The lifeblood of any start up business, or any business, is its ability to collect cash and pay bills as well as pay its employees, particularly its owners. Far too often small businesses are profitable, but they do not have enough operating capital to meet their current needs.
Consequently, they may be forced to sell out to a stronger competitor, sell a portion of the company to investors at an undesirable price or close the doors and put the company out of business.
None of these alternatives are typically what the owners intended when starting the business.
The ability to forecast cash resources and uses is an art and is by no means a well-defined science. None of us have a crystal ball and any cash forecast which is prepared by the management of a company or their accountant can be no more than a guess as to when the customers pay and when your business will pay its obligations.
Hopefully, the more effort that is put into cash forecasting the better will be the educated guess and the more accurate the resultant picture of the future operations of your business.
Always remember cash is King !!
Starting the Analysis
One of the most significant factors to be considered in your cash flow forecast is the volume of sales that will be generated in the next several months and for the rest of the period for which you intend to forecast.
Your sales forecast must be as fine-tuned as possible. It may be unrealistic to assume that there is a million-pound market for your product in your area and you will be able to capture a specified percentage of it.
A sales forecast needs to be based on specific facts. These might include your sales history, or the history of similar businesses you have owned or operated, or the competition. In your area, what has been the experience of similar operations?
Once you have determined a reasonable level of sales and you are comfortable with the forecast you have made, you must address questions such as: what percentage of my sales are received in cash, and what portion are credit sales for which I will have to carry amounts in debtors?
For those that are debtors based, how soon is the cash collected?
Do I have to wait for customers to pay me or do third parties such as Visa or MasterCard or a debt factor take the customer’s account and convert it to cash for me with an appropriate discount?
If you are relying on customer payments for collection of debtor balances you must determine what portion of the debts will be collected in thirty days, sixty days, ninety days and thereafter, and what portion, if any, may never be collected.
To assume that 100% of your sales will ultimately be converted to cash is probably unrealistic especially considering the current economic environment and the tight cash situations that may face some of your customers.
Certainly, if your business entails sales of stock, you will have to purchase the merchandise from others or purchase the component parts and pay employees to assemble it.
This may require a significant outlay of cash before the first pound of sales is generated and received. You should consider how often and in what amount your employees must be paid and when their payroll taxes must be paid over.
Additionally, you need to know the credit trade terms your creditors are willing to advance to you.
Do you have to pay for stock items on a C.O.D. basis or can you pay for them thirty or forty-five days after receipt? What expenses must be paid to allow you to convert purchased merchandise to saleable stock?
If your production requires utilities to run machines or supplies that are required, such as consumable chemicals or packing materials that must be purchased prior to the sale of the stock, you should consider the timing of these payments.
In addition to the cost of manufacturing, you should consider whether your productive capacity would allow you to generate enough stock to support the level of sales that you are predicting.
If the volume of sales you forecast is above your ability to produce today, what changes in your operating environment must be made to meet the production levels?
Will you need additional employees? If so, how much will they cost? Do you have to acquire additional machinery for your shop operations? What is the cost of the machinery and when will you have to pay for it? Do you have enough space to cope with the additional activity?
Once you have determined the cost of operating your production or service facilities, you need to consider what other expenses you must pay to keep the doors of your business open. You typically will have to pay rent for your office or manufacturing facility. You must consider how much the monthly payment is and when it has to be paid.
Ask yourself if there will be other cash requirements such as a deposit on first and last month’s rent. If you are opening a new business, you must consider what your cash requirements are to make your facility ready for your specific needs and purposes. Will you have to buy or rent furniture? Will you need to make tenant improvements or pay deposits for utilities and other services?
You also need to consider many of the overhead items and costs to open a new business that will hopefully be one-time expenses. This may be the cost of incorporating your business, a solicitor’s fee for drafting partnership and other agreements, the cost to obtain business licences, approval from the taxing authorities, setting up an accounting system, stationery costs, costs of signs or logos etc.
It may seem like the list of costs and expenses to be incurred is endless. It may even discourage you in moving forward with your business endeavour.
However, it is imperative to make the list as detailed as possible to ensure that you have sufficient funds to make your operation ready for business prior to running out of cash.
The more detailed the list and the more sufficient information you can provide, the less chance there is of unpleasant surprises as you move down the stream to opening your business.
See our Business Start Up Guide for more