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How to improve your accounts process and reduce stress levels

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Putting in place some basic principles could help you manage your accounts better this tax year, explains Paula Tomlinson.

Fed up with rushing around in January to get your income tax return in on time?

Had enough of not knowing your profit during the year?

Want to make better business and financial decisions during the year?

Worried about the effect of HMRC’s Making Tax Digital and the quarterly reporting that HMRC will require from you from April 2019?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then improving your accounts processes will help you. 

You’ll gain more control over your business and its finances, such as identifying when price changes need to be made, whether you can afford to expand, whether you might need a business loan, whether you need to contract or focus on other areas, and how much cash you can afford to take out of the business after paying your suppliers and HMRC. Better still, it will reduce your stress levels.

Here are some tips for staying on top of your accounts:

1. Little and often

Are there some quieter times in your busy week you can put to one side? Find a 20-30 minute slot, and every week use it to do your basic financial housekeeping.

This might include raising invoices, chasing unpaid invoices, organising receipts into date order, filing receipts or simply putting them in date order in a folder or box. Include electronic records from any smartphone-scanning apps or eBay/Amazon invoices. Do these basic tasks together once a week and you’ll keep on top of them. You can then keep the rest of the week clear for running your business.

2. Open a business bank account

You may only have just set up your business or simply never have got round to doing this. Keeping your business finances separate from your personal finances will make your life much easier. There are often introductory deals with banks when you open an account, especially if most of your transactions are electronic. Even so, it’s money well spent when you see the clarity it brings. In addition, if HMRC carries out a review, they can’t bother you with spurious questions on your personal finances if your company transactions are all in a business bank account.

3. Larger and less often

Once a month or so, keep a few hours free to summarise the receipts and invoices you’ve been organising each week. You might do this at the end of the month or on Friday afternoons. Depending on the number of transactions, the details might be put into a spreadsheet or a book-keeping software package. These summaries are the bedrock of your accounts and can be referred to as your ‘management accounts’.

4. Hire a good book-keeper

Book-keepers love preparing spreadsheets or completing book-keeping packages, keeping on top of things for you. They can work for as little or often as you like, so are cost-effective, especially if you’re fairly organised. They are also good at letting you know about potential concerns, such as when you should be VAT-registered.

They can also identify when you need an accountant, such as for your year-end tax return, if a tricky VAT question comes up, or for general tax or business advice.

5. Review your figures

Now that you have regular management accounts, make sure you understand what they’re saying to you. Your book-keeper or accountant can help if necessary. For example, you can check your gross profit margin by comparing turnover with the cost of products. If this is falling, consider increasing prices, negotiating harder with suppliers or changing your product mix. If you have a book-keeping package, you can run reports such as year-on-year seasonal comparisons. If you have a phone app associated with the package, you can even do these checks while you’re out and about.

 

Paula Tomlinson is managing director of On The Spot Accountants onthespottax.co.uk