What's on the horizon for your business? Will you need to hire new employees? Invest in new capital expenditures? Or maybe even consider opening a new location? Financial projections provide insight for small businesses and startups to plan for the future, as well as data and information potential lenders and investors need to understand your business.

What Are Financial Projections?

A financial projection is what your business expects to happen, based off hypothetical situations using the facts and data you have available. A financial projection is often prepared to present a course of action for evaluation. It's a type of pro forma statement. Some examples of pro forma financial statements include projected income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements.

Projections are based on financial modeling techniques and provide the answers to questions that may come from lenders, investors or other business stakeholders. Essentially, these statements are an answer to the questions, "If we lend you this money, what will you do with it? And how will you pay it back?"

Why Are Financial Projections So Important for Startups and Small Businesses?

Financial projections help you see when you may have financing needs and the best times to make capital expenditures. They help you monitor cash flow, change pricing or alter production plans.

Projections provide all the minutia that lenders might be looking for to better understand your business: how it obtains revenue and where it spends money. Additionally, if your business is ever the target of an acquisition, the financial statements help potential buyers evaluate its worth.

There are subtle differences between the terms projection and forecast. But both describe predictions of future financial performance using financial models. A financial forecast presents predicted outcomes based on the conditions you expect to exist for your business. Projections are financial statements (opens in a new tab) that present an expected financial position given one or more hypothetical assumptions.

For example, Linda's Linens is growing its sales volume 10% each year, and that growth has been steady for the last 18 months. After examining the financial forecast, it's reasonable for Linda to assume that growth will continue, and she should plan accordingly. This helps her with inventory planning, hiring decisions and how much to allocate for marketing.

Linda is considering opening a second location. So she prepares a financial projection to show her bank a "what if" scenario to see how much growth she might expect if she received a loan to open another store on the other side of town. The hypothetical situation of opening a new location in the financial projection is what makes it different from the sustained growth she might reasonably suspect in the financial forecast.

What Are Financial Projections Used For?

Financial projections help you realise possible potential in your business. What might happen if you receive outside funding? Or purchase additional equipment? This is where you get to be creative and explore what the future of your business might look like.

Business Plan: Financial projections and business plans go hand-in-hand. It's a way to show that your company is stable and is financially successful. It's a good practice to provide quarterly or monthly projections for the first year and annual projections for the four years after that. These include projected income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements and budgets for capital expenditures. You should be able to explain projections and match them to funding.

Investors: Your potential investors want to know if the business will make money and when they can expect a return on their investment. Some common benchmarks to watch for include how long it will take until the company turns a profit, sales in years three and five, and data showing how your numbers fit in context of your industry.

Loans and Lines of Credit: These are the most common sources of external funding for small businesses. To secure a Small Business Association (SBA) loan, you'll need a thorough understanding of your finances so you can show the lender how your funds will be used and when the loan will be paid back.

Know Your Business: Financial projections show discipline in financial management — and better financial management leads to a much higher chance of business success. By using a financial model to make financial projections, you can see if, when and whether your business will make a profit. You'll have a better understanding of your cash position to make better decisions about when to hire more people, buy more inventory or make capital investments.

7 Steps to Building a Financial Projection for Your Startup or Small Business

Some common scenarios for projections are monthly projections for year one, quarterly for the next two years and annual thereafter. To build out your financial projections and make them as useful as possible, consider including the following:

  • Sales revenue estimates
  • Cost of sales or cost of goods sold (COGs)
  • Operating costs
  • Capital expenditures
  • Gross margin by product line
  • Sales increase by product line
  • Interest rates on debts
  • Income tax rate
  • Accounts receivable collection plan
  • Accounts payable schedule
  • Inventory turnover
  • Depreciation schedules
  • The usefulness or depreciation of assets

Financial projections will usually have a detailed view in a spreadsheet, as well as a summary of some of the most important information. To create this, your business will need a financial model, or a summary of your company's expenses and earnings. Some of the basic areas to start building financial projections include:

  1. Create a sales forecast.

What's driving your sales? That's where you should start with your projections. For example, if you have a subscription-based web business, correlate sales with estimated website traffic, and conversion rates with the source of traffic. Like a project management platform that sees 1.5% of its traffic from organic Google searches turn into paying customers. The same project management company should also identify conversion rates for customers who land on the site from ads. That way they can estimate how many new customers an increased ad spend or increased organic searches might attract. And finally, the platform should track their churn rate, or how many customers don't renew their subscription.

For a business that sells physical products, the sales forecast should estimate the number of units it will sell and the price per unit. It's also helpful to see where and how the items are being sold: How many stores are carrying the products? How are each of those stores performing? The company should factor in things that might affect sales like seasonality. For example, more ice cream and sunscreen are sold in the summer. Is there a seasonality to your product?

  1. Create an expense budget.

Expenses will include the costs associated with sales, as well as operating expenses. To forecast cost of sales or cost of goods sold (COGS), take all of the current information on the income statement about product cost, fulfilment expense, customer service and merchant fees. Express assumptions about how that will change as a percentage of revenue. Apply the same idea to operating expenses. Consider how headcount, salaries and benefits as well as expenses like advertising, rent and more will change and express everything (with the exception of headcount) as a percentage.

  1. Create the income statement projection.

Link those assumptions to formulas built in the income statement. The financial model will forecast revenue, net revenue, COGS, gross profit, gross margin, operating expense, operating profit and operating margin. The output of the financial model is the projected income statement.

  1. Create the cash flow projection.

The projected income statement shows you, as well as potential lenders and investors, if the company is profitable and/or when it is expected to make a profit. The cash flow projection shows your cash position and provides a more detailed view of monthly inflows and outflows of cash for a specific period of time — 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, etc.

  1. Create the balance sheet projection.

Where the cash flow projection lets you see when there should be cash influxes and dips, the balance sheet shows or projects the worth of your company at any given time. Cash flow projections appear on your balance sheet as assets. On the liabilities side of the balance sheet, you'll list things like accounts payable and debt.

  1. Use projections for planning.

Projections are important when seeking new funding. And they help you know when to make capital expenditures. For planning, projections help with analysing the impact of different business strategies. For example, what if you charge a higher or lower price? What if you're able to collect invoices faster? Running and testing these various numbers shows how such decisions could affect finances.

Projected financial statements also help you prepare for best and worst case scenarios. You can use projected financial statements to drill down to the product level and know when it will be profitable, when to ramp up production or even when it no longer makes business sense to continue producing it.

  1. Monitor.

By comparing projections against actual results you can see if you're on target or need to adjust to reach them. Consider purchasing accounting and planning software for financial projections. Tracking performance is much easier and quicker with dashboards and charts that can show you at-a-glance information.

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Benefits of Using Accounting and Planning Software for Financial Projections

There are advantages to automating financial modeling. You can handle more complex datasets and certain visualisation capabilities, as well as streamline financial projections.

  • All lines of businesses are connected to the same data, improving control, visibility and trust in the numbers.
  • Drill-through capability means you can spend more time drilling into the data to understand the source of the numbers. Finance then has more time to understand the "why" and can better help the business owners understand how their decisions affect the rest of the company.
  • You can easily run what-if-scenario analysis to explore different business opportunities.
  • Pre-built reports and dashboards make it easy to compare projected vs. actual results.

Automation can increase accuracy save time, and help you compare actual and forecasted results in charts and dashboards. With so much potential, automation is a growing trend. In fact, a survey by Robert Half, a global human resources consulting firm, found that nearly one quarter of respondents expect to automate processes behind financial forecasting.

But even if the analytics associated with financial projection aren't automated, using technology to automate other parts of the accounting process that go into building the static financial statements provide savings in terms of speed and accuracy.

To run a business, you need to know not just where you are financially, but where you want to be.