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Cash flow is a crucial element of any business, regardless of size. Without proper cash flow management, a small business can quickly become insolvent. To ensure financial stability, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of cash flow and its components.

This guide will provide an overview of cash flow, including the benefits of managing it correctly, the tools necessary for success, and tips on how to achieve positive cash flow. Additionally, we'll discuss best practices around forecasting future cash flow and how to use cash flow for strategic decision-making.

Understanding the basics of cash flow is the first step toward successful financial management.

What Is Cash Flow?

Cash flow is essentially a measure of the money coming into and leaving an organization in any given period of time. It includes both income (revenue) and expenses (costs). In other words, it is the net amount of cash available to an organization after accounting for all income and expenses.

Cash flow can be measured in a variety of ways, including on a monthly or annual basis. It's important to note that cash flow doesn't represent profitability — it is simply a measure of money coming into and leaving an organization over time.

What Is a Cash Flow Statement?

A cash flow statement is a document that provides detailed information on the inflows and outflows of cash over a specified period. It can include income from operations, investments, financing activities, and other sources.

A cash flow statement also includes expenses such as operating costs, capital expenditures, and debt payments. The purpose of this document is to provide an accurate picture of a company's current liquidity position and ability to generate cash.

Check out our Cash Flow Statement guide to learn more about what it is, how it's used, and how to prepare one.

What Is Cash Flow Management?

Cash flow management is the practice of managing cash inflows and outflows to ensure that a business has enough money on hand to meet its financial obligations. This includes controlling cash flow, managing liquidity, and optimizing working capital.

Cash flow management is an essential part of any business's financial planning. It should be looked at in conjunction with other key financial metrics such as revenue, expenses, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and income statements. By taking a holistic approach to financial management, businesses can ensure that they make the most of their available resources.

Benefits of Managing Cash Flow

Managing cash flow properly can have significant benefits for businesses, such as:

  • Improved financial management: Having a better understanding of where money is coming from and going allows businesses to make more informed financial decisions.
  • Increased operational efficiency: Having a better understanding of cash flow allows businesses to identify areas where they can cut costs and increase efficiency.
  • Reduced risk: Adequately managing cash flow helps to reduce the risk of running out of money and becoming insolvent.
  • Increased investor confidence: Investors are more likely to invest in a financially healthy business with a good cash flow.

How to Calculate Cash Flow?

Calculating cash flow is simple — all you need to do is subtract total expenses from total income. This will give you the net amount of cash available in any given period. However, understanding cash flow on a deeper level requires more detailed tracking of all income and expense items over a certain period.

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What Is Free Cash Flow?

Free cash flow is the amount of money an organization has after all expenses and investments have been accounted for. It's a measure of how much actual, available cash an organization has on hand to use for whatever purpose it sees fit — investing in new projects or other assets, paying off debt, or simply keeping it as a reserve.

How to Calculate Free Cash Flow?

To calculate free cash flow, you need to have a clear understanding of the company's expenses and investments. This includes calculating the net income (revenue minus costs), depreciation, amortization, interest expense, taxes paid, and capital expenditures. After all these items are accounted for, subtract them from total cash inflows to arrive at free cash flow.

What Is Operating Cash Flow?

Operating cash flow is the amount of money a company has available after paying for expenses related to its core operations. This includes items such as wages and salaries, rent and utility fees, raw materials, inventory purchases, taxes, interest payments, and other costs related to day-to-day operations.

How to Calculate Operating Cash Flow?

To calculate operating cash flow, subtract all expenses related to running the business from total cash inflows. This will give you an accurate picture of how much money is left over after the company has paid all its regular expenses.

What Is Discounted Cash Flow?

Discounted cash flow is a financial analysis tool that looks at the present value of expected future cash flows. It takes into consideration factors such as inflation, taxes, and other costs that could affect the amount of money a company has available in the future.

Check out our Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Analysis guide for more information on discounted cash flow, how to perform DCF Analysis using Excel and Google Sheets, and examples and tips to help you through the process.

How to Calculate Discounted Cash Flow?

The discounted cash flow calculation is more complex than the others and requires an understanding of financial principles such as the time value of money and risk analysis. To calculate it, you need to estimate the expected cash flows in future periods and then discount them back to their present value using a discount rate. This will give you an estimate of the value of the future cash flows today.

What Is Net Cash Flow?

Net cash flow is the total amount of money coming in and out of a company during a specific period. It's calculated by subtracting all cash outflows from cash inflows. This is a key measure of financial health, as it indicates whether the company is generating positive or negative cash flow.

How to Calculate Net Cash Flow?

To calculate net cash flow, add up all sources of income (revenue, interest, royalties, etc.) and subtract all expenses (salaries, rent, taxes). The resulting number is the total amount of cash generated over the period.

Forecasting Cash Flow

Forecasting cash flow is the practice of predicting future cash inflows and outflows to anticipate potential problems and make better decisions. Various tools can be used for forecasting, including budgeting software, spreadsheets, and financial dashboards.

These tools allow organizations to track their current financial performance and anticipate future cash flow trends, enabling them to better manage their finances. By forecasting cash flow, organizations can adjust their strategies accordingly and ensure long-term financial health.

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Cash Flow Management Tools

Many tools are available to help manage cash flow, such as accounting software, budgeting apps, spreadsheets, and financial dashboards. Each tool provides different levels of information, allowing organizations to track their finances in real time and make better decisions.

These tools also help organizations identify potential cash flow problems before they become serious issues, enabling them to take corrective actions quickly.

Types of Cash Flow Management Tools

There are several different cash flow management tools available, each designed to meet the needs of a specific type of organization. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Accounting software: Accounting software helps organizations track their income and expenses and manage invoices and payments. This type of software is typically used by larger organizations that need to track more detailed financial data.
  • Budgeting apps: Budgeting apps are designed to help individuals and businesses set and track their budgets. These tools can be used to create budgets, set spending limits, and track progress over time.
  • Spreadsheets: Spreadsheets are one of the most commonly used cash flow management tools. They can be used to track income and expenses, create budgets, and analyze data.
  • Financial dashboards: Financial dashboards are designed to give organizations an overview of their finances at a glance. These tools provide real-time financial data that can be used to make informed decisions quickly.

By using the right cash flow management tools, organizations can ensure that their finances are in order and that they are making smart decisions regarding spending and investing. Additionally, these tools can help organizations identify potential cash flow problems before they become serious issues.

Top 10 Cash Flow Management Tools

  1. 1. Google Sheets: Google Sheets is one of the most popular spreadsheet programs for cash flow management. It is free to use and offers many of the same features as Microsoft Excel but with a simpler online collaborative interface.
  2. 2. Layer: a free Google Sheets add-on to automate your cash flow management on top of Google Sheets. You can share parts of your Google Sheets with different collaborators, collect data input, as well as review and approve all inputs and changes before merging them back with your financial model.
  3. 3. Quickbooks: Quickbooks is one of the most popular accounting software tools for small businesses. It's easy to use and allows users to manage invoices, payments, and more.
  4. 4. Xero: Xero is another popular accounting software tool for small businesses. It is cloud-based and allows users to manage invoices, payments, and more.
  5. 5. Microsoft Excel: Microsoft Excel is another popular spreadsheet program for cash flow management. It allows users to track income and expenses, create budgets, and analyze data.
  6. 6. Mint: Mint is a budgeting app that helps individuals and businesses track their spending and create budgets.
  7. 7. Finagraph: Finagraph is a financial dashboard tool that provides real-time financial data to businesses. It helps organizations make informed decisions quickly and accurately.
  8. 8. Cash Flow Forecast: This cash flow forecasting tool helps businesses forecast future cash flows, allowing them to plan for the future and manage their finances more effectively.
  9. 9. Float: Float is a cash flow management tool designed for small businesses and freelancers. It helps users track income and expenses, manage invoices, and forecast future cash flows.
  10. 10. Wave: Wave is an accounting software tool designed for small businesses and freelancers. It's easy to use and allows users to manage invoices, payments, payroll, and more.

By using the right combination of cash flow management tools, organizations can ensure that their finances are in order and that they are making better decisions when it comes to spending and investing. The cash flow management tools listed above are just a few of the many available. Organizations should take the time to research the different options and choose the tools that best fit their needs.

Tips for Achieving Positive Cash Flow

Positive cash flow is essential for any organization looking to remain solvent. To ensure positive cash flow, organizations should focus on increasing their revenue and reducing expenses. This can be done through different strategies, such as improving operational efficiency, negotiating better terms with suppliers, and focusing on customer retention.

Additionally, forecasting future cash flows can help organizations anticipate potential problems and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Cash Flow Management Best Practices

To ensure that their finances are in order and to maximize their profits, organizations should employ cash flow management best practices. This includes:

  • Regularly tracking income and expenses.
  • Creating and following budgets.
  • Forecasting future cash flows.
  • Periodically reviewing financial statements.

Additionally, businesses should be mindful of their tax obligations and take steps to reduce their tax liability.


Cash flow management is essential for any organization looking to succeed financially. By utilizing the right tools and employing best practices, businesses can accurately track their income and expenses, create and follow budgets, forecast future cash flows, and quickly make informed financial decisions.

With the right strategies in place, organizations can ensure their long-term financial health and maximize their profits.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Jan 16 2023, Updated Jun 26 2023

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