spending.  

With Fathom’s one-of-a-kind cash flow forecasting software your business will have one platform with infinite possibilities. Your business will be equipped with powerful forecasting that seamlessly integrates with Fathom’s market-leading reporting tools.

What are the important parts of a cash flow forecast?

The important parts of a cash flow will typically include the following to build up an accurate picture of your financial health:  

  • Your opening cash balance.  
  • Cash flow statements summarizing your revenues or profits, such as sales, dividend income, and inflows from third parties.  
  • Cash outflows, including payroll, investments, rent, debt payments and other expenses.

How to create a cash flow forecast

Cash flow forecasting starts with choosing from one of two different methods:  

  • Direct forecasting method: This is useful for short-term cash flow forecasting based on the future period's cash inflow and outflow.  
  • Indirect forecasting method: This cash forecasting model is used for long-term cash flow forecasting, aligned with a business's goals and strategy.  

Fathom uses the indirect cash forecasting method to help you with long-term planning (up to three years in the future). If we use Fathom's cash flow forecasting software as an example, there are three ways you can get started:  

  1. Start from scratch to build a custom cash flow forecast.  
  1. Quick Start Forecast which will read as much of your source accounting data as possible and will quickly apply a linear regression to each account line or;  
  1. Linking your cash flow forecast to an existing budget that you have imported into Fathom.  

You can learn more about forecasting through Fathom by watching our Forecasting 101 video series.

An example of a cash flow forecast

In our cash flow forecast example video below, a SaaS company client is looking at hiring someone for their sales team.  

The sample cash flow projections in the video help the company determine the best time to hire and consider its objectives.

What are the key issues when creating a cash flow forecast

When we take a step back and look at cash flow forecasting, the pros outweigh the cons.  

However, here are some cash flow forecasting issues that businesses should be aware of:  

  • Forecasting can be time-intensive to create and complex to maintain.  
  • Relevancy can decline quickly: forecasts are a valuable tool for decision-making in the first few months, but this can drift as time progresses.  
  • When figures are hard to decipher, this can reduce confidence in outputs.  
  • Due to the data density, forecasts can be difficult to interpret and understand.  

The pros and cons of building a projection in a spreadsheet

In this section, we’ll weigh the advantages and drawbacks of creating a cash flow projection in a spreadsheet, using software such as Excel.  

In this section, we’ll weigh the advantages and drawbacks of creating a cash flow projection in a spreadsheet, using software such as Excel.  

The pros of cash flow forecasting in spreadsheets

  • A spreadsheet can act as a very static snapshot of time.
  • Spreadsheets can be controlled and customized easily.
  • A spreadsheet is a flexible format to enter and manipulate data for your cash flow projection.

The cons of cash flow forecasting in spreadsheets

  • Manually configuring forecasts within a spreadsheet can be both time-consuming and complicated, with the average time taken to generate one complete forecast in Excel taking anything from several hours to several days.
  • Continuing with the theme of manual labor, you’ll need to update and manipulate data in your spreadsheet every time there is a change, limiting the strategic value of this information.
  • Forecasting within spreadsheets can increase the risk of errors, or the spreadsheets can be incomplete.
  • Using a spreadsheet is an inadequate way to represent the complexity of your business.

As you can see, building a cash flow projection in a spreadsheet comes with many inherent challenges that will hinder rather than help your business.  

Fathom’s cash flow forecasting software is better than Excel. Goodbye fiddly spreadsheets. It’s time for a dynamic tool to provide you with a living forecast that updates when your financials do, pulling actual cash flow data directly from your chosen accounting software.

In conclusion

As you can see, cash flow forecasting can be a complicated and painful process that can be simplified with a powerful tool for giving businesses clear, coherent, actionable advice to guide their future business transactions.  

If you want to learn more about the features, functionality and benefits of cash flow forecasting in Fathom, we have more information through our help centre.  

Meanwhile, the Fathom blog have a host of tutorial webinars and testimonials that you can explore.

Are you interested in a free cash flow projection trial?

At Fathom, we decided to radically rethink what a forecast can be and what it can do.  

Instead of a complicated static document of numbers, we've built a cash flow forecasting tool that is fast and dynamic and brings financials, visuals and people together with a click of a button or the drag of a mouse.  

Cash flow forecasting is standard when you subscribe monthly to Fathom. If you're not yet a Fathom user, remember you can explore the capabilities of cash flow forecasting software when you start a free 14-day trial today.

Frequently asked questions about cash flow forecasting

What are the advantages of a cash flow forecast?
The advantages of cash flow forecasting for businesses are numerous:

1. Helping businesses to identify periods where cash flow is negative.

2. Helping businesses to understand periods where supplemental cash (for example, a line of credit) should be drawn against.

3. Reducing the possibility of businesses missing future payments to their employees or suppliers.

4. Helping business leaders recognize where they can afford to make payments that will lead to business expansion, investments, hiring new employees and increasing wages.

5. Forecasting can assist businesses seeking a loan, as lenders may need to see forecasts as part of the loan application process.

6. Optimizing the borrowing of working capital so businesses can avoid additional interest charges. Helping businesses to execute a growth strategy so they can grow more predictably.
What is a cash flow projection?
Cash flow projection is another name for cash flow forecasting.

A cash flow projection is a form of financial planning that will help your business to plan its finances better by estimating your future cash position.

Cash flow projections measure the cash inflows and outflows in your business over a specific period.
What components do you need for a cash flow projection?
For a cash flow projection, you’ll need to build your forecast around the following forecasting period data:

- Your cash balance
- Cash inflows, such as sales, dividend income, and inflows from third parties
- Cash outflows, some common examples of these include wages, salaries, investments, rent, and debt payments.
How can a cash flow forecast help a business?
Cash flow forecasting is simply good hygiene for your business's finances and a core part of financial planning.  

Cash flow forecasting can lead to businesses making informed decisions about how they protect and spend their money.
How long should you make your cash flow forecast?
There are many cash flow forecasting periods you can make, depending on the objectives of your business:

Short term forecasts: best suited for planning on a day-to-day basis, or up to a month.

Medium term forecasts: usually between 2 and 6 months.

Long term forecasts: from 6 months to the next 12 months.

Mixed period forecasts: a combination of the three forecasting periods above.  

With Fathom’s cash flow forecasting software, you can create forecasts for your business up to 3 years ahead.
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