Whether you're looking to organize your new small business, or are just in need of some personal financial organization, an accountant seems like a great idea. They're like the fairy godmothers and fathers of tax season. And they'll come in especially handy when you're flipping through a pile of uncategorized receipts trying to do your taxes. Accountants are cool, but a lot of what they do we can do ourselves. It helps to get an understanding of the best financial practices in order to make accounting a lot more than just a "dismal science."
1. Keep impeccable records.
A wise accountant once said, "You're only as good as the records you keep." Memorize this mantra and write it on a note above your door. Laziness is the enemy of accounting. The best way to keep records is to have both a physical and digital file. Go out to your nearest office supply store and pick up a nice, sturdy file cabinet, hanging folders, manilla envelopes, and some labels while you're at it. Keep it simple. Alphabetical order works best.
2. Develop a bookkeeping system and stick to it.
Expanding on point one, you'll need to employ a process for bookkeeping. As soon as a check comes in, for example, make a copy of it to store in your physical file and digital file, then make sure it is logged out and a receipt is stapled to the invoice. Then deposit it and label the payment appropriately in your bank account, so that it doesn't just say "Deposit." Down the line, you'll likely forget what that random deposit was for.
3. Don't throw out your receipts, file them.
Today, receipts are both printed and digital, so to keep track of them, you should scan all of your physical receipts into a digital file with your emailed receipts. Categorize them. Here is a sample of small business categories that can be customized to fit your business.
4. Use the right software.
While Excel spreadsheets are a great way to stay organized, you may want to invest in an accounting software. Quickbooks is one of the most widely used, and has a convenient online version. With it, you can generate valuable reports, track invoices and payments, and reconcile your accounts. It gives you an organized overview of your revenue, and is a great resource for the small business.
5. Mark on your calendar when payments are due.
Trust your calendar to tell you when you need to get paid, and make sure that you keep a record of "aged" receivables that are overdue. Log follow up emails and phone calls in writing so you can provide evidence of a follow-up when your vendor acts confused about a payment. Written documents will always be on your side.
6. Reconcile your accounts every month.
Account reconciliation is super important. It's a way to make sure what is in your bank account actually matches what is in your records. Quickbooks has an easy account reconciliation step-by-step process. Making sure you do this every month will make keeping your accounts less overwhelming than waiting until the end of the year to do everything.
7. Enroll in a payroll service that automatically withdraws tax and deductions.
If you have employees, a good payroll service will take care of all the tax deductions for you when you set up a W-2. ADP is one of the top companies that handles all of that. For more on them, check out their website.
8. Become best friends with your P&Ls.
As a business owner, it's vital to be able to see the big picture of your company. A profit and loss report will show you all of your expenses categorized as well as your net income. You can compare these P&Ls year over year, or even month over month, to see if certain expenses are staying constant, rising, or falling seasonally. Here's more on how to understand your P&L.
9. Keep up with your taxes.
You'll likely need to make a quarterly tax payment if your company operates in a state with sales tax. For more, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will help you figure out what you need to pay, and when. You can also use your year-to-date P&L to determine if you owe any estimated taxes for the quarter.
That wasn't so bad, was it? We're not out to put accountants out of business, but by understanding a bit of what they do, you can take control of how you run things. And hey, if you like it, you might want to become a CPA.