Many new businesses use Excel spreadsheets to keep financial records when they start up. And while the familiarity, ease of use and affordability of this is understandable, as small businesses grow, by launching new products, opening at other locations or otherwise expanding their geographical reach, their accounting function must become much more complex.
Using disparate solutions across different sites can make consolidating annual accounts a challenging process. Likewise, for businesses that export overseas or import, multi-currency invoicing and transactions adds another layer of complexity.
To help them grow, businesses need accounting functions that can deal with growth. Additionally, the ability to create additional reports that provide up-to-date financials and that integrate with other internal systems and software is vital.
Fortunately, cloud-based (ie online) accounting systems can help businesses to overcome the constraints of spreadsheets, to become proactive rather than reactive and ponderous. And such systems can be very easy to implement.
The cloud allows SMEs to become more efficient. The most effective cloud-based solutions automate processes, remove time-intensive and unnecessary data duplication and close the gap between input and output. Reports comparing “actuals” (ie actual earnings and expenses rather than projections), budgets and forecasts can be created in minutes and accessed anytime, anywhere by various staff members.
Security and regulation can be more easily managed using cloud-based systems and the chances of human error become less likely. Technology will undoubtedly continue to be one of the key growth drivers for SMEs in the next decade. Therefore perhaps it’s time for businesses to move on from spreadsheets to realise the potential offered by cloud-based accounting solutions.
Barbara is managing director of online accounting provider Twinfield, part of the Wolters Kluwer tax and accounting division.
Copyright © 2014 Wolters Kluwer (UK) Limited
For most start-ups, bookkeeping might seem like a daunting task. However, when carried out properly, up-to-date financial records can bring about huge benefits to a business.
Apart from ensuring that financial records are correct for the end of the financial year, it can also provide businesses with a realistic and forward-looking view of how the company is performing.
Fortunately, there is technology available to relieve the burden of bookkeeping. And with the right system in place, online accounting systems can enable small business owners to stay on top of their books.
Although some people may be put off by technology, online accounting systems are actually designed to be very simple to use. Financial information can be uploaded automatically through electronic files or even scanned directly into the system. This can dramatically reduce the time it takes to enter data.
The information is stored and analysed in the system and small-business owners can look at key reports (eg outstanding bills, outstanding invoices) anytime, anywhere, from all devices that can launch an internet browser.
Not only are these systems a cost-effective option for businesses, with a pay-as-you-go model, a growing range of customised solutions delivers vertical market specific bookkeeping to add further value.
Don’t throw the book at bookkeeping – business owners should embrace technology and stay on top of the books!
Blog provided by Barbara Kroll, managing director of online accounting services provider Twinfield UK.
New tax rules introduced in April 2013 allow sole traders (ie self-employed, unincorporated businesses) to use simpler rules for recording their business expenses. So what are they and how do they make life easier?
The first new rule is that sole traders can record their costs on what is called the ‘cash basis’, which means when they are paid. For almost all sole traders, this will not be very different from what they already do, even though previous rules stated that transactions should be recorded when they are incurred rather than paid (known as ‘accruals basis’). The subtle difference is when items are bought or sold on credit or paid for at a different time.
Under the new rules, instead of recording the actual costs and expenses incurred, a flat rate amount can be claimed for certain costs. You can claim these flat rate amounts regardless of whether you decide to cash account or not.
45p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p a mile thereafter. If you use a motorcycle for business, you can claim 24p a mile.
If you elect to use this method you cannot claim any other motor costs.
Instead of claiming a portion of actual expenses you can claim the following amounts:
To use the cash accounting rules your yearly turnover in a year must not exceed the vat registration threshold. You must leave this scheme when your turnover exceeds twice the VAT registration threshold.
If you opt to use cash accounting there are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of:
You can find out more about the ‘cash basis’ and ‘simplified expenses’ schemes by visiting the Tax Donut.
Every business needs accounts. They may differ in format and complexity, but every self-employed person must produce accounts to complete their tax return, while limited companies must complete accounts according to the Companies Act. Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about start up account keeping.
Some small businesses don't like to open a separate bank account because of the charges, but if you don't have a dedicated bank account for your business, there is much more risk of confusion and your bookkeeping will take longer because there will be more transactions to account for – many of which will be irrelevant to your business.
Banks often give you a good deal when you start up, change banks or keep a minimum balance in the account. Even if there is a cost, this has to be set against the fact it will make your bookkeeping much easier, quicker and cheaper.
If HM Revenue & Customs investigates your business, you will be giving them access to your personal as well as your business income when they look at the bank statements if you mix everything up in a private account. It also means that whoever is preparing your accounts and tax returns will see details of your personal/private spending, of course.
If you operate as a limited company – although there is no specific legal requirement – you are strongly advised to open a separate bank account for the company.
Don't mix private and business expenditure. Your bookkeeping will be quicker and easier if you only put business transactions through your business account.
You will need to take money out for yourself – drawings for a sole trader or partnership; normally salary, dividends and expenses for a limited company – but once a month should be enough.
Paying private costs out of the business can create serious tax problems for a limited company, but even for a sole trader/partnership, you’ll only have to pay your bookkeeper or accountant to work their way through your private transactions. And – you may not want them to see how much you spend or what you buy.
Don't be tempted to pay for non-business things out of the business just because that is where the money is and it is convenient.
If you pay business expenses personally you are, of course, entitled to reclaim them back from the business. Try to avoid this as much as possible by using a debit card on your business account or using a petty cash tin so all payments are made directly.
Where it is unavoidable – and this will particularly apply to limited companies claiming mileage in lieu of motor expenses – take the same approach as if you were claiming expenses from an employer.
Detail the claim on a sheet of paper; don't forget to attach supporting receipts (and the mileage log if relevant); and file it in the purchase invoice file in the month in which it is paid.
Finally, try to do it at least once every month so you don't forget any costs or lose receipts and so miss out on claiming a legitimate expense against tax.
It is often easier to use a debit card linked to your business account because you should not be using a credit card as a source of finance. If you are using a credit card for business expenses, try and use it exclusively for the business (don't put private expenditure on it) and pay it off in full at the end of every month.
You will need to analyse the amounts spent on the credit card across the business expense items (eg VAT, travel, motor expenses, etc), because credit card transactions will often fall into different categories.
Sometimes credit card companies will summarise expenditure into different categories, but this is not usually very helpful as their analysis is not the same as the one suitable for the business.
This often causes confusion, but you can simply look at it as your private expenditure and make an expense claim for the business part in the way described above. If you run your own business as a limited company this may be the best way, because paying private costs from the company can cause tax problems.
You will need to have a sensible method of assessing how much the “business part” is. A common example is the cost of running your business from home. You will need to calculate how much your house costs in total and then make a reasonable estimate of the proportion of property used for the business and apply that proportion to the total costs.
It is important to realise that this is just a method of finding out what the business cost is, and if necessary being able to explain why it is 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the total rather than, say 5 per cent.
To be allowable, costs must be incurred for the “sole purpose of the business”. You cannot claim for personal expenses (eg suits or general clothing). Obviously, you can claim for the cost of the goods you have acquired to make your sales. For example, taxi drivers, minicab drivers, etc and those in the road haulage industry should enter fuel costs in this box rather than elsewhere unless they are claiming mileage rate; hairdressers should enter shampoo and hair product costs here.
At the end of the year you will need to make an adjustment for the stock you have left. So the value for cost of sales will be: the value of opening stock brought forward from last year, plus purchases made during the year; less value of closing stock at the end of the year.
Other direct costs might include: discounts; commissions; carriage; and research costs. For permanent, temporary and casual employees you should include: salaries/wages; bonuses; pension contributions; benefits; employer's NICs (National Insurance contributions); canteen expenses; any recruitment agency fees; any subcontract labour costs.
Allowable premises costs include rent; business rates; water rates; light; heat, power; property insurance; security; use of home as office; as well as repairs and renewals and general maintenance of premises and maintenance of machinery.
You can also claim for general admin expenses, such as telephone; broadband; postage/courier; stationery; printing costs; professional journals and subscriptions; insurance (eg public liability, etc). Travel and subsistence costs are also allowable, including vehicle insurance; servicing; repairs; vehicle licence; fuel (or mileage claimed at approved rates); rail/air tickets; taxi fares; hotel accommodation; subsistence/similar costs.
Advertising, marketing and promotional costs can be classed as expenses, as can fees you pay to an accountant, solicitor, surveyor, architect, stock taker, etc. You can also claim back interest and alternative finance payments on bank and other loans (including overdrafts) and alternative finance arrangements, as well as bank/credit card charges and interest charges on hire purchase agreements.
Research suggests that as many as one in ten mums would like to run their own business. It can be the best way to get control over your working hours and spend more time with children, while still being able to contribute to household income. If you are a mum and want to run your own business, here are my tips.
1 List your priorities. What is important to you and what do you expect in return for running a business? Do you seek to make loads of money or are you simply trying to find a way to spend more time at home with your children?
2 Think about time. How many hours you can devote to a business. Be realistic if you plan to work around your kids. Remember – young children are especially unlikely to understand “mummy’s working”. Write down your which hours are possible, whether that’s 12-2 each day during nap time; 9.30-11.30 to fit in with nursery; 7-9 in the evenings or a combination of these on different days.
3 Research your market. All new business owners must do this by finding the answers to key questions. Will enough people buy your product or service at the price you plan to charge? Is your product or service unique enough to appeal? What competition will you face and how can you be different or better?
4 Write a business plan. Set out your aims and objectives – and the steps you need to take to achieve them. Pop into a local Enterprise Agency or Business Link for advice. See if they offer a free start-up course, which could be a great source of information and advice.
5 Decide your marketing and promotional tactics. Have a promotion planning session, during which you seriously consider advertising, marketing, PR and events. What method(s) are likely to be most effective for your business? Note on a wall calendar promotional activities you will do each month, but spend enough time each day marketing your business – it’s critical to success.
6 Promote your business online. Get a good website designed. Start a Twitter account in your business name. Create your own blog and blog on other sites. Start a Facebook fan page for your business. To make things easier, use Twitterfeed or Friendfeed to link your different networking sites.
7 Get registered. You have three months to let HMRC know you have set up as a sole trader (ie become self-employed), otherwise you could be fined £100. Alternatively, you might decide to form a company by filing the necessary forms with Companies House.
8 Keep good financial records. It’s easier to note down every item of expenditure from the start than to have to deal with an unruly pile of receipts when you have to complete you tax return. Many expenses are tax deductible, while you can also benefit from a series of allowances, too. Visit the HMRC website for more information – or seek advice from a good accountant.
9 Make the most of every customer. It is much easier and as much as eight times cheaper to sell to existing customers rather than having to attract and convince new ones to buy from you, so you must aim to delight your customers if you want them to keep coming back for more. As well as products, this must apply to your services, too. Whichever means is most effective, always maintain good communication with your customers. Keep them well informed and updated. Sort out any customer complaints quickly and satisfactorily.
10 Get help. Before starting up, assess your skills list and identify any that are lacking. You might need to find someone to help with your bookkeeping, PR, online marketing, sales, deliveries – whatever. You might not have the knowledge, time or will to do everything yourself. Providing your business can afford it, buying in help can free you up so your time can be better spent on something else. Explore all free sources of information and advice – including the Start Up Donut, of course.
After you start your business, you need to remain focused on your ideal work-life. If you’re not careful, running a business can easily and quickly take over everything, which means your home life suffers and this can affect how you feel. Have a finish time each day; put your work away when it comes; spend quality time with your family and make sure you set aside time to relax by and do things you enjoy.
Antonia Chitty, Family Friendly Working
Tax is never a popular subject – made even less so by recent revelations that HMRC has got many of our tax codes wrong, meaning excessive charges for some. Mistakes by HRMC aside, ‘tax doesn’t have to be taxing’, as the saying goes. If small firms take the time to keep their books in order throughout the year, a mad dash at key dates in the taxation calendar can be avoided.
2010 has only just begun, so now is the perfect time to turnover a new (bookkeeping) leaf. Start by buying yourself some filing equipment, with different folders for sales invoices, paid and unpaid bills, bank statements and VAT returns, plus wages, if you have staff.
Now you have some inviting looking new folders, go through your in-tray – at least once a week – and put all your bits of paper in the appropriate place. If you set aside a small amount of time to sort out your books, weekly – or even daily – it shouldn’t become too much of a chore. Bookkeeping needs to be part of your routine, like reading emails, otherwise it can be all too easy to find something else to do instead.
Keeping accounts isn’t just sensible, it’s a legal obligation. Companies must keep all records relating to their VAT returns for a minimum of six years after the tax year to which they relate. As a minimum, you must record any income earned or expenses incurred by the company and retain all related documents, including receipts, cheque stubs, invoices, bank statements, PAYE records, etc.
To get a clear picture of where your money is going, your transactions must be recorded in a meaningful way. You should give your ‘expenses’ record a sheet of its own, with columns representing categories such as ‘rent’, ‘utilities’, ‘travel’ and ‘stationery’. This will give you an ongoing sense of where you might be over-spending, which can help you to cut unnecessary costs
Why rely on books or bits of paper when there is a wide variety of accounting software available? For a more simple and cheaper solution, an Excel spreadsheet is a perfectly useful tool for keeping records on your computer.
Keeping your records on a spreadsheet or using bookkeeping software enables you to see your total transactions in an instant. You can also search for a figure among your costs should a mystery debit appear on your bank statement and even produce projections based on the average transactions made in previous months.
You should be using your bank statements as a reference point, checking every figure in your bookkeeping records against transactions on your bank statement. This is a great way to identify missing receipts, while giving you a consistent monthly deadline to follow for getting your records in order.
Make sure you note all key deadlines for filing with HMRC. Set reminders on your computer, so you don’t have to rely on remembering to check your diary. The next one to note is the PAYE deadline on 19 May, when employers must register with HMRC to file online. HMRC is supplying free software so small businesses can file their employee data securely. For more information visit the HMRC website.
If you really can’t commit to the above, it may be time to call in an experienced bookkeeper. Of course, there will be an expense associated with this, but since it could free up your time and give you better information with which to make business decisions, it could be worth the investment.
A journalist calls to ask how long it takes to make a profit when starting out in business. ‘It depends on the business’ replies Emma Jones ‘but I’d say it’s perfectly possible to turn a profit within the week.’ Here’s the feature to discover if Emma got her facts right.
Let’s take a business
This feature will not apply to all businesses but let’s take the example of someone providing goods and services to consumers (a craft business) and someone offering professional services (a book-keeper.) This is how they each become profitable by week end.
Example 1: The craft business
Make item with cost of raw materials being £5.50.
Photograph item with family camera, ensuring professional/high quality presentation.
Upload profile and photo to 3 craft sites which levy a small charge (or free) for listing and exercise a sales commission. Sites such as:
Promote product via Twitter and Facebook. Include a link to the shop so people can click and buy.
Send an email to friends and family (personal, as opposed to group email) to announce the product and, again, with a link.
Upload pictures of your product to Flickr so the large audience there can see it too.
If you have a webcam, make a short recording of you making products and upload to YouTube.
Call local stores and boutiques to ask if they would consider selling your stock.
You’ve attracted interest and made a sale! Sales price is £25.99.
Cost of making sale:
Raw materials: £5.50
Listing fee: 20p
Sales commission: 78p
Marketing & promotion: zero cost but your time
Profit for the week: £19.51
Example 2: The book keeper
Start a blog using free blogging platforms such as blogger.com or wordpress.com – with helpful posts on book-keeping technique, this will help you be seen as an expert in your field.
Promote blog via Twitter.
Produce business cards. A pack of 50 cards can be bought for £12.99 from Moo.com.
Attend local networking event.
Post in online business forums with helpful book-keeping advice.
Approach small business sites with an article for them to upload that will interest & assist readers (include a link back to your blog so people can make contact).
Call local accountancy practice to ask if they require outsourced book-keeping.
Secure first client! Contract to carry out book-keeping for local home business at rate of £50 per month.
Cost of making sale:
Business cards: £12.99
Promotion and networking: zero cost but your time
Profit in first month: £37.01
Doing the sums
The beauty of both of these examples is that all this promotion and sales generating activity can be done by ‘Working 5 to 9’ ie it’s possible to keep hold of the day job and build your business (and profit) by working nights and weekends.
The secret is in keeping costs low (by being home based and making the mot of free social media tools) and focusing on making that first sale. In which case, it’s perfectly possible to realise profit in just five days. What’s stopping you? Get that business started!
NB. This feature assumes access to a home PC/laptop therefore costs of IT equipment not included.
Emma Jones is Founder of Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’ Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010
Historically, accountants have charged large fees for preparing the accounts and completing the tax returns for businesses.
In these changing times are these high fees a thing of the past?
All businesses, regardless of size, must prepare accounts and submit a tax return to HMRC. The traditional view is that preparing these returns is a complex procedure resulting in sky-high accountancy fees.
However, two key factors have evolved over recent years that challenge this and as a result the fees charged by accountants should reduce dramatically.
Advances in technology
In all areas of life, there have been huge advances in technology over the past decade. At last the accounting profession is catching up.
Computer-based bookkeeping packages have become easily accessible to business owners at an ever-reducing cost and ever-increasing ease of use.
This means the quality and completeness of information made available to accountants at year-ends is constantly improving.
Coupled with this, accountants now use accounts production software that greatly simplifies the preparation of annual accounts and tax returns.
Logic would dictate that the evolution of technology would have led to a reduction in accountancy fees.
Increase in the number of small businesses
There are nearly five million businesses in the UK. Small, non-complex businesses account for 99.9 per cent of this number. In fact, the growth of small businesses is at its highest level since statistics were recorded.
The accounts and tax affairs of these businesses are simple. They do not demand many hours of tax advice. Most of the time is spent in what is generally known as compliance duties. For example, preparing the accounts, filing the tax return and making sure all deadlines are met.
The accountant’s fee should reflect the level and complexity of the work required.
The accounting profession is gradually waking up to the changes in technology and businesses over the past decade.
This is very good news for small businesses out there that should be able to benefit for dramatic reductions in their accounting fees. A great help in these tough times.
Elaine Clark, www.cheapaccounting.co.uk
Firstly, I guess I should tell you about my break for entrepreneurial freedom…
My brother and I left the security of good professional careers in June 1997 to buy a pub. Why? Well – it seemed like a good idea at the time, despite the fact that neither of us had even worked behind a bar in our lives! Despite a lack of experience, we raised equity from friends and family, got a loan from the bank and about a year later, bought and refurbished a pub.
Over the course of the next few years, we turned it into one of the most successful pubs in the area and in the process, more than quadrupled the turnover that the previous owners had achieved.
A big part of the original plan had been to produce our own beer; and once we had the pub operating well and a good operational team in place, we turned our attention to opening a micr0-brewery. Again, having no direct experience in the industry, we tracked down a consultant who advised us on brewery design and recipes. We converted an industrial unit in Battersea and started brewing. The beers we produced tasted great and sold well, even winning the occasional award! Sadly, the London market was not an easy market for brewers at that time, many pubs were tied and would not accept guest beers and the costs of distributing in London traffic meant that the brewery never did much more than wash its face.
One of our best sellers in the pub was a shot-sized vodka jelly product, until one day, our supplier stopped delivering. A (pre-Google) search on the internet did not reveal any alternatives, so we set about making our own. I got a recipe from an old friend, eventually sourced the pot and lid and started making vodka jellies in the pub kitchen. They sold well and after a while, we started getting calls from other bars wondering where we got the product from. One thing lead to another and we started selling nationally. Soon, we were attracting the interest of the big pub chains and it became clear that if we were going to have a proper go at it, a strategic investment was required. Nine months later we had a new round of investors, a new patented pot and lid, a manufacturing line in Wales, a storage unit in Liverpool and a full sales and marketing operation in place!
Over the next couple of years, we sold around 5 million vodka jellies. Sadly though, it wasn’t enough. The pub chains were demanding increasingly competitive prices and the big players in the drinks industry (and boy are they protective of their markets) muscled us out. The impact was sufficient to leave our whole business in trouble and we had to sell the pub to clear the decks financially.
Licking our wounds with no interest in returning to corporate life, I was contemplating what we might do next when I took a call from a friend, asking if we knew of any good accountants. She ran a PR agency in the area and was looking for a new solution. The door to the new business opportunity opened before my eyes and we jumped in! For a start my brother and I are both trained accountants, plus we had spent the last 8 years running 3 small businesses – I think we had a good mix of technical grounds and commercial experience to make an accounting practice for small businesses work. Haggards Crowther, as it is now called, is now well-established and looks after over 600 clients.
The entrepreneurial fires have continued to burn brightly, more in me than my brother. He has been keen to keep the accounting practice focused on core products, whereas I wanted to expand into new areas. Thus, whilst I remain heavily involved in Haggards Crowther, I have started work on Start-up venture number 5 – My Bookkeeping Online.
Launching in autumn, this is an online platform designed to help small businesses keep on top of their bookkeeping. From the outset, it has been really important to me that owners of the smallest businesses with no bookkeeping knowledge can use it…and designing it accordingly has been a challenge! It is under development as I write and it is coming together well.
Other than that, this blog is going to be about small business. No doubt my focus will head off in many tangents in the coming weeks and months, but the primary purpose is to talk about small businesses that are starting up, help with some broad advice and talk about the issues small business owners face in specific industries. Please forgive the occasional rant too!