Cash flow is an important financial metric that can indicate whether a business has enough money to continue operating. While it’s not as glamorous as profit and loss statements, cash flow is a useful indicator of whether a business will be able to continue operations after accounting for expenses.
What is a Profit and Loss Statement?
A profit and loss statement (P&L), also known as an income statement, is a financial statement that summarizes a business’s revenues, expenses, and profits for a given time period (usually one year). It’s one of the three key reports that make up a business’s financial statements (the others being the balance sheet and cash flow statement).
The P&L is typically generated monthly, quarterly, or even yearly, depending on the type of business. Many larger businesses will have several P&Ls for different divisions, divisions that are wholly owned subsidiaries, and even separate pieces of equipment. The P&L breaks down where a company’s revenue came from, the expenses associated with each revenue source, and what profit each source generated.
The P&L is very useful when analyzing a company’s performance in the past, but it’s not as useful when projecting future performance. That’s why many businesses also create budgets and cash flow statements to help determine future cash flows.
What is Cash Flow?
Cash flow is the amount of cash that is either coming into or going out of your business on a regular basis. It measures the difference between cash coming in from sales versus cash being spent on expenses such as inventory, utilities, employees, and other fixed costs. That’s why there’s some confusion about whether cash flows are the same as profit and loss statements and how they differ.
How is Cash Flow Different from a P&L?
On the surface, they both seem to measure cash and have a similar format, but there are a few key differences between cash flow and a profit and loss statement.
- A cash flow statement measures the amount of money that flows in and out of business over a period of time (usually a month). It’s a snapshot of your business’s cash flow at a particular moment. P&L statements, on the other hand, P&L statements measure the profitability of a business over time. They’re meant to track the earnings and expenses over a period of time so that you can determine whether you are making a profit.
- The main difference between cash flow and P&L statements is that expenses are included in the P&L but not in the cash flow. Business expenses are subtracted from the profits to get the net profit. The expenses are included in the P&L statements but not in the cash flow.
In a cash flow statement, the expenses are subtracted from the revenue. In a P&L, the revenue is subtracted from the expenses. Expenses are included in the P&L but not in the cash flow statement because they have already been paid. In other words, you have already used the cash to pay for them.
Why Is Cash Flow Important?
Cash flow is important because it helps businesses determine whether they have enough money to keep operating. Businesses with positive cash flow are able to remain operational, while those with negative cash flow may not be able to pay their bills.
Because cash flow is a regular measurement, it also allows business owners to identify trends in their cash flow. They can determine if certain expenses are rising too quickly or if certain revenue streams are falling behind. This helps business owners make better operational decisions in the future.
3 Ways to Track Cash Flow Continuously
- Daily cash flow – You can track your cash flow continuously by entering all cash and expense transactions into a software program. This will allow you to see how much money is coming in and going out on a daily basis.
- Monthly cash flow – Alternatively, you can enter all cash and expense transactions into a software program on a monthly basis. This will give you an idea of how much your business brings in and goes out every month.
- Spreadsheet cash flow – Alternatively, you can track your cash flow on a spreadsheet. This might not be as comprehensive as the two above options, but it can give you a ballpark idea of how much your business is bringing in and going out.
At first glance, it is easy to confuse cash flow with the profit and loss statement since they are both financial metrics that measure the flow of cash in and out of business. It’s important for business owners to understand since it helps them determine whether they have enough money to keep operating.