Sometimes when people ask me what I do for a living I’m tempted to simply say “everything”. Anybody who starts out on the rocky, but rewarding, road to self-employment will know the feeling. Whether you simply work for yourself or run a small business your ‘core’ work is usually only the start of it. For those working alone the list, apart from the actual job, usually includes being the cleaning staff, the secretary, the HR manager, the catering staff and your own accountant. Most of these jobs I’m relatively comfortable with, apart from the last, which has a tendency to make my blood run cold. I’m a writer and I love words, but numbers and I have had a long and bitter relationship which stretches back into the distant past when I was always last in the class to learn each of my times tables. But keeping up with accounts is crucial, not only for the obvious reason – cash flow – but depending on the size of company you run, for VAT, tax and payroll purposes. The latter being a particular focus of attention as far as your staff are concerned. Well presented, accurate accounts can be valuable in other areas of business life too – from your client’s perspective professionally presented invoices are an indication of your attitude and from a bank’s point of view accurate, understandable accounts speak volumes.
State support and encouragement
The last point is more important than you might think. The access or lack of it, to bank loans and funding is a major concern for small to medium enterprises (SME) in the current economic climate. The government are deeply concerned about this – with figures suggesting that at least 15% of small businesses are simply not applying for funding despite being in need of it. Determined to encourage growth in the SME sector, which is felt to have a key role in the economic recovery, Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced the Financial Fitness program. This public/private sector partnership includes a raft of measures aimed at supporting and developing SMEs. The program focuses on several areas that the government feel support is needed including e-commerce platforms, encouraging greater involvement in the export market and with a range of seminars and workshops provided by expert firms it is also focusing on the simplest of aspects of business management, such as those dreaded accounts.
When it comes to accounting software for small and medium businesses there are a growing range of options. These range from the simple Excel spreadsheet and paper invoices to the more advanced accounting software packages or online versions of these. But are these options worthwhile and are they right for any sized organization? The short is answer is almost certainly yes. However small your business the amount of time spent on the accounts can be annoying to say the least. In my own case it usually finds itself allotted that slot of time at the end of the day, or week, when I’m thinking about finishing up. Invariably it takes up more time than I would like and is never really straightforward. Friends who operate larger businesses also find the same – in general if anyone mentions accounts they get the same glazed, partially defeated look that I’m all too familiar with myself.
Do what you do best
The biggest problem that many of us find as our small businesses begin to grow is not only the time taken up on accounting, but the growing complexity of the task. Finding the right accounting software for your business is a fine balance and is a decision that should be given serious consideration. It’s advisable to work with your accountant to find a system that suits your needs as well as their own. Popular online accounting software include the well-known Sage accounts alongside the increasing popular systems offered by Intuit – the latter being affordable, accessible and flexible. The biggest savings to be made are most probably in the time arena – which when you work for yourself is crucial, offering the chance to get on with what you do best, without the cost of accountancy fees or the sleepless nights as the tax return deadline approaches.
Neil works in Digital marketing for an online accounting software company, when he’s not surfing the web has a passion for foreign films and good food