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Operational Accounting for Small Business

Dec 31, 2007
As small business owner we need to understand the importance of accurate and timely accounting reports where we will need precise financial information to make the very important decisions we make as owners and managers.

Very often I meet small business owners who have put themselves into a pickle by not managing or paying attention to the valuable information provided in many accounting software packages.

Accounting operations to any business, small or large is like the fuel in your car. If you don't have the right fuel or enough fuel in your car, you will not go very far.

Over the years I am still amazed at how many small business owners fail to see the value in managing the accounting process of their business. I was always puzzled at how small business owners could get away with running their business without even using Quicken or QuickBooks.

I figured it out. Most small businesses grow so fast that some of us don't have the time to learn if not worry about the accounting side of the business. Why should we worry about accounting when we've got orders to fill, customers to make happy and vendors to manage?

Well, the importance of accounting not only lies in the requirement to file and pay the appropriate amount of taxes at the end of the year, but accounting also affords us valuable information in various report formats that allow us to make smart decisions in our small business.

These reports tell us many things about our small business that we would never think of and these reports also allow us to plan the future of our business as it relates to sales and expenses.

Sure some of us have CPAs or accountants that we give information to on a monthly or even yearly basis, where we should be calculating our sources and uses of cash flow everyday if not every week.

Sources and uses of cash is exactly what it says it is. It defines where are money is coming from (sales) and how are we using it (expenses). The reporting document that helps us determine this process is our Statement of Cash Flow. This report actually tells us in a summary format where our money came from and where it went.

Another very important report is the Income Statement report which tells us how much we sold, how much it cost us to sell what we sold, how much we spent to operate the business and finally our profit from all that work.

There are four pieces or elements of an income statement and they are; sales, costs of goods sold (COGS), expenses (fixed and variable) and income. Some small businesses will classify cost of sales (COS) rather than COGS. Costs of sales are for those businesses that really don't have to purchase items in the raw material form and re-produce it to make it sellable.

For example, as owner of a consulting firm, we identify ours as COS where if we are a plumbing contractor or a manufacturer of wooden chairs, we would identify ours as COGS because we would have to buy plumbing material as well as wood and reproduce both to get a final product to sell.

The next report that is just as valuable as the previous two is the Balance Sheet report. This report tells us what our business is worth via a particular window of time. For example, I want to know what my business is worth today for the last month. The balance sheet would tell me what I own and what I owe.
This report basically has three really important pieces; Assets, Liabilities and Owners Equity. Each of these sections identifies exactly what it says.

Assets are those things the business deems worth something or those things we can get cash for in a pinch if we needed. This section is also the section banks and other lenders measure a business' worth.
Machinery, inventory and sometimes your accounts receivables are considered assets. Yes, accounts receivables can be converted to cash via a bank loan, but I absolutely do not recommend this for any business. Although many businesses do borrow against their accounts receivable, I would never do it for any of my clients.

Liabilities are those things the business owes such as short-term loans, long-term loans, wages, taxes, etc. Banks measure this as plain old debt and it's not good to have allot of it.

Finally, Owner's Equity is that which is owed to people or groups of investors that pretty much have a right to be paid regardless of the success or failure of the business. It's just that. We have to identify that other individuals or groups have actually invested into our business outside of a typical bank loan.

Is it OK to have both a bank loan and a particular amount of owner's equity as a liability? Yes it is, as most businesses do. It is estimated that most business in the U.S. is 80% financed via a mix of both.

So great, now we know about a bunch of reports. These reports are available to you through any accounting software package you use, but you must be using an accounting software package because these reports come from the accounting process that puts the information in the appropriate accounts or sections that will eventually produce these reports.

For every sale there is a corresponding affect within the accounting process that will eventually compile data in one of the reports mentioned above and give you the right information to make a decision. Accounting operations allows us to see our successes and failures day to day, week to week and month over month. We need to review these reports often in order to stay in business.

I have seen quite a few businesses go out of business where when you ask the owners what happened, they will all say the same, "we ran out of money".
Had those businesses paid a little more attention to the accounting process they might still be in business. Remember, accounting in your small business is like the fuel in your car.

There are many programs out there that will help you understand the basics of accounting where all you have to remember is that accounting functions off of a cause and effect principle.

Every transaction in your business must be recorded where that transaction is managed by an accounting software process that basically works behind the scenes. All you have to do is understand what is occurring.

For example; if I purchase $25.00 worth of office supplies I need to let the accounting software package know what accounts I want that transaction to affect. Another example would be if I sold $200.00 worth of products, I want the accounting side of the business know what I sold via what I purchased to sell.

This last example is a bit complicated and I will save the detail for another article where you should take away the idea that you first recorded the purchase of the raw material, produced something from it, inventoried it and finally sold it for $200.00.
Bottom line is that accounting operations is of paramount importance to your small business.

Often we rely on hiring individuals that say they know accounting but how do we know if those individuals know accounting when we aren't too sure about it ourselves?

There are many programs available to us as small business owners where we can learn the basics of accounting. Sign up for a seminar or take a class at a local college or university. Your small business is just too valuable to not understand it.
About the Author
Luis Luarca is the Managing Partner of Allectus LLC, a management consulting company helping small to mid size businesses and is the author of Business Management for Business Owners; How to Manage Your Small or Mid Sized Business" . http://www.allectus.com
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