• 7 February 2024
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How to Build Financial Model: A Basic Guide for Beginners

How to Build Financial Model: A Basic Guide for Beginners

Welcome to this guide on understanding and creating a financial model! We’ll break down the process step-by-step, making it easy to understand. Hi, I’m Nabeel Shaikh, a seasoned chartered accountant, management consultant, and entrepreneur with 17 years of diversified experience.

Understanding Financial Modeling

Think of a financial model as a blueprint for your company’s financial future. It’s like a mathematical machine that helps predict how your business will perform. We feed it key information like salaries and customer acquisition costs, and it gives us valuable projections, such as future revenues and cash flows. 

Why Financial Modeling Matters

You might wonder, Why go through the effort of building a financial model when it’s unlikely to perfectly match real-world outcomes? 

Creating a solid financial model is like having a powerful tool that guides your business decisions. It brings clarity to uncertainties, helping you navigate the path ahead. Think of it as your business GPS—providing direction even if the road is uncertain. 

But how do we decide what information to use, and what are the various types of financial models?

Let’s explore the importance of modeling and learn the basics of building one.

Guiding Your Business Journey: A financial model acts like a roadmap, highlighting the key factors steering your business. It shows you where your company is headed and if things go off course, helps you identify areas to focus on for risk management. 

Speaking Investor’s Language: Investors pay close attention to financial models because they speak volumes about your business savvy. The assumptions and reasoning behind your model showcase whether you’re a thoughtful decision-maker. It’s not just about numbers; it’s about demonstrating a deep understanding of your business. 

Custom Crafted for Success: Don’t just settle for a generic template. Building a financial model from scratch reflects your nuanced understanding of your unique business. It’s like tailoring a suit – one size does not fit all. Custom models not only impress investors but also show that you grasp the intricacies of your venture.

Boosting Investor Confidence: A well-crafted financial model isn’t just a document; it’s a confidence booster. Investors gain trust when they see you’ve invested time in creating a sophisticated model. It’s not just about funding; it’s about increasing the odds of turning your vision into reality.

Consider teaming up with a top-notch financial modeling expert. Their insights can help you build a robust model and ensure you not only create it but fully understand and manage it. It’s an investment that pays off in investor confidence and potential funding. 

Financial Modeling Basics: Choosing Your Path 

Before diving into the world of financial modeling, it’s crucial to pick the approach that suits your needs best. Let’s explore the two main methods for building a startup financial model: top-down and bottom-up. 

1. Top-Down Approach: Seeing the Big Picture

In the top-down method, we start with the grand vision and work backward. It’s like planning a road trip by first envisioning the destination. For example, if you’re running a fintech startup, you might set the goal of capturing 5% of a $100 billion market by year 2. Starting with the revenue target, we then calculate the associated costs and other details.

2. Bottom-Up Approach: Building from the Ground Up

On the flip side, the bottom-up approach begins with the basics. Think of it as constructing a building from the ground. We start with fundamental assumptions—like the number of software engineers needed, the appeal of our business, and website traffic. Then, we create different scenarios to see how tweaking these assumptions (maybe hiring more engineers) impacts our goals.

Choosing Your Approach: Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up 

When it comes to selecting an approach for financial modeling, the decision isn’t always straightforward. Let’s weigh the pros and cons:

1. Top-Down Approach:

Pros: Provides a big-picture view and outlines milestones. 

Cons: Can be a bit hazy, relying on subjective and overly optimistic predictions. It might not fully consider the current situation.

2. Bottom-Up Approach:

Pros: Offers a structured and realistic perspective, starting from the basics. 

Cons: Might lack the overarching vision, potentially missing important milestones.

The Balanced Approach:

Consider combining the strengths of both approaches. 

Use the bottom-up method for a grounded, realistic understanding of your model. 

Supplement it with top-down analysis to identify significant milestones and future targets. 

In essence, think of it like building a puzzle – you want the detailed pieces (bottom-up) while still seeing the full picture (top-down). This balanced approach can provide a comprehensive and insightful financial model. 

Building a Financial Model: A Roadmap 

Once you’ve decided on the type of model, it’s time to understand the key components that make up a dynamic financial model. There are two main parts: assumptions (input) and the three financial statements (output)income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement.

1. Assumptions and Drivers: The Foundation

Where to Start: Create a dedicated tab for assumptions and housing variables for the entire model. 

Ideal Scenario: All other tabs should derive their numbers from the assumptions tab, minimizing manual inputs. 

Understanding Assumptions:

Tailored to Your Business: These are unique to your business and cover vital aspects like revenue growth, costs (such as salaries), and capital considerations (like interest rates). 

Guidelines: Ensure assumptions are based on serious research, including industry averages and expert opinions. Don’t blindly follow big companies if you’re a startup – tailor your assumptions to your actual needs. 

Keeping it Tidy: Avoid an overwhelming list of assumptions; focus on those directly impacting your model.

Examples: If your business carries debt, include schedules like amortization showing repayments, interest payments, and loan progress.

2. Financial Statements: The Output

Core Statements: Income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement are the heart of your financial model. 

Tailoring to Your Needs: Based on your business, consider adding parts like capital allocation, valuation, and sensitivity analysis. 

Additional Tips:

Evidence and Benchmarks: Back your assumptions with evidence, define benchmarks, and establish ranges for robust conclusions. 

Research-Based: A new startup’s spending shouldn’t blindly mirror big companies. Research, critical thinking, and tailoring assumptions to your model’s needs are key.

By understanding and structuring these components effectively, you’re on your way to creating a powerful and insightful financial model.

Understanding the Income Statement: Your Financial Compass 

The income statement paints a clear picture of a company’s revenues, costs, and whether it’s turning a profit or facing losses. It’s divided into two main sections: operating and non-operating. 

Operating vs. Non-Operating:

Operating Revenues and Costs: These are directly related to the core business activities. For example, sales of software for a software company. 

Non-Operating Items: Revenues or costs from activities outside the core business, like selling a property. 

Why It Matters:  Insightful Metrics: Investors and entrepreneurs can gauge forecasted growth, margin evolution, and the balance between costs and revenues. 

Building the Income Statement:

Start with Assumptions: Once assumptions are in place, fill in the income statement with revenues, direct costs, gross profit, operating expenses, EBITDA, non-operating expenses, earnings before tax, tax, and net income. 

Customization: Tailor categories to your business needs. For example, if you have multiple revenue streams, break them down (e.g., subscription revenue, advertisement revenue). 

Interpreting the Numbers: Look Beyond: Reading the numbers is one thing; understanding them is another. For instance, EBITDA is a popular metric but has its limitations.  

Decoding the Balance Sheet: Your Financial Snapshot 

The balance sheet is like a snapshot capturing a business’s assets, equity, and liabilities. It serves as a vital gauge of a company’s financial health, revealing what it owns and owes. Key components include current and non-current assets, current and non-current liabilities, and equity. 

Financial Health Indicator:

Assets: What the company owns. 

Liabilities: What the company owes. 

Equity: The residual interest of the owners in the company’s assets. 

Crucial for Startups:  Net Working Capital: Particularly vital for startups, as they often operate with losses and no immediate cash flows. Tracking net working capital helps plan ahead, especially with expert guidance. 

Linking with Income Statement:

Translation of Assumptions: Once the income statement and assumptions are set, it’s relatively easy to translate them into the balance sheet. 

Example: Sales/revenues impact cash and accounts receivable on the balance sheet, while net income contributes to retained earnings. 

Unveiling the Cash Flow Statement: Where Facts Speak Louder Than Opinionscash

In the world of finance, the saying holds true: “Profit is an opinion, but cash is the fact.” This phrase underlines the immense significance of the cash flow statement. Investors keenly want to see how a startup manages its money – paying debts, investing, and growing. Their favorite metric? Free cash flows reveal a firm’s ability to fund its own operations.

Cash Flow’s Vital Role:

Reality Check: While profit might be subjective, cash is a concrete measure of a company’s financial health. 

Investor Perspective: Investors are keen on understanding how a startup utilizes its money, ensuring it can meet obligations, invest wisely, and foster growth. 

Favorite Metric: Free Cash Flows:

Calculation: Net Income + Amortization/Depreciation – Changes in Working Capital – Capital Expenditures.

Meaning: Indicates a firm’s capacity to finance its day-to-day operations. 

Building the Cash Flow Statement:

Post-Income Statement and Balance Sheet: With the income statement and balance sheet in place, constructing the cash flow statement becomes straightforward. 

Steps: Start with net income, add back depreciation, and adjust for changes in non-cash working capital – voila, you have cash from operations. 

Investing and Financing: Cash used in investing involves capital expenditures, while cash from financing relates to assumptions on raising debt and equity or figures from the balance sheet.

Sensitivity Analysis: Navigating the What-Ifs

Once your financial statements are in place, it’s time for a discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis. This involves estimating free cash flow, as explained earlier, and bringing it to today’s value using opportunity cost or the required rate of return. This process provides an initial peek into the company’s value.

Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) Analysis:

Estimating Free Cash Flow: Calculated as Net Income + Amortization/Depreciation – Changes in Working Capital – Capital Expenditures. 

Bringing to Present Value: Utilizing opportunity cost or the required rate of return. 

The discounted cash flow analysis gives you an initial glimpse into the company’s overall value. 

Sensitivity Analysis:

What It Involves: Altering assumptions to create various operating scenarios. 

Purpose: Understand how the company’s value fluctuates under different circumstances, aiding in risk assessment and proactive planning. 

Why This Matters:

Risk Assessment: Helps assess the impact of unexpected changes, like a decline in sales or a drop in marketing conversion rates. 

Proactive Planning: Allows for strategic preparation if unforeseen scenarios occur. 

In Conclusion: The Power of Financial Models 

Financial models aren’t just spreadsheets; they’re decision-making wizards guiding projections. Whether a company is gearing up to raise capital, make acquisitions, budget, or simply adapt to business changes, financial models play a crucial role. They serve as beacons during critical moments in a company’s journey.

Why It Matters: 

Lifecycle Stages: Financial models are companions at various stages, offering insights and projections. 

Decision Support: They aid decision-making when seeking capital, making acquisitions, budgeting, or adjusting business strategies. 

The Key Player: An Experienced Professional: 

Behind the Scenes: At these crucial junctions, having an experienced professional crafting your financial model is paramount. 

Specifics Matter: Accuracy in capturing the unique aspects of your business ensures the model aligns with reality.

Final Thought: 

Whether you’re navigating the complexities of capital raising or understanding the impact of changes in your business, a well-crafted financial model is your trusted guide.

Read more: How to Build Startup’s Financial Model to Attract Investment

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