Small Business Glossary

Cash Flow From Operating Activities

Cash Flow From Operating Activities: Section of the cash flow statement showing the amount of cash generated or spent on a company's products or services during a period.

The term 'Cash Flow From Operating Activities' is a fundamental concept in the world of small business finance. It refers to the cash generated by a company's core business operations. This is the lifeblood of any business, providing the resources necessary to invest, grow, and meet financial obligations. Understanding this concept is crucial for any small business owner, as it provides a clear picture of the company's financial health and operational efficiency.

Before we delve into the intricacies of this term, it's important to understand that cash flow is not the same as profit. While profit is a measure of financial gain after all costs and expenses are deducted from revenue, cash flow refers to the actual cash that flows in and out of a business. Now, let's explore the concept of 'Cash Flow From Operating Activities' in detail.

Definition of Cash Flow From Operating Activities

Cash Flow From Operating Activities, often abbreviated as CFO, is a line item on a company's cash flow statement. It represents the total amount of cash a company generates from its ongoing, regular business activities. This includes revenue from selling products or services, and expenses such as salaries, rent, and utilities. It does not include cash received from or used for investing and financing activities.

It's important to note that CFO is a more direct measure of a company's ability to generate value for shareholders than net income, as it excludes non-cash items and potential manipulation of earnings. This makes it a key indicator of a company's financial strength and liquidity.

Calculating Cash Flow From Operating Activities

The calculation of CFO can be done using two methods: the direct method and the indirect method. The direct method involves adding up all cash received from customers and subtracting all cash paid to suppliers and employees. However, this method can be time-consuming and requires detailed records of all cash transactions.

The indirect method, which is more commonly used, starts with net income and adds back non-cash expenses (like depreciation and amortisation) and changes in working capital. Working capital refers to current assets minus current liabilities, and changes in working capital can impact cash flow. For example, if a company's accounts receivable (money owed by customers) increase, this would decrease cash flow from operations, as the company is effectively extending credit to its customers.

Importance of Cash Flow From Operating Activities

The importance of CFO in small business finance cannot be overstated. It provides a clear picture of how much cash a company is generating from its core business operations, without the effects of investment and financing activities. This allows business owners and potential investors to assess the company's ability to generate positive cash flow in the future, which is crucial for its survival and growth.

Furthermore, CFO can be used to compare companies within the same industry. A company with a higher CFO is generally considered to be more financially healthy and stable than a company with a lower CFO. However, it's important to consider other financial metrics and the company's overall business strategy when making such comparisons.

Using Cash Flow From Operating Activities for Decision Making

Understanding CFO can help small business owners make informed decisions. For example, if a company's CFO is consistently negative, this could indicate a problem with its business model or operational efficiency. On the other hand, a positive CFO could suggest that the company is well-positioned for growth and expansion.

Furthermore, CFO can be used to assess a company's liquidity and solvency. A company with a high CFO is likely to have sufficient cash to meet its short-term liabilities, which reduces the risk of insolvency. In contrast, a company with a low or negative CFO may struggle to meet its financial obligations, which could lead to financial distress or bankruptcy.

Factors Affecting Cash Flow From Operating Activities

Several factors can affect a company's CFO. These include the company's revenue, cost of goods sold (COGS), operating expenses, changes in working capital, and non-cash expenses. Understanding these factors can help business owners identify ways to improve their company's CFO.

For example, a company can increase its CFO by increasing revenue, reducing COGS or operating expenses, managing its working capital more effectively, or reducing non-cash expenses. However, it's important to consider the potential impact of these actions on the company's overall business strategy and long-term growth prospects.


Revenue is the money a company earns from selling its products or services. The more revenue a company generates, the higher its CFO will be, all else being equal. Therefore, strategies to increase revenue, such as improving product quality, expanding into new markets, or increasing marketing efforts, can help improve CFO.

However, it's important to consider the cost of these strategies. For example, expanding into a new market may require significant upfront investment, which could reduce cash flow in the short term. Therefore, business owners should carefully consider the potential return on investment of any revenue-increasing strategy.

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

COGS is the cost of producing the goods or services a company sells. This includes direct costs such as raw materials and labour, but does not include indirect costs such as rent or utilities. Reducing COGS can increase a company's CFO, as it allows the company to keep more of the revenue it generates.

Strategies to reduce COGS include improving operational efficiency, negotiating lower prices with suppliers, or investing in more efficient production technology. However, it's important to ensure that these strategies do not compromise product quality or customer satisfaction, as this could negatively impact revenue and CFO in the long term.


In conclusion, 'Cash Flow From Operating Activities' is a key financial metric that provides insight into a company's financial health and operational efficiency. By understanding this concept, small business owners can make informed decisions that support their company's growth and success.

Remember, a positive CFO indicates that a company is generating sufficient cash from its core business operations to invest, grow, and meet its financial obligations. On the other hand, a negative CFO could suggest potential problems that need to be addressed. Therefore, regularly monitoring and analysing your company's CFO is crucial for its long-term success.

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