If you just opened a small business you may lack the funds to buy expensive accounting programs or to hire a bookkeeper. You have a great business idea but you don’t have any accounting experience. This can prove to be quite detrimental: according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), more than 50% of small businesses go out of business within the first 5 years mostly due to poor record keeping habits. So, your first priority should be to keep accurate financial statements from the get-go, especially if the funds are not there to hire a bookkeeper. Here’s the good news. There are accounting software tools in place that anybody can use. These tools will help you categorize your financial transactions and produce statements that are reliable and accurate. Producing these clear category totals will greatly help an accountant obtain true totals for year-end financial statements and tax returns.
But first, let’s start with a list of what is absolutely necessary to keep track of in your small business. I’ll give you the why and the how: the details, the reports, and the suggestions for how to do this on a small budget.
Preparing the Financial Details for Your Small Business:
- A list of all sales (or gross receipts as the IRS calls them) divided into well-defined categories. Determining which categories to use is a work in progress as the more years you are in business the better defined the categories may become. You may start out with just two income categories: Taxable and non-taxable sales. The more defined your categories are the easier it will be for your accountant or tax professional to prepare your final year-end financial statements.
- A list of all expenses categorized accurately, taking into account all the checks you have written, any purchases you have made with credit or debit cards, and all cash expenditures. Once again you will want to allocate your expenses to the proper categories. You could use the IRS-Schedule C’s list of expenses as a starting point. (TIP: keep receipts for all of these expenses in a categorized envelope or folder system.)
- Your checkbook should be reconciled each month and include any outstanding items.
I suggest starting out using the cash method of accounting instead of the more elaborate accrual method for your small business. You will have to choose one or the other before completing your first tax return, but you can change it at a later time by requesting the IRS form 3115 here. It will be much easier to operate on a cash basis, especially if you do not have a bookkeeping background.
You enter transactions into ledger spreadsheets like the ones listed below to capture all the details before a program can produce the financial statements needed for your small business:
- Deposits Ledger – categorized
- Checks Ledger – categorized
- Cash & Charged Expenses Ledger – categorized
- Bank Reconciliation
- Subcategorizations when you want to break down expense categories into finer detail or when you want to show income over expenses and net profit for specific departments or items you sell.
To keep you (and those to whom you report) informed, it’s Important to understand which financial statements are necessary and why.
- Income Statement with budget comparison. This statement shows all your income against all your expenses.
- The Balance Sheet shows all your assets less liabilities which equals your equity.
- Cash Flow – IN: A record of all incoming money
- Cash Flow – OUT: A record of all outgoing money
- Trial Balance at the Year-End: A list of all accounts and their balances
Understanding why to keep these records is very important and will help to keep you motivated and current. The reasons are 1) to stay compliant – nobody wants to lose their small business they tried so hard to acquire and 2) because you will be held accountable to many people. To name a few:
- board members
- tax preparers
It’s a Good Idea to Keep Clear, Concise, Accurate, and Auditable Records
Your records will be accurate if you have reconciled the checkbook and other accounts. Reconciling is a way to compare your records against what your bank accounts show on their records and list all the differences such as outstanding checks. You should have an audit trail of your expenses. An audit trail is a security-relevant chronological record of your transactions. In other words, it is a record of all checks in numerical order without skipping any, from the beginning of the year to the end. That means you need to record any voided check numbers also. It makes for a complete record and if audited you would have everything recorded properly – hence the term “audit trail.”
I’ll recommend a software package I designed which I use for both my personal and business financial records, but ultimately it will be your decision. Keep in mind that what you start out using should fit the volume of your transactions with room to grow. You don’t want to use a program that is too large with too many features you won’t be using and too cumbersome as it will most likely be difficult to learn. If it’s difficult for you to learn, it could be difficult for each new person you hire to learn as well.
If you are really good at making spreadsheets, you could use Google Sheets or (better yet) Excel to keep the records I mentioned above. Be careful not to waste too much time reinventing the wheel here.
There is no need to go out and purchase a cumbersome accounting package for a lot of money that requires a lot of training if your needs don’t warrant it at this time. But if you do, be sure you have someone lined up to be trained on the program. Also ask yourself: if that employee should choose to leave, will you be able to find another with the same experience rather quickly? These are just some things to think about.
It is so much better to keep track of your records in the simplest system from the get go instead of waiting to find an elaborate accounting program and then have to go back to the beginning of the year to recreate your records. Things have a way of falling through the cracks that way and can cause you many headaches.
Your Current Accounting Software Program
You may already have a current program you could use to get the job done. Just be sure it can print the above mentioned reports. Don’t be so concerned that everything has been categorized properly in your current software as it’s more important that everything is recorded and reconciled in a timely manner. You can always go back and reallocate your expenses into the proper categories if you find errors. As I mentioned before, the most important reports are: the year-end financial statements completed by your accountant to share with others; and the tax return that would be filed with the governmental agencies. Your monthly reports you prepare during the year are for your internal use only.
You May Want to Consider Using Big E-Z Book Keeping Software
Big E-Z Books, accounting software system I designed, can produce all the above-mentioned financial statements for your small business for an annual license fee of only $79.95. It’s easy to set up and easy to enter and import your data. Once categorized and reconciled, it will produce all the above reports. What is nice about Big E-Z Books is how everything is laid out. If you need to correct an entry it’s easy to find it, correct it, and move on. Correcting an entry in a cumbersome program can take more time then you wish, especially if you have to do an online search to find an answer. Also, Big E-Z Books is so easy to learn how to use that you can train others quickly. Schedule a free 30-minute demo to see if Big E-Z Books is right for you and so we can show you how to customize it for your small business.