Financial projections and forecasts are two different, yet interconnected assessment tools for businesses, especially startups. Financial projections look at the expected financial performance of a business in the upcoming future, taking into account various qualitative and quantitative data points, such as anticipated revenue, market trend forecasts, and budgeting among numerous other factors. Forecasts, on the other hand, take into account more short-term considerations such as expected sales, pricing, and trends over a specific period of time. It is important to understand the difference between the two, as both are integral to the long-term success of any business. In this blog post, we will discuss when a startup should stop using financial projections and start using forecasts.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial projections look at the expected financial performance of a business in the upcoming future.
  • Forecasts take into account more short-term considerations.
  • The two are interconnected assessment tools for businesses, especially startups.
  • A startup should transition from using financial projections to using forecasts when the time is right.

Making Financial Projections

Financial projections are an essential tool for start-ups to understand the impact of their financial decisions over the short and long term. Knowing how much money is coming into a business and how much is going out is key to planning and making sound decisions. Without projections, entrepreneurs can spend too much, take on too much risk, or set growth goals that aren’t feasible.

When a startup should initially make financial projections

Financial projections should be done from the very beginning when a startup is being created. Before any money is invested or services are sold, a startup must have a clear plan for how it will use the resources available to achieve its goals. Financial projections take into account all costs associated with launching a business and the expected return on investment. This makes it easier to understand which activities are worth pursuing and which are unlikely to pay off. That way, early decisions can be made with an eye to the bottom line.

Steps in creating financial projections

There are several steps in creating accurate financial projections:

  • Research relevant market trends and collect data necessary to create accurate projections.
  • Set up an income statement and balance sheet to outline income and expenditures.
  • Most estimates of income and expenses for the future involve making assumptions about future economic conditions, technology advancements, competitors, and other factors.
  • Create a pro forma profit and loss statement along with other useful financial documents such as cash flow statements and break-even analyses.
  • Set up an “inventory and receivables/payment cycle” to project revenue, costs of goods sold, accounts receivable and payable, cash flows, and more.
  • Compare expected results from the financial projections with actual results to assess the accuracy of the projections.

Benefits of creating financial projections

Creating financial projections helps a startup to better understand their current financial situation and anticipate any pitfalls along the way. It allows entrepreneurs to identify potential sources of revenue, as well as plan for future growth opportunities. Financial projections also help to uncover areas of weakness and develop strategies to improve cash flow. Finally, projections allow investors to better understand the financial health of a start-up and make sound investment decisions.

When Financial Projections Stop Being Useful

Financial projections provide visibility into a company's finances over the short-term and long-term. These projections are built with the intention of providing guidance about decisions, however, like all forecasts, they rely heavily on predictions and estimations that can eventually become less accurate. There is a point where financial projections stop being useful and should be replaced with financial forecasts.

When Financial Projections Become Less Accurate

Financial projections are usually accurate when long-term spending and income are easy to predict and the company has no large changes in its operations. If a company introduces a new product, changes its business model, or experiences major market changes, then financial projections may become less accurate. Additionally, if a startup is experiencing rapid growth, then financial projections quickly become less accurate, as the startup's finances are rapidly changing. As such, it can be difficult to accurately predict short-term and long-term finances.

When Startups Should Start Using Forecasts Instead

Forecasts are typically more useful for startups, as they are not as reliant on predictions and estimations as financial projections are. Forecasts are more dynamic, as they incorporate real-time data and can track the changes in a company's finances more accurately. Additionally, forecasts allow startups to set financial goals and track progress towards those goals. Startups should begin using forecasts when financial projections become less accurate, as they will give a more accurate picture of a company's current financial standing.

Forecasts provide more accurate portrayals of a startup's financial situation and can show changes over time more accurately than projections. Knowing when financial projections start to become less accurate and when to switch to financial forecasts can help startups better manage their finances and make more accurate decisions.

Developing Forecasts

Forecasting provides a significantly more comprehensive view of finances than comparing and predicting financial projections. This is because forecasts consider many more variables than projections, allowing for contingencies and greater anticipated profitability in the long-term. Unfortunately, developing and implementing forecasts also adds complexity to budgeting and financial planning, but the end result should be worth the effort.

Benefits of Using Forecasts

There are numerous benefits to using forecasts over financial projections. These benefits include:

  • Forecasts are not dependent on historical financial performance like projections are. This allows startups to anticipate past chaotic financial performances more accurately.
  • Forecasting allows startups to anticipate various scenarios and how they could affect growth, profitability and cash flow. This advanced planning can save time, money and resources in the future.
  • Forecasting can model potential or anticipated changes over time, such as hiring additional employees or utilizing new technology, and can provide a better snapshot of future financial performance.

Steps in Creating Forecasts

There are several easy steps to creating and implementing forecasts. Firstly, it is essential to determine exactly what needs forecasting and which forecasting tools will best fit these needs. It may also be beneficial to have a financial or budgeting specialist on hand during the forecasting process.

Secondly, the forecasting must be done step-by-step, beginning with a simple forecast with basic assumptions. After the simple forecast is completed, the forecast can be expanded to account for more variables. The details of each step must be kept up to date, and can be assembled in a timeline to visually show when certain aspects of the forecast will be completed. It is also possible to revise the forecast over the timeline, taking into consideration any changes that may occur.

Challenges of Creating Forecasts

Forecasting brings its own unique set of challenges for startups. The complexity of the various details that must be incorporated in the forecast can be overwhelming, as can its scope if the startup has many different products or services. Additionally, forecasting takes time, and the details of each step may change as the timeline progresses.

Another challenge is that forecasting can be considered more of an art than a science. There are numerous forecasting models and techniques available, but the effectiveness of any particular model will depend on the startup’s financial and operational circumstances.

Components of a Forecast

When a startup begins to gain traction and customers, traditional financial projections may prove too unreliable - and even misleading - to serve as a basis for making decisions. Instead, a startup may choose to adopt forecasts as the basis for making decisions such as future growth projections, capital needs and investments, and budgeting. A forecast is an educated prediction of future performance, drawing on past performance, industry trends and economic activity. As an important tool for decision-making, forecasts need to be tailored to the needs of the startup and thoughtfully composed to be reliable and accurate.

In order to construct a reliable forecast, it is important for a startup to consider which components should be included in the forecast, and how the forecast's accuracy can be measured.

a. Key Components to Include in a Forecast

The components included in a forecast will be unique to the situation of each startup. However, regardless of a startup's specific industry or sector, there are a few common components that should be included. It is important to include details on sales and expenses, including any changes due to new or discontinued products. Additionally, any potential shifts in competitive dynamics or advances in technology should be taken into account. It is also important to factor in any external economic or environmental factors that could influence the accuracy of the forecast.

Furthermore, a startup should consider the best way to represent the forecast; for example, to break the forecast down into quarters or to use a moving average. In addition to the numerical components, any assumptions used to create the forecast (such as the estimated growth rate of competitors) should also be explained and included in the forecast.

b. Accuracy Measures of a Forecast

Once a forecast is constructed, it is important to consider ways of measuring its accuracy. One way is to measure the accuracy of the assumptions underlying the forecast. Those assumptions should be regularly updated and reconsidered as the company's situation or the relevant environment changes. It is also useful to measure the difference between the actual results and the forecast, though this data alone should not be used to determine the accuracy of the forecast.

Another way to measure the accuracy of a forecast is to create sensitivity analyses that assess how changing certain variables would affect the overall outcome of the forecast. This will help the startup identify key drivers behind the forecast, as well as areas in which the company may have underestimated or overestimated potential outcomes and results. Additionally, creating multiple scenarios enables the startup to assess the risk of each forecast, plotting results to create a visual of the risk and budget profiles associated with each scenario.

Examples of Forecasting

Forecasting involves creating accurate estimates of a company’s future performance using metrics such as sales, costs, and profits. Companies often use both short-term and long-term forecasting. With short-term forecasting, the company will focus on key financial figures over the next quarter or year. Long-term forecasting is usually aimed at helping the company to plan its finances over the long-term (five or more years).

Examples of short-term and long-term forecasting

Short-term forecasting can be used to determine the sales and customer demand for the upcoming quarter or year. The company can use the forecasted data to make decisions about investments, hiring, and budgeting. Long-term forecasting can be used to help the company plan for future growth. For example, the company can use long-term forecasting to identify customer needs and plan for expansion or new product lines.

Importance of regularly revisiting forecasts

It is important for companies to regularly revisit their forecasts to ensure they are still accurate. As market conditions change, the company's forecast may need to be adjusted. Additionally, it’s important to review the company’s historical data to see how the company’s forecasts have been trending over time. By tracking historical performance, the company can create better forecasts in the future.

Regularly revisiting and adjusting forecasts can help a company stay ahead of changes in the market and better manage its finances.


Forecasting is an important tool for startups as it can help create more realistic financial projections and allow the company to make better decisions. By regularly revisiting and adjusting forecasts, companies can stay ahead of changes in the market and better manage their finances.


As a startup, the use of financial projections and forecasts are essential for the success of the company. Knowing when to start using forecasts is critical for any startup’s future. Financial projections give businesses the ability to plan and anticipate potential cash flow scenarios. This can be important when making decisions on where to allocate resources and how to effectively capitalize on growing customer bases. As a business grows, making the transition from financial projections to forecasts is key to staying competitive. Forecasts offer forecasts more accurate financial projections. With insightful projections and data-backed trends, a business can anticipate changes in the landscape and act proactively. Ultimately, when a business moves away from financial projections and transitions to forecasts, the data-driven decisions can help the business stay ahead of its competition.

Final Takeaways for a Startup

  • Financial projections are key for assessing potential cash flow scenarios but can become misguided when businesses neglect to keep trends in mind.
  • Making the transition from financial projections to forecasts is key when a business starts to grow.
  • Forecasts offer more accurate predictions, allowing businesses to capitalize on opportunities in the landscape.

Suggestions for Next Steps

  • Depending on the size of a business, consulting a financial expert for tactical advice may be beneficial for advised growth.
  • Data analytics and market research can be effective when creating accurate forecasts.
  • Leveraging forecasting tools to predict future situations can also be helpful in gaining deeper insights.

Knowing when to transition from financial projections to forecasts can be the key to the success of any business. Every business needs to be able to predict and plan for the future. Ultimately, with data-driven insights and accurate predictions, a business can capitalize on opportunities in the landscape and stay ahead of competition.

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