Cash Flow Forecasting: The Ultimate Guide for Business Owners

Everything you need to know about cash flow forecasting, including: benefits, process, automation tools, and more.

As a business owner, keeping track of your company's financial standing is essential. And one of the most significant indicators in this regard is cash flow – the money coming into and going out of your business. But it's not enough to know what's happening in real time, you need to look toward the future. That's where cash flow forecasting comes in. 

Cash flow forecasting is essential to every business, regardless of size. It helps to balance your financial statements, create budgets, and forecast future income so you can make informed decisions that guide your team toward financial success. 

Looking to learn more about cash flow forecasting? You’ve come to the right place. This article discusses everything you need to know about cash flow forecasting, including its definition, benefits, process, and much more.

What is Cash Flow Forecasting?

Cash flow forecasting is the process of calculating and projecting your future cash inflows and outflows. It involves predicting any and all incoming funds and outgoing expenses. Finance teams use these insights to decide how best to manage cash resources. 

Cash flow forecasting is crucial and non-negotiable for business leaders, though less strategic teams might see it as optional or unnecessary.

By having a strong cash flow forecast, you can make sure there's always enough cash to pay future bills and handle day-to-day money needs. Cash flow forecasting helps business owners see ahead and act in advance if they will have too little or too much cash.

Why is Cash Flow Forecasting Important?

Leading companies invest significant time and resources into improving cash flow forecasting, recognizing its critical role in business health. Below, we’ll explore the main benefits of cash flow forecasting that make it so important for today’s leading teams.

7 Benefits of Cash Flow Forecasting

  1. It enables effective and informed business decisions, better planning, and management of future cash movements.
  2. It provides visibility into whether or not you're meeting financial obligations and expectations. 
  3. It makes for more effective budget planning, identifies capital needs, and supports tax preparation efforts.
  4. It facilitates more predictable growth by enabling stronger planning and more efficient use of cash surpluses.
  5. It allows you to test different scenarios, providing insight into how your business will cope in difficult times or evaluating the affordability of future initiatives.
  6. It can help you get out of debt faster by ensuring you have the cash necessary to meet your financial obligations.
  7. It showcases your financial management efforts and builds external stakeholder confidence.

For more specific cash flow forecasting benefits for SMBs, read this article.

What Happens When Teams Mismanage Their Cash Flow?

Mismanaging finances or miscalculating cash flow can severely damage your company's short and long-term financial health. In fact, poor cash flow management can even lead to insolvency and bankruptcy, completely ruining your business's prospects. 

For example, being unable to pay employees or suppliers will damage both your company's livelihood and reputation. Even if you're able to dig yourself out using credit, increased debt servicing costs will limit your future investment opportunities.

Accurate cash flow forecasting helps your team make informed decisions about investments, debt management, and cash reserves to stave off these types of issues.

How Do I Forecast Cash Flow?

Cash flow forecasting is not a single boilerplate process. There are three core forecasting methods commonly used by businesses today: direct, indirect, and discounted. 

Top Three Cash Flow Forecasting Methods

1. The Direct Cash Flow Forecasting Method

The direct cash flow forecasting method tracks individual transactions to calculate cash inflows and outflows. This method provides a detailed look into a company's cash flow by categorizing transactions into: 

  • Operating activities, like revenue and expenses. 
  • Investing activities, including asset purchases and sales. 
  • Financing activities, such as funding or debt repayments.  

The direct method typically works best for short-term forecasting and highlights cash requirements to fund working capital.

Benefits of Direct Cash Flow Forecasting

There are numerous benefits to using a direct cash flow forecasting method. For example, it helps businesses: 

  • Look at business liquidity and solvency. 
  • Track investments in new equipment or technology. 
  • Predict cash outflows for better financial planning. 
  • Make informed decisions about their financial position and ensure long-term stability.

2. The Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting Method 

On the other hand, the indirect forecasting method starts with net income and adjusts for non-cash items. This method helps businesses monitor their cash flow by considering accounts receivable, inventory and accounts payable changes. 

It typically works well for longer-term forecasting and highlights cash requirements to fund longer-term growth strategies and capital projects.

Benefits of the Indirect Cash Flow Forecasting Method

By using the indirect method, businesses can: 

  • Gain valuable insights into their long-term future cash flows
  • Execute better financial management 
  • Anticipate potential shortfalls in cash and plan accordingly

3. The Discounted Cash Flow Method

Lastly, teams use discounted cash flow (DCF) models to determine the value of an investment as of today. To arrive at the valuation amount, you'll factor in the projected future cash flows of the investment and account for inflation and other factors using a discount rate.

Management can use DCF forecasting to determine whether it makes sense to invest in real estate, purchase stocks, or take on a new project, for example. 

Benefits of the Discounted Cash Flow Method 

The discounted cash flow method boasts several benefits that make it worthwhile to businesses everywhere. Here are a few of its most important perks: 

  • Accounts for the changing value of cash and real-life scenarios. 
  • Tracks various entities, including projects, stocks, and more. 
  • Can be personalized to help businesses account for their unique business scenarios and questions. 

While each method has its benefits and limitations, choosing the appropriate cash flow forecasting method based on your business needs is vital.

Key Categories to Consider in a Cash Flow Forecast

When creating a cash flow forecast, you must consider several key categories to ensure an accurate and comprehensive projection. These include inflows, outflows, subsidiaries, and one-off items. Keep reading to learn more about each category.


Inflows comprise all the sources of cash coming into the business, such as sales revenue or capital injections from investors. This category typically accounts for most, if not all, of a company's revenue generated by its core business. However, the level of detail included in this figure can vary greatly depending on the industry and business model. 

For instance, companies selling products with consistent prices may want to break down customer receipts by location or channel to better understand their sales performance. 

On the other hand, those that operate on a subscription basis or experience payment delays may choose to categorize inflows differently to better track cash flow. By analyzing inflows, businesses can identify trends and patterns in their revenue streams, allowing them to make informed decisions about future investments and expenditures.


The various expenses and costs associated with running the business include salaries, rent, taxes, and other operating expenses. 

Supplier Payments

The largest portion of outflows typically comes from accounts payable, which can vary widely in granularity and categorization depending on the company's setup and available data. 


Payroll is another significant outflow category and often the easiest to forecast. Depending on the desired output, businesses may categorize payroll based on geography, function, or employee level. On the other hand, capital expenditures can be challenging to forecast due to timing issues and external factors outside of the company's control. 


Tax is another crucial outflow category that can vary depending on the industry and jurisdiction in which a company operates. Categorizing tax by geography or type can provide a more accurate forecast. 

Debt/Interest Payments

Debt and interest payments are straightforward to forecast and categorize. They are often structured as fixed payments over a defined period. By analyzing and understanding these outflows, businesses can gain valuable insight into their financial position and make informed decisions about their cash management strategy.

One-off Items

One-off items include large purchases, non-recurring expenses, or unusual income sources. Factor those into your cash flow forecast to provide a more accurate picture of the company's financial situation.

Cash Flow Forecasting vs. Financial Modeling: What's The Difference?

Cash flow forecasting and financial modeling are both used to project a business's financial performance. But they shouldn't be confused. Every business owner should be able to differentiate one from the other. Below, we’ll outline their key differences: 

Cash flow forecasting is the process of estimating future cash inflows and outflows. It provides a snapshot of a company's liquidity and helps identify potential cash shortfalls, making it ideal for assessing the current financial position of a business.

Financial modeling takes cash flow forecasting a step further. It allows businesses to predict the impact of future events on their finances, such as new product launches or acquisitions. 

Another difference that may not be readily apparent is that cash flow forecasting focuses on short-term estimates, whereas financial modeling typically takes a longer-term view. 

While cash flow forecasting and financial modeling are different concepts, both strategies play integral roles in effective financial management and help businesses make informed decisions about their future.

What is The Cash Flow Forecasting Process?

The Cash Flow Forecasting Process in 7 Steps 

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let's get into the step-by-step process of cash flow forecasting. In the majority of cases, the cash flow forecasting process includes seven distinct steps: 

  1. Determine your forecasting objective(s): The objective of your forecast will depend on your business needs. The most common goals are short-term liquidity planning, interest and debt reduction, covenant and key date visibility, liquidity risk management, and growth planning.
  2. Choose the period: Consider the trade-off between accuracy and available data. Short-period forecasts (two to four weeks) are best for short-term liquidity planning. In contrast, medium-period forecasts (two to six months) are useful for interest and debt reduction, cash management, liquidity risk management, and key date visibility. Long-period forecasts (six to 12 months) are ideal for assessing the cash required for long-term growth strategies. Mixed-period forecasts use a mix of these periods and are commonly used for liquidity risk management.
  3. Choose a Forecasting Method and Source Data: Once you’ve determined your forecasting objective and timeline, you need to pick a forecasting method. Direct forecasting uses actual flow data from bank accounts and cash management software like Centime. Meanwhile indirect forecasting uses projected balance sheets and income statements for longer periods. A third option is to opt for discounted cash flow forecasting. Once you’ve selected a forecasting method, you must also select a data source. 
  4. Forecast Cash Inflows: To forecast cash inflows, you need to estimate the potential revenue from sales, loans and any other forms of income.
  5. Forecast Cash Outflows: Forecasting cash outflows involves determining all the future expenses that your business will incur. This can include rent, salaries, utilities, and loan repayments. Make sure to categorize these expenses to differentiate between fixed and variable expenses.
  6. Compare Inflows and Outflows: After forecasting cash inflows and outflows, you must subtract the outflows from the inflows to determine if your incoming funds are enough to cover your outgoing expenses. If there's a shortfall, you can consider alternative options such as cutting expenses or seeking credit from lenders.
  7. Review and Update the Forecast: Forecasting is not a one-time event; teams should regularly review and update their forecast. This allows you to alter your company's strategy, adjust expenses, and identify future opportunities for growth.

Best Practices for Precise and Reliable Cash Flow Forecasts

Cash flow forecasting can be challenging, especially if you're new to the process. To make things easier and increase the accuracy and effectiveness of your forecasts, we recommend following these best practices:

  • Look for trends in your cash inflows and outflows. Closely examining your cash flow data helps to uncover trends that can better inform your forecasts, whereas simply taking the data at face value could leave valuable insights on the table. 
  • Be consistent with reporting. Cash flow forecasting requires regular data maintenance to provide reliable results, so create a standard data collection and reporting process for your team. 
  • Automate to minimize human error. Automation tools and practical accounting forecasting software can significantly reduce errors and save time in the forecasting process. Leveraging technology for this function could be one of the best choices you make for your business.
  • Start with a 13-week forecast. A 13-week forecast enables you to get ahead of cash shortages and successfully manage cash on a medium-term basis to keep your long-term plans intact. It also allows you to orchestrate repayments for short-term debt without disrupting your annual budget. 
  • Create several versions of your forecasts: Accounting for several scenarios with each forecast enables you to prepare for uncertainties. You can create a best-case scenario, a most-likely scenario, and a worst-case scenario to be ready for any scenario that arises. 
  • Use a rolling forecast: Rolling forecasts keep your business up-to-date and provide greater agility. Unlike static forecasts, they're updated regularly to reflect the latest information and changes in the business environment.

What Are Common Cash Flow Forecasting Mistakes?

5 Top Cash Flow Forecasting Mistakes to Avoid

Effective cash flow forecasting is critical to any business's financial planning. But many teams accidentally diminish the accuracy of their projections by making common forecasting mistakes.

Want to keep your cash flow forecasting as accurate as possible? Here are a few of the top cash flow forecasting mistakes to avoid:

  1. Being too optimistic: When creating a cash flow forecast, it's tempting to be overly optimistic about future sales and revenue. However, planning for unexpected expenses and worst-case scenarios is crucial to ensure your business has enough cash to meet its obligations.
  2. Using unrealistic timelines: Unrealistic timelines for incoming and outgoing funds can significantly impact the accuracy of your cash flow projections. The more accurate you are with the timing of inflows and outflows, the more accurate your projections will be.
  3. Unplanned growth: Costs associated with unplanned growth are often overlooked in cash flow projections. It's essential to include every detail in your cash flow plan to accurately forecast the financial impact of growth opportunities.
  4. Lack of detail: Good cash flow forecasting is meticulous. While accounting for every detail of incoming and outgoing money streams may seem tedious, these details are what make your cash flow forecasts more accurate.
  5. Collections timelines when selling on credit: Late or delayed customer payments can significantly impact a business's cash flow. Proper receivables management ensures timely payments and more effective cash flow planning.

Digital Automation Tools for Cash Flow Forecasting

Digital tools revolutionize cash flow forecasting, traditionally a time-intensive process dominated by spreadsheets. These platforms bring about ample benefits, including: 

  • Efficiency gains: Automating cash flow significantly reduces manual effort.
  • Ensure accuracy: Automation makes your forecasts more accurate by reducing the risk of human error during data collection and analysis. 
  • Scale with growth: Automation platforms can easily scale as your business grows and changes, minimizing disruptions over time.
  • Improve decision-making: Automated cash flow forecasting solutions help your team make more informed decisions about investments, debt management, and cash reserves.

Digital tools like Centime's Cash Flow Forecasting takes this a step further by using AI to analyze historical financial data to identify patterns and inform projections. 

This AI-powered cash flow forecasting approach enables more dynamic and precise predictions, helping teams navigate financial challenges with confidence. AI automates data collection, minimizes human error, and offers scalable solutions as business complexity grows. 

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Track Cash Flow

To gauge the success of your cash flow forecasts and cash management initiatives, you need to track key performance indicators (KPIs). Here is our top list of cash flow-specific KPIs to track.

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)

DSO is a metric used to calculate the average number of days it takes to collect client payments after making a sale. Many teams use DSO as a KPI to evaluate the effectiveness of their collection strategy. A lower DSO signals an efficient collections approach, leading to faster accounts receivable conversion.

Days Sales Outstanding = (Accounts Receivable/Net Credit Sales)* Number of days

Days Payable Outstanding (DPO)

DPO measures the number of days it takes for a company to pay its suppliers. Knowing this information can make it easier to predict when cash will go out of the business.

Days Payable O = (Average Accounts Payable/Cost of Goods Sold)* Number of Days

AR Turnover

The AR turnover ratio measures the number of times a company collects all of its accounts receivable during a defined period. It is calculated by dividing net sales by average accounts receivable. The higher your AR turnover, the quicker you recover money due from customers.

AR Turnover = Net credit sales/ Average Accounts Receivable for the chosen period.

AP Turnover

AP Turnover refers to the number of times a company pays off its suppliers during a defined period. A high AP turnover ratio indicates that the business is generating enough capital to pay debts promptly.

AP Turnover = Net credit purchases/ Average Accounts Payable for the chosen period

Liquidity Ratio (Current ratio)

Liquidity ratios evaluate a company's capacity to pay off its short-term debts. The current ratio and quick ratio are examples of such ratios that determine a company's short-term liquidity and its ability to overcome financial difficulties.

Quick Liquidity Ratio = (Current Assets - Inventory - Prepaid Expenses) / Current Liabilities

Cash Flow Forecast Accuracy

This metric evaluates the accuracy of cash flow predictions by comparing them to actual cash flow. It helps teams determine their forecasting methods' effectiveness and pinpoint areas of improvement.

Cash Flow Forecast Accuracy % = (1 - [(actual closing - forecasted closing) / actual closing]) * 100

Cash Conversion Cycle

The cash conversion cycle measures the time it takes to convert investments in inventory and other resources into cash flow from sales. Businesses can accelerate their cash inflows by optimizing each stage of the cash conversion cycle. This then improves the working capital to run the business.

Cash Conversion Cycle = Days Inventory Outstanding + Days Sales Outstanding - Days Payable Outstanding


So, there you have it: the basics of cash flow forecasting, what it means to your business, the main forecasting steps, and much more. Solid cash flow forecasting is fundamental for any business that wants to maintain liquidity, navigate financial challenges, and seize the right opportunities. We hope that the information in this article helps you better understand the ins and outs of cash flow forecasting so you can use it to its full potential in your business. 

To streamline cash flow forecasting for your business, try out Centime Cash Flow Forecasting. Its AI-powered forecasts, user-friendly interface, intelligent cash management, and tracking features take the guesswork out of cash flow forecasts, save you time, and increase your accuracy, enabling you to make data-driven decisions that position your business for financial success. 


Cash Flow Forecasting Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a typical cash flow forecasting period?

Many companies produce a 13-week (one-quarter) cash forecast to help manage finance and treasury activities.

The 13-week period strikes a balance between accuracy and range. Accuracy degrades as the forecast range increases, making it more challenging to make data-informed decisions. However, a 13-week forecast provides enough accuracy to drive decision-making while offering enough range to enable medium-term planning.

Why do companies prefer the 13-week cash flow forecast? 

Companies often choose a 13-week cash flow forecast for its strategic value in financial management.

For external stakeholders like banks and investors, this forecast provides an in-depth view of the company's short-term financial health and cash liquidity, which is particularly essential for making informed investment decisions or evaluating the financial stability of a newly acquired company.

Internally, the forecast offers a clear snapshot of the financial standing for the upcoming quarter, aiding in more precise and effective financial reporting and target management.

How often should a business forecast its cash flow?

Cash flow is a changing metric that must be monitored frequently, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all timeline. It really depends on your company’s objectives and goals.

Monthly or quarterly forecasts are generally more helpful for stable, established businesses. At the same time, weekly projections will be essential for companies scaling up or going through significant changes, such as restructuring or mergers/acquisitions.

How accurate are cash flow forecasts? 

The accuracy of cash flow forecasts depends on multiple factors, including the forecast's time frame, the quality of financial data, market stability, company-specific conditions, the expertise of the financial team, and external influences like market disruptions.

Short-term forecasts are generally more accurate, and accuracy can be improved with better data, skilled analysis, and advanced forecasting tools.

What are the main data sources of a cash flow forecast?

Centime's 13-week cash flow forecast combines actual and forecast data.

Actual data, sourced from electronic bank statements or accounting and ERP systems, provides the starting point. These systems, used by small to large businesses, offer data export and integration features for easy connection to cash forecasting software.

Mapping both forecast and actual payables and receivables from these systems into the forecasting model is a key part of the process.

How does AI improve cash flow forecasting?

AI improves cash flow forecasting by leveraging data analysis and pattern recognition for more accurate predictions, automating routine tasks to reduce errors, providing real-time financial insights, and simulating various scenarios for effective risk assessment.

Its predictive analytics capabilities enable businesses to anticipate cash flow trends, while automation ensures up-to-date and accurate data. Additionally, AI systems can customize their analyses to specific business needs and adapt over time, continually enhancing forecast precision.