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A Comprehensive Guide to Financial Management

A Comprehensive Guide to Financial Management

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Accounting is an instrumental part of running a small business. Implementing systems and best practices for keeping track of expenditures and revenues is key to managing cash flow. Without these systems in place, it’s all too easy to lose track of funds or create the financial records necessary to file taxes and apply for small business financing, if necessary. Proper accounting for small businesses encompasses a number of important tasks.

Key Takeaways

  • Accounting is crucial for small businesses to effectively manage their finances.
  • Setting up accounting systems involves opening a business bank account, choosing an accounting method, setting up a chart of accounts, and determining the fiscal year.
  • Basic bookkeeping includes tracking expenses, recording transactions accurately, documenting receipts, and reconciling bank statements.
  • Financial statements such as the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement provide insights into a small business’s financial health.
  • Small businesses need to understand their tax obligations, track deductible expenses, and file taxes on time.

Setting Up Accounting for Small Businesses

Accounting as a small business owner begins with laying a proper foundation. That includes four key activities:

  • Opening a small business bank account
  • Choosing an accounting method (cash or accrual)
  • Setting up a chart of accounts
  • Determining the fiscal year for the business

Here’s a closer look at each step.

Opening a Small Business Bank Account

Opening a business bank account allows you to separate business and personal spending, which can be helpful when it’s time to file taxes if you plan to deduct eligible expenses. To open a bank account for a small business, you’ll generally need to have the following:

  • Employer Identification Number (EIN) or a Social Security number if you operate as a sole proprietor
  • Business formation documents
  • Ownership agreements
  • Business license, if your state requires one to do business

You’ll also need a minimum opening deposit if the bank requires one. Minimum deposit requirements can depend on the type of business account and whether you’re opening the account at a traditional bank, credit union, or online bank.

Remember to compare the fees, features, and benefits associated with different business bank accounts to find the one that best aligns with your needs.

Choosing an Accounting Method

Your accounting method determines how you report income and deduct expenses for the year. The IRS allows you to choose between two options, cash and accrual. Here’s how they compare.

  • Cash method. With the cash method, you report income in the year that you receive it and deduct expenses in the year that you pay them.
  • Accrual method. With the accrual method, you’d report income in the year that you earn it, regardless of when it’s received.

If you select one accounting method and then decide that you’d like to change it after filing your taxes, you’d need to complete IRS Form 3115 to formally do so.

Setting Up a Chart of Accounts

A chart of accounts is a list of all accounts available for recording transactions in your accounting software program if you use one or a general ledger if you don’t. To create this chart you’d first organize your accounts into specific categories, then further break your organization down into relevant subaccounts.

Each category is assigned a range of numbers that are used to track individual accounts. For instance, if you have a category for business asset accounts your organization might look like this:

  • Asset: Checking account, 1005
  • Asset: Savings account, 1015
  • Asset: Money market account, 1020

You’d follow this system for all of the account categories that you have. Common categories include asset, liability, equity, revenue, and expense accounts.

Determining the Fiscal Year

A fiscal year is 12 consecutive months for which accounting activity is recorded. Small business owners can decide when their fiscal year begins and ends; the only rule is that it must be 12 consecutive months.

For instance, you might choose to start your fiscal year on July 1 and have it end on June 30 of the following calendar year. Or you may choose a more traditional approach and have your fiscal year follow the standard calendar year, depending on what works best for your business. If you operate a seasonal business, for instance, then you may choose to begin your fiscal year at the beginning or end of your peak sales season.

Basic Bookkeeping for Small Businesses

Basic bookkeeping for small business owners revolves around a core set of tasks, all of which are designed to help you keep track of where funds are going. The most important bookkeeping practices include:

  • Tracking small business expenses
  • Recording transactions accurately
  • Documenting and filing receipts
  • Reconciling bank statements

In terms of which expenses to track for a small business, the short answer is all of them. Anything that you spend money on–whether it’s your monthly lease payment, utilities, office supplies, or postage fees–should be recorded in your accounting system. And those transactions should be recorded accurately to ensure that you have the correct amounts when you’re ready to deduct business expenses on your taxes.

The IRS encourages small business owners to maintain proper documentation for expenses, such as receipts showing the amount spent, the date, the payment method, and what was purchased.

While taken separately, those tasks can be time-consuming they become easier when utilizing a comprehensive bookkeeping software program. The best bookkeeping software syncs with your business bank account and payroll systems so that you’re easily able to import and export transaction history. We’ll cover some of the best business bookkeeping software options a little later.

Financial Statements for Small Businesses

Financial statements can yield valuable insights into how well your small business is managing income and expenses. You’ll also need to present up-to-date financial statements to lenders if you plan to apply for small business financing at some point.

There are three financial statements all small businesses should consider creating.

  • Income statement (profit and loss statement). An income statement shows a business’s expenses, income, losses, and gains over a set period. These figures are used to determine your net profit or net loss accordingly.
  • Balance sheet. A balance sheet records a business’s assets, liabilities, and shareholder equity. In simple terms, this financial statement will tell you what your business owns and what it owes.
  • Cash flow statement. A cash flow statement provides a snapshot of how cash moves in and out of the business. It can also tell you how well your business is equipped to pay its bills.

If you’re already using an accounting software program for small businesses, you may be able to generate these statements automatically using the expense and income information you’ve already entered.

Tax Considerations for Small Businesses

Running a small business means you have to file a tax return and pay what you owe to the IRS if anything. Businesses will need to pay federal and state taxes, as well as any local taxes that may apply. There are five types of small business taxes at the federal level:

  • Income tax
  • Self-employment tax
  • Estimated tax
  • Employer tax
  • Excise tax

Your business structure determines which types of tax you must pay. Remember that if you have employees you’ll also need to account for payroll tax. If you’re unsure about your tax obligations, you may want to talk to a professional accountant or tax expert for advice.

Small businesses that are required to pay estimated quarterly taxes but fail to do so underpay may be assessed a penalty by the IRS.

Deducting Business Expenses

The IRS allows business owners to deduct a number of expenses. Deductions reduce your taxable income for the year. Some of the expenses you may deduct include:

  • Business meals
  • Business travel
  • Business insurance
  • Home office expenses
  • Utilities and rent for business premises
  • Inventory purchases
  • Vehicle purchases or eligible vehicle expenses
  • Employee benefits
  • Retirement plan contributions

Again, you’ll need to keep track of all of these expenses and maintain the proper records for each one. Keeping accurate records serves two purposes. First, it ensures that you’re deducting the right amounts when you file your taxes and second, it allows you to prove your deductions should your business be selected for a tax audit. If you’re using a tax filing software you may have the option to organize and store receipts electronically.

Software and Tools for Small Business Accounting

Software programs, apps, and tools can save your business time and potentially money if you’re able to ensure more accurate accounting. Using a software program can also eliminate the need to retain a full-time accountant, which can add to your business expenses.

Additionally, accounting software can help you to:

  • Create cost predictions
  • Run forecasts to determine the potential return on business investments
  • Manage inventory
  • Manage payroll
  • Send and receive invoices
  • Track accounts payable and receivables

There are numerous software options for small businesses, with QuickBooks and FreshBooks being two of the most popular. When deciding which software program to use for accounting, it helps to first consider what your business needs. You can then compare different programs to evaluate the range of features and benefits that are included, and the overall cost of using it.

Outsourcing Accounting Services for Small Businesses

While you could handle accounting for your small business on your own, you may consider outsourcing it to an accounting pro.

In terms of the advantages of doing so, letting someone else handle your accounting means you have one less thing to worry about. Instead of crunching numbers, you’ll be free to focus on other tasks that are necessary to run or scale your business. An accountant can also ensure greater accuracy and they may be more knowledgeable about the tax code and reporting requirements.

The downside is that outsourcing means your business’s financial information is being viewed by someone else, which you may or may not be comfortable with. Aside from that, you also have to consider what you might pay to hire an accountant on a full-time or part-time basis.

In terms of how to choose an accountant, you may ask other business owners you know for a referral. If you’re able to get a few names, you can schedule meetings with those that look promising. During your meeting with them, consider asking the following questions to get a better idea of how well they align with your business.

  • How long have you worked in the accounting field?
  • Are you a certified public accountant (CPA) or do you hold any other professional credentials?
  • What type of small business owners do you typically work with?
  • What’s the full range of services you provide?
  • How much do you charge and how are the fees structured?
  • How often will we communicate and what is your preferred communication method?

You might choose to work with a virtual bookkeeper if you’re comfortable connecting via Zoom call or email. The fees may be lower but be sure to ask about their background and experience before entering into an agreement to contract their services.

Best Practices for Small Business Accounting

Following best practices can minimize the room for errors in your small business accounting and help you to keep better records. What those practices look like may vary from business to business but at a minimum, it’s a good idea to include the following.

  • Maintain separate bank accounts and credit cards for business and personal spending
  • Ensure accuracy in business recordkeeping
  • Regularly review financial statements
  • Seek professional advice when needed
  • Back up and secure records

Setting up a document management system can help with organizing your records so they’re easier to review. There are different ways to organize files, depending on what you need to store.

You might choose to use document management software to keep track of key financial information and statements. You’ll want to periodically back up your files and ensure that you’re adhering to security protocols so your information isn’t compromised. For example, if you need to save a copy of a document separately from other files you may put it in its own password-protected folder inside your document management software.

What Are the Benefits of Using Accounting Software for Small Businesses

Using accounting software can allow you to save time when managing the books for your business. You can sync financial accounts to easily import transaction history, track expenses, double-check transactions for accuracy, and generate important financial statements.

What Are the Best Practices for Maintaining Accurate Financial Records?

Some of the best ways to ensure accuracy in financial records include keeping business and personal accounts separate, using an accounting software program to track cash flow, regularly updating financial statements, and conducting an annual audit to review your business’s financial history.

What Types of Records Do Small Businesses Need to Keep?

Small businesses need to keep accurate records relating to any expenses they incur, particularly for expenses they plan to deduct. It’s also important to keep records of any agreements with vendors and suppliers, bank statements, documents showing payment of estimated quarterly taxes, and annual tax returns.

The Bottom Line

The importance of accounting for small businesses can’t be underestimated. Whether you’re starting a brand-new business or you have some experience under your belt, creating a solid accounting plan can help you monitor and maintain your financial health.