By Emily Hunter
Budgeting and forecasting have historically been two of the most grueling tasks in business. All the thrill and passion you felt when you first got into business are all but completely drained from you when you sit down in front of that excel spreadsheet and begin the task of tediously plugging in numbers and data. Unfortunately, budgeting and forecasting are also two of the most important tasks that you need to do well in order to secure the success of your company.
Use these 8 tricks to make more effective budgets and more accurate forecasts without completely losing your mind:
#1 Take the Time to Do It Right
Spending even more time on a budget than you already do might not sound very appealing but, if you get it done right the first time, it will save you a lot of work in the future when you realize there are fewer tweaks to make. Once you’ve got a strong budget, all you need to do from that point on is tweak it to reflect your company’s current situation. It can act as a framework for all future budgets—barring any major changes to your company or revenue streams.
#2 Communication Is Key
If you’ve been doing the budget and forecast on your own, you’ve been doing it wrong. You need the input of other key figures in the company. You can save a lot of time by asking each department or division leader to create their own departmental budget and forecast for the coming year.
Compile these and see if they are in line with your broader company goals and expectations. This process will go much more quickly than trying to map out every minute detail of your company by yourself.
#3 Automate What You Can
Yes, in school, we were told not to use a calculator and write out the calculations on our own. But we’re adults now. We can and should take advantage of every tool available to us. There are whole suites of powerful software that turn budgeting and forecasting into a beautifully simplified and intuitive process. This is especially the case with software which uses Excel so that you don’t have to learn a whole new system.
#4 Review and Adapt Regularly
Most budgets become 67 percent obsolete within the first 4 to 6 months of the year. This is because once the budget has been created, companies tend to more or less ignore it until the end of the year. You need to do rolling forecasts in which you take a close look at the actual state of your company.
These should be done at least once per quarter but preferably on a monthly basis. Reassess your situation and make any necessary tweaks to your budget so that it better reflects reality.
#5 Budget According to Strategy
Your budget needs to be based on your company’s overall business strategy. Otherwise, you risk creating a budget that is not only unrealistic but difficult to actually implement because it can come into conflict with other aspects of your strategy. This is not just your financial goals and expectations. The budget should reflect your larger business goals as well.
You can say that you intend to increase revenue or invest more in research and development but unless you have specific, tangible action plans for either of those, budgeting for them is more or less irrelevant. Be specific. Be realistic. Be in line with your company’s mission.
#6 Remember Your History
Accurately predicting your company’s future is just as much about looking backward as it is about looking forward. You need to look at historical trends. How well did you manage to meet the expectations of last year’s budget? Where did you fall short? Where did you excel beyond your initial expectations?
You can use these historical trends to help craft your next budget to better reflect what you are doing well and where you are losing money.
#7 Monitor, Measure, Report
During quarterly or monthly reviews, the key is to compare your budget, your forecast, and your current actual situation. How well do they line up with each other? If there are a lot of glaring differences, you need to remedy that. If they seem to be compatible, you know you are on the right track to achieve your goals for the year.
With regularly monitoring and reporting, you’ll be able to catch problems before they get out of hand and redirect company capital where it needs to go so that you get the best return on investment.
#8 Remember that Your Budget Is Imaginary
Yes, no matter how conservative your estimates or how well-founded in real data, your budget is just an idea of what your next year will look like. In order to turn it from an idea into reality, you need to include actionable steps to make it happen. Your budget shouldn’t just tell you what you expect to see by the end of the year. It should tell you how you expect to make that happen. Communicate that action plan to everyone involved and make sure you are all on the same page about what needs to be done.
Emily Hunter has been writing about business topics for many years, and currently writes on behalf of the budgeting and forecasting gurus at True Sky. In her spare time, she cheers for Carolina Crown, formulates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen.