Every small business is required to keep bookkeeping records to produce at the end of the financial year a set of accounts to show the sales income, business expenses and the net profit for tax purposes. Medium and larger businesses employ accounts clerks, bookkeepers and accountants to maintain the financial records and produce regular accounting information.
Small businesses and in particular self employed business have a choice in how the financial accounts are prepared and produced. A small business may employ the services of a bookkeeper to produce the accounts while another similar business may keep a manual record of financial transactions while a third option is to use a bookkeeping software system.
There are several advantages and disadvantages to whichever course of action a small business may take to produce the financial accounts and at the outset it is better to make a definite decision on which route to take. Financial accounts, financial control over the business activities and the knowledge of how well or badly the business is performing is crucial to success in the business environment.
The underlying necessity is that if the small business does not take a decision on its financial accounting then at the very least it must accumulate documents of prime significance such as sales invoices, purchase invoices and possibly bank records during the financial year and assemble these into some sort of order after the end of the financial year for tax purposes. Failing to keep financial records often results in a succession of administrative burdens and often also leads to financial penalties if taxation deadlines are not met.
If the small business owner chooses not to go down the route of using bookkeeping software or outsourcing the financial function to a bookkeeper or accountant then manual financial records must be kept. Producing an income and expenditure account for the business using the prime financial documents of business is not rocket science and most businessmen capable of running and managing a business have the skills required to producing the bookkeeping records.
The major disadvantage of a small business keeping manual records is that documents get lost which may result in profits and taxes being over declared, fines and penalties through inaccuracies and often when accounting is produced in this way it is done at the end of the financial year purely for tax purposes rather than as an essential tool of the business and that reduces financial control within the business during the financial year to a minimum and often zero.
If a manual bookkeeping system is adopted then disciplined recording of the financial information on a regular basis should be enforced and regarded as an essential function and not an administrative burden. The main purpose of regular accounts being to both see and understand the financial position of the business and take positive action as required at the earliest opportunity to achieve a satisfactory financial result.
Other alternatives include utilising bookkeeping software which is effectively often a manual system in itself but within definite parameters to produce the essential information. A bookkeeper might be employed whether a manual system is used or bookkeeping software adopted.
Using bookkeeping software has many advantages. First of all any small business that has purchased bookkeeping software is more likely to keep regular up to date accounts than one that has not. And secondly the bookkeeping software is likely to provide a fixed set of disciplines and produce the type of records a small business requires for both the preparation of regular financial statements and the end of year tax returns.
Another major advantage of bookkeeping software is that records tend to be less likely to be lost or mislaid; the packages can be backed up as required but essential financial performance can be improved by greater financial control. All businesses work towards producing a satisfactory bottom line and only by producing regular financial statements can the business obtain the earliest information to achieve that satisfactory performance.
Bookkeeping software comes in many different formats from simple spreadsheets to more complex data based accounting software. For a small business the bookkeeping software of choice is often a simple system requiring limited accounting knowledge but must also be a package that produces the desired end result.
The worst bookkeeping software is a complex program requiring prior accounting knowledge that the small business either does not fully understand, cannot be bothered or does not have the time to learn and having tried the system then abandons it. Such a process just causes frustration and time to start again with a different solution.
Bookkeeping software in effect automates the manual keeping of financial records. To get the most benefit from a bookkeeping software package each small business should prepare regular financial records to enhance and improve financial control, take financial decisions and achieve the desired bottom line result.
Bookkeeping can be outsourced to an accountant or bookkeeper and there advantages in doing so. The financial records are generally maintained in good order and regular financial reports produced. If the small business has a volume of paperwork that becomes a burden to process and keep on top of then a bookkeeper may be the best solution.
Employing a bookkeeper becomes essential when the paperwork burden reaches a stage when it distracts the small business owner from getting on with the main task of operating the business. A bookkeeper has to be paid and that cost should be viewed as the cost not of producing the financial records but as the amount to be paid to release the time of the small business owner and also to produce the financial statements on which action can be taken to improve profitability.
A major disadvantage in using a bookkeeper is that the small business owner may remove themselves from the detailed records. By producing the accounts themselves the small business owner sees every financial transaction at least twice, once when the transaction is carried out and again when it is entered into the financial records.
This second view of the accounts can be important, errors in management judgement can be noted, mistakes and bad practises become more apparent. Missed documents are much more likely to be noticed if the small business owner produces his own bookkeeping records than if the task is carried out by a third party such as an accountant or bookkeeper. Nobody knows the business as well as the small business owner knows his own business.
The conclusion and decision each small business should take is doing something. A manual bookkeeping system may suffice but the business may be better served using bookkeeping software to increase financial control and performance. If the administrative burden of maintaining the paperwork detracts the small business from its main operations then an accountant or outsourced bookkeeping services is a logical solution.