Small Business Glossary

Free Cash Flow

Free Cash Flow is the net operating cash flow minus capital expenditures. Represents cash available from operations after funding reinvestments.

Free Cash Flow (FCF) is a financial term that holds great significance for small businesses, particularly those in Australia. It represents the cash a company generates after accounting for cash outflows to support operations and maintain its capital assets. Unlike earnings or net income, free cash flow is a measure of profitability that excludes the non-cash expenses of the income statement and includes spending on equipment and assets.

As a small business owner, understanding the concept of Free Cash Flow can be the key to unlocking your business's potential. It can provide a clear picture of your business's health, helping you make informed decisions about investments, budgeting, and more. This article will delve into the depths of Free Cash Flow, exploring its definition, calculation, and importance in the world of small businesses.

Understanding Free Cash Flow

Free Cash Flow is essentially the cash that a business has left over after it has paid all its expenses, including investments in fixed assets such as property, plant, and equipment. This leftover cash can be used for a variety of purposes, such as paying off debt, reinvesting in the business, paying out dividends, or saving for future downturns.

FCF is an important measure because it allows a business to pursue opportunities that enhance shareholder value. Without cash, it's tough to develop new products, make acquisitions, pay dividends, and reduce debt. FCF is important because it allows a business to enhance shareholder value by pursuing these opportunities.

Components of Free Cash Flow

Free Cash Flow is calculated using items from a company's income statement and balance sheet. These include operating cash flow, capital expenditures, and changes in net working capital. Operating cash flow, also known as cash flow from operations, represents the cash that a company generates from its normal business operations.

Capital expenditures, on the other hand, are the company's expenses for buying or maintaining fixed assets, such as property, plants, and equipment. Changes in net working capital represent the difference between the current assets and current liabilities from one period to the next.

Free Cash Flow vs. Operating Cash Flow

While both Free Cash Flow and Operating Cash Flow are important indicators of a company's financial health, they are not the same. Operating Cash Flow includes all cash generated by a company's main business activities. Free Cash Flow, on the other hand, is a subset of Operating Cash Flow and takes into account capital expenditures.

Therefore, while Operating Cash Flow can tell you whether a company is generating enough cash to maintain and grow its operations, Free Cash Flow can tell you whether the company is generating enough cash to maintain and grow its operations and also take care of its capital expenditures. This makes Free Cash Flow a more stringent measure of financial health.

Calculating Free Cash Flow

Calculating Free Cash Flow for your small business involves subtracting capital expenditures from operating cash flow. The formula for Free Cash Flow is: FCF = Operating Cash Flow - Capital Expenditures.

Operating Cash Flow can be found on your cash flow statement, and Capital Expenditures can be found on both your cash flow statement and balance sheet. It's important to note that different businesses might categorize certain items differently, so understanding how your business accounts for different cash flows is crucial in accurately calculating Free Cash Flow.

Example of Free Cash Flow Calculation

Let's say your small business has an Operating Cash Flow of $100,000 for the year. During the same year, your business invested $20,000 in capital expenditures. Using the formula FCF = Operating Cash Flow - Capital Expenditures, your Free Cash Flow for the year would be $80,000 ($100,000 - $20,000).

This means that after all expenses and investments in fixed assets, your business has $80,000 left over. This money can be used to pay off debt, reinvest in the business, pay out dividends, or save for future downturns.

Importance of Free Cash Flow

Free Cash Flow is a critical financial metric for any business, including small businesses. It's a clear indicator of a company's ability to generate cash and acts as a gauge for financial performance. More importantly, it shows how much cash is available for the business to repay creditors or pay dividends and interest to investors.

Moreover, Free Cash Flow can serve as a promising indicator of a company's potential for long-term growth. It can signal a company's ability to fund expansion, invest in new product development, and withstand economic downturns. Therefore, a positive Free Cash Flow is often seen as a sign of a strong, thriving business.

Free Cash Flow and Potential Investors

Free Cash Flow is also a crucial metric for potential investors. It provides them with a realistic view of a business's profitability, far beyond what net income alone can show. Because Free Cash Flow takes into account the necessary capital expenditures needed to maintain the business, it can often provide a more accurate picture of the business's real value.

For potential investors, a positive Free Cash Flow signals that a business has enough cash to pay back its debts, reward shareholders with dividends, and invest in its growth—all good signs for an investor looking to get a return on their investment.

Improving Free Cash Flow

Improving your business's Free Cash Flow can often lead to increased business value. There are several strategies you can employ to improve your Free Cash Flow, including increasing sales revenue, reducing operating costs, and managing your capital expenditures more effectively.

Remember, the goal is to increase the amount of cash that's available after all expenses and investments have been paid. So, focusing on strategies that increase cash inflows and decrease cash outflows can lead to improved Free Cash Flow.

Effective Strategies for Improving Free Cash Flow

One effective strategy for improving Free Cash Flow is to increase sales revenue. This can be achieved through various means, such as increasing marketing efforts, improving sales techniques, or expanding into new markets. Remember, the more revenue your business generates, the more cash you'll have available after expenses.

Another strategy is to reduce operating costs. This can be done by streamlining operations, renegotiating contracts, or reducing overhead costs. By reducing your operating costs, you'll be able to keep more of your cash from sales, leading to increased Free Cash Flow.


Free Cash Flow is a vital measure of a small business's financial health. It provides a clear picture of how much cash a business has left after paying for its operating expenses and capital expenditures. By understanding, calculating, and improving your Free Cash Flow, you can make more informed decisions about your business's operations and growth strategies.

Remember, a positive Free Cash Flow is a sign of a strong, thriving business. So, keep an eye on your Free Cash Flow, strive to improve it, and watch your business grow.

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