What’s the Difference Between a Budget and a Forecast?
Posted on 9th February 2017 in Business
Written by James Marren
Understanding the difference between budgeting and forecasting is the difference between driving your business where you want to be versus getting lost. But aren’t they the same thing? No, not quite, in fact, there are some major differences in their application and what they can do for your business. Read this and drive your business into the fast lane.
Budgeting and forecasting are two financial functions that are critical if you want to drive your business and not let it take you for a ride.
However, there’s often some confusion surrounding budgets and forecasts, they are clearly linked, but it’s important to distinguish the differences. They’re not the same and they should be used differently, as intended, to give you a different perspective of whether your business is on the road to success or not.
Set your budget
A budget is where you want to go. This is your business roadmap. Remember the old days when you print off the step by step route guide instructions or use a roadmap? Your budget is your static A-B route.
It seeks to represent a business’ financial position, cash flows and its goals by estimating the amount of future revenue and expenses that may be incurred by the company. Usually, the budget is only re-evaluated periodically, perhaps once per year, and it creates a baseline with which to compare actual results and evaluate performance.
We believe it is too important to review annually so you should check it monthly to ascertain if your assumptions were correct.
Are budgets worth doing?
Most definitely! The more accurately you can predict your company’s performance, the more certain you can be that you have deployed your resources appropriately to achieve your goals.
This will help you with the sleepless nights, you’ve made a prediction and mapped out where that should take you. This leads nicely into the benefits of your forecast: are you actually getting there, or do you need to use a diversion?
Forecast your future
A forecast looks similar, but unlike a budget, it shows you where your business is actually going. If the budget is your static roadmap, then your forecast is your Satnav. It is responsive to change. If your business is going off-track, the forecast allows you to plan around the diversion and take a new route.
Forecasts estimate by looking back at any historical data that you have, but this should be frequently updated to take into account what is happening in the business right now. So even if you are a new startup and you don’t have lots of historical data, you need to start thinking about using forecasts, because actually, it’s the most recent data that is the most relevant to keep you on track.
That’s why FUTRLI pulls in data from the cloud automatically, every day, to power your rolling forecasts.
Firstly, this means you don’t have to because we know if you did it is one of those tasks that would probably fall off the list. There are opportunities to grab with both hands or fires to put out which will come first.
Secondly, by automating the hard part for you, it means you will have consistent access to the most up-to-date view of your business so that you can make better decisions based on the facts. And, of course, share that back with your team who need to know the numbers too.
How to get the best out of your cash flow forecast
Collaborate with your management team and use forecasting to make any necessary adjustments to business operations and spending throughout the year, on a regular basis.
A few things to consider…
Plan for every outcome
Create several forecasts to reflect a range of outlooks (optimistic, pessimistic and most likely). For example, what will happen if that major investment you’re waiting on fails to materialise? How will you leverage a sudden spike in sales?
Preparing yourself for a number of eventualities means that you’re able to move decisively and capitalise on, or mitigate, whatever life wants to throw at you.
Make it part of your routine!
Things can change so fast and a month is a really long time in business. If you don’t prioritise looking at your business, an amazing opportunity to pounce on the hottest trend could easily just pass you by.
Don’t be an island
Try to keep your managers and other key members of your team involved in the forecasting process as much as possible. They are on the front line and the information they have is more valuable than your assumptions.
Budgeting essentially lays out a plan for where a business wants to go, whereas financial forecasting indicates where the business is actually headed.
We’re passionate about trying to get you to join the many business owners who are already benefiting from knowing the health of their business at all times.