CFO (Chief Financial Officer) reports are in-depth reports that show a variety of trends, metrics, and ratios that forecast and explain the financial performance of a company.

This guide explains some of the basic CFO reports that a small business owner would use to understand their financial performance.  

This guide is also related to our articles on what is a virtual CFO, how to read a balance sheet, and how to calculate burn rate.

vibrant infographic with financial growth charts and monetary symbolsHere’s what we’ll cover:

  • CFO report example
  • CFO reporting structure
  • CFO ratio examples
  • CFO meaning

Let’s dive in.

What is a CFO?

Here’s the basics of what a CFO does and why their work matters for your business.

  • Budgeting and forecasting: A CFO helps you look ahead by creating financial forecasts and budgets. These reports guide you on how much you can spend and where you can expect your money to come from in the future.
  • Financial reporting and analysis: They keep their fingers on the pulse of your business’s financial health. They’ll let you know if you’re on track or if there are areas you need to tweak.
  • Cash flow management: Cash is king, especially in a small business. A CFO manages your cash flow to make sure you’ve always got enough in the bank to cover your expenses. This means planning for the highs and lows and making strategic decisions to keep cash flowing smoothly.
  • Strategic planning: Beyond the numbers, a CFO thinks about the future of your business. They help in setting long-term goals like expanding your business, introducing new products, or entering new markets..
  • Risk management: Every business faces risks, and a CFO helps you identify and manage them. From insurance to investments and compliance issues, they make sure you’re prepared for what could go wrong.
  • Financial liaison: Dealing with banks, investors, or other financial institutions? A CFO speaks their language. They can negotiate loans, attract investment, and manage relationships with these partners, making sure you get the best deal.

Types of CFO reports and their purposes

A CFO is going to be basing their reports on three main financial statements. These statements will be the foundation of most financial forecasts, trend analysis, and benchmarks. 

Income statement (profit and loss): This report shows how much money your business made and spent over a period. It helps you see if you’re making money or if costs are eating into your profits.

Balance sheet: Think of it as a snapshot of your business’s financial health at a certain point. It lists what you own (assets), what you owe (liabilities), and what’s left over for you (equity).

Cash flow statement: This one tracks the cash coming in and going out of your business. It’s crucial because it shows if you’re generating enough cash to keep the lights on and invest in growth.

Based on these three financial statements, a CFO can prepare dozens of different types of analysis. Some of the most common ones are:

Budget vs. actuals reports

These reports compare what you thought would happen (your budget) with what actually happened. They’re helpful for catching things like overspending early or seeing where you’re doing better than expected.

Financial forecasting and projections

This is about looking forward. Based on your current numbers and trends, these reports predict your future finances. They help you plan for growth and make sure you have the cash to support it.

Departmental reports and analysis

If your business is big enough to have different departments (like sales, marketing, production), these reports break down each one’s finances. They show which parts of your business are making money and which might be costing you.

Cost and profit analysis

This report examines the profitability of different products or services your business offers. It helps identify which items are the most and least profitable, aiding in decision-making about where to focus resources for maximum return.

Capital expenditure reports

These reports monitor and analyze all the money your business spends on acquiring or upgrading physical assets, such as equipment, buildings, or technology. 

Ratio analysis reports

A ratios report could include a variety of financial ratios such as the current ratio and quick ratio, which assess your company’s ability to meet short-term obligations. Profitability ratios include gross profit margin, net profit margin, and return on assets. Leverage ratios, like the debt-to-equity ratio, measure how much of the company is funded by debt compared to what’s funded by the owners’ money.

Custom reports for specific business needs

Sometimes you need a report tailored to your business’s unique questions or challenges. Custom reports can focus on anything from project costs, profitability by product line, or customer acquisition costs. They’re built to give you specific insights needed for strategic decisions.

Each type of report serves a different purpose, but together, they give you a comprehensive view of your business’s financial health and prospects. 

Components of an effective CFO report

A top-notch CFO report does more than just list numbers; it provides clarity and direction. Here’s what to pack into yours to make it as effective as possible.

Key financial metrics

Metrics are your financial health’s vital signs. Here are a few must-haves:

  • Revenue: Money coming in from sales.
  • Gross profit margin: What’s left after you pay the direct costs of what you’re selling.
  • Operating expenses: The costs to run your business, not including the direct costs of products or services.
  • Net profit: Your bottom line is what’s left after all expenses.
  • Cash flow: Cash in vs. cash out, showing if you’re generating enough to cover expenses.

Visuals and dashboards for better understanding

People process visuals faster than text, so use charts and graphs to show trends and comparisons. Dashboards give a quick, digestible overview of your financial status, letting you spot what’s going well or what needs attention at a glance.

Commentary and insights from the CFO

Numbers tell a story, and your CFO’s commentary turns data into insights. This section should highlight what the numbers mean, why they matter, and any underlying factors affecting them. It’s about connecting the dots to give a clear picture of the financial landscape.

Recommendations for action based on data

The real power of a CFO report comes from its action points. Based on the data, what should you do next? This could range from cost-cutting measures, areas to invest in for growth, or strategies to improve cash flow. Recommendations should be specific, actionable, and tied directly to the insights gleaned from the report.

Effective CFO reports blend data, visuals, and expert analysis to guide decision-making. They’re not just a record of where your business has been but a roadmap for where it’s going. By focusing on these components, your reports will not only inform but also inspire action towards your business goals.

How to use CFO reports

Let’s break down how CFO reports help you identify growth opportunities, manage risks, and find ways to save money.

Identifying growth opportunities

  • Spotting trends: By analyzing sales data and market trends, CFO reports can highlight which products or services are hot. This insight helps you double down on what works, guiding investment in areas with the highest growth potential.
  • Customer insights: Understanding who your customers are and what they’re buying can reveal new markets or areas for expansion. CFO reports that include customer segment analysis give you a map to uncharted territories with growth potential.
  • Performance benchmarks: Comparing your business’s performance against industry benchmarks can spot opportunities you might be missing. If you’re outperforming in one area, it could be time to expand; if you’re lagging, there’s room to grow.

Risk management and mitigation strategies

  • Financial health check: Regular financial health checks identify potential problems before they become crises. CFO reports can show you where you’re overextended or underfunded, letting you adjust before it’s too late.
  • Scenario planning: What if analysis or scenario planning in your reports can help you prepare for possible futures. Whether it’s market downturns or unexpected expenses, you’ll have strategies ready to go.
  • Compliance and regulations: Staying on top of regulatory changes is crucial. CFO reports can include updates on compliance issues, helping you avoid fines and penalties that could hurt your business.

Operational efficiencies and cost savings

  • Cutting waste: By highlighting areas where you’re spending too much, CFO reports can direct you to cost-saving measures. Maybe you’re overpaying for supplies, or certain processes could be more efficient. These insights can lead to significant savings.
  • Streamlining operations: Operational reports within the CFO’s purview can pinpoint bottlenecks or redundancies in your processes. Streamlining these can reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Investing in technology: Sometimes, spending money can save money. CFO reports might suggest investing in new technology or systems that pay off in the long run by making your business more efficient.

With these insights, you can chase the right opportunities, protect against risks, and trim the fat from your operations, setting your business up for a brighter future.

Best practices in preparing and presenting CFO reports

To be useful, CFO reports need to be accurate, timely, relevant, clear, and actionable. Here’s some tips to make sure yours hit the mark. 

Stick to a schedule: Consistency is key. Decide whether monthly, quarterly, or yearly reports work best for your business, and stick to that timeline. Regular reports help you spot trends and make timely decisions.

Double-check your data: Accuracy in your financial reports is non-negotiable. Errors can lead to wrong decisions that might cost your business.

Make it actionable: Don’t create reports just for the sake of fancy reports. Determine which decisions will move the needle of your business and focus your reporting in those areas.

Use the right tools: There’s a wealth of software out there designed to make financial reporting easier and more accurate. Tools like QuickBooks, Xero, or more advanced ERP systems can automate much of the work, reducing the chance of errors.

Dashboards and visuals: Utilize software that can create visual reports and dashboards. Visuals make it easier to understand complex data at a glance, making your reports more effective.

Use cloud-based solutions: Consider cloud-based software for real-time access to financial data and reports. This way, you can make informed decisions anytime, anywhere.

Best practices in CFO reporting are all about making sure your reports are timely, accurate, and compliant. 

Challenges in CFO reporting

Crafting CFO reports for a small business comes with its set of hurdles. Understanding these challenges can help you navigate them more effectively. Here’s some common challenges and potential solutions.

Limited resources and budget constraints

Small businesses often run on tight budgets, making it tough to allocate funds for advanced reporting tools or to hire finance experts.

Solution: Start with what you can afford.  Focus on the essentials. Not every business needs every type of report. Identify the most critical reports that will inform your key decisions and prioritize those. As your business grows, you can invest in more sophisticated solutions. Once you need more advanced help, consider hiring a virtual CFO << link here>> who is much more affordable than a full time hire.

Too much data

Sometimes, you can get bogged down in the details and miss the bigger picture. There’s thousands of data points in your business. If you get too in the weeds you can waste time on metrics that won’t move the needle in your business.

Solution: Use the 80/20 rule. Identify your biggest problem areas and start there. Your reports should provide a clear overview of your financial health and strategic direction. Use summaries and visuals to highlight key information, and detailed data to back it up when necessary.

Late or incomplete reports

It’s important to keep your financial data up-to-date and correct, but this can be hard. Mistakes can happen, and updates might not keep up with fast changes. This might lead to making decisions based on outdated or wrong information.

Solution: Set up automated systems and regular checks to keep your data accurate and current. Make sure to update and review your data often to catch any mistakes early. Your reports should give you fresh, correct information that helps you make smart decisions. 

By being resourceful, focusing on what truly matters, and staying informed, you can overcome these hurdles and use your CFO reports to drive your business forward.


CFO reports are powerful because they turn basic data into useful insights for making strategic decisions. Learn to use them effectively, and you’ll help your small business thrive.

Next, check out our articles on bookkeeping vs. accounting, understanding journal entries in accounting, and how to do cash flow forecasting.

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FAQ: CFO Reports for Small Businesses

Here's some answers to commonly asked questions about CFO Reports for Small Businesses.

What are CFO reports?

CFO reports provide a detailed overview of your business’s financial health, including income, expenses, cash flow, and more. They matter because they give you insights into how well your business is doing financially, where you can improve, and where you might be losing money. These reports help you make informed decisions, like where to cut costs or invest more.

Why do small businesses need CFO reports?

CFO reports are important because they give you a clear view of how your business is doing financially. They show where you’re making money, where you’re spending too much, and help you make better decisions about where to save or invest money.

How often should you look at CFO reports?

You should check your CFO reports every month. This keeps you up-to-date on your business’s financial situation, helps you spot problems early, and lets you adjust your plans quickly to stay on track with your financial goals. Regular checks can really help you manage your business better.