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Financial Planning – The True Definition

Financial planning is a good idea for anyone with an income. Some people think of it as a synonym for retirement planning. However, financial planners are professionals who assist people in developing plans for many kinds of investments and expenses. Essentially, they help people earn, save and spend their money more wisely than they would if left to their own resources.

What Is Financial Planning?

The work of a financial planner can be broken down into several categories. Some of these categories of planning focus on the future, when a client plans to retire or hand over a business or estate to an heir. Others are focused on issues in the present or the near future, such as tax planning or simple cash flow management. However, all forms of financial planning follow certain elementary steps.

Varieties of Financial Planning

• Investment planning goes beyond simply purchasing financial instruments and other assets. An investment planner helps his or her clients think strategically about an investment portfolio. While an untrained client might let investments sit unprofitably for too long or trade too frequently to properly take advantage of profit margins, a financial planner can guide this client to earn more money from investments.

• A retirement planner assesses a client’s present economic status and prognosticates how much money that the client needs to earn from investments and savings in order to achieve financial independence by a specific age.

• Cash flow management is a type of financial planning which helps a client control income and expenses in order to save money. The goal of this management might simply be improvement in the quality of life for an individual. Financial planners can also help large businesses to improve their efficiency and their balance sheets.

• Estate planning anticipates death or incapacitation of a client and the distribution of his or her assets and belongings. A central part of this sort of work is writing wills and designating executors and heir.

The Financial Planning Process

• In the first step, the financial planner and the client set goals.

• Then the planner gathers financial information and other pertinent data about the client.

• Now the planner analyzes the information and determines what changes must be made to achieve the goals set during step one.

• The fourth step may require resetting goals in light of obstacles discovered during the analysis. Otherwise, client and planner devise a plan for meeting the goals.

• The planning team implements the plan.

• The sixth step is the longest phase of financial planning. The planner monitors progress toward the goals, often over a period of years or decades. Adjustments will probably have to be made as time passes.

10 Steps for Simplifying Business Plan Financial Statements

For most business owners and entrepreneurs, preparing, and communicating the financial statement section of a business plan is like trying to give driving directions to someone who doesn’t speak the same language.

“Numbers” is the language most investors speak. But, it is also the language that many business owners and entrepreneurs don’t speak or understand.

So how do you bridge this gap?

1) Understand there is a difference between “crunching” or preparing the financial statements and presenting them.

Preparing business plan financial statements often requires expert knowledge of double-entry accounting, taxes, merger and acquisition accounting, and finance. Skills most business owners or entrepreneurs don’t have, except for perhaps the most seasoned or those with accounting backgrounds. Presenting the numbers, however, only requires that you understand how what you plan to do translates into cash; and, what the potential financial risks for the business are, and how you’ll minimize them. If you cannot demonstrate that you understand these, then why would an investor ever give you money?

2) Get help early on.

Okay so you don’t have any money to hire a CPA or an accountant, and they just won’t do it for nothing. Reach out to your local college. Find the head of the accounting department or an accounting professor. Then, see how your project might be used to help the class learn about accounting, starting a business, or building financial models. The point is; you need someone who understands how to build projected financial statements based on your specific plans for the business. It is also important to find someone who can help you understand your financial statements.

3) Know the kind of investor you are seeking.

This is the same as a writer taking the time to know the audience before writing a book. For example, a banker puts more weight on the business’ liquidity, collateral, and ability to convert assets into cash quickly if the business runs into trouble and a loan is called. The emphasis on these financial measures is different for a venture capitalist whose interest is more on how quickly your business can grow, the potential future cash flow it can generate, and the potential for cashing out at an amount much higher than the initial investment.

4) Present only the numbers and measures most important to your type or types of investors in the body of your business plan.

Save the more detailed financial statements for the appendix and due diligence stage. Of course you need detailed financial statements and projections to support your business plan, but don’t think you need to share them with potential investors upfront. Investors are more interested in seeing if a few key numbers and financial measures make sense and that they support your strategies before they waste time digging through your supporting data. If they are interested in moving forward with you, believe me, they will dig into your financial statements.

5) Use graphs and tables wisely to present financial information.

Graphs are great for presenting trends and comparisons. Keep them simple and uncluttered. Be sure headings, labels, axis tabs, and so on are clear and legible. Nothing is better than a great graph or table to convey a message clearly and quickly. But remember, a bad graph or table can create much damage and confusion too.

6) Check you numbers.

Like typos, a wrong number can shatter your credibility instantly. It can cause your potential investors to lose confidence in your ability, or to question your understanding of the business. Be sure the numbers in your plan agree to the correct model or version of your financial plan. Verify the numbers in your business plan agree to all supporting documents.

7) Always include a statement of the sources and uses of cash.

If you have teenagers, I’m sure you always ask them where they’re going to spend the money you’re about to give them, before you hand the money over to them. The Statement of Sources and Uses does the same for investors. It tells potential investors how you plan to use their money. The statement accounts for all the money coming into the deal, whether it is bank debt, seller notes, personal cash, cash proceeds from the sale of stock, and so on. It then explains how you intend to use this money, whether it is to buy an existing business, buy certain assets, payoff existing debt, or payoff certain start-up liabilities, fees, and expenses.

8) Include all three fundamental financial statements: income statement, balance sheet and cash flow.

Don’t just provide potential investors with an income statement, it doesn’t give them the complete story. Also, be sure that all financial statements conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principals or GAAP. Include at least three years of actual historical financial information, if available, and five years of projected financial statements. Although no one expects you to be able to predict the future with absolute certainty, projections do provide insight into your thought process, assumptions, and understanding of the business and its markets.

9) Maintain a good financial model capable of running sensitivity analyses to show how your projected results will change as your assumptions change.

This allows you and your investors to identify which assumptions are most critical to your future performance. Each critical assumption needs evidence to support it. Also, include in your model benchmark comparisons to other companies in your industry. Compare things like revenues per employee, gross margin per employee, gross margin as a percentage of revenues, and various expense and balance sheet ratios.

10) Use footnotes and descriptions to explain how key numbers were derived or the specific assumptions behind them.

As much as possible, keep these short and to the point. Don’t get carried away footnoting every number. Footnote only key numbers or unusual items.

At the end of the day, more business deals are not consummated because investors don’t feel like they can trust the numbers for one reason or another. Spend the time, effort and money to communicate your financial statements clearly and convincingly. It can be the key to making your deal a reality.

Introduction to Financial Accounting and GAAP

Accounting, a.k.a. “The Language of Business”, is a large and diverse topic. Subtopics include financial accounting, cost accounting, management accounting, internal auditing external auditing, international accounting, governmental and not-for-profit accounting and taxes. The subtopic that comprises the largest portion of an accountants academic program of study is financial accounting.

The purpose of financial accounting is basically to provide useful information to users who will use that information to make a decision, most commonly either an investment or a credit decision. To be useful information needs to be relevant and reliable. The most common means of conveying information to users is through the preparation of financial statements: 1. the income statement, 2. the balance sheet, 3. the statement of cash flows, and 4. the statement of shareholders’ equity.

The income statement presents the profitability of company over a period of time. The balance sheet presents the assets, liabilities, and owners’ equity at the end of the period of time used for the income statement. The statement of cash flows classifies all cash inflows and outflows during the time period into one of three categories: operating, investing, and financing. The statement of shareholders’ equity shows how the shareholders’ equity changed over the period.

Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) are a set of standards, methods, procedures, and guidelines companies follow in measuring and reporting financial information in the financial statements. GAAP comes from written sources as well as practices that have been used for a ling time that have become generally accepted. Although the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the legal authority to set accounting standards for companies, it has always delegated the majority of this responsibility to the accounting profession itself. The current accounting professional body that sets standards is known as the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). The FASB issues standards called Statements of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS). They can be found on the FASB web-site, http://www.fasb.org. As of May 2007 the FASB has issued 159 such statements.

All publicly traded companies listing their stocks on U.S. stock exchanges must have their financial statement audited by an external CPA firm that expresses an opinion as to whether the financial statements have been prepared in conformity with GAAP. The idea is to lend credibility to the financial statements by providing a third-party’s verification that the statements are presented fairly in conformity with high quality standards, GAAP!

Recent accounting scandals (WorldCom, Enron, etc), however, have given the accounting profession somewhat of a black eye and have rekindled the debate over whether principles-based, or more recently termed, objectives-oriented, standards should be set forth as opposed to rules-based accounting standards. A principles-based approach to standard setting stresses professional judgment, as opposed to following a specific list of rules.