Saving time with simple bookkeeping systems

I was recently working with a client and we discovered that their bank had overpaid one of their vendors by over $500! That can be a lot of cash for a small business. It’s easy to think that something like this won’t happen, and if it does, it’ll be an easy fix. But what if that $500 becomes $5,000—or even $50,000? The obvious answer is to stay on top of your books and keep them clean, but for small business owners, this can be time consuming and distract from the big picture. The solution: set up a system.

Today I’d like to share with you one of my bookkeeping strategies, which can help you systematize what kind of bookkeeping tasks you should be doing, if any, at any point of your day/week/month/quarter. Properly implemented, this strategy will serve to minimize your overall time spent bookkeeping by only focusing on the tasks you need to do then-and-there. So let’s get started!

(As always, this strategy is meant as a guide and does not mean that everything listed will be applicable to your business. In fact, your business may have more “to-do’s” than are listed below. The basic guidelines below will, at the very least, help you get started.)

First, let’s break the types of tasks into four main categories: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Quarterly.

Daily:

  • Process and send any invoices to your clients/customers
  • Add any expenses you may have occurred (if you work with an online program such as QuickBooks Online, accept any new transactions in the banking register)
    • If any of your expenses are reimbursable, directly connected to a client, or part of your Cost of Goods Sold, make note of that here
  • Record any bills you may have received
  • Put your receipts from the day’s activities in one place
  • Record any checks you have written

In other words, if you did anything in your business that is connected to money (if you worked, sold something, or spent anything), note of it in your accounting system.

Weekly:

  • Confirm that all invoices that needed to be sent have been sent
  • Pay any bills that need to be paid
  • If you use an online accounting system, accept the transactions from your banking center. If you use an Excel or simple-style method to keep track of your bookkeeping, enter all of your expense transactions (any time you spent money)
  • Scan your expense transactions to make sure that everything has been coded/posted to the right expense account (and mark any transactions that you’re not sure what to code to as “Ask My Accountant”)
  • For any invoice that is past-due by 30 days, call and follow up with your client for payment

Personally, my daily and weekly tasks are pretty intertwined. The biggest thing to pay attention to is making sure you’re getting paid. As soon as you’re able to send an invoice – get it out. While we hope that our clients will be timely with their payments, it’s not always the case. The sooner we can get the invoice out, the sooner the client can be followed up with and your payment secured.

Monthly:

  • Wrap up any daily/weekly task that needs to be completed
  • Reconcile your bank and credit card(s)
  • Run and analyze your monthly reports:
    • Balance Sheet
    • Profit & Loss
  • Set aside money for taxes (as always, consult a tax professional)

Quarterly:

  • Wrap up any daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that haven’t been completed
  • Pay quarterly taxes (if applicable; again, consult a tax professional)
  • Review any outstanding invoices and make a decision as to whether those debts can be collected or not
    • Write off any invoices that you know can’t or won’t be paid (hopefully you’ll never be in this situation!)

Hopefully this little guide will help give you a starting place for what you can be doing at any given time for bookkeeping. Properly implemented, this kind of step-by-step approach will help you save time in the long run. To keep myself on task, I use a calendar to provide me with reminders and notes of what I need to be doing (i.e.: “Invoice clients X, Y, and Z, complete monthly reconciliation,” etc.), so that all I have to do is show up and get it done.

Have your own time-saving strategy to share or want help forming one for your business? Message me at sarah@sarahvanloon.com!

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Spotlight: Reader Q & A

In a previous reader Q&A we’ve covered what to do to find your accountant for your SB and get yourself all set up. This time, we’re covering another Q&A from a slightly different angle.

Hi Sarah, I love your site! I’ve been running my business for a little while, but I guess I’ve been treating it more as a hobby than I have a real business. What do I need to do to transition from hobby to bona fide business?

– Reese

Great question, Reese! The simplest answer is to keep track of your income and your expenses, with as much detail as you can, but before we dig into that I want to go right to the source – the IRS.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Reader Q & A”

Small Business Owner

Reader Q&A: When should I get an accountant?

This week I’m featuring a reader’s questions about when to get an accountant, and what that process might look like.

Today’s question comes from a reader who runs their own virtual assistant company. They’ve recently started their business, and want to make sure they’re making all the right choices:

Hey Sarah,

Thanks for your help. As I mentioned, I’m just starting out and I think I’ll need an accountant but I’m not sure what they do/what they’ll help me with and why I should have one (I mean, I *know* I need one, but I’ve been filing my own taxes for years so I don’t see why I need to bring one in now), what those first steps for getting an accountant would be, and what the ongoing relationship would look like. I’m nervous about paying a lot of money for someone who won’t be able to do more than I’m already doing. Is it worth it?

 

Alright, let’s dig right in.

Continue reading “Reader Q&A: When should I get an accountant?”

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?

Continue reading “Getting the most out of your accounting program”

What’s the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant, anyway?

David Letterman once said, “There’s no business like show business, but there are several businesses like accounting.” And one of those several businesses is bookkeeping. So, what’s the big difference between accounting and bookkeeping, anyway?

The good folks at Bench provide a solid starting point by breaking down the tasks of bookkeepers and accountants into the following categories:

  • Bookkeepers “record financial transactions; post debits and credits; produce invoices; maintain and balance subsidiaries, general ledgers, and historical accounts; and complete payroll.”
  • Accountants “prepare adjusting entries (recording expenses that have occurred but aren’t yet recorded in the bookkeeping process); prepare company financial statements; analyze costs of operations; complete income tax returns; aid the business owner in understanding the impact of financial decisions.

To oversimplify the difference—bookkeepers enter data, and accountants (who may also enter data) also provide analysis, tax returns, and other high-level duties. An accountant will often utilize the data provided by the bookkeeper to provide financial reporting and outlooks for a company. As Katie Bunschoten explains on the Intuit Small Business Blog, “Many bookkeepers get their start acting as a data-entry clerk or entry-level bookkeeper for a business and grow, through experience and merit, into being a go-to person for the day-to-day financial recording. […] An accountant may also focus on reporting, business analysis and processes, and possibly advice.”

While these differences may seem minor, they’re important for you to know as a small business owner. Bookkeepers and accountants function similarly, but noting the differences will allow you to ensure that you’re getting the most out of their respective knowledge and expertise. Additionally, recent advancements and efficiencies in accounting and bookkeeping software has allowed for increased crossover between the two areas, which enables accounting professionals to be responsive and adaptable to various demands and expectations.

There are many accounting professionals active in the market that might describe themselves as accountants or bookkeepers, but are otherwise uncertified. While working with a non-certified financial professional might save you a few bucks, accounting is one of the areas you don’t want to skimp—especially because small businesses are far more prone to tax audits than individuals. When you’re working with an accountant, always go with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), who is state certified after a rigorous round of testing and years of demonstrated experience. And when you’re working with a bookkeeper, look for those with either or all of the following: QuickBooks ProAdvisor certifications, professional certification through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB), and/or certification and training through an established college or university.

While accounting isn’t always as singular or exciting as show business, no business can thrive without good accounting and balanced books.

(PS: If you like what you see here, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for more tips and advice to help your small business grow.)

Sarah van Loon Professional Bookeeping

Welcome to my new site!

After a busy summer, I’m pleased to announce that I finally have a new website—welcome to sarahvanloon.com! For the past year, I’ve been focused on building my expertise, growing my own business, and bringing my bookkeeping and training services to my clients here in Chicago. And now I’ll be using this site—and my various social media outlets—to start sharing free advice, tips, and best practices to help your small businesses grow. This is my passion, and through my site I’m continuing my mission to partner with small business owners to create efficiencies and promote organizational growth through personalized bookkeeping and financial solutions.

Take a minute to explore my site to learn more about why I got into bookkeeping, and then head over to the Services section to see how I can help you. Then take a peak at the sidebar (to the right –>) to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, for regular updates and conversation. Through my site I’ll be sharing regular weekly content and a Friday link round up for some easy weekend reading. But nothing too obtrusive or salesy, because who wants that?

In the business and accounting world, there is a lot of assumption and condescension. If you’re a small business owner, you’re spinning a lot of plates. It’s exhausting staying on top of your business’s day-to-day stuff—and staying up to date on relevant trends—and still maintain strategic focus on your Big Picture.

The complexities and confusion of accounting processes and trends can slow you down. And because I specialize in working with small businesses, I understand this. Through my site and my services, my goal is to bring warmth and enthusiasm to these cold and calculated processes. Bookkeeping doesn’t need to be mysterious or boring. With the tips, tricks, and metrics I’ll be sharing, you can learn to streamline your processes so you have time to focus on what’s important for your business—sustainability, profit, and growth.

If you’re curious to learn more, subscribe to my free monthly newsletter where I’ll share extra content, contests, discounts, and other cool stuff. We’re in this together, so let’s go to work!