When you decided to open for business, you had a vision for the future. You identified a need and came up with a solution you could provide and sell, and you invested your time, your money, your knowledge, and your drive to make it into a reality. The only problem in this scenario, if you’re like a lot of small business owners, is that you did not anticipate having to handle your business’s accounting needs. Many highly intelligent, responsible business operators get caught making common small-business accounting mistakes that can trip them up and cost them in the long run. If you are afraid this might happen to you — or if it already has — the best way to avoid these costly errors is to learn the top four small-business accounting mistakes and how to prevent them.
The Top 4 Accounting Mistakes Made by Small Businesses
The truth is that these four mistakes are relatively easy to address. The best way to avoid them is to set aside time every week for the specific purpose of taking care of basic accounting tasks. Once you get into the habit of doing them regularly and the right way, you’ll be able to avoid the hassle of having to go back and correct these mistakes in the future.
Let’s look at each one individually, in a bit more depth.
Reporting Employees as Independent Contractors
If you hire people to work for you, it’s important for you to understand the difference between employees and contractors, and to classify them correctly. There are very specific ways that you must account for each type of worker, and if you don’t get it right you will likely have to make corrections — and possibly pay penalties — in the future. If somebody is your employee, then you have control over when they work, how they get paid, and how they do their job. You are also responsible for withholding payroll tax on their behalf. By contrast, when you bring somebody in to do work for you as an independent contractor, they have more control over their own schedule, the work that they do, and how they get paid by you. They are responsible for their own taxes.
Not Reconciling Bank Accounts Regularly
Just as there are certain tasks that need to be done to keep your business running smoothly, there are certain accounting tasks that need to be addressed on a regular basis. Reconciling your bank accounts is one of those things. You need to make sure that every expense and every deposit is recorded in your books, and the best way to do that is to compare what you’ve written down to the statement that the bank provides. When you do this regularly, you are able to more immediately identify and address items that don’t match up so that you can correct any mistakes and take full advantage of available deductions. Far too often small business owners assume that this task is a waste of time and wait until the end of the year to do it. Not only is this much more time consuming, but it is harder to catch all mistakes and figure out what is missing when you have a full year’s worth of information to go through.
Forgetting to Record Payments Against Open Invoices
You receive a check in the mail or make a deposit into your bank account for an open invoice. If you don’t go back and check off the box showing that receivable as paid, your accounting data will be incorrect and incomplete. Get into the habit of immediately linking payments to their open invoices in order to avoid problems in the future.
Not Understanding the Differences Between Cash Flow and Profit
The money that comes in from your customers and the money that goes out as you make expenditures to operate your business represents cash flow. It’s important to have a positive cash flow, as that is a good indication that your company is healthy. It also means that you can pay your bills. But cash flow is not the same thing as profit. Profitability is a measure of whether you are making more from the sale of your service or product than you spend in bringing it to market. You may be profitable, but if the cash isn’t in hand then you can still have a negative cash flow. And people can pay you quickly so that you have cash on hand but you still may not be making a profit.
The single best and easiest way to avoid these mistakes it is by taking advantage of all of the tools and functions that your accounting software package offers. Most accounting programs include powerful tools and how-to guides, but in many cases small business owners just invest in the packages without taking the time to learn all that they can do — or to learn it well. By taking a little time on the front end to go through the available tutorials, you’ll find that you’ll save yourself both time and trouble on the back end. Our best advice is to set aside time one day of the week, first to learn the software and then, going forward, to go through that week’s records. Set aside the same time slot each week as if it is a meeting or appointment. It’s a good habit to get into.
If you find yourself struggling to learn your software and you need help, don’t hesitate to contact us for tips and/or training — we’re happy to help. And once you learn what you’re doing, make sure that you include backing up your files as part of your weekly appointment with yourself. There’s nothing quite like doing the right thing and then having it disappear into the ether.
For additional accounting support or to schedule a consultation, please give us a call at 410-453-5500.