I remember going into Staples when I first started my biz back in 2008, and looking for some sort of software to help me out with my income and expenses. I looked at Quickbooks and Sage, and thought "I have a Geophysics degree and worked at a bank, I should be able to figure this out!".
It turns out that business accounting can be a lot more complicated than it looks.
I tried Sage, and returned it a few weeks later because it was so damn complicated that I wanted to cry whenever I tried to use it. I now know takes a special sort of person to be into all that double-entry bookkeeping stuff.
I'm a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, not an accountant. I just wanted something to show me how much HST (then GST) I owed, and if I was making a profit or not from month to month. i.e. could I pay myself anything this month?!
Depending on where you are in your business, you might have a few options, so let's talk about them:
1. Hire a bookkeeper
I opted to do this a few years ago, as I absolutely detested doing my HST each quarter. It wasted too much time that I could have been using to attract new clients. There's a rationale that if you charge clients $100/hour (like I was doing), then anything that costs you less than $100 to hire out, you should do that. If your business is stable, then totally do that. Whether you hate doing your bookkeeping or your social media, get that crap off your plate and start doing the high-revenue generating activities, like presentations, webinars, or online program creation.
However, I have a huge exception here, and there are some people who wouldn't agree with me. If your business is in transition (like mine is), or you've lost control of your expenses (like mine were), then you should be doing your own bookkeeping. If you don't know what your bank account balances are within $100, or you're consistently spending more than you make, then you need to have an intimate relationship with your numbers. This past year, I opted to do just that. I had started hiring out a lot of things that I knew could be done by other people who were better at it than I was, but when my business shifted and I stopped taking one-on-one clients, I lost a good part of my revenue. I wanted to focus on other things (like developing this brand), and the loss in income was only short-term, however, my expenses didn't stop. I needed to be in control of my money again, so it was the best decision for me to stop working with my bookkeeper and start tracking my own expenses again.
2. Use a cloud-based software system
In the last few years, the options for non-accountants keeping track of their business numbers has gotten infinitely easy ... if you're willing to pay for it. Programs like FreshBooks or Zoho are designed for us regular people who don't care about double-entry accounting, and want to be able to send invoices to clients (to track income) as well as input bills (to track expenses). They provide real time reports as you input everything, and even can sync with your bank accounts. The drawback is the price. First of all, trying to find prices on some of these sites is next to impossible. It's only after lots of googling that I found that FreshBooks starts for free (30-day trial), but after that it's $19.95 US monthly for up to 25 clients. If you have more than that, it's $29.95 US monthly for unlimited transactions and clients. The pro of that is you don't for more than you need, and can upgrade at anytime as your business grows. Zoho is $24 US monthly, but includes unlimited everything. Both of these programs integrate with Stripe and PayPal to allow your clients to pay with credit cards (easier for them, and you'll look more professional).
3. Going old school with Microsoft Excel
As of right now, I've gone back to the basics in my business, and started tracking my income and expenses on an Excel Spreadsheet that I designed myself. I formatted it so it automatically updates on a master expenses sheet so that I can see my up-to-date gross sales, tax balance (HST here in Ontario), total expenses, and net income, all added up monthly, quarterly, and annually. It was free for me to set-up, and all it cost me was the time to design it. Of course, my time to input my income and expenses monthly is about 2 hours ... which I could be making money, but it's important to me, as I branch away from taking clients in my holistic nutrition practice into business coaching and this website, to have total control over my cashflow right now without the monthly overhead of a program. Keep reading to the bottom of this post to get your own free version of my biz money tracker, all set- up for you to start using ASAP!
NOTE: Using this spreadsheet method won't provide you with pretty invoices, unless you are able to create a general template and send that to clients (hopefully so they can submit it for insurance coverage!). If you want a cost effective way to send pretty invoices to your clients, Zoho allows you to sign up for just that service for as low as $7 US monthly for 25 customers, and $15 US monthly for 500 customers.
Now, before I was an entrepreneur (and even part-time while I was running my practice), I was a banker. My mom was a banker, and my husband was a former 13-year banker, too. Finance and money flows through my veins. In my experience, both personally and professionally, there are some biz money basics that need to be covered here as well.
These are my definite do's when setting up your business banking and accounts.
- have a separate business banking chequing and savings account. If possible, and your credit score and total debt service (TDS) warrant it, a separate business credit card is also helpful to keep all expenses separate from personal ones. Do NOT use your personal and business accounts interchangeably, it'll make your bookkeeping an absolute nightmare.
Note: you don't need to pay extra for an actual business chequing or savings account, which always cost more than a personal account. If your business name is registered as your own personal name, then you can totally use a personal chequing and savings account. I know how sexy and special it feels to have a separate business debit card, like a sign that you've made it, but the extra $10+ each month adds up over the year!
- if you collect state, province, or country tax (like HST here in Ontario), transfer it into your savings account on a regular basis. For me, it's monthly. I put a reminder in my calendar to transfer all money collected from PayPal, input my income into my master spreadsheet, calculate tax collected, and then transfer it before I spend it. If you do end up owing taxes collected, it'll already be set aside, and you won't feel like you have another bill to pay ... like that quarter I owed almost $1,000 in HST.
- Set aside 15-20% of the net amount you make (net income = pre-tax sales - pre-tax expenses) into that same business savings account for your personal income taxes at year end. Again, you can put a reminder in your calendar to do this monthly OR quarterly, but just do it. There's nothing worse than owing thousands of dollars to the government, and having no way to pay it.
Like I said above, I've already designed an auto-calculating Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that is totally free for me to use. It took me hours to create this so that it auto-fills my total net income, expenses, and sales tax payable, and I want to share it with you!
Ready to track all the money you're making like a ladyboss? Sign up for your free biz money tracker here!
I wanna know: what do you use to keep track of expenses and income in your business? Is it working for you? What's your biggest issue with bookkeeping?