For small business owners, bookkeeping can be a struggle. Many aren’t in a position to add accounting staff, or they see bookkeeping as an area to cut costs by doing it themselves. Almost inevitably, whether it’s because the business grows or there’s just too much else to do, the books fall behind. These are the 10 biggest mistakes we see that can wreak real havoc on a small business. If you’re making one (or more) of these mistakes, there’s good news: you can take steps to remedy the issues before they blossom into real nightmares.
1. Not reconciling bank and credit card statements
Reconciling your business bank and credit card statements is an essential part of determining your business well-being. Reconciling your books helps you to identify how much money your business has on hand at any given moment while also allowing you to identify any bank miscalculations. Reconciling should be done accurately and regularly—ideally at the end of each month.
2. Failing to understand bookkeeping and accounting practices
Most of the time, business owners want to know the bottom line of how the business is doing. They tend to ask for that number and leave all the details up to a bookkeeper, office manager, or accountant. It’s when the business owner isn’t happy with the bottom line that he or she starts to dig into the accounting. If you’re working with an outside accountant, bookkeeper, or other financial expert, that person should have the ability to explain complex accounting concepts in a way that resonates with the business owner. But a little financial savvy on your part can go a long way to not only understanding your books, but also being aware of problems before they hit the bottom line.
Looking for a quick and easy way to brush up on accounting basics? Check out our online bookkeeping for small business course, 5 Weeks to Better Bookkeeping. It’s totally free to small business owners and designed to help you understand accountant-speak.
3. Using virtual payments platforms, like Venmo or Cash App
Virtual payments are becoming more popular for personal and business use, and many business owners use them for speed and convenience. The problem with apps like Venmo or Cash App is that they don’t offer buyer/seller protection for business transactions. Because these apps have direct access to your bank account, they can leave you vulnerable to chargebacks in the event of a dispute. They’re really better suited for sending funds between friends and family.
There are plenty of payment platforms designed with small businesses in mind that will help you send and receive payments securely. We love Bill.com for paying bills. When it comes to receiving payments, we have a variety of recommendations depending upon the nature of your business. Ideally, any payments app should sync with your bookkeeping platform to ensure you’re not doing double duty on data entry.
4. Lack of a process to account for outstanding checks
Another reason business owners should regularly reconcile bank accounts is to track outstanding checks. Having outstanding checks on the books for weeks or months can give the impression that the account has an artificially inflated balance. Business owners who spend based on cash in the bank run the risk of overspending, resulting in overdrawn bank accounts and bounced checks.
5. Improper tracking of accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP)
It can be challenging for small business owners to keep track of their AR and AP, but it’s an essential task—particularly as the business grows and the tracking becomes more complex. Bill.com (mentioned above) can help you track AR and AP, as well as enable an approval process for invoices submitted by vendors. You also need to stay on top of past-due client invoices and ensure other functions in the business are aware when a customer stops paying bills. These communication issues can easily be resolved with the right software.
6. Waiting until tax season to collect W-9s from vendors
We see it every year. Business owners waste a lot of time in January tracking down W-9s from vendors in order to issue 1099s. You can prevent this problem by requesting a W-9 every time you contract with a new vendor.
7. Commingling business and personal expenses
One of the most common—and potentially costly—errors business owners make is commingling business and personal expenses. Doing so may not seem like a big deal at first, particularly if the owner isn’t drawing a salary. However, in the event of a lawsuit, mixing your personal and business funds can void the liability protection of your business formation.
To keep your funds separate, there are two key steps business owners should take. First, open a separate bank account for the business. Ensure it’s a business checking account and includes the business name. Second, if you do pay for a personal expense from your business account, ensure your bookkeeping accurately reflects the transaction. You can either reimburse your business for the expense or record the expense as an owner’s draw.
8. Reporting transfers as income
Business owners sometimes transfer funds into the business account, and the accounting software will automatically code those funds as income. These funds should be coded as an owner’s investment, and you may need to make that change manually on the books. Failing to do so will overstate your revenue.
9. Paying the owner of an LLC as an employee
LLC owners of sole proprietorships and partnerships often make the mistake of adding themselves to the payroll. However, in the case of an LLC, owners are not permitted to be W-2 employees. Instead, they should be paid via an owner draw or distributive share.
Corporations, on the other hand, can choose to pay the owners on the payroll as regular W-2 employees. If you own an LLC and need to be on the payroll, you can solve this problem by making a one-time change to your business formation.
For additional details on tax implications and procedures of business legal structures, visit the GunnChamberlain blog.
10. Poor communication between the business owner and the finance team
Whether you have one person keeping your books or a team handling the accounting, business owners must communicate clearly and regularly with everyone involved in finance. Communication is fundamental to adequate bookkeeping because it keeps everyone on the same page. If you’re making the shift from doing the books yourself to working with a bookkeeper, realize that these functions must work like a well-oiled machine to keep the business healthy.
Better Bookkeeping for Small Businesses in 5 Weeks
Our online bookkeeping course includes a series of videos covering the basics of bookkeeping, as well as a variety of topics that are common struggles for small business owners. It goes into much more detail than we can in a blog post to help you address bookkeeping mistakes, and it’s totally free for small business owners. Sign up today and start your better bookkeeping journey.