Record keeping - the basics
Setup a separate business bank account
Make sure only business transactions go through your business account and keep your personal spending in your personal bank account (such as your weekly shops).
This helps you keep everything separate and makes it much easier when competing your bookkeeping if all business transactions are in one place.
Keep hold of everything
Get into the habit when buying things for your business that you put the receipts/invoices somewhere safe (it may be in a file, scanned onto your computer or attached on your accounting software).
If using spreadsheets, try using a number system for each payment so you can easily find the invoice the payment relates to if you need to.
You are required to keep your records for 6 years (these can be stored electronically).
Keep on top of your bookkeeping regularly
Completing your bookkeeping on a weekly or monthly basis is ideal. This will allow you to complete it in much smaller chunks and then its not a major task.
It will also help you to understand how your business is doing in real time (e.g. how much profit you are making and potentially give you an idea of your tax bill).
The worst thing you can do is to leave a full year of bookkeeping to do just days before your accounts or tax return deadline – its stressful and will be the dullest task ever!
What bookkeeping system to use?
This is a really common question I get asked and ultimately it depends on your individual business.
Option 1: Use a spreadsheet
There is nothing wrong at all with using a spreadsheet to do your bookkeeping.
If you have a simple, straight forward business with minimal transactions and you’re under the VAT threshold you may not need anything more.
Key things to keep track of are:
Expenses paid personally
Here are some tips to make your bookkeeping more efficient:
Download your online bank statements into a csv format to copy and paste into your spreadsheet.
Analyse your bank transactions as you go into columns (e.g. purchases, stationery, telephone etc).
Make sure you use formulas to add up columns and rows.
You could add a summary tab to link into your other tabs to calculate a profit and loss account ready to go onto your tax return. This can be used to estimate your tax bill.
Use a mileage tracker app.
Option 2: Use an accounting software package
If your business is getting more complicated, has more transactions so your bookkeeping is taking you longer each week or month then looking at an accounting software package could help automate some of the bookkeeping tasks to free you up.
Standard packages are around £25 + VAT a month (there are both cheaper and more expensive packages available). The key thing is to get the right package for you and your business so it would be worthwhile having a chat through it with your accountant.
Common systems include Xero, Quickbooks, Sage, Wave and Freeagent.
Why using an accounting system will save you time
There are lots of time saving benefits with using an accounting system for small businesses.
Here are the most common ones for small businesses:
You can access your accounts anywhere (desktop, tablet, phone, on holiday). You can also provide access to your accountant too so that they can look at the same information as you.
Direct bank feeds
Connect your accounting software straight to your online bank account and any new bank transactions are pulled straight into the system one a daily basis
You go through the transactions, match to invoices already on the system or allocate what nominal code they should go to, click ok and its done!
Most of the phone apps allow you to take photos of your receipts to attach to transactions so everything is stored on the system with the transaction it relates to at a click of a button - no more digging through folders of invoices!
These can be emailed directly to customers so your customers can receive your invoice instantly.
If you have regular invoices for some customers you can setup recurring invoices for monthly/quarterly/annual sales invoices.
If your customer hasn't paid you on time you can setup sending out payment reminders to your customers automatically.
There are a whole host of report templates available on accounts software which are generated at a click of a button and you can customise them to suit your business needs.
Debtors reports (shows who owes you money)
Creditors reports (shows who you owe money to)
Profit and loss account (how much profit have you made)
Apps can help automate your bookkeeping even further
Not only does using an accounting software automate a lot of the bookkeeping tasks but there are now hundreds of Apps which can be bolted on to make your business bookkeeping and reporting more streamlined and efficient. This is perfect for growing businesses.
Some of the apps are free and others are at an extra monthly fee (so it is worthwhile looking at the cost vs benefit before using an App).
Here are some of the most popular Apps for small businesses:
Scan/upload your invoice/receipt to an app (such as Hubdoc, Receiptbank, Autoentry and Datamolino) and it will extract the data (date, supplier, amount, description etc). You check the information and the code used is correct, click ok and it posts it to your software with a copy of the invoice attached (no more manual data entry).
Whats even better is that Hubdoc is FREE with Xero and Quickbooks Online have their own inbuilt version.
If you use point of sale card machines (such as Izettle and Square) you can download the relevant app and link it directly to your accounts software so it will import the transactions and associated fees on a daily basis.
You can also have the option to add a pay now button to your sales invoices using stripe or get customers to setup direct debits using Go cardless which may help get money in quicker.
Business mileage is something that I am always asking clients for and they have very rarely kept track of it as they go along so they have to go back and work out their business mileage for a whole year.
There are mileage tracker apps (such as Tripcatcher or MileIQ) which can be used to keep track as you go. Some of the phone apps for instance will automatically recognise when you have done a car journey and it will ask you to say whether it is business or personal.
Quickbooks Online have their own inbuilt mileage tracker.
Cashflow is a crutial part of every business and you can use apps (such as Float or Fathom) to give detailed cashflow projections over a long period of time. Some of the apps also let you create 'What if' scenarios.
Bookkeeping is no longer the manual task it used to be. There are so many options available to help automate some of the processes so that you can spend more time focusing on your business.
If the day to day bookkeeping is still taking you more time than you would like it is worth getting in touch to see if there are any processes that could be automated for you or it may be time to start outsourcing your bookkeeping to a bookkeeper or your accountant to really free you up to focus on what you do best.