Bookkeeping for Smarties

Every year thousands, if not millions, of people start or run small businesses. The goal for each is to make money, but unfortunately the odds are that most will not – most will fail.

There are many reasons for their failure, but not making a profit is certainly one of the main ones.

The key to staying on top of your financial situation is good bookkeeping, but this is not everyone’s forte.

Below are some timeless tips for being successful with your bookkeeping.

Bank Accounts

I have seen this happen many times. I am reviewing bank transactions and have found one or several that I need to ask the owner about. In the course of the discussion, I find that the transaction isn’t even for the business; it’s the owner’s personal purchase.

There are a number of wrongs with this. 

  • The IRS frowns upon you commingling business expenses with personal expenses.
  • You need to keep the appearance of running your business professionally.
  • It makes it difficult to sort through the expenses and determine the true profitability of the business.
  • It can deplete a business’ cash that could be used for more worthwhile expenditures.

Even if you are a sole proprietor, open up a checking account and credit card to use only for only your business.  Make it a rule to never, ever use these for personal expenses, even if temporary or a short loan.

Record all Income and Expenses

This becomes easy when you have dedicated bank accounts and credit cards for your business. If you pay for all of your expenses with a business check or your business credit card, you have a system for capturing all of your expenses. You also need to deposit your income (cash, checks, credit card payments from customers) directly into your business checking account and not your personal account. 

Then, you simply reconcile your accounts, at a minimum, of once a month. In doing so, you will need to categorize your expenses and income. We will talk about how to make this process easier in the applications section below.

A Process for Getting Paid

It doesn’t do you much good to sell a million dollars of products and services if you don’t get paid for them.

The best method is to collect payment up front, but some customers will not want to do that. It is up to you if you want to offer customers terms of say net 30 (customer can pay you up to 30 days after your invoice date).

Not all customers will pay; however, even if you give them time, so you need a written collection policy to address those times. You need it in writing so that your customers know you’re serious about collecting payment and what you’ll do if they don’t pay.

Decide what you want to do when the invoice is past due: call, write, send a lawyer letter, or send to a collection agency.

You may want to run your policy by a lawyer to verify everything you’re doing complies with local laws.


Ah taxes – a necessary evil.  Everyone knows about income taxes, but there’s also payroll taxes (federal, state, social security, unemployment, workers comp), sales taxes, and use taxes.

There are a few things to keep in mind with taxes.

One is to note when each of them are due. If you want to run your business professionally, you need to pay your taxes and file on time. Plus the government doesn’t want to wait until the due date to receive their money. They want you to send in estimated taxes at regular intervals and only true those totals up when you file. There are stiff penalties for failing to do this.

Two is to have the money available to pay your taxes.  It won’t do much good if you file your tax returns, but you don’t have the money to pay what is due.  Set these amounts aside (ideally in their own checking account that you don’t touch), so that when you file your returns the money is there.

Business Structure

Your business legal structure can vary over time.  When you’re first starting, you can run it as a sole proprietor and then convert to an LLC or corporate structure later on.

There can be great legal and monetary reasons for doing so right away. Consult with an attorney up front to find out which makes the most sense, saves you money and limits your liability.

Cash is King

Cash is arguably the most important part of your business finances.

Cash is needed to pay your bills, taxes, payroll, payoff loans and allow you to eat.

Managing cash is not always easy.

Frequently, you can look at your checkbook and see that you don’t have enough to pay this week’s bills, or that you have payroll coming up next week and your biggest customer has decided to not pay you.

This is where the importance of having a budget and a forecast comes in. With these in place, you can plan ahead for what will be needed and see in advance where you’ll be in trouble if you don’t have the money. Are you going to need a credit line? Do you need to find a cheaper place to work out of?  Should you delay purchasing that new delivery van?

One of the most valuable financial statements is the cash flow statement and it is seldom used by business owners. It summarizes how your cash total changed during a time frame and where that change came from.

Stay in control of your cash and you increase the likelihood of your staying in business.

Review Monthly Financial Statements

The three main financial statements are the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. You should review these monthly and understand them.

Income Statement

This report measures how you are doing with your revenue and expenses for a given period of time.  Depending on your business, this could be a very simple report or very complex. The key is to know what to focus on, so you are not overwhelmed.

Revenue – Is this better than expected (budget/forecast), better than last year, do you have new customers, did you lose customers, are these sales resulting from high returns, credits, promos, productive sales reps?  You can see it’s much more than “Hey, I sold $10,000 last month!”

Expenses – Which categories require my attention?  Where am I spending too much? What programs haven’t I implemented this year? How did we go over budget without my approval? Are these expenses worth it?

Profit – What’s my margin? Am I bringing in enough to cover my bills and future needs?  Am I achieving a high enough return on my investment?

Balance Sheet

The balance sheet looks at your assets (what you own), your liabilities (what you owe) and equity (what’s leftover). It’s for a specific point in time (usually for the end of the month or year). You can tell at a glance what is the net worth of your business, and if you compare it to last year, you can tell if you’re improving or not.

The statement is used to measure things like return on equity, return on assets, and debt to equity.

At the end of the year, you can decide what to do with your profits by either distributing them to the owner(s) and employees, or retaining them in the business.

Cash Flow Statement

This was discussed up in the Cash is King section above.


Many business owners don’t know there is a difference between these two job categories.

CPA – A CPA is a degreed accountant that has been licensed in their state. They passed an exam to prove their accounting and business law knowledge. You should use a CPA for your income tax filings. You can also use them for bookkeeping tasks, but you may be spending more than if you had these completed by a bookkeeper.

Bookkeeper – A bookkeeper may or may not be a CPA or have an accounting degree. They typically perform accounting tasks like bank reconciliations, payroll, pay bills, collect on open invoices… Most bookkeepers are not tax experts, so you will most likely use your CPA for that task and use your bookkeeper for everything else.


The right software applications can make your accounting and bookkeeping more efficient and are well-worth the expense.  Here’s some applications you should consider:

Quickbooks Online – Quickbooks is used by more small businesses than any other bookkeeping software. The monthly fee is small and your software will stay updated. You will have less difficulty finding someone to help you if you use QBO, since it so popular. Another advantage to using the online version is your bookkeeper can work remotely allowing you to outsource these tasks rather than hiring an employee. If you do this with the proper controls, you don’t have to worry about what they can do.

Billbeez/Hubdoc – These applications can help you pay bills online, grab invoices/receipts and send the transactions to QBO for processing.

Expensify/Wave Receipts – These programs can capture your receipts, as you obtain them, and send them to your QBO.

MileIQ – If you use your vehicle for your business, this app helps you keep track of your mileage for tax purposes.


Make a decision to be among the minority of small businesses that will succeed. Run your business professionally by following good accounting practices, such as those suggested above.

If you need help with these tasks, consider outsourcing it to a professional with experience for a small fixed monthly fee.