Why use a 13-Week Cash Flow Report as a management tool? Cash is king! This applies to any and all companies. No matter the size or industry, cash and cash flow are critical to any operation. Yes, some companies have access to lines of credit and other forms of financing, but that is debt that must be repaid at some point.
So if cash is so important, then why do not all companies use a rolling 13-week cash flow forecast? We have had many clients over the years. And some, but not all, use a 13-week cash flow report as a management tool that is updated every week. Once the process is started, it is actually a fairly easy tool to keep updated.
Establish a 13-Week Cash Flow Report
The first thing we do with every client is to make sure they establish a 13-week cash flow forecast if they do not already have one. And usually, the first thing we are told by someone at the client office is “our business is special, forecasting when we collect cash is almost impossible to predict”. I hear this way to often and you know, we have never failed at implementing a 13 week cash flow forecast.
The Purpose of the 13-Week Cash Flow Report as a Management Tool
The 13-week cash flow report is not meant to me an exact measure of what cash balance will be at the end of every week. On the contrary, it is a forecast. That means the actual results will be different from your forecast, especially in the later weeks. But what the cash flow forecast does tell you is your trend for ending cash balances. It actually does give you an estimate of what your cash balances will be. It is true that weeks 1,2 and 3 forecast are more accurate than weeks 11, 12 and 13. But it does not take away that it provides some visibility as to where cash will end up.
The 13-week cash flow forecast is useful to a company that is financial distress and to a company that is flush with cash. That is because a company that is in financial distress must be able to determine what costs they need to cut in order to achieve a cash neutral position. A company that is cash rich, needs to know how flush they will be with cash to project things like capital expenditures or shareholder distributions. Either way, the company must have an idea of where they will be over the next 13 weeks. Why 13 weeks? Because that captures an entire 3 months, one full quarter. Being able to have an idea of where you want from a cash position in the next 3 months allows time for planning and decision making.
It is interesting how many times we have implemented a 13 week cash flow forecast, then we look into why the cash actually collected is way off in weeks 1,2 and 3. Then we dig and find out that the actual cash collection process is poor or non-existent.
I was part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process a couple years ago. The first thing we did was implement a 13 week cash flow forecast. This is something any CRO would do. When asked about cash collections, the CEO told me that the sales team (7 people) handle collections with their respective client relationships. When we were way off on week 1 and 2, I asked the sales people why we are off? What are they doing to follow up on late accounts receivable (A/R)? The response from everyone on the sales team was that they do not handle calling to collect invoices and outstanding A/R. They stated that the accountant makes those calls and follows up with old A/R. When I asked the accountant, she said the sales guys collect old A/R.
No one was following up with collections of old A/R. I initiated a daily phone call with all the sales people and assigned clients to call on and follow up on old A/R. We started with daily calls. And we saw some progress, then we went to every other day, then weekly calls. Over then next 5 weeks the company collected $2.7 of $3.2 million dollars in old AR.
So How Do You Start Using a 13-Week Cash Flow Report?
Create a template that has a direct method cash flow statement.
Then list cash from work not invoiced yet (this would be in the outer weeks)
Include a section below operations for CAPEX activities and another section for Financing Activities.
End cash balance by week
Cumulative cash balances by week
Have one person in your accounting department responsible for updating the 13-week cash flow forecast weekly. Make sure you have a dedicated person/people follow up on collections. Compare the forecast for each week to the actual cash collections and cash payments – note variances. Then adjust how you forecast.
It is that simple! This tool will buy you peace of mind and allow you to have insight on your cash trends. You need to know this no matter the size of your company or your industry. Do not get frustrated; your first 3-4 weeks are a learning process. Your forecast WILL be off. Make adjustments and understand your variances. Before you know it, you will have a good feel for what your cash trends are. If you are strapped for cash now, click here to access our 25 Ways to Improve Cash Flow whitepaper. Make a big impact on your company today with this simple checklist.