Step 1: Keeping Your Receipts
Comprehensive summaries of your business’s income and expenses are the heart of the accounting process. But they can’t legally be created in a vacuum. Each of your business’s sales and purchases must be backed by some type of record containing the amount, the date, and other relevant information about that sale. This is true whether your accounting is done by computer or on hand-posted ledgers.
Step 2: Setting Up and Posting Ledgers
A completed ledger is really nothing more than a summary of revenues, expenditures, and whatever else you’re keeping track of (entered from your receipts according to category and date). Later, you’ll use these summaries to answer specific financial questions about your business such as whether you’re making a profit, and if so, how much.
You’ll start with a blank ledger page (a sheet with lines) or, more often these days, a computer file of empty rows and columns. On some regular basis like every day, once a week, or at least once a month, you should transfer the amounts from your receipts for sales and purchases into your ledger. Called “posting,” how often you do this depends on how many sales and expenditures your business makes and how detailed you want your books to be.
To get started on a hand-entry system, get ledger pads from any office supply store. Alternatively, you can purchase an accounting software program that will generate its own ledgers as you enter your information. All but the tiniest new businesses are well advised to use an accounting software package to help keep their books (and micro-businesses can get by with personal finance software such as Quicken). That’s because once you’ve entered your daily, weekly, or monthly numbers, accounting software makes preparing monthly and yearly financial reports incredibly easy.
Step 3: Creating Basic Financial Reports
Financial reports are important because they bring together several key pieces of financial information about your business. Think of it this way — while your income ledger may tell you that your business brought in a lot of money during the year, you may have no way of knowing whether you turned a profit without measuring your income against your total expenses.