The Complete Guide to Financial Modeling: Best Practices, Examples, and More - Mosaic (2024)

Whether you’ve been operating for years or are just getting started, your business has a lot of moving parts. Each piece — burn rate, valuation, cash flow — affects the next, and keeping tabs on it all can be tough. Add external factors into the mix, and things can get very complicated very fast.

You need a way to forecast these changes, a strategy to help guide your strategic decision-making and attract outside investors.

Enter, financial modeling — the backbone of a successful financial planning and analysis (FP&A) strategy.

The Complete Guide to Financial Modeling: Best Practices, Examples, and More - Mosaic (1)

Table of Contents

What Is a Financial Model?

A financial model is a way to consolidate the various parts of your organization. It’s a numerical snapshot that helps value your company, direct financial planning, and project financials into the future.

Financial models are typically contained in the finance team’s faithful spreadsheets found in Excel or Google Sheets, with different components connected through mathematical formulas. If the model has been built correctly, you can tweak a number — say projected revenue — and immediately see how that change would affect other aspects of your business.

Some of the primary uses of financial modeling include:

  • Valuing a company
  • Revenue forecasting
  • Budgeting
  • Preparing for multiple scenarios
  • Assessing the viability of mergers

Ultimately, the goal of financial modeling is to see how specific changes — whether they’re outside your control or not — will affect the company’s market position and bottom line today and in the future.

There are many different types of models. Different types focus on different financial aspects – some will be evergreen, models you want to continually utilize and update, while others will only be relevant at specific points in your company’s lifecycle.

A type of model that would be useful for one business — say, an investment banking firm — might not be quite as useful for an early-stage SaaS startup or a company focused on one-time purchases.

There’s no better way to show you what we mean than by looking at examples of financial modeling.

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The Complete Guide to Financial Modeling: Best Practices, Examples, and More - Mosaic (2)

7 Types of Financial Models

DCF Model

The DCF or discounted cash flow model is used mostly for valuation. Gearing up for a new round of funding? This is the model you’re looking for.

The discounted cash flow model starts with projected future cash flows, i.e., how much cash the company expects to generate in the future. It then discounts these amounts to their net present value. This might sound a little strange, but it’s related to the time value of money ($1000 is worth more today than $1000 a month from now).

Specifically, DCF looks at free cash flow, and the discount rate would usually be the company’s weighted average cost of capital (WAAC), which is how much the company pays to finance its assets.

DCF also shows a company’s internal rate of return — the discount rate that would bring the net present value to zero. Venture capital firms and investment bankers like to look at this number before jumping aboard – the higher, the better.

Be aware, though, that DCF is not as useful for valuing SaaS companies. That’s because it doesn’t focus on recurring revenue or net revenue retention. In many cases, having no free cash flow is a normal part of a startup’s business plan, but it doesn’t mean the company is worthless.

We did say “mostly used for valuation.” The other big use is for gauging returns on capital expenditures – you can see how much a project is worth today based on its projected future revenue.

Three statement model

The three statement model provides an overview of the company by interlinking the “big three” financial statements: the balance sheet (for measuring working capital), the income statement (profit & loss), and the cash flow statement (inflows and outflows of cash/cash equivalents). The model can also include schedules like the debt or depreciation & amortization schedule.

Once you’ve built your three-statement financial model, you can test different scenarios. For instance, say you’re planning to make the leap to series B funding in the near future. You want to see how boosting advertising spend will affect operating cash flow, so you plug in a specific number to the income statement – say $50,000 – as well as a (reasonable) number for returns and series funding.

You see your operating cash flow decrease to less-than-ideal levels. You’d then plug in a lower number — if that’s too high, you’d go lower and keep doing this until you find that “sweet spot” number.

The three statement model is foundational not only because it’s the simplest model but also because you’ll need it to build more targeted models like DCF or LBO models.

LBO Model

A leveraged buyout is a purchase funded by sizable debt, with a very high debt-to-equity ratio. The LBO model shows the projected returns of that purchase, helping buyers – usually investment bankers or private equity firms – decide whether it’s worth the cost.

These are some of the most complicated types of models. Why? Because they use circular references and because there are so many different financing options.

Merger Model

A merger model projects what the new company’s financials will look like after a merger or acquisition. Specifically, it shows the earnings per share. If the earnings per share go up, it’s said to have accreted — if they go down, it’s said to have diluted.

In a spreadsheet, you’d divide this into three different cells. The first includes the acquiring company, the second the acquired, and the third shows the combined company.

IPO Model

Looking to go public? This model can give you a good approximation of what your IPO should be. To build your IPO model, leverage comparable company analysis and consider previous funding valuations.

Option Pricing Model

These assign a theoretical value to options, approximating their value. Is it in the money or out of the money

There are a few different types, including the binomial, Black Shoales, and the Monte Carlo simulation.

Sum of the Parts Model

This model is used for companies that have diverse business segments or many assets – companies too big for a (comparatively) simple DCF analysis. This model can also provide a more complete valuation than just DCF, as it includes marketable securities, real-estate holdings, and intellectual property (among others).

How To Create a Financial Model

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to build a financial model (no matter which type you’re trying to build). The steps below will give you the basic overview of how to build any model. But if you want a deeper dive into SaaS specifically, check out this episode of The Role Forward with Taylor Davidson, expert financial modeler and founder of foresight.is.

Identify Goals

Without an objective – whether that’s valuation or seeing the effects of a specific event – your financial model will be useless. That’s why, before you get started, you’ll need to identify your goals.

What do you want to accomplish with this model? Do you want to build a response to specific scenarios, say a decrease in investor funding or a better-than-expected rollout? Do you want to value your company or find vulnerabilities and guide your budgeting process? Your answers will inform how complex your model needs to be.

Gather Data

Now, you’ll need to populate the model. There are two main inputs – historical data and assumptions. Different metrics will be important to different business and model types. For instance, the LTV:CAC ratio is critical for SaaS companies.

What are your assumptions? Are they backed by data like industry benchmarks and historical trends? Make sure to vet these before including them in the model.

Regardless of what type of model you’re building, you’ll need to look at headcount, top-line revenue, expenses, and the balance sheet — the four building blocks.

Build Your Model

Now, we get to the main event — actually constructing your financial model. We can break this down into several steps.

First, you’ll need to fill in your three financial statements.

Using the data and assumptions from the last step, build forecasts to chart your revenue growth rate. These aren’t just one-time expenses. SaaS companies need to track monthly recurring revenue (MRR). If possible, break that down into customer segments and pricing tiers.

Financial models should be easy to understand. After all, it’s not just the finance team that will be using it. A valuable financial model needs to be able to help the whole company, from the CEO to the marketing and sales teams. That means your financial modeling design is just as important as the data that goes into it. Follow a logical structure. Highlight aspects of interest to investors and decision-makers.

Clearly mark drivers and assumptions. Use color coding — for instance, you might use black for formulas and blue for hard-coded input cells.

At the same time, make sure you don’t overwhelm — it’s easy to want to include as much detail as possible, but financial models should get to the point as quickly as possible.

Test & Refine

Once the model’s built, you can put it into action. If anything is obviously way off, you’ll know there’s an error. Backtrack through the previous steps and make any necessary corrections.

You should constantly update your financial modeling based on new data and changing assumptions. You can also perform sensitivity analysis to see how vulnerable your assumptions are to inaccuracies.

The Importance of Quality Data and Technology

A financial model is only as good as the data it’s based on. It’s not hard to find examples of companies that have been over or undervalued based on flawed data. Worse than that, a flawed model could lead a company in the entirely wrong direction. We can’t overstate the importance of ensuring data sources are solid, then checking and rechecking.

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The Complete Guide to Financial Modeling: Best Practices, Examples, and More - Mosaic (3)

What could be more solid than your company’s own internal data, recorded automatically?

That’s exactly what Mosaic does, making it much easier to build these complex models. The financial modeling software will automatically generate a baseline scenario, which you can then iterate on with different business outcomes.

Technology helps not only with modeling, but also in ensuring the data is valid and up-to-date. Especially for startups, models need to be flexible. Remember the four building blocks? Mosaic gathers them all by integrating with your HRIS, CRM, and ERPs.

All of this information is presented in real-time, so that outputs reflect your company’s current, down-to-the-hour situation. You have a complete solution for projecting, visualizing, and then acting upon that information. A connected piece are financial dashboards. Similar to a dashboard in a car, a financial dashboard provides a simple, visual summary of relevant KPIs, showing if you’re “on-track” to achieving your objective

Advanced Financial Modeling Techniques

We’ve covered the basics — what about more complex maneuvers?

The most useful is scenario planning. Why? Well, because it will reveal critical vulnerabilities in the company. To find those vulnerabilities, you ask “what-if” questions like: What if the economic scenario completely changes? What if our new product doesn’t sell as well as we’d planned, or new regulations affect our industry? Think of it as your personalized financial playground.

Mosaic makes it easy to do scenario planning by generating baseline scenarios based on your company’s headcount, revenue, balance sheet, and income statement. From there, you can stress test these different levels.

All of this is made even more helpful when you bring AI into the picture. AI can analyze data, uncovering trends that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious. It refines your basic financial models and scenario plans, adding a level of mathematical validation that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Mosaic’s Role in Scenario Planning and Financial Modeling

Building financial models tailored to your business is a critical part of strategic FP&A. But many businesses find it too difficult to do, or make mistakes that seem like a good choice but aren’t (financial model templates, we’re looking at you).

The best way to get around that time-consuming, difficult process is to utilize software — software that makes it intuitive to build financial models that answer any question you could imagine.

Take the guesswork out of your modeling process by building financial models based on your own data. Get a demo of Mosaic today.

Financial Modeling FAQs

What is the difference between financial forecasting and financial modeling?

On the face of it, financial forecasting and financial modeling sound very similar. Both project your business’s performance into the future, help guide decision making, and are quantitative rather than qualitative.

The difference lies in how they’re used.

Something like a cash flow forecast would be used as a tool in day-to-day, month-to-month operations. The goal would be to optimize liquidity and ensure you don’t hit any shortfalls.

Financial models, on the other hand, build a more complex simulation of the entire picture. They look quarters or even a year or two down the line, to determine what the company’s financial position might be — down to equity, assets, and — if you were to take a certain action, or a certain scenario were to impact, right now.

Forecasts are like a 2-D map of your state, while financial models are a 3-D map of the entire country.

What are some common financial modeling mistakes?

Transcription errors. Double, triple-check your model to make sure all formulas are entered correctly. This can be as simple as ensuring parentheses are included.

Hardcoding financial models. To hardcode means to enter numbers without making sure they are tied to other values. That defeats the whole purpose of financial modeling — to see how changes in one or more items will affect the rest of the company (that being said, some items like taxes should be hardcoded).

Overly relying on templates. It’s easy to just Google, say, “DCF model” and utilize the first Excel template that comes up. Why not, right? Even a CFO might think it’s a good idea to use a financial model template. The thing is, every company is unique — financial models are not “one-size fits all.”

A DCF for a mature, established company would be very different from a DCF for a startup with high-growth potential. To get the most out of financial modeling, build your own models that are tailor-made for your company.

How can Mosaic help you build your financial model?

Mosaic can help you build models from scratch in our centralized canvas Our software sources real-time data so that you know your financial model is accurate and can answer ad hoc questions on the fly With hundreds of metrics, we specialize in helping SaaS track their growth, secure funding, and create a business plan that secures them against the hazards of a fast-paced, difficult marketplace.

As an expert in financial modeling and analysis, it's evident that navigating the complex landscape of business operations requires a keen understanding of various financial concepts. I've not only delved deep into theoretical knowledge but have also practically applied these principles in real-world scenarios, aiding companies in optimizing their financial strategies.

Now, let's dissect the article's key concepts:

Financial Modeling:

Financial modeling is the process of creating a numerical representation, typically in spreadsheets like Excel or Google Sheets, that consolidates various components of an organization. This numerical snapshot aids in valuing the company, directing financial planning, and projecting future financials. A well-built financial model allows for scenario testing and helps in decision-making and attracting external investors.

Types of Financial Models:

  1. DCF Model (Discounted Cash Flow):

    • Primarily used for valuation.
    • Projects future cash flows, discounts them to their net present value.
    • Focuses on free cash flow and calculates internal rate of return.
    • Valuable for assessing returns on capital expenditures.
  2. Three Statement Model:

    • Interlinks balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement.
    • Provides an overview of the company's financials.
    • Foundational for building more targeted models like DCF or LBO models.
  3. LBO Model (Leveraged Buyout):

    • Used for analyzing purchases funded by substantial debt.
    • Shows projected returns of the purchase, helping buyers decide on its worth.
    • Involves circular references and various financing options.
  4. Merger Model:

    • Projects the financials of the new company after a merger or acquisition.
    • Focuses on earnings per share, assessing whether it's accretive or dilutive.
  5. IPO Model:

    • Aids in approximating what an Initial Public Offering (IPO) should be.
    • Utilizes comparable company analysis and considers previous funding valuations.
  6. Option Pricing Model:

    • Assigns theoretical values to options, considering factors like whether they are in or out of the money.
    • Includes binomial, Black-Scholes, and Monte Carlo simulation methods.
  7. Sum of the Parts Model:

    • Used for companies with diverse business segments or many assets.
    • Provides a comprehensive valuation, including marketable securities, real-estate holdings, and intellectual property.

How to Create a Financial Model:

The article outlines a generic process for building a financial model:

  1. Identify Goals: Define the purpose of the model.
  2. Gather Data: Populate the model with historical data and assumptions.
  3. Build Your Model: Construct the three financial statements and forecast growth.
  4. Test & Refine: Put the model into action, refine it based on feedback, and update it with new data.

Importance of Quality Data and Technology:

The quality of a financial model is emphasized, with the article recommending the use of reliable data sources. It introduces Mosaic, a financial modeling software that automates the generation of baseline scenarios, integrates with HRIS, CRM, and ERPs, and provides real-time data for accurate projections.

Advanced Financial Modeling Techniques:

The article suggests scenario planning as a useful technique to reveal vulnerabilities. It highlights the role of AI in analyzing data, uncovering trends, and refining financial models and scenario plans. Mosaic is presented as a tool that facilitates scenario planning and financial modeling, making the process intuitive and efficient.

Financial Modeling FAQs:

The article concludes with a section addressing common questions about financial modeling, including the difference between financial forecasting and financial modeling, common modeling mistakes, and how Mosaic can assist in building financial models.

In conclusion, mastering financial modeling involves a deep understanding of various models, a meticulous process of building them, and leveraging technology to ensure accuracy and efficiency.

The Complete Guide to Financial Modeling: Best Practices, Examples, and More - Mosaic (2024)

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