Five top tips for doing your own books

Contributor - Elaine Clark

A self employed woman submits her expenses ready for her self assessment tax return

Maintaining your own financial records - AKA doing your books - can seem daunting when you're new to it. However, doing accounts is an essential part of being self-employed and running your business. Elaine Clark of CheapAccounting.co.uk gives her top five tips on bookkeeping

Keep self employed books from the start

As soon as you set up your business, start recording all your costs and sales you make. Keep receipts for any stock and supplies you have to buy. In fact, you may incur costs before you start up. These can still be deducted from your profits, which will reduce your tax liability.

Start recording everything from day one, keep up to date and make sure you know the dates your accounts, tax, VAT, PAYE, etc are due. Late payments and returns can incur heavy fines and penalties.

Get a bookkeeping system

Set up an accounting system from the start. This doesn't have to be a sophisticated software package. You could start with a manual system, but it's wiser to at least use a spreadsheet or easy accounting system.

If you intend to use an accountant, agree the system with them before you start your business. You will be surprised how much you can save on fees if you use one your accountant is familiar with or recommends. You may find that some accountants offer a free, ready-made spreadsheet.

Simplify your accounts

Using accounting software can make the task of tracking your finances faster and simpler.

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Claim for all business expenses

The general rule is, you can claim for any cost incurred 'wholly and exclusively for business'.

Remember to keep all receipts for your business purchases - even the smallest costs, such as stamps, stationery, bus and train tickets etc. Consider using Pleo, to simplify and manage your business spending.

Record all your business trips and claim for these - even trip to the local post office in your car to send a business letter or parcel. In fact, you can claim for cycling to the post office. The allowed rate for cycling is 20p per mile - so get on your bike instead of using your car.

If you use your home as an office, you can claim for a proportion of your domestic bills - including lighting, heating, internet and telephone charges, even a percentage of your rent or proportion of your mortgage interest (although this can lead to you having to pay Capital Gains Tax if you sell your property).

Whilst there is no exhaustive list available of what you can claim, common sense should prevail when applying the 'wholly and exclusively' rule. If in doubt, speak to an accountant.

Get bookkeeping advice

Consider free HMRC videos and webinars These cover getting started, record-keeping, business expenses and more.

HMRC also provides a free payroll solution, which has everything you need to meet your employer-filing responsibilities.

Budget for tax

Although you may have made a profit (income minus costs), not all of this money is yours. Obviously, you'll have to pay some to the taxman. Make sure you budget for this as you go, so you won't get any great shocks at the end of the year. Open a deposit or business savings account and put money aside for your tax. Saving 25-30% of all income you receive is likely to mean you'll easily be able to pay your tax bill.

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Elaine Clark

Elaine Clark is managing director of the award-winning national accountancy firm CheapAccounting.co.uk. She was named the winner of the Woman in Finance Award by the Network of Aspiring Women in 2011.

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