Forecasting sales and profits, particularly on a short-term basis (one year to three years), is essential to planning for business success. This process, estimating future business performance based on the actual results from prior periods, enables the business owner/manager to modify the operation of the business on a timely basis. This allows the business to avoid losses or major financial problems should some future results from operations not conform with reasonable expectations.
Forecasts - or Pro Forma Income Statements and Cash Flow Statements as they are usually called - also provide the most persuasive management tools to apply for loans or attract investor money. As a business expands, there will inevitably be a need for more money than can be internally generated from profits. Next, let's examine some facts affecting Forecasting sales and profits.
Preparation of Forecasts (Pro Forma Statements) requires assembling a wide array of pertinent, verifiable facts affecting your business and its past performance. These include:
Data from prior financial statements, particularly:
a. Previous sales levels and trends
b. Past gross percentages
c. Average past general, administrative, and selling expenses necessary to generate your former sales volumes
d. Trends in the company's need to borrow (supplier, trade credit, and bank credit) to support various levels of inventory and trends in accounts receivable required to achieve previous sales volumes
Unique company data, particularly:
a. Plant capacity
c. Financial constraints
d. Personnel availability
Industry-wide factors, including:
a. Overall state of the economy
b. Economic status of your industry within the economy
c. Population growth
d. Elasticity of demand for the product or service your business provides ( Demand is said to be "elastic" if it decreases as prices increase, a demonstration that consumers can do without or with less of the goods or service. If demand for something is relatively steady as prices increase, it is "inelastic.")
e. Availability of raw materials
Once these factors are identified, they may be used in Pro Formas, which estimate the level of sales, expense, and profitability that seem possible in a future period of operations.
In preparing the Pro Forma Income Statement, the estimate of total sales during a selected period is the most critical "guesstimate:" Employ business experience from past financial statements. Get help from management and salespeople in developing this all-important number.
Then assume, for example, that a 10 percent increase in sales volume is a realistic and attainable goal. Multiply last year's net sales by 1.10 to get this year's estimate of total net sales. Next, break down this total, month by month, by looking at the historical monthly sales volume. From this you can determine what percentage of total annual sales fell on the average in each of those months over a minimum of the past three years. You may find that 75 percent of total annual sales volume was realized during the six months from July through December in each of those years and that the remaining 25 percent of sales was spread fairly evenly over the first six months of the year.
Next, estimate the cost of goods sold by analyzing operating data to determine on a monthly basis what percentage of sales has gone into cost of goods sold in the past. This percentage can then be adjusted for expected variations in costs, price trends, and efficiency of operations.
Operating expenses (sales, general and administrative expenses, depreciation, and interest), other expenses, other income, and taxes can then be estimated through detailed analysis and adjustment of what they were in the past and what you expect them to be in the future.
Comparison with Actual Monthly Performance
Putting together this information month by month for a year into the future will result in your business's Pro Forma Statement of Income. Use it to compare with the actual monthly results from operations. Preparation of the information is summarized below:
Cost of Sales
Subtract the total cost of sales from the total revenue.
The Pro Forma Statement of Income, prepared on a monthly basis and culminating in an annual projection for the next business fiscal year, should be revised not less than quarterly. It must reflect the actual performance achieved in the immediately preceding three months to ensure its continuing usefulness as one of the two most valuable planning tools available to management.
Should the Pro Forma reveal that the business will likely not generate a profit from operations, plans must immediately be developed to identify what to do to at least break even - increase volume, decrease expenses, or put more owner capital in to pay some debts and reduce interest expenses.
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"Break-Even" means a level of operations at which a business neither makes a profit nor sustains a loss. At this point, revenue is just enough to cover expenses. Break-Even Analysis enables you to study the relationship of volume, costs, and revenue.
Break-Even requires the business owner/manager to define a sales level - either in terms of revenue dollars to be earned or in units to be sold within a given accounting period - at which the business would earn a before tax net profit of zero. This may be done by employing one of various formula calculations to the business estimated sales volume, estimated fixed costs, and estimated variable costs.
Generally, the volume and cost estimates assume the following conditions:
Two methods are generally employed in Break-Even Analysis, depending on whether the break-even point is calculated in terms of sales dollar volume or in number of units that must be sold.
Break-Even Point in Sales Dollars
The steps for calculating the first method are shown below:
Remember: Increased sales do not necessarily mean increased profits. If you know your company's break-even point, you will know how to price your product to make a profit. If you cannot make an acceptable profit, alter or sell your business before you lose your retained earnings.
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