The Financial Metric You Can’t Afford to Ignore: Free Cash Flow

As a business owner, you have likely heard about the importance of cash flow.

But have you heard about the significance of free cash flow?

Free cash flow is a vital financial metric for any business owner.

It’s the amount of cash a company generates after accounting for all its expenses, investments, and debt payments.

In other words, it’s the cash the company can use for growth opportunities, such as hiring new employees, expanding product lines, or acquiring other businesses.

In the late 1990s, Apple was struggling financially.

The company was losing market share to competitors and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

But in 1998, Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded, and everything changed.

Jobs recognized that Apple needed to focus on generating free cash flow to stay afloat.

He implemented several cost-cutting measures, such as reducing the number of products the company produced and outsourcing manufacturing to third-party companies.

By focusing on free cash flow, Jobs was able to steer Apple back to profitability.

He used the cash generated by the company to invest in new product lines, such as the iPod and iPhone, which became massive successes.

Today, Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world, with a market capitalization of over $2 trillion.

And it all started with Jobs’ focus on generating free cash flow.

So, what can we learn from Jobs’ story?

The importance of free cash flow cannot be overstated.

Businesses can ensure long-term sustainability and profitability by focusing on generating cash that’s available for growth opportunities.

To calculate free cash flow, follow these steps:

  1. Determine the company’s operating cash flow: This is the cash generated or used by the company’s operations during a given period, typically a year. You can find this information on the company’s cash flow statement.
  2. Subtract capital expenditures: Capital expenditures are the funds a company spends on property, plant, and equipment (PP&E), and other long-term assets. This information can be found on the company’s balance sheet or cash flow statement.

Here’s an example:

Free Cash Flow = Operating Cash Flow – Capital Expenditures

For example, let’s say a company had $1 million in operating cash flow and spent $500,000 on capital expenditures.

The company’s free cash flow would be:

Free Cash Flow = $1,000,000 – $500,000

Free Cash Flow = $500,000

In this example, the company has generated $500,000 in free cash flow, which can be used to invest in growth opportunities, pay dividends to shareholders, or reduce debt.

free cash flow

Let’s delve into the importance of free cash flow for businesses and why it matters for long-term success.

1. Assessing Financial Health:

Free cash flow is a key indicator of a company’s financial health.

It shows how much cash a business can generate from its operations that is not tied to day-to-day expenses or capital investments.

Positive free cash flow indicates that a business has excess cash available to meet its financial obligations, invest in growth, or return value to shareholders.

On the other hand, negative free cash flow may signal that a company is struggling to generate enough cash to cover its expenses or invest in future growth.

By monitoring free cash flow, businesses can assess their financial health and make informed decisions about their operations and investments.

2. Funding Growth Opportunities:

Free cash flow is essential for businesses looking to expand or pursue growth opportunities.

It provides the necessary capital to invest in research and development, marketing, hiring, or acquiring new assets.

Without adequate free cash flow, businesses may need to rely on external financing options such as loans or equity investments, which can come with interest costs or dilution of ownership.

Positive free cash flow allows a company to fund its growth initiatives internally, reducing the dependency on external financing and providing more flexibility in strategic decision-making.

3. Debt Reduction and Capital Structure:

Managing debt is a critical aspect of financial management for businesses.

Free cash flow can pay down debt, reduce interest expenses and improve the company’s capital structure.

By reducing debt, businesses can lower their financial risk and improve their creditworthiness, making it easier to access financing in the future if needed.

Healthy free cash flow can also enable a business to avoid taking on excessive debt in the first place, reducing the overall financial burden and improving the company’s financial position.

4. Shareholder Value Creation:

Free cash flow plays a crucial role in creating value for shareholders.

Companies with positive free cash flow can reward shareholders through dividend payments, share buybacks, or reinvestment in the business to drive stock price appreciation.

Shareholders often look for businesses that generate consistent free cash flow, indicating that the company can generate profits and return value to its owners.

Positive free cash flow can also attract potential investors, positively impacting the company’s stock price and market capitalization.

5. Emergency Fund and Flexibility:

Unexpected events or emergencies can disrupt business operations and impact cash flows.

Having free cash flow available can act as a cushion during challenging times, providing a financial buffer to manage unforeseen circumstances.

Free cash flow can be used as an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses, maintain operations, or invest in recovery efforts.

It gives businesses flexibility and agility to navigate uncertain situations and ensures business continuity.

In conclusion, free cash flow is critical for any business owner to understand.

Businesses can ensure their long-term success by focusing on generating cash that’s available for growth opportunities.

So, take a page from Steve Jobs’ playbook and prioritize free cash flow in your business strategy.

Spread the word

Hilda Mwangi

Hilda Mwangi

Hilda is a Chief Financial Officer at HAZ Financial Advisors. She leads the M&A, Tech, and Healthcare groups working with numerous clients across multiple verticals.

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