Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Value In Business and Cash Flow Forecasting

As a Part Time CFO I have the following questions:

Does the small business owner see the value in business forecasting?

Does the small business owner see how the business forecast helps you to become proactive versus reactive?

Does the small business owner see how the business forecast allows you to take a look into the business’s future using multiple what if scenarios allowing the small business owner to understand what is going to happen and arming the business owner with multiple strategies ready to implement depending on which scenario becomes reality?

Does the business owner see how commonly asked questions like:

Should I add or cut a product line?
Should I add or cut a location?
Should I add or cut an employee?
Should I Lease or Buy Equipment?
Should I add a truck or van?
Will I need more cash in 6 months?

can all be answered through business forecasting?

Does the small business owner see how you can solve today’s problems with business forecasting?

I don’t think they do!!

Sorry for the rant, but I just do not understand why the value of business forecasting is underestimated by the small business owner. Fortune 500 companies and large businesses are always forecasting and they see tremendous value in it. To the Fortune 500 Company everything is about what is going to happen next and how can we strategize for what might happen next. Everything is about being proactive because if you are reactive the quality of decisions go way down and the value of your stock and the value of the company go down and people get eliminated! To many small business owner’s who have viable businesses the lack of business and cash flow forecasting will reduce the quality of their decisions and the value of their companies and they will be eliminated. Do you think these Fortune 500 companies would spend the huge amounts of time on forecasting if it was not important, if it did not add tremendous value, if it did not work? It is not valuable only to the Fortune 500 Company because they are big. It is valuable to the Fortune 500 Company because it is an effective way to operate a business!

Many small business owners will say “Gee I wish I saw that cash flow problem coming”. The point is, it would be very likely to identify a cash flow problem in advance with the right business forecasting tools. In addition, you will be able to avoid other problems like for example, inventory problems, because for each level of sales you plug into a forecasting model you will get an optimum inventory and receipt plan. If sales start to slip or increase, you will be able to adjust to a new and different receipt and inventory plan. It is widely known and accepted that the quality of decisions are much better if they are made proactively versus re-actively. Is there such an urgency to simply survive one more day in your business and block all possibilities for planning and for being proactive? Even if you wanted to do that and just survive another day there are part time CFO’s and business consultants out there who can do the forecasting and planning for you in order to give you the immediate and long term picture you need. I know, this sounds very self serving because I do business forecasting, but as a small business owner who has owned retail, manufacturing and service companies all of my life I constantly relied on business forecasting and strategic planning to run my businesses and it was valuable.

The proper business forecast is a solid predictor of the future not because the forecast or person doing the forecast is some kind of soothsayer or gypsy lady that has ESP, but because one can enter multiple “what if” scenarios covering as many different likely possibilities as one would like. With each scenario a strategic plan can be developed. As any one of these scenarios start to unfold, the business owner can work the strategic plan devised for that unfolding scenario.

One of those scenarios that you want to look at could include something like “what would the financial picture look like if you cut or added an employee, cut or added a location, cut or added a truck, cut or added a product line, leased or bought equipment and what will the impact on cash flow be for anyone of those scenarios.”

And guess what, I have a solution for those small business owners out there who are only worried about the problems of the day and wants to be in reactionary fire drill mode all of the time. For those of you only worried about the problems of today, a business forecast can help identify how to solve those problems that are happening right now! The proper business forecast that prepares monthly projected income statements, balance sheet and cash flows encompass everything that is happening in the business and therefore can solve any problem and/or answer any questions. This includes identifying the best course of action and the softest landing for troubled businesses as well.

A client was having a cash flow problem and there were a number of factors on the surface that were causing the problem: They were:

1. Too much debt
2. Owners Salary too high
3. Selling prices too low

However while doing the forecast for a scenario where sales were flat to the previous year, the forecasted inventory receipt plan that correlated with those flat sales was much less than what happened the previous year. This forecast showed that inventory turns could improve by 1.5 times and this efficiency in inventory receipt and turns would increase free cash flow by $40,000 per year. This improvement would have never been made if the forecast was not done. Furthermore, finding this kink in the armor took pressure off the owner to have to reduce their salary and it took pressure off the business to have to increase prices too much in a competitive environment.

By the way I want to repeat something. The proper business forecast will have projected monthly income statements, monthly balance sheets and monthly cash flows all tying into each other. If your forecast does not have cash flows, then throw it out with the bathwater. It is no good!

Attention Small business owners. See the value in being proactive versus reactive. See the value in answering questions you ask yourself every day, see the value on putting together a strategic plan based on what the forecasts tell you, and for those of you who are just trying to survive one more day, see the value in solving today’s problems today through business and cash flow forecasting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Labor Burden - Author: admin Posted: Sat May 15, 2010 10:49 am

Calculating Overhead

There are 3 components of cost. These 3 components of cost are material, labor and overhead. As a Part Time CFO, I see a lot of business owners eliminating overhead from their cost calculations. This can lead to operating losses and cash flow problems. Usually the reason the business owners misses overhead is they do not understand how to calculate overhead nor do they know how to incorporate overhead in their analysis.

The easiest way to calculate overhead is as a percentage of sales. Take all of the projected overhead expenses for the period you want to analyze. The period can be a month, quarter or year and divide these projected expenses by the amount of projected sales. As you go forward if sales are lower or higher than projections by 10% or more you should recalculate the overhead rate based on the new projected sales. The same recalculation needs to be done if your projected expenses are off higher or lower by 10% or more. This percentage needs to be applied to the sales dollars associated with each sales transaction or quote. You can also simply take last year’s actual results for overhead and sales and perform the same calculation on actual results instead of projected results. I like to use projected results. Other than sales there are other ways to calculate overhead using labor dollars or labor hours, but I like to use sales. However for the Trades (General Contractors, Painters, plumbers, electricians etc…) and manufacturers I like to use labor hours. That way we can come up with overhead costs per direct labor hour and all you have to do is estimate the labor hours for a job and you know your costs.

There are many schools of thought regarding the calculation of overhead and incorporating overhead in cost calculations. Some do not like accounting for overhead in their cost calculations because they say no matter how much the sales price exceeds material and labor, the overhead will begin to be paid and that is their only objective. I say a couple of things about that. First, sales better be high enough otherwise if you employ this school of thought you will guarantee yourself you will not be profitable. Even if sales exceed material, labor and variable overhead by just a few dollars you will eventually pay for all of the fixed overhead but the sales must be high enough and that is a huge risk. Second, an argument can certainly be made that a sale that at least covers some overhead is better than no sale at all, however are you sure there is no other sale out there that you are not making that covers more of your overhead or all of your overhead or do you justify giving your product and service away just to make a sale knowing it is covering some overhead?

Note I added the term Variable Overhead above. Sometimes there are expenses that a business owner calls overhead, which can be considered overhead but are actually expenses that are variable to sales. Expenses such as credit card fees or gas where a service performed is going to require going to a specific location need to be identified as variable. Variable overhead should be incorporated as part of the expense component deducted from the selling price to determine profit before fixed overhead.

My view on overhead is that the business owner needs to know what the overhead component of their product or service is so that they know what their true bottom line is on each and every transaction/quote. Unless your expense and/or revenue projections are way off, knowing the true bottom line on every transaction will give you the piece of mind that all costs are accounted for and that the bottom line on the transaction/quote is credible. At the end of the day the business owner can use their own discretion as to whether a sale that does not entirely cover fixed overhead is worth making. If it were me I must be extremely confident that there is no other sale to make that will give me a better return before I would accept a sale that only partially covered fixed overhead. For example let’s say you know with reasonable certainty that your business is in a state of low demand maybe due to seasonality or economic conditions. If I am convinced there is no other sale out there that is going to give me a better return or if I think the customer is worthwhile to keep because the customer will give me long term potential at higher profit margins then I would make the justification that I am at least covering some fixed overhead. Otherwise make sure your selling price covers all three components of cost which once again are Material, Labor and Overhead.

Calculating Overhead is one of many important CFO Services.

Friday, May 14, 2010

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Monday, May 10, 2010

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

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