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Small Business Accounting Pitfalls

There are so many things to keep in mind when you own a small business. Details ranging from inventory to order fulfillment are just the baseline concerns. If you’re a brick and mortar business, your overhead includes a lease, utilities, and maybe additional employees. If you run an online business, your overhead includes the cost of parking your domain somewhere, maybe an email management system. Regardless of whatever kind of business you own, though, you will have to make sure your books are in order.

Keep it separated.

It’s true that you will spend money out-of-pocket to start your business. You’ll also most likely spend out-of-pocket to bolster up your business in the first few years. Until you start turning a profit, pretty much everything you have will go into the business.

In spite of what seems like an endless flow of your personal cash into supporting your business, though, you should still keep your personal finances and your business finances separate. Creating a separate business checking account is a good way to compartmentalize and organize your business. Not only is good accounting policy, it’s also a way to help you mentally compartmentalize and look at your business in a critical and objective way.

Anyone who starts a business has to have passion and drive. Without it, there’s little point to making all the necessary sacrifices. But the truth is, it’s just not enough to be passionate about your business idea. You have to be able to look at the business and make decisions as objectively as possible.

Keeping it as separate from your personal finances as possible is a solid first step towards helping yourself do this.

Pay attention to the kind of business credit you get.

Depending on the kind of business you started, you might need seed money to build inventory, or to float your overhead for the first few months — or longer. There are all kinds of options and all kinds of institutions that might be able to help you., from banks to credit unions to even crowd sourcing. Be sure you pick the one that’s right for you; and, if you can, at all costs, try to avoid seeding your business using a credit card. If you find yourself unable to pay it back, it could seriously hurt your chances to access other kinds of funding.

Keep it organized.

Disorganized record keeping is the death knell of small business. If you’re forward thinking enough, you already set how to organize and store your important records. But even if you didn’t think about that in the beginning, it’s not too late to start now. Take the time to go back through your records and organize them. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it takes time, which is a commodity that’s already in short supply. Yes, it means some headaches, depending on how long you’ve put off going through and organizing your records.

But it will be worth it. And, it’s also a good lesson for you that will have more good returns than bad.

Update your books on a regular basis… more than just monthly.

You are the heart and soul of your business. But your books are the blood and bones. Keeping your books up-to-date isn’t the sexiest way to spend an evening; but it will give you the confidence you need to make objective decisions.

It may seem like updating your books monthly would be enough, and it may well be enough for a well-established business. If you’re just starting out, however, the ebb and flow of your business isn’t all that stable. The more you put your eyes on your books, the better chances you have to succeed later. It’s not enough to keep your receipts. Add them in weekly, or even bi-weekly. Keep an eye on your receivables and sales. If your business has heavy overhead, it’s even more important that you update your books regularly.

Don’t confuse sales with profits.

You’ve made a few sales, satisfied a few clients, and gotten a few more. Good for you! But if you’re just starting out, be sure to remember that sales aren’t profits. You don’t get to call it profit until after you take out business expenses – if for no other reason than to take pressure off your personal pocketbook – and quarterly or annual taxes.

It’s good to be passionate and important to be excited about your business. But don’t start trying to roll around in profits before they actually start rolling in.

Don’t be afraid to consult a professional.

It’s okay to admit you’re over your head in certain aspects of your business. That doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel. A smart business owner knows it’s important to sometimes find someone who knows a little more about some aspect of the business. Because in the end, owning a successful business is as much about learning and evolving as it is relying on common sense.

Timely Tax Tips for Freelance Workers

There is a cost to the freedom you get being a freelance worker. While you can probably fudge on office-appropriate attire and set your own start time (Sleeping late can be a viable option!), there is one thing you can’t avoid if you hope to be successful.

Taxes.

When able to, a lot of freelancers prefer to hire an accountant. There are a lot of things to keep track of; and while tax law for freelancers really is a lot of common sense if you think about it, the problem is that there is really a lot to keep in mind. As a freelancer, you are your own employer. In addition to the usual responsibilities of a working adult — the electric bill, the water bill, the gas bill, and your rent or mortgage – you are also responsible for your obligations as your own employer. This means paying into Social Security and Medicare, and perhaps setting up a retirement account.

We’ve already talked about the self-employment tax . It’s important to keep in mind that because you are both and employer and an employee, that you are responsible for the Employer and Employee portions of Social Security and Medicare, 15.3% of earnings. It’s true that you can offset earnings with deductions; but you need to be as careful about what you pay as you are about what you don’t pay.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help you stay organized.

  1. Don’t trust your 1099.

If you earn $600 or more from a client, that client should send you a 1099-MISC. It’s very important that you compare. Look at Box 7 on your 1099-MISC and compare that number to the number you have in your records. If your client claims they paid you more than your records state, go through the steps to verify and get a new 1099.  Remember: the tax burden is on you, not your clients. The IRS won’t annoy them with phone calls and letters. They will annoy you.

  1. Get a separate bank account.

Yes, you work for yourself. It’s your money and if you’re making less than $600 total, you may not need a separate business account. If freelancing is your primary source of income, however, you really should consider getting a separate account. This will save you headaches when looking up transactions. If you use accounting software like QuickBooks, having a separate account will make it easier to download information to plug into your books. It also makes it easier to track business expenses for deductions.

  1. Pay attention to Estimated Tax.

As a freelancer, you will probably have to pay taxes quarterly instead of just once a year. You’re also an employer, remember?

If you’ve been freelancing for more than a year, you can get a good idea of what you should plan on paying by using one of several easy to use calculators on line such as:

http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/tax-planning/self-employed-business-tax-calculator.aspx

or

http://quickbooks.intuit.com/r/free-self-employment-tax-calculator-quickbooks/

It’s not always easy being your own boss. But it’s not impossible. And if you are the kind of person who enjoys the autonomy, then the additional responsibility is part and parcel. The trick is to be as careful with your books as you are with the work you do, and to be smart about it.