Book-keeping for Beginners

In a small business you always need to be in control of the finances. You can help to achieve this by keeping good records – otherwise known as book-keeping.

This guide will cover:

  • The importance of book-keeping
  • The different book-keeping options available to you
  • How to set up a simple book-keeping system
  • Choosing a computer accounts package
  • Outsourcing your book-keeping

The importance of book-keeping

There are two main reasons to keep accounts – to help you manage and grow your business and to comply with tax requirements.

Managing and growing your business

Accurate book-keeping allows you to:

  • Compare your forecasts with actual monthly figures to evaluate your business’s financial health.
  • Analyse your expenses to determine how to operate your business more cost-effectively.
  • Discover which are your most profitable customers and/or products and find ways to increase your profit per customer.
  • Receive an early warning when you might be straying into cashflow difficulties, so you can act decisively to avert a crisis.

Book-keeping and tax requirements

  • You need to be able to show the bank manager, investors and HM Revenue & Customs how things stand in your business.
  • There are minimum periods for which you must keep information and records needed to complete your tax return or make claims, e.g. six years for VAT or five years from the latest date for filing your return for Self Assessment.

The different book-keeping options available to you

There are several ways to keep financial records:

  • Keep books manually. This is easy and cheap. You can buy inexpensive book-keeping systems from most stationers. However, manual book-keeping is time-consuming and not good for producing analysis or management reports.
  • Use a spreadsheet. You will need some basic spreadsheet skills to ensure your spreadsheets self-check and to design models for analysis and reporting.
  • Hire a freelance book-keeper. This saves you time as well as the need to learn book-keeping. The downside is the expense involved.
  • Give your book-keeping to your accountant. This may cause delays. Some people end up seeing their books only once a year, so they may never get to grips with the dynamics of their business. It may also be an expensive solution if you are paying a professional for a task that a non-professional could accomplish.
  • Use a personal finance package on a computer. Some have facilities for business book-keeping, but some important functions, such as handling VAT, may be basic. There is also not much scope for analysis.
  • Use a dedicated computer accounting package. There are various levels of these, from the small and inexpensive to fully-fledged accountancy packages. All but the easiest require some knowledge of accounting.

How to set up a simple book-keeping system

No matter how you decide to keep your records, there are certain things that are always good practice.

Keep all your invoices and receipts in two sets of files, one for sales and one for purchases. Allocate a unique reference number to every invoice in and out and note it in your books or on your computer system. Then file the invoices in that order in the relevant folder. That way you can find paperwork quickly if you have a tax or VAT inspection.

Keep records of expenses. You can only offset expenses against profits that are wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the business. So ask for and keep receipts. When you are VAT-registered, it is essential to keep VAT receipts. Without these, you cannot reclaim the VAT element. Log the money you have paid in one section of your cashbook. Assign columns for:

  • Supplier’s name, or employee’s name if you are paying wages.
  • Transaction date.
  • Amount.
  • Your own reference number.
  • Cheque number.

Record your income. Establish another section in your cashbook for the money you receive.

Note the details of each transaction. Divide expenses up into columns with headings such as utilities, insurance, wages, rent, marketing expenses and so on. If you are VAT-registered, you will also need a column for VAT inputs and outputs.

Add up the totals of each column at the end of each month. Then start a new page for the new month by bringing forward last month’s totals into the columns for this month. At the end of the tax year, you will have a breakdown of your income and expenses for HM Revenue and Customs.

Control your petty cash. Keep the float at a constant level – eg £100 – either in cash, or cash plus receipts. When you need to top up the cash, remove all the receipts to enter into your books properly.

Reconcile your bank account at least once a month. This involves taking the previous balance as shown in your bank statement, adding all subsequent payments in and subtracting those you have made. The new balance should reflect your new bank balance. If it doesn’t, either you or the bank has made an error.

Choosing a computer accounts packages

Packages each have their pros and cons. You may find that ease of use, good support and comprehensive documentation count for more than price and advanced features. There are several factors to take into account when you choose your computer package.

  • List your essential requirements and those functions you’d like to have, but can cope without.
  • Investigate the software packages on the market. Use magazines and the internet to help you shop around. Ask colleagues or contacts about the software they use.
  • Ask your accountant for advice. They may be able to recommend, and possibly even help you set up, a suitable system. However, don’t allow them to persuade you into buying an over-complex system simply because it would be more convenient for them.
  • Make a shortlist, then see which best matches your requirements.

Outsourcing your book-keeping

Outsourcing your book-keeping can free up valuable time and save you money, allowing you to grow your business without hiring more people.

Qualities to look for

Ask colleagues and friends if they can recommend a book-keeper. Things to consider include:

  • Personal compatibility – your book-keeper needs to be trustworthy and honest, because they will be dealing with your business’s financial information.
  • Location – do you want them to work on-site or remotely? While most work can be done remotely, the ability to arrange a face-to-face meeting is an advantage.
  • Workload – have they got time to do the work you need?

Identify your requirements

Issues to address include:

  • Do you want your book-keeper to use a particular software package?
  • How will you get the paperwork to them and how often?
  • What kinds of reports will you want and how often?
  • How will they handle your year-end?
  • How many purchase and sales invoices will they have to handle each month?

Next, shortlist potential book-keepers. Send them your brief and ask for costings and references, which you should always check.

Choose someone and arrange a contract for the services you want.

Keep evaluating the success of your book-keeping arrangements. Make sure your book-keeper returns all documents promptly each month, so you can’t be held to ransom should a dispute arise. Be prepared to change book-keepers if your first choice doesn’t work out – keep a list of suitable alternative book-keepers on file.

This Book-keeping for Beginners business advice article published in association with Lloyds TSB.

Whether you are looking to start-up a business account or want to move your existing business account Lloyds TSB can offer you all the Business Banking support you need

While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information in this website is accurate, no liability is accepted by Lloyds TSB for any loss or damage caused to any person relying on any statement or omission in the content of this website. The content of this website is provided for information only and should not be relied on as offering advice for any set of circumstances and specific advice should always be sought in each instance

Book-keeping for Beginners

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