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How to Produce Realistic Sales Projections

2016 has flown by and we are already in the fourth quarter! As we wrap up the year in just over a month, strategic planning for 2017 is happening in businesses across the world. As the person responsible for the bottom line, your job as a financial leader is quite simply to improve profits and cash flow. While that may sound easy, there are many nuances that are outside of your specific function (CEO, COO, CFO, Controller, VP, etc.) that you need to learn to lead your organization financially.

Working on 2017’s sales projections? Are you responsible for the bottom line? Download the free Goldilocks Sales Method whitepaper to learn how to build your sales pipeline and project sales accurately.

While there is still ample time left in the year, it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. If you’ve already started your projections for 2017, pull out your sales projections because there may be things you are missing. However, if you haven’t even thought about next year’s financial situation, here are some tips on how to produce realistic sales projections.

How to Produce Realistic Sales Projections

Producing realistic sales projections is difficult primarily because there are no guarantees. But you can avoid producing overly optimistic projections.

Why Most Sales Projections Fail

Most sales projections fail because of the financial leader’s inability to factor in potential risk and uncertainty. Just like in the children’s story Goldilocks, companies can easily miss the mark by producing projections that are either too pessimistic or too optimistic.

Start Doing Projections Now

Like I said, it’s never too early to prepare for what’s next. Are your sales projections realistic or optimistic? This would be the time to adjust any discrepancies in your financial projections. Don’t forget, 2017 is only a month and a half away!

Ask Questions

As you start working on your sales projections, it is imperative that you ask the following questions to your sales team, executive team, and financial team.

  • Where did the company meet the targets previously set for the company and where did the company fall short?
  • What did your team learn over the course of 2016?
  • What unfinished business will the company take into the new year?
  • What does success in 2017 look like?
  • What steps does the company need to take to increase the probability of success?

Starting Small: Unit Calculations

You can track future sales by calculating the expenses and comparing the number to unit sales. First, consider the expenses your business usually has: rent, loan payments, vehicle payments, utilities. Also include inventory and the equipment needed to produce the items. Tracking every expense for a future budget is crucial. Second, factor in the income sources. This can mean anything from time to units sold. Finally, compare the expenses to the sales. Do they change during the season? Use the year’s patterns to project next year’s performance.

Also take a look at your unit economics.  For every widget you sell, what is COGS and margin?  Is your margin sufficient to cover your fixed costs?  If not, then you should determine whether a pricing adjustment is in order, or if you just need to sell more of the item in order to cover fixed costs.

If you’re still not sure how to accurately project your sales, click here to access your free Goldilocks Sales Method tool. This tool allows you to avoid underestimating or over-projecting sales.

Watching Market Trends

You also need to factor in market trends. Preparing an external analysis will help you strategically plan your year and project accurately. Evaluate sales for companies in your industry, in your city, and your customer’s industry.

In Houston, the oil & gas industry has impacted the local (and even the national economy) over the past 18 months. Our 12-on-12 analysis has analyzed past 30 years of rig count and oil price data; using a guide like this allows our company to estimate how our and our clients’ business is going to fluctuate.

Be a Financial Leader

One of the common misconceptions about being a leader is that it’s all about delegating tasks.  While trusting your team and empowering them to make a difference is a crucial part of leadership, some tasks require your experience and expertise.

One of the most important ways you make a difference as a financial leader is by building bridges between departments in your company.  Since everything in a company is tied in some way to finance, it’s your responsibility to ensure that operations and sales have the information they need to be their best.

Don’t just ask your sales team for their sales forecast and plug it into your projections without another thought.  Instead, work with them to produce a realistic and attainable forecast that will guide the company over the next year.  The tighter your sales projections are, the better your financial projections will be.  As they say, it’s all about sales, the rest is just details.

How To Work With Sales

The idea of working with your sales team can sometimes be daunting. Financial people tend to be cautious and are more likely to understate projections. Salespeople can be very optimistic and will tend to overstate projections. If you ask your sales team to provide 2017’s sales projections, they may say that the company expects to grow 40% in revenue.

Sounds great, right?

Only if the facts bear it out.  Take a look at year over year sales reports. Over the past ten years, the company has only grown 20% year over year. Unless the company is releasing a new product line, etc., then you can make a calculated assumption that a 20% growth rate is more reasonable.

Educating your sales team on past sales trends and listening to them about what they’re hearing in the marketplace will allow you to produce more realistic sales projections than either of you might crank out on your own.

Manage Sales With a CRM

So you’ve worked with your sales team to come up with some killer sales projections.  You’re done, right?

If you’ve ever worked with salespeople, you know the answer to this question.  Giving a salesperson a goal but not holding them accountable for results is a recipe for failure.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

In order to help them keep track of their goals and measure progress along the way, it’s a very good idea to invest in a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).

One of the most attractive aspects of using a CRM to track customers and sales is the ability to compile information from many different communication channels (social media, website, telephone, radio, television, direct sales).  Even if your business is currently only communicating with customers in a few ways, it’s a good idea to have a centralized database with all your customer data so that your sales team can document customer preferences, communications, and goals.

Most CRMs will also function as a tracking system for progress towards sales goals.  Just the act of entering and tracking sales in a CRM can help keep your sales team focused on all customers and not just the ones that are causing the phone to ring right now.

Conclusion

Producing realistic sales projections should be a priority for your company, particularly at this time of year. If you need help creating an accurate sales pipeline, download the Goldilocks Sales Method. Let us how you think 2017 is going to look by leaving a comment below.

Produce Realistic Sales Projections

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Produce Realistic Sales Projections

 

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Optimistic Projections

By publishing overly-optimistic projections, your company could be at risk for internal financial problems, misleading investors, miscalculating inventory and staff, and more. As we reach the halfway point in the year,  it’s time to revisit whether your company has realistic or optimistic projections.  Are your sales projections still on target?  Now is a good time to review your projections and adjust them if need be for the third and fourth quarter.

Optimistic Projections

Recently, a client met with one of our consultants. When the consultant began preparing their sales projections using our Sales Genie Tool, the client started complaining:

Our CEO, Ryan is too optimistic. He comes from a sales background, so he consistently over-projects sales whenever I, the CFO, ask for them. I don’t want to deal with sales!  I’m not the salesperson.  But our bank is frustrated that we’re not meeting our sales.  I can’t trust Ryan to make smart sales projections goals anymore. 

Sound familiar?

Having overly-optimistic projections is like waving a loaded gun… bad things will happen.  Stakeholders in your company rely on these projections and it’s important not to mislead them.

Why are CEOs and salespeople so optimistic?

Sales-minded people often set “stretch” goals…  an appropriate way to move a company forward, but it can shoot you in the foot.  Basing projections upon stretch goals can create problems when getting financing and allocating resources.  Your banker will wonder why you fell so short of your target and your inventory manager will be scratching their head wondering why there’s excess inventory.  In short, what starts in sales can lead to issues in operations and finance down the road.

The “Bullwhip Effect”

Bullwhip_effectThe Bullwhip Effect is a term coined by Stanford University to refer to supply chain changes. The same theory can be applied to sales projections.

A financial leader who doesn’t want to (or doesn’t know how to) project sales typically trusts that the sales team is projecting correctly forgetting that they are prone to cockeyed optimism when it comes to their performance.  The financial leader then submits projections based upon those forecasts to the bank and company management thinking that they’re completely accurate.

But in this example, sales overshoots the forecast by 15%. Operations has hired a few more people to manage the incoming sales and acquired more inventory. Sales sees the numbers coming in, still believing that those numbers are accurate; they give discounts freely and don’t collect in a timely manner. Accounting recognizes that the sales have happened and accounts receivable builds to an unmanageable amount.

All of a sudden, the financial leader is in a bind. Sales aren’t meeting the goal of a 15% increase; it’s more like 2% growth. Operations has tied up all the cash expecting increased sales.  Accounting is attempting to collect all of the sales as quickly as possible. The company is out of cash.

Things have spiraled out of control due to one small, well-meaning error.

How can CFOs or other financial leaders counter over-optimism?

Unfortunately, most sales projections fail due to a one-faceted (sales only) approach to forecasting.  When projecting revenue, it is imperative that you as the financial leader set guidelines and boundaries for your sales team to prevent optimistic projections from becoming gospel.

Here’s how you do it…

#1 Set Expectations

Schedule a meeting time for the financial leaders in your company to meet with your sales team. Set expectations as you move forward in creating sales projections.

These expectations could look like:

  • Review projections quarterly and adjust them if need be at that time
  • Have sales submit weekly reports to accounting to track trends
  • Schedule weekly or monthly meeting to discuss projections

#2 Create Projections Together

The biggest cause of optimistic projections is the accounting department asking sales to provide a number without any validation or input. Without any questions, those numbers are blindly put into the forecast.

There are two different types of sales numbers you should ask for from your sales team: the actual projection and the goal projection.

The goal projection, or a stretch goal, is often what causes these optimistic forecasts. Their purpose is to set a number high enough to motivate sales team to reach it. Oftentimes, it is set higher than is possible to reach. But this sometimes results in sales improving over the previous month or year.

For example, ABC Company’s sales were $20,000 in 2015. When forecasting sales, ABC set their goal projection to be $30,000 or a 33% increase in sales. Historically, there has only been a 5% increase over the previous year. The actual goal should have been a 5% increase as that has been the trend over the past 7 years.

In a meeting, explain the difference between the two types of goals. You need to actual sales goal for your projections, not the stretch goal.

If you’re still not sure how to accurately project your sales, click here to access your free Goldilocks Sales Method tool. This tool allows you to avoid underestimating or over-projecting sales.

#3 Communication

As we’ve said multiple times, there are three essential pillars within a business: accounting, operations, and sales.  Communication between these departments is critical to the success of your company.

Set expectations between accounting and sales that communication should be a priority. If your sales team indicates that they underestimated sales, then it is their responsibility to report that adjustment in sales.  Ask sales to track sales. They should have a weekly average of sales that they need to hit. If there is a trend that they are not meeting the projections, then it’s time to adjust.

Make communication an absolute priority. There is no shame in not meeting projections;  the trick is to adjust expectations going forward.

Conclusion

By proving that you as the financial leader or CFO can add value to a company through setting realistic and accurate sales projections, you’ll be better equipped to set yourself up for success.

For more ways to add value to a company, download the Goldilocks Sales Method to start projecting accurately and building credibility through your sales forecast.

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Why do most sales projections fail?

One common perception is if most sales projections fail, why do it? As you probably know, sales forecasts are used to predict a certain amount of revenue over a given period of time. Whether this is based on a gut feeling or on historical data, the worst thing you can do is over-promise and/or under-deliver.

Remember: “What gets measured gets managed.”

Why Do Most Sales Projections Fail?

Projecting revenue is essential. Two weeks ago in our blog, How does a CFO add value?, I mentioned the three legged stool analogy. If your sales fall short of projections, you’re going to run into some issues with respect to cash flow, inventory, or a lack of resources. Whether you are releasing a new product or are continuing to project growth in your sales, it’s imperative that your sales projections are accurate.

Sales Manager vs. CFO

Sales managers and CFOs normally have different perspectives, mainly because their roles contrast greatly. The sales manager is often more concerned about his or her team and maintaining customer relationships. They’re also generally fairly optimistic (sometimes overly so) in their projections.

The CFO looks at the bigger picture. They move 3-5 months faster than sales people or accountants, because they’re forward-thinking and continuously making plans on how to improve the company as a whole. This often leads to conflicting predictions with the sales force.

For example, Bill (the CEO of ABC Company) asks Steve (the CFO of ABC Company) what he projects sales to be in the next quarter. Based on previous performance, Steve predicts about $3.8 million, because last quarter they generated $3.7 million. That’s about 2% higher than the actual revenue generated, which is reasonable considering their historical record.

But then Steve the CFO asks Ben, the Sales Manager, what he thinks. Ben’s top salesperson, Lillian, performed over 40% better this quarter compared to the previous quarter, and he expects her to positively influence the sales team with her success over the next quarter. Ben optimistically projects $4 million, which is almost 8% higher than last quarter’s revenue, and 6% more than Steve’s projection.

When you increase revenue by just 2%, the bottom line also increases by a substantial amount. When comparing the bottom lines of a 2% increase in revenue versus an 8% increase in revenue, which would you think is more realistic? And which number would you accept as a CFO?

Let’s look at a more recent example.

Case Study: The Apple Watch Dilemma

Let’s refer to the Apple Watch situation last year… Apple optimistically projected to sell 41 million watches. Shortly after releasing the product, analysts altered that projection down to 31 million. Pretty soon, Apple decided to be a little more realistic in their projection. Thus, they reduced it yet another 10 million. Why do you think that is?

1. Their “gut” feeling was poisonous.

It’s natural for a company to be excited about the release of a new product.  They were absolutely ecstatic that this product was finally going to launch. This positivity created a bias for future projections because they were the only ones formulating this prediction, not an outside group of differing opinions.

2. The idea that a new product equals new data.

“We don’t need to check our historical figures because this product never existed in our company before, right?” Wrong. True, this is a new product. However, there are other ways of comparing and predicting your sales.

For example, if I was the CFO of Apple, and Apple Watch decided to launch a new app, I would look at similar, previous apps that cost the same for marketing, production, and other direct costs associated with the app. It’s common sense – how much can you usually afford to produce?

projections fail

Apple quickly saw that their projections were wrong and just as quickly adapted. But companies that are worth $10-100 million can’t necessarily afford to be 20 million units off of their projections. A projection that wrong could have easily put a company without the resources of Apple into the grave.

How to Prevent Your Sales Projections from Failing

projections failNate Silver, author of  The Signal and The Noise (pg. 19-20), generally spoke to the failure of projections…

“The most calamitous failures of prediction usually have a lot in common. We focus on those signals that tell a story about the world as we would like it to be, not how it really is. [Then] we ignore the risks that are hardest to measure, even when they pose the greatest threats to our well-being. [Thus] we make approximations and assumptions about the world that are much cruder than we realize. We abhor uncertainty, even when it is an irreducible part of the problem we are trying to solve. If we want to get at the heart of the financial crisis, [then] we should begin by identifying the greatest predictive failure of all, a prediction that committed all these mistakes.”

Although Silver is analyzing financial crises, the same analysis applies when we look at sales projections of a mid-size business. The most important factors you have to calculate are risk and uncertainty. If you neglect to consider risk and uncertainty, you are most likely over-shooting your projections.

Risk & Uncertainty

People often overlook risk and uncertainty when projecting revenue. However, life happens every single day, leaving you with failed projections.

Most projections fail due to inability to calculate these two factors: risk and uncertainty. So where do you start in assessing risk and uncertainty?

For risk:

  1. Identify any risks that could occur (events, etc.)
  2. Calculate the probability of each risky event occurring
  3. Create alternatives and figure the cost/benefit analysis of each response
  4. Choose a response that would best allow you to reach your sales projections
  5.  Reassess after your company responds
  6. Continue to monitor those risky events

For uncertainty, identify those events or situations that you are not sure of. Acknowledging your ignorance is key in this situation. It allows you to put focus on places where you are not sure. Uncertainty is not the same thing as inaction as many business or financial leaders like to define it. That’s an important distinction that you must continue to remind yourself of when analyzing what risks and uncertainties your company is facing.

By completing a SWOT analysis, you’ll be better equipped to understand where risk and uncertainty is found within your company.

Conclusion

If the problem is either over-shooting or under-delivering sales in their projections, then the answer is relatively simple but is often overlooked. The Goldilocks Sales Method will help you project revenue that is not only more accurate, but will help you utilize your projections.

projections fail

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Projecting Revenue

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Projecting Revenue

projecting revenueWhether times are good or bad, one task that companies still must undertake is projecting revenue.  The tougher the times, the more important these forecasts become.

When projecting revenue, it’s important to remember that your customer base is likely worldwide.  Consequently, you must consider what type of economy your customer is operating in to accurately forecast sales.

Market Based Economy vs. Command Based Economy

What’s the difference?

In terms of projecting revenue, a company in a market-based economy observes the general market and its supply/demand to create these financial forecasts. Pricing can be set under the supply and demand of a product or service within the marketplace. Generally, there is no government interaction.

A command-based economy is just like it sounds. The government monitors and sets the offerings of products and their prices.

(Click here to find out more information about Mixed Economies, the combination of market-based and command-based economies.)

Projecting Revenue

Here are some important steps in projecting revenue

Look at Historical Data

Find out the “whys” in your historical data. Compile all the quarterly data over the past 7 years. Let’s say you notice that there is a sudden dip around 2008 and then again in June 2014. Historically, those times were when financial crises occurred.

You also notice that there is a dip in the 3rd quarter of 2011. Nothing outside of the company happened, but after doing some digging, you remember that during that quarter, your company pulled an all-time favorite product from the shelves because it was too expensive to produce.

You know, people talk about this being an uncertain time. You know, all time is uncertain. I mean, it was uncertain back in – in 2007, we just didn’t know it was uncertain. It was – uncertain on September 10th, 2001. It was uncertain on October 18th, 1987, you just didn’t know it. – Warren Buffet

Now that you’ve taken a look at 7 years of quarterly financial data, you’re better able to identify what trends your company experiences. For us, we’ve observed seasonal cycles for particular services that we offer. But because we’re able to project the revenues for that particular service, we’re able to find other products or services to counter the low months.

While seasonal business can be very profitable, we prefer to have relatively consistent revenues throughout the year.

Check Your Surroundings

Your customer determines your bottom line. If your customer isn’t biting the line, then you have no fish to bring home.

Let’s take the 40,000 foot-level view.  Look at your customer’s customer. What’s going on that is causing them to not buy from your customer?  If your customer’s sales are down because their fish aren’t biting, they won’t be in a position to buy from you.

Check Basic Ratios

While projecting your revenues is important, it is crucial that you check your gross margin, operating gross profit, and other ratios to ensure that you are remaining profitable. If your projections show that you’re not able to cover your operating expenses, then a game plan needs to be put in place to deal with it.

Although this exercise seems obvious, we’ve found that clients often disregard the expense items under revenues that they have to cover. This can easily be solved by knowing your economics.

(We have a simple and free whitepaper that we’re offering to you that helps you examine the economics of your company. Download it here now!)

Be Ethical and Realistic

projecting revenueBusiness ethics should be relatively simple and easy to follow. But when lines get blurred, it gets difficult to see clearly. Recently, I was talking to someone (let’s call him Jake) who was previously in health care management. He had moved to a different company to be the director of physical therapy as the previous director had been promoted to regional manager. When Jake came in, he noticed that all of the projections for revenue had been inflated to show external shareholders that the location was doing a lot better than they really were.

Jake decided, rightly, that it was better for him to lower the projections so they would be realistic and accurate. It’s better to meet 95% of your projections than to only get about 50% of the way there.

Know Your Economics

Do you know your basic unit economics? This is one of the best ways (along with strategically pricing your product) to ensure that all decisions you make will be profitable.  When you’re preparing projections, it’s important to compare them to your unit economics to make sure that it all ties together.

In the end, you could be the most brilliant businessman or woman, but if your economics are bad, you won’t make money. Understand your economics to project your revenues effectively. Projections can be useful if done correctly!

When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact. – Warren Buffet

Not sure what your economics are or want to check to make sure they’re sound? Download our free Know Your Economics tool by clicking here or the image below.

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See also:

Cash Flow Projections

5 Ways to Prepare for Seasonality

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SWAG Technique

SWAG Technique

During the Vietnam War era, the military coined the term SWAG – Scientific Wild-Ass Guess.

CBS released “The Uncounted Enemy: a Vietnam Deception” in 1982 which highlighted the US Army and their “manipulation” of facts and figures during the Vietnam conflict. CBS claimed that  General William Westmoreland and other military officers were conspiring to misrepresent information, resulting in America being convinced that we were losing the war.

After the news program was released, General Westmoreland filed a$120 million libel suit.

SWAG: Scientific Wild-Ass Guess

In the heat of battle, the military did not have access to facts, figures, graphs, or wifi connection to research what the actual answers were to questions posed by journalists – i.e. the tactics that the Vietnamese were using, the strength of the Vietnamese, how many Americans were down, or when the next shipment of goods was coming in. Because of this lack of hard information, the military gave estimates based upon what they thought was correct at the time.

CBS did not realize that the information they were given was based upon assumptions and reported it to the American public as fact.  Once they realized their mistake, they apologized to General Westmoreland. The libel suit was eventually dropped in 1985.

The lesson… Sometimes, you gotta use SWAG.  But, you better make sure your audience knows it’s SWAG.

So what does the US Army’s term, SWAG, have to do with being a financial leader?

Often, in business, we’re in the tough spot of needing to make a decision quickly without enough information.

“Tom, I need a flux analysis. Can you have it on my desk by the end of the day?”

“Uh…”

Sound familiar?

SWAG vs. WAG

WAG = Wild-Ass Guess. It has absolutley no thought behind it and can cause a multitude of issues down the line because it was simply something you pulled out of thin air.

“Sure, I can have it to you by the end of the day.”

What’s wrong with that statement?

  1. You didn’t think about the time required for the analysis
  2. You’ve already promised to have X, Y, and Z by to Bob by the end of the day as well

Avoid WAG at all costs!

As seen in the the libel suit, even SWAG can have negative consequences if not communicated that that’s what it is (a guesstimate). SWAG might sound like this:

“It’s possible that I can get you the Flux Analysis by the end of business day tomorrow. However, the likelihood is that it will take 3 days to complete, but no more than 5.”

There is never enough information available to make the right decision, but you can make a smart decision using the information you do have.

Offer a Range

People tend to understand that when a range is given, it is a best guess. There are so many factors that play into any estimate, including impressions, experience, and rough calculations among other things. A SWAG is not the best estimate, but rather the estimate with the most information at a given point in time.

Houston, TX is known for its traffic. If your friend wanted to know how long it would take for you to go to the other side of town, what would your response be? (Notice the differences below.)

WAG: “It’ll take me 30 minutes because that’s a good estimate.”

SWAG: “Since it’s 4:00 and I’ve had experience with Houston traffic at rush hour, it will take me anywhere from 30-50 minutes for me to get to the other side of town. If there are any accidents on the freeway, it may push me to over 60 minutes.”

Estimate: “According to my GPS, it will take me 41 minutes to get to the other side of town.”

By offering a range, you now have some wiggle room if things don’t go as planned. Figure out the low and high end and provide an explanation with your answer. Explain some assumptions as they could affect the different points in the range.

One area where SWAG is particularly important is with projections.  You will never have perfect information to make spot-on forecasts. Knowing your basic unit economics is one tool that you can use in conjunction with the SWAG technique.

(Do you know your economics in order to make a SWAG? Download the free worksheet here.)

Check Assumptions

Update your SWAG as soon as you get more information that would result in a more clear picture. If you are producing projections for the next 5 years, what assumptions are you making as you create the forecast?

SWAG TechniqueEconomy, customer demand, and international trade are three of the more volatile factors in a projection. Is the economy going to boom or is it going to continue to decline for 6 more months? Look at how that’s going to affect your customers. Keep an eye out for factors that are impacting your customer in a way that might have an effect on your company. Read the news. Embargoes, strikes, and natural disasters could have a massive impact on what your assumptions.

Check them and recheck them as more information comes in. Remember, it is okay to adjust your previous range and assumptions.

Manage Expectations

Think of ways you can validate your assumptions and form a more firm estimate. Not only will this give you more information to impact your company’s financials, but it will allow you to think through all the possibilities in order to give a range under certain assumptions.

Utilizing the SWAG technique has its risks. General Westmoreland didn’t expect that giving a statement to a reporter would eventually result in a libel suit.  But some information is almost always better than no information.  SWAG can be a powerful tool if expectations are managed.

Know Your Economics (on blog)-2

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Sources:

No Uncertain Terms by William Safire

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Why Prepare Budgets?

Do you need to take an umbrella to work today?

Without a trusty weather app or friendly meteorologist, it would be difficult to know the answer. Fortunately, you probably have one of these tools to help you make an informed decision.

The CFO/Controller is the meteorologist for the business.  It’s your job to help the company decide when, and if, you’ll need an umbrella.  How do you do this?  By preparing a budget.

prepare a budgetWhat is a budget?

A budget is an estimate of income and expenses within a given amount of time. It contains economic goals, boundaries, and limits on expenditures of the organization.

By creating a budget, you’ll be able to hold the company accountable for its expenditures, reduce costs, and prepare for a worst case scenario. It serves as a measurement tool that can visually illustrate if you have enough cash to operate or to grow.

The steps in the budgeting process are:

  • Prepare the budget
  • Negotiate and agree on the budget
  • Monitor the budget

Prepare the Budget

First, you as the financial leader must choose what type of budgeting method you want to use. There are two main types of budgets: zero-based budgets and traditional budgets. While zero-based budgeting allows you to re-examine all of your costs, traditional budgeting is more user-friendly.

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Typically, prepare the annual budgets before the fiscal year begins. This window of preparation helps facilitate execution.  Early decision-making will provide boundaries within which the company must abide. Oftentimes, if you don’t prepare budget ahead of time and create it on the spot, then arguments and internal issues begin to arise. You can avoid disputes when executing a budget by preparing early.

During preparation, it’s important to focus on fiscal targets. Fiscal targets are are goals for specific financial categories. These could include profit, debt payback schedule, operating expenses, projected borrowing requirements, etc. By laying out these goals, you’ll be better equipped to prepare a budget that will allow negotiating and finalizing of the budget to go smoothly.

Optimistic Budgets

prepare a budget

As a reminder, an overoptimistic budget can result in late payments and disorderliness in regards to keeping in compliance with the bank. There are several ways you could be overoptimistic in your budget, the major one being you are not projecting your sales correctly. If you’re a couple cents off, it’s okay.  A budget should be seen as a “set of guidelines, not rules, based on the best forecasts at the time but always open to amendment as circumstances warrant” (Accounting at Your Fingertips, p. 332).

To reduce the chances of creating an overoptimistic budget, it’s important to go back to the basics. By focusing on the economics of your business, you’ll not only create a realistic budget, but you’ll be better able to project future growth.

(NOTE: Want an easy tool to analyze your company’s economics? Download the Know Your Economics Worksheet to make sure you’re pricing for profit!)

Negotiate and Agree on the Budget

As with most things in business, negotiation comes into play.  The purpose of negotiation is to allocate resources according to your targets and policies with everyone’s best interest in mind.  However, fiscal policies should provide the framework for budget formulation. Make sure that you consider your company’s economics when structuring the budget.

During this negotiation process, it is vital for you as the financial leader to maintain the meeting as a negotiation rather than let the meeting turn into a bargaining session. Bargaining results in a win-lose situation where the goal is to get as many of your points on paper over another person or department. It may drive the process, but it is not effective. Often, the outcome of bargaining is inefficient resource allocation.

By comparison, negotiation is all about a group of people working towards one goal. Part of this goal should be to comply with fiscal policies and targets.

Monitor the Budget

So much time and hard work goes into creating a budget, yet so many companies fail to utilize the budget. The purpose of a budget is to measure operational efficiency and performance issues.

The efforts of budgeting should be focused on improving revenue forecasting or projecting. A budget is useless unless utilized in a dynamic manner. While budgeting provides the short-term execution plan, forecasting allows you to take historical data to measure the reality of success in executing your budget. You’ll be better able to allocate resources to the right departments.

(Check out the 5 tools that you might not be using but should be implementing along side your budget.)

When you link the budget and the forecast, you’ll be more equipped to monitor the budget.  Contrast this with a static budget that is often useless after the first month. It all starts by knowing your unit economics and then assessing your economics to judge whether they are working for your company.

To ensure that your budget is built to achieve your business goals, make sure to start with the basics. Find out more about how you could utilize your unit economics to add more value to your organization by clicking the link below.

Know Your Economics (on blog)-2

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Strategic Pricing Model Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan to set your prices to maximize profits.

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prepare a budget

There are many methods you can use to improve productivity in your company. Click here to download a PDF of 10 Ways a CFO Can Improve Productivity.

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What You Should Know About Preparing a Forecast

Ready or not, it’s time to start the process of preparing your 2016 forecast.  While it may seem a bit premature, a walk down the aisle of your favorite home improvement store to check out their (already) prominently featured holiday displays tells the story.  Some of this can definitely be attributed to overzealousness to capture the consumer’s holiday dollar. But it drives home the point that 2015 is winding down. It’s time to start thinking about 2016.

3 Things You Should Know About Preparing a Forecast

So what should you keep in mind when preparing your 2016 forecast?  In the video below, Jim talks about 3 things you should know about preparing a forecast.

According to the video, the following 3 things are important when it comes to preparing a forecast:

Be Reasonable

If you choose to include pie-in-the-sky numbers in your forecast, then you’ll lose credibility. You won’t be able to excite your team about helping you achieve unrealistic goals.  If you paint too bleak a picture, you’ll lose motivation and won’t be able to effectively drive action toward goals.

Involve as Many People as Possible

While it’s true that the responsibility of preparing the forecast usually falls squarely on the shoulders of the CFO or Controller, it’s necessary for all departments to get involved in the process to create the most realistic plan possible.  Not only will you end up with better numbers, but sharing the ownership of achieving company goals spreads the burden to everyone.  People are more willing to be held accountable to numbers they understand and had a hand in producing.

Make it Dynamic

Now that you have the forecast prepared, you can put it in a drawer and forget about it, right?  Wrong.  In order to make all the time and effort you put into preparing the forecast worthwhile, it needs to be a living document.  Static forecasts are only realistic for a couple of months, at best.  Dropping in actuals and adjusting future estimates based upon conditions on the ground create a much better tool for running a business than one that ceased to be relevant months ago.

Check out our article Cash Flow Projections for more info on how to prepare a forecast.

If you need help creating an accurate forecast, then download our free Goldilocks Sales Method whitepaper to project accurately.

Preparing a Forecast

Strategic CFO Lab Member Extra

Access your Flash Report Execution Plan in SCFO Lab. The step-by-step plan will help you manage your company before you prepare your financial statements.

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Preparing a Forecast

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