Excel for Small Business Owners

As a confirmed excel nerd, there is something about large amounts of data that I am inextricably drawn towards . I suppose it has something to do with an affinity for organization combined with a love of numbers and the innate desire to solve problems. As an accountant and financial consultant , I am often presented with the task of organizing and analysing data into a format that allows for greater insight into my clients businesses . And although good accounting software is absolutely necessary for any small business owner, a significant amount of analysis and reporting is done most effectively in excel.

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One Simple Step to Help Streamline your Self Employed Finances

If you are self employed or a small business owner,  you have probably discovered that keeping track of your accounting and finances can be time consuming and occasionally frustrating.  Unless you are an accountant, you’re never really sure if you are doing things correctly.  Consequently, you procrastinate, which really just makes things worse at year end or tax time.  To combat the problem it is important to have tools in place to facilitate the process and make it less painful, which could include  accounting software and/or a bookkeeper as well as a good organization system for your documents, whether it is electronic or paper format.  Another very simple measure that you can take is to have a separate bank account for your business.
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What to Do When your Tax Obligations are Overdue

Small business owners have the added responsibility of ensuring that they are aware of, and comply with, a variety of tax obligations.  For some, this can be somewhat overwhelming, resulting in an accumulation of government notices, assessments, requests for information etc. that just add to stress levels.  While ignoring the problem, hoping that it will go away, may seem like an attractive option, it is important to note that the revenue agencies never forget.  They are also both able and willing to take extreme measures to collect upon what they perceive to be unpaid debts eg. Freeze your bank accounts.
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Top 6 Signs Your Small Business Might Need a New Accountant

I met with a small business owner recently who had just purchased a retail business and was looking for a new accountant.  It seems that the current accountant was reviewing her books on a quarterly basis, preparing financial statements and doing the year-end tax returns – all typical accountant stuff.  The problem was that the accountant, while charging this small business a fairly significant amount of money, was not really adding any value to their business.   The bookkeeping, which was done by the previous business owner, was still being entered manually in ledgers (!). The quarterly accounting review consisted of checking the ledgers for mathematical accuracy and ensuring no major deductions had been missed without any discussion regarding the performance of the business.  Worst of all, the accountant was not responding to the client’s requests for a meeting.

There are many great accountants out there, however it is important to ensure that you are hiring someone who will compliment your business and add value.  Below are some of the qualities that should be considered either with respect to your accountant:

 

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Guidance on Deducting Home Office Expenses

One of the benefits of having a home based business (for freelancers, self employed contractors and small business owners) is that you can deduct the expenses relating to the space that you use to work.  This can result in a significant reduction in your tax bill for costs that you would incur regardless, giving you one more reason to love being your own boss.  

Criteria for Deductibility:

For home office expenses to be deductible, they have to meet the following criteria: 

  • It has to be your principal place of business i.e. you cannot deduct home office expenses if you have another office that relates to your business, elsewhere, even if you work 22 hours a day or you check your blackberry in bed.
  • The space designated as your home office is used to earn business income and/or you meet clients or customers on a regular basis.  You can deduct expenses relating to the workspace in your garage which is used for home improvement projects.
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How to Set Up a Small Business Accounting System

Many small business owners (including myself) tend to focus on the more glamourous aspects of their business like sales and marketing and product/service development.  As a result, accounting (poor misunderstood accounting) does not get the attention it deserve.  In addition to the perception that an accounting system does not necessarily add value, they can also be a little intimidating.  However, setting up an accounting system does not have to be complicated and should be considered essential for any small business or self employed owner (the reasons for which will be covered in my next post). A good software tends to handle most of the complexity of accounting as long as the data is entered accurately.

The primary steps in setting up an accounting system are represented below:

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10 Year End Tax Strategies to help Small Business Owners Improve their Bottom Line

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us and the end of the year is fast approaching.  While it is quite a nice time of year (cold weather notwithstanding) there are many additional stresses –purchasing the perfect Christmas sweater, managing the logistics of family holiday time, making travel arrangements, all while trying to not to gain a million pounds.  This can be especially trying for the small business owner, who in addition to managing their business and the holidays, must carve out some time to ensure that there are ready for year end and maximizing their tax deductions while also planning for next year.  To help ease the stress I have compiled a list of tax tips to contemplate:
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4 Simple Financial Analyses to Help Measure the Success of Your Small Business

As the year draws to a close, many small business owners are taking stock of their business, basking in their successes and trying to comprehend their mistakes.  Unfortunately a big picture view does not always immediately reveal itself– a thorough understanding of your business requires at least some analysis and introspection.  You may be tempted to look at cash (or lack thereof) in your bank account or your net profit , however these are not always reliable indicators of success or failure , particularly when taken in isolation.  Every small business owner should identify the specific needs and constraints of their business to determine the optimal analysis  required to assess its financial performance.  Some general analysis that most businesses can benefit from are presented below:
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3 Invoicing Options for Small Businesses and Freelancers

If you are running a business of any size, it is essential that you have a system in place that allows you to get paid.   A system can range in sophistication from a handwritten receipt to a software generated invoice which is part of an entity wide CRM system.  To meet this need there are countless invoicing solutions available and many billions of dollars are spent annually on setting up systems to meet each business’ unique needs. 

Almost all accounting software geared to small business owners and freelancers have built-in invoicing modules that integrate with your accounting.  This is very useful when doing your books as you don’t have to worry about entering your invoicing manually and it allows you to track your accounts receivable and deposits into your bank account.  There are also invoicing solutions that are not full-fledged accounting systems; however they usually integrate with the more popular software.

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6 Strategies to Maintain your Sanity during Busy Season

Accountants across the world right now are mired in tax preparation madness, as they try to deal with the myriad of work that needs to be done before tax filing deadlines.  The period between January and April is universally referred to as busy season, a term which inspires dread and tests the mettle of even the most ambitious and hardworking accountants.  Of course busy season is not specific to accountants.  Retailers experience it during the lead up to Christmas while the hospitality industry tends to be busiest in June and July (Montreal’s grand prix weekend is both a boon and a logistical nightmare for hotels and restaurants).  In fact most small business owners have periods when they are swamped, which can be problematic if they are not able to handle it.  In the interest of avoiding premature hair loss and ensuring that your business continues its unabated growth, below are some simple, yet fundamental strategies, to help you cope:
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Accounting and Tax Treatment of Computer Hardware and other Fixed Assets

Investment in capital items such as computers, furniture, equipment and cars can cause confusion for small business owners.  Since these are purchases that affect the cash flow of the business, it seems that they should be accounted for as expenses just as you would reflect office supplies or rent.  There are however special rules for any acquisitions that qualify as “fixed assets”. 

A fixed asset, simply speaking, is an acquisition that provides a long term economic benefit to the business. In other words, any business purchases that has a useful life that extends beyond one year, will usually qualify as a fixed asset. 

From an accounting perspective, fixed assets as their category implies, are reflected as assets on the Balance Sheet.  This means that they when they are initially entered into your accounting system, they will have no immediate impact on your bottom line.  It is only with the passage of time that a portion of these costs become an expense, which requires an assessment regarding the useful life of the asset.  For example you might purchase some computer hardware that you expect to use for about 3 years after which you will need to replace it.   At the end of the 3 years, however, it may still have some value (you may be able to sell it) which is referred to as salvage value.  This too needs to be evaluated.  Once these factors are determined (since you are not psychic, they do not have to be exact – just reasonable) you have enough information to calculate your depreciation expense.  The depreciation expense is the amount by which you reduce your fixed asset value on an annual basis. 

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Is Facebook’s Valuation Justified? A Comparison of Key Financial Metrics to Apple and Google

The recent release of Facebook's S-1, the financial filings that are required to be publicly available prior to filing an IPO, has created a media frenzy. The report has been dissected and analyzed extensively, financial news networks can’t seem to stop talking about it and it seems that people who have never heard of an IPO are discussing it, fittingly, on their Facebook pages.   The most controversial issue, of course, is whether Facebook is actually worth $100 Billion. 

Although Facebook is unique in its global reach and ubiquity, the starting point for any valuation is to compare it with similar businesses.  I have chosen Apple and Google, given the similarity of their business models and their respective global dominance, to compare certain key metrics:

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How to Update Wave Accounting for the 2012 QST Rate Increase

As of January 1st, 2012 the Quebec Sales Tax (QST Rate) which had gone up from 7.5% to 8.5% on January 1, 2011 will now increase to 9.5%.  The effective sales tax in Quebec will go up from 13.925% to 14.975%.  Since QST is calculated on the net amount + GST, the rate is not 14.5% but 14.975% .  In other words the effective QST rate is 9.75%.  Business owners will need to update their invoicing and accounting systems accordingly to ensure that the rate is properly reflected.

If you are using Wave Accounting, the update to the rates is fairly straightforward, with one little quirk.  Since Wave, unlike Quickbooks, does not allow for the QST to be calculated on the GST, the effective rate has to entered manually.  This is done as follows:

To update Quickbooks for the tax rate increase, please see “Updating Quickbooks for the 2011 QST Increase”.  The procedure is essentially identical except for rates.

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12 Tax Tips for the Self Employed

The self-employed lifestyle holds great promise when you first embark upon it, however you quickly find yourself doing things that you would never have dreamed of.  You are expected to take on role of salesperson, market researcher, accountant, lawyer and social media expert, while not getting paid for any of it.  Your available funds do not allow for outsourcing and at times you are not even aware of what you don’t know.  Luckily the internet provides a wealth of tips and tricks to make these tasks a little easier, and with a little discipline, some aspects of your self-employed existence can be made much simpler. Ensuring that you keep on top of your finances and tax obligations is one of those much hated, but absolutely necessary tasks for which it is essential to have a system in place, even if you do have an accountant. 
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Deferred Revenue and its Impact on your Small Business

Most small business owners are familiar with the concept of revenues, which is essentially the total sales of their product or service, to customers and clients, prior to deducting any costs.  Revenues are a crucial component of business’ profit and loss statement and it is essential that they are accurate so that the business owners may effectively analyze the profitability of their businesses.  Additionally there are third parties for which the accuracy of the revenues, and corresponding financial statements, is essential for effective decision making.  Third parties include tax authorities, banks, partners and key employees (on which remuneration/bonuses might be based). 

At first glance the calculation of total sales/revenues seems fairly straightforward.  Add up your total sales (or ideally have your accounting software do it for you) and voila – you have your gross sales. There are, however, several types of adjustments that need to be made depending on the nature of the sale, including any amounts that might be construed as deferred revenues.  Essentially (and quite simply) deferred revenues represent sales that are invoiced their customers now for goods or services to be provided at a later date.   Revenue recognition principles dictate that, unless the sale has actually occurred, the revenue cannot be recognized.  In other words these amounts must be reflected as deferred revenues.  Once the product or service has been delivered or performed, the deferred revenue is then considered to be an actual sale/revenue.  To a non-accountant, this can sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo.  The examples of deferred revenue below should help illustrate the concept more clearly:

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The Importance of Staying on Top of Your Tax Obligations

Revenue Canada recently put a press release about a Sarnia businesswoman who pleaded guilty for failing to file 23 individual, corporate and sales tax returns from 2003 to 2009.  She ended up being fined $1,000 per count for a total of 15 counts (Penalties were not applied to the 8 outstanding GST returns).  She has 12 months to pay the total $15,000 fines and was ordered to file the outstanding tax returns before November 6th, 2011.  In addition to this fine, she is also responsible for any taxes payable and related interest and penalties that would be imposed by the CRA for late filing and payment.

As an accountant I frequently receive panicked calls from business owners who have received ominous letters from the tax authorities requesting that overdue tax returns be immediately filed.  Others receive notices of assessments for significant amounts (Revenue Quebec will often slap an $8,000 assessment on a corporation that has yet to file its corporate tax returns).  In more extreme circumstances, the tax authorities have the power to freeze your bank accounts or initiate tax audits.  This can be debilitating to a small business.  

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19 Features to Consider When Selecting Small Business Accounting Software

When selecting accounting software for your small business it helps to have an understanding of what you want your accounting system to do for you.  This involves analysing the key aspects of your business, determining what you must have and what you would like to have.  Then, like any good cost benefit analysis, narrow it down to what works within your price point.  Below is a checklist of questions you should ask yourself about your business financial needs before selecting a software:

Cost:

Assessing how much the software is going to cost you is perhaps the most important consideration.  Some accounting software are free, some charge a one time fee and some are based on monthly or annual (recurring) billing.

Platform /Apps:

Determining whether you need your accounting software to work on a Windows or Mac platform or whether you would like to access it from the cloud can be an important consideration.  For example Quickbooks Canada does not currently offer their software for Macs or online. 

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Quickbooks Online Banking: Setting Up, Deleting Matched Transactions and Manually Uploading Web Connect or Excel Files

Using online banking can be real time saver for businesses with numerous bank transactions.  It is primarily a tool to help you reconcile your bank accounts by matching the transactions that have already been entered in QuickBooks.  It helps to avoid the painstaking process of checking each transaction against your bank statement and the maddening frustration when you something goes wrong and you have to redo it. 
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Is Wave Accounting Software a Good Fit Your Small Business

Most small business owners understand, in theory, that they should have an accounting system.  The problem arises when trying to select accounting software when often you are not really sure what your accounting software should do.      Every business has its own unique accounting and reporting needs.  The ideal accounting software should be able to record your transactions, report on them and provide for analysis on the different facets of your business.  If you are a freelancer or a small service provider, who prefers to do their own accounting, and is looking for a simple and cost effective accounting solution it is definitely worth taking a look at Wave Accounting.
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5 Notable Disclosures in Groupon’s Financial Statements and What They Mean.

Since Groupon first submitted its S-1 filing in June, 2011, there has been a wave of negative sentiment around Groupon’s  upcoming IPO.  Many analysts believe that not only is Groupon not a good investment at the approximate $20 Billion + that its IPO’s initial share price will value it at, but  is in fact on the brink of insolvency.  They are also some that do not believe that, in the long run, Groupon’s business model is profitable . 

In an effort to determine whether Groupon is in fact  a raging buy or, as alternatively presented, on the verge of insolvency, I have undertaken an analysis of their latest S-1 , which was filed with the SEC on August 10, 2011.  The document, which is required by all companies who want to file an initial public offering, comprehensively reviews its operations, long term viability, business risks (which are numerous) and its financial condition.  Some of the more interesting discoveries, as they relate to the 6 months ending June 30, 2011, are presented below:

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