A Beginner’s Guide to Bookkeeping
No one enjoys bookkeeping. Unless you are an accountant. There’s nothing better than shouting, “I’m in balance!” after doing a bank reconciliation.
But I digress.
Although bookkeeping may be about as fun as a root canal, as a small business owner, one of your essential jobs is learning to keep accurate books.
If you want to have a successful business, having your books in order is a must.
In fact, the IRS requires all businesses to keep basic financial records to track sales and expenses, as well as other transactions.
This beginner’s guide will help you learn the basics of small-business accounting and answer the following questions:
- What is bookkeeping?
- Why does bookkeeping matter?
- How to start bookkeeping for a small business.
- When to get help from a professional.
- Bonus: A Small Business Owner’s Bookkeeping Checklist
What is Bookkeeping?
Bookkeeping is the process of tracking and organizing a company’s financial transactions. It’s the primary way business owners keep an eye on their numbers and figure out if they’re profitable.
Watching your numbers enables you to identify potential problems and attend to them before you are in dire straits.
- Recording transactions
- Sending invoices
- Paying bills
- Reconciling accounts
- Preparing financial statements
Bookkeeping and accounting are similar. However, bookkeeping is the process of gathering and recording transactions, while accounting focuses more on analyzing the data.
Basic Bookkeeping Terms You Need to Know
There are a lot of buzzwords in business that, to be completely honest, don’t really mean anything at all.
However, there are some terms all business owners should know, especially when it comes to bookkeeping.
Memorize these terms, so that you can “talk the talk.”
- Accounts Payable – The total money you owe to vendors and suppliers for your purchases and expenses.
- Accounts Receivable – The total money your customers owe you.
- Assets – All the things your company owns, including cash, buildings, furniture, equipment, and tools.
- Balance Sheet – The breakdown of your business’s financial situation. It shows you what your company owns and owes.
- Cost of Goods Sold – The money you spend on products you sell to your customers.
- Depreciation – The lost value of an asset over time.
- Equity – The money you invest in your company and the accumulated profits and losses.
- Income Statement – A summary of your revenue, costs of goods sold, and expenses for a set period of time. It shows your net profit or loss.
- Inventory – The value of the stock(products for sale) that you have on hand.
- Liabilities – The debts your business owes.
- Office Expenses – Watch these “little” expenses so that they don’t turn into a significant expense that creeps up on you. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”
- Payroll Expenses – If you have employees, this is your employee’s pay and the related payroll tax expenses of the company.
- Revenue – The money you collect from selling your goods or services.
In summary, bookkeeping is the process of tracking all of your business’s transactions to see precisely where you are spending money, where your revenue comes from, and what tax deductions you can claim. You record all of your financial transactions in an accounting software, spreadsheets, or a physical set of ledgers.
Why Does Bookkeeping Matter?
Bookkeeping may seem insignificant, but it’s not something that should be ignored or put off until “later.”
Many small business owners think it’s too complicated, or they simply feel overwhelmed. But waiting until tax time and scrambling to find bank statements, invoices and receipts, will end up costing you money.
Not only may you miss out on tax-saving deductions, but you may have to pay an accountant to help you sort everything out. Also, their rates may be at a premium during tax season.
Here are Four Reasons Bookkeeping Matters:
- Preparing your taxes – You will need to know your net profit. The only way to figure that out is to have accurate, up-to-date books showing your revenue and expenses.
- Knowing where your money is going – Producing financial statements is the only way to see a picture of your small business’s financial health. Are your sales down? Spending too much on advertising, with little return on investment? Is there cash flow to cover next week’s payroll? The only way to know for sure is to have your books up to date and your accounts reconciled.
- Borrowing money – Unless you borrow from friends or family, you need to have up-to-date financial statements. These are usually required when getting a line of credit or business loan from a bank.
- Catching errors quickly – If you only reconcile your bank account and the end of the year, you may not find errors line erroneous bank fees or fraudulent transactions until months later, when the window for disputes may have passed. You want to be able to identify mistakes today, not six months from now.
You might think bookkeeping is boring, and you are probably right.
However, there are worse things than boring.
Like, your business failing.
Or being audited.
When you have some basic bookkeeping knowledge, you can track your business operations and avoid costly mistakes.
How Can You Get Started on Your Bookkeeping?
Now that you know what bookkeeping is and why it matters, here are three essential tips for effective bookkeeping.
- Keep track of EVERYTHING.
- All money in and out should go through the business checking account.
- Keep your business and personal finances separate.
The exact nature of your record-keeping system is up to you. Still, a well-designed small-business bookkeeping system will keep your financial information in order, generate reports, and grow with your business.
Eight Steps to Start the Bookkeeping Process
- Open a business bank account – A separate bank account is a must-have for businesses of all sizes and should be used exclusively for business transactions. This way, you will know that every transaction is business-related, and you can prove to the IRS that you are serious about tracking and maintaining your financial records.
- Pick a Bookkeeping Software – If you are comfortable with spreadsheets, they are an option as well. But practically speaking, a software package like QuickBooks Online is not terribly expensive and can pay for itself in the time you can save.
- Invest in a few hours of a professional bookkeeper’s or accountant’s time – While you may not be ready to outsource your bookkeeping, you will want a professional to help you establish procedures, set up your chart of accounts, and familiarize you with the software or spreadsheet system you will be using.
- Maintain daily records and categorize every transaction – Remember, an Amazon transaction on your bank statement might not mean much to you six months later. Was it for office supplies? Marketing materials? Snacks for the break room? You don’t want to have to do a lot of investigating later. Record each transaction while it’s fresh in your mind.
- Choose a system for storing your documents – If you are audited, the burden is on you to validate your expenses. So, make sure to keep supporting documents, like receipts for all of your financial data. You can decide to file and keep paper copies, use a cloud-based system like DropBox, or, if using QuickBooks Online, utilize their Receipt Capture and Mileage Tracker features.
- Reconcile your bank accounts – Although most accounting software allows you to automatically import your bank transactions, that doesn’t eliminate the need for bank reconciliation. It is necessary to account for any outstanding items that haven’t been cashed yet. You also need to review the bank statement for errors. You must be able to match your software’s cash account to the actual bank statement total. This process can be challenging, and you may need an accountant to help you find any problems.
- Stick to a schedule – If you’re like most small business owners, you have a thousand things to do, and it’s easy to push bookkeeping to the back burner. One way to avoid this is to schedule time each week to record invoices, bills, sales, and purchases. Set time each month to reconcile and review your financial reports.
- Keep tax deadlines in mind – there are deadlines for estimated payments, sales tax, and payroll taxes. Make sure you have them committed to memory and on your calendar.
Should you get help from a professional?
If your business is a side project with a limited budget, you can probably DIY. However, you should probably consult with a CPA or bookkeeper to set up your processes and review your books periodically and at tax time.
However, it’s time to outsource your bookkeeping if:
- Your bookkeeping keeps getting pushed to the side
- Your business is quickly growing, and you can’t find the time
- You are missing tax deadlines
- You are having trouble balancing your cash flow
- You are unable to reconcile your bank account
- You are spending more time on bookkeeping than strategic business goals and operations
- You can’t run reports like a Profit or Loss Statement, or you can’t interpret the data
- You feel like you are paying too much tax and are missing tax planning opportunities
- You’re facing an audit
Whether you take on your small-business bookkeeping yourself or get help from an expert, understanding the basics will help you better manage your finances.
You’ll save time chasing receipts, protect yourself from costly errors, and gain valuable insights into your business’s potential.
Bonus: A Small Business Owner’s Bookkeeping Checklist
For a company to succeed, it needs to have an efficient accounting and bookkeeping system in place.
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), approximately 30% of small businesses don’t survive their first two years.
Another 50% don’t survive their first five.
Don’t allow yours to become another statistic.
Use this basic bookkeeping checklist as your guide to ensure that your small business continues to operate efficiently for years to come.
Daily Bookkeeping Tasks
- Check your online banking.
- Be mindful of upcoming deposits and expenses.
Weekly Bookkeeping Tasks
- Prepare and send invoices.
- Record customer payments.
- Review accounts receivable.
- Prepare payroll.
- Pay any bills due.
- Code any newly synced transactions in your software’s bank feed.
- File/Upload receipts and invoices.
Monthly Bookkeeping Tasks
- Backup any desktop-based software.
- Reconcile bank and credit card accounts.
- Review Income Statement.
- Review Balance Sheet.
- Review budget and projected cash flow.
- Pay any monthly sales or payroll taxes.
Quarterly Bookkeeping Tasks
- Prepare, review and file quarterly payroll returns.
- Compute and pay estimated income taxes.
- Review inventory.
Annual Bookkeeping Tasks
- Review financial statements for the whole year.
- Review and file tax returns.
- Prepare and distribute W2s and 1099s.
- Prepare, review, and file annual payroll returns.
- Analyze inventory.
- Prepare budget for next year.
When you own a business, you want to focus on what makes you money.
However, it is important not to gloss over your bookkeeping requirements.
Missing deadlines or underpaying taxes can trigger fines that cut into your profit.
Hopefully, these tips and this checklist helps you organize these tasks to maximize the time you focus on your business, not your books.