Getting the most out of your accounting program

Whether you’re a new or established small business, cash flow is always a concern. It’s important to keep in mind the big picture for your business as it grows, but depending on the size of your team, you need to spend some time in the weeds, too. Accounting is essential, but can be tedious, so how can you get the most out of your accounting program, and how can your accounting support your big picture?

Won’t my simple excel spreadsheet be good enough?

Hey, if you’re an Excel wizard, there’s no reason to stop—but what are you doing with all that data? It may be helpful for your accountant at the end of the year, but what is it doing for you, right now, as you’re running your business? What’s your data telling you? Are your profits consistent month-to-month? Or are they growing, dipping, or inconsistent? Can you identify any variables that lead to those answers? And what about your expenses? Are you tracking all of them, and are you categorizing them in the right way? If you’re just operating from Excel, do you have a Chart of Accounts?

These questions aren’t meant to freak you out, or make you think you need to do all of these things today. Even if you’re an A+ operator and you do all of the above, have you taken a moment to look at all of your expenses by category and really understand where your money is going? Is it what you thought it was? How do your expenses match up against your income? The reason I pose these questions to you are to get you thinking about how your information can work for you.

According to Sara Angeles at Business News Daily [@sara_angeles], whether or not you’re using Excel, it’s essential to know that “using accounting software right from the start sets your business up for success down the line. It’s far more beneficial to begin using an accounting software from the first day than to implement one after months or even years of using spreadsheets or hand-written ledgers.”

I use X program, but I’m not sure if I’m using it right…

Being honest with yourself and the limits of your knowledge can help you and your business improve. Do you have a program but you’re not sure if you’re using it right, or using it at all? If you’re being honest with yourself and answer ‘yes,’ the best place is to start is with the experts. Contact a local bookkeeper, CPA, software program specialist (like a QuickBooks ProAdvisor), or even the program’s own support team. They want you to use their product in the way it was intended, and they want you to succeed. Set aside an hour to learn the basics, and as you move along, note other things you’d like to know (“Which client costs me the most time or money?”; “Which job sells the most and costs the least?”; etc.). Having hard, accurate, and rich data—easily accessible by most accounting programs—can help you answer these questions with the certainty you need for your business to succeed.

…and I’m not sure if I’m entering information consistently, either.

If you’re already set up and trained in an accounting program, but you’re having a hard time interpreting the data, or you’re only entering the information once a quarter—or worse, once a year—it’s time for you to implement a system. I know very few business owners who relish doing their accounting every month, but putting it off only makes it worse. If you set up a system so that you’re working on accounting incrementally, say, once per week for 30 minutes to an hour, this will serve to breakdown your overall workload, give you concrete To Do’s, and portion these tasks into manageable chunks so that you’re more likely to stick to the plan and be consistent.

I recommend that small business owners set aside one to two hours a week to go through their books. That could mean entering expenses, sending invoices, accepting transactions downloaded from your bank/credit cards, or running reports to see where your business stands. As long as you’re consistently spending time on your accounting more than once a month, you’re setting yourself up for long term success.

Set aside time to maximize your software

You may not have gone to school for accounting, or be an expert in your accounting tools, but there’s a deep pool of experts out there who can help illuminate what you don’t know and give you the tools to get to the next level. Consider specifying certain time during your weekly accounting upkeep to speak with an expert in your software program (like a QuickBooks ProAdvisor for QBO user, a Freshbooks Certified Accountant/Bookkeeper, or a local CPA/bookkeeper) and have them review your work. Does the information look like it’s entered correctly? Are there better, or more efficient, ways you can be working with this program? Are there any other recommended tips, tricks, suggestions, or customized reports that can make your work more efficient? Your business wasn’t built from a cookie-cutter mold. Your accounting program doesn’t have to be either.

Now, all you need to do is stay consistent

It’s one thing if the accounting program you have no longer works for you (maybe it’s time to upgrade to one that better fits your needs). But the only way you’ll be able to know what really works for you is A) if you’re regularly working with your accounting program, and B) you’re consistently recording and analyzing your data. As I Tweeted earlier this week, your system is what is going to bring you success. Having a ‘goal’ of keeping your financial data up to date is only helpful if you’re implementing the system behind it week after week. Remember, as with any tool, if you’re not using it—it’s useless.

Your turn!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are some of your accounting/accounting system questions? What are some of the financial-side areas that you struggle with in your business? Leave a message in the comments or e-mail me at sarah@sarahvanloon.com.

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