The process of bookkeeping may seem complicated and daunting. Yet, it’s crucial that your small business has accurate books. Detailed financial records reduce problems; unpleasant financial surprises, forgotten paperwork, missed goals, large bills from your accountant, and payroll and tax challenges. Accurate and efficient bookkeeping helps a business make and keep long-term goals, smooth out the ups and downs of seasonal cash flow, improve profits and alleviate troubles with the CRA. The following are some strategies for effective small business accounting.
- Keep business and personal banking separate: Open a dedicated bank account for your business, preferably one with online access as this makes it easier to make payments and do bank reconciliations. If you need business money for personal expenses, do a regular transfer to your personal account. This will make bookkeeping much easier. Don’t use your personal credit card for work purchases and vice versa.
- Recognize business vs. personal expenses: You need to know what type of expenses can and can’t be claimed against your profit for the purpose of reducing tax. An expense that is directly related to the operation of the business and towards producing income is tax-deductible. An expense that is for your personal pleasure is not. Mixing personal and business does not mean a full claim for business can be made. If you’re in doubt about whether or not to claim an expense, contact your accountant.
- Develop a budget: Begin by coming up with revenue projections and a list of anticipated expenditures. Compare this budget to actual expenses and revenue. Adjust the budget as needed.
- Keep an eye on high-cost expenses: Labour and inventory costs are the largest expenses for most small businesses. To reduce labour expenses, consider outsourcing work to contractors that bill at an hourly rate. They may not need 40 hours/week to complete your work and they don’t require benefits. Time-tracking software makes it easier to understand how much certain tasks cost your business, enabling you to find ways to control expenses. Track inventory carrying costs, inventory turnover ratio, amount lost to obsolete inventory and other key metrics.
- Plan for major investments. Consider what expenses will arise in the next one to five years (upgrade of facilities, new office equipment, peaks in staffing costs, emergencies). By planning for major expenses, you can avoid taking money out of the company during good months and finding yourself short in slow months. Track expenses and revenue to help identify the best time for large investments. Business credit cards help establish a credit history giving you a better chance at qualifying for financing (lines of credit, loans) and they often offer perks such as business or travel rewards.
- Utilize bookkeeping software: There are free bookkeeping software packages if you are on a tight budget (Wave, ZipBooks, Akaunting, SlickPie, GnuCash, CloudBooks). If you can afford it, purchase a good quality program that comes with occasional updates (Cashbook, Quickbooks, Xero, Sage, Freshbooks, Zoho). Choose one that is easy to use, customizable, produces charts for quick reference and combines different aspects of reporting from one period to the next.
- Organize and store source documents: Quotes, orders, delivery dockets, sales and purchase invoices, credit and debit notes, payment/remittance advice, cheques, receipts, wage records and deposit slips need to be filed and archived for 5 to 7 years. Keeping source documents at your fingertips makes it easier to prevent fraud in your business, improve your accuracy and ease finding transactions when needed.
- Read and understand monthly reports: Keep your bookkeeping system up to date and produce reports monthly. Learn to read and understand these reports, in particular the income statement and the balance sheet.
- Keep on top of sales invoices: Late and/or unpaid bills hurt cash flow. As soon as a job is complete or a product is delivered, prepare and send out customer invoices. Put a process in place to track your billing carefully (issuing a second invoice, a phone call reminder, penalties or extra fees). Be organized.
- Ensure inventory data is accurate. To prepare financial statements you need accurate inventory data. Track physical inventory either manually, by counting items on a regular basis, or by pairing counts with an inventory management system that automatically adjusts the numbers as sales happen (via integration with your point-of-sale system). Inventory management software makes it much easier to track inventory and the information will be more accurate.
- Know when to outsource: If you find bookkeeping too difficult or don’t have enough time for it, outsource the task. This can be cost-effective and professional help will ensure accuracy. Professional bookkeepers often give great business advice and assist with many tasks (recommend good software, attend meetings with your banker, explain accounts you find difficult, prepare annual budget and cash flow reports, etc).
Don’t let accounting be the downfall of your small business. Try these bookkeeping tips to help you improve your business, spend less time on finances, focus on growing your company and enhance your customer relationships. When it’s time, get professional bookkeepers and/or accountants involved.
Need help establishing a good bookkeeping system? Looking for business advice? Contact Cook and Company Chartered Professional Accountants. We are based out of Calgary, Alberta, serving clients across Canada and the United States. We provide high-quality tax, assurance and succession planning services for a wide variety of privately-owned and managed companies. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.