Recordkeeping systems are frequently one of the biggest challenges in a small business. Perhaps the problem is that the creative side of running a small business is often at odds with the "bean counting" side. Taking time to organize a good system can be tedious and time consuming, but it only takes one visit by a tax auditor or a turndown for a loan by a bank to convince any business owner that an organized system would be useful.
Why are recordkeeping systems so important? Because they provide you the basis for all the reports you need to make to governmental agencies, banks, and potential funders, plus they provide you with an overall picture of how your business is doing and where it is headed. Financial statements are a way to track your progress towards your goals and provide you with the information needed to make decisions as you go along.
Your basic recordkeeping system should be easy to use, understandable, reliable, accurate, and timely. Let's look at the basics of what such a system should include. You will want some type of business journal to record transactions (receipts, disbursements, sales, purchases) and a well-organized filing system. Additionally, you should be generating monthly reports on cash flow, accounts receivables, accounts payable, payroll, an overall income statement (balances income against expenses), and a balance sheet (which gives an overall picture of the current worth of the business).
Your first step in setting up an ongoing system is to get a baseline set of information for your business. You will need to estimate your startup costs and the money you have available on hand to start the business. The usual rule-of-thumb is that you should have enough money on hand to operate your business for a year. Some of the operational expenses that might be included are:
Down Payments on Property, Rent, Equipment
Remodelling/Installation of Equipment
Salaries, including one for yourself
It is important to make as accurate an estimate as possible of your expenses in each of these areas and any other categories that you might anticipate. When in doubt, error on the side of estimating too high. You can be assured that there will be unanticipated expenses at some time during that first year. If you do not have this money available, you need to plan how you will meet these expenses. Your startup costs will be the subset of these expenses that you will need to get the business operational. Once you have this information in hand you are ready to tackle setting up your operational financial management and recordkeeping systems.
Why Should I Keep Records?
Good records will help you monitor the progress of your business, prepare your financial statements, identify source of receipts, keep track of deductible expenses, prepare your tax returns, and support items reported on tax returns.
Any business quickly generates a lot of documents. Keeping track of them is a challenge. Start by looking at what documents are important and what you should be doing with them.
Organization of Record Systems
Once you have a handle on what documents your business should be generating, you need a way to organize them that will help you access them when you need them. Usually the simpler the system, the more likely you are to keep it up-to-date.
What Kinds of Records Should I Keep?
You may choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income. Except in a few cases, the law does not require any special kind of records. However, the business you are in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes.
How Long Should I Keep Records?
The length of time you should keep a document depends on the action, expense, or event the document records. You must keep your records as long as they may be needed to prove the income or deductions on a tax return.
What is the Burden of Proof?
The responsibility to prove entries, deductions, and statements made on your tax returns is known as the burden of proof. You must be able to prove (substantiate) certain elements of expenses to deduct them. Generally, taxpayers meet their burden of proof by having the information and receipts (where needed) for the expenses.
How to Manage Cash in Your Business
A step-by-step process describing a method to create a recordkeeping system for cash transactions in your business.
Recordkeeping for Employers
OSHA and IRS rules.