Curt Mastio
By Curt Mastio on February 14, 2024

Financial Modeling Do’s and Don’ts

Financial modeling is a critical cornerstone in the structure of modern business strategy. 

At the intersection of accounting prowess and visionary planning lies the potential to craft a roadmap to startup success—or to stumble into a quagmire of fiscal missteps. An effective financial model can represent the core elements of your business and serve as a rubric for making complicated, long-term decisions.

This article serves as an indispensable companion to business owners, entrepreneurs, and accounting enthusiasts keen on sculpting a robust financial model that captures the complexities of your business.

What is Financial Modeling?

Before delving into the intricacies of financial modeling success, you should understand the essence of financial modeling. At its core, modeling is the abstract representation of a company's economic performance. 

This simulation, typically crafted using a battery of spreadsheets, helps forecast the impact of future events, global developments, and executive decisions on your company's financial health. 

In many ways, it's akin to a fiscal crystal ball, yielding insights that guide sensible business strategies.

Financial Modeling Do's

Crafting a financial model is much like storytelling with numbers. A practical model must be clear, coherent, and compelling to complete the job. 

Let's explore the foundational do's in building a dependable model.

Keep It Simple and Consistent

A model rife with complexity may seem impressive (and might even be fun to build!). But remember, the goal here is functionality and clarity. Employ simple and consistent sign and naming conventions throughout. 

For example, many prefer that all expenses be positive, which makes it easy to remember to subtract them from sales and gross profit. Such uniformity lessens the likelihood of erroneous deductions.

Employ Strategic Color-Coding and Formatting

Never underestimate the power of aesthetics in financial modeling. Massive numerical landscapes can be challenging enough for the average user to read. But you can strategically right-align numbers and numerical values to foster easy comparisons. 

Further, use color-coding to demarcate various elements—consider blue for hardcoded numbers, green for cell references, red for links to external files, and black for dynamic calculations. 

These rules of thumb add visual intuitiveness and help flag areas amenable to modifications during reviews or what-if analyses.

Ensure Formula Consistency Across Time Horizons

Consistency remains the linchpin of an effective financial model. 

Maintain uniform formulas across comparable time spans to facilitate seamless expansion. A 'drag and drop' approach creates a scalable model that adapts seamlessly to extending time horizons.

One of the core tenets of modeling is the ability to project what could happen over many months or years.

Financial Modeling Don'ts

Although the financial modeling "do's" seem simple enough, the path to accurate forecasting is fraught with pitfalls. Here are essential practices to avoid when constructing your business's economic model.

Resist the Temptation to Overuse Hardcoding

Hardcoding is entering static numbers into formulas—a cardinal sin in financial modeling. This practice fosters inaccuracies as conditions change and calcifies your model against dynamic adaptation. 

Instead, construct formulas referencing cells where you can adjust your input parameters fluidly.

Minimize Repetitive Request for Input

Using the same input from multiple locations clutters your model and increases the risk of inconsistencies during updates. Centralizing your inputs and variables makes the model more user-friendly and error-resistant.

Tread Lightly with Linked Files

Linking numerous files is a double-edged sword. While it might offer a semblance of organization, it also breeds a fragile model prone to breakages. For example, if a referenced file is moved or deleted, you can spend hours stepping through #REF errors in your spreadsheet. 

Where practical, consolidate relevant data within a singular, well-structured workbook.

Maintain Transparency with Sheet and Formula Visibility

It can be tempting to hide reference sheets, rows, and complex formulas to protect the integrity of your model. However, this cloaking can cause more harm than benefit. 

An open, transparent framework renders your model comprehensible and auditable—a nod to best practices. Practically speaking, it means that team members, internal stakeholders, and potential external investors will easily understand your model and the assumptions you've built it on.

Are You Already Following These Financial Modeling Do's and Don'ts?

A financial model is not merely an exercise in number crunching. It's a powerful support for decision-making and a strategic beacon that illuminates your business's path forward. 

Embrace these do's and don'ts to ensure your financial model is a reliable, understandable, and adaptable ally capable of weathering the storm of uncertainty and scaling the heights of growth.

Fortunately, you needn't go it alone. Founder's CPA's team of startup financial modeling experts can help you chart an achievable path toward business success. Together, you can build a model that inspires confidence in yourself and your company's stakeholders.

Ready to ensure your financial modeling follows best practices and these financial modeling do's and don'ts? Contact the experts at Founder's CPA for personalized guidance.

Published by Curt Mastio February 14, 2024
Curt Mastio