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Seven Accounting Staples To Analyze As A Small-Business Leader

Via Forbes : Your role as CEO, president or founder is critical to your small and growing company — you need to focus on products, customers and strategies. One of the last things you want to do is babysit your bookkeeper. Yet I can think of dozens of horror stories born of a lack of accounting oversight in the early stages of startup growth.

What should you track? Here are seven items I’ve found are key to request from your bookkeeper and how to review them. Asking for these items is good accounting hygiene: It informs your bookkeeper that you are inspecting their work and allows you to quickly identify and minimize potential problems. And, in my experience, it shouldn’t take you more than an hour a month.

1. Bank And Credit Card Statements

As Founder or CEO, you should retain a copy of all bank statements for your records. When you receive those, electronically or by mail, scan through them. What I look for, line by line, are any unusual or odd transactions, like a vendor you don’t recognize. You may not know everything that’s going on, but you can see how much cash you started and ended the month with and where the money went. After a few months, you should have a sense of what’s reasonable.

You can do the same with your corporate credit card statements. Check the beginning and ending balances, payments and charges. Scan them, highlight the ones that seem unusual and get answers from your bookkeeper.

2. Bank Reconciliation Report

I find this report to be a strong control for the business. Your bookkeeper should be reconciling the books to the bank every month, so seeing it proves that the bookkeeping is being done on time. Here, you will find all the differences between cash in the bank and cash in the books. It’s common for them not to match and important for you to understand why.

Review any unreconciled items that hit the bank but aren’t yet in your accounting system or vice versa. You’re looking for old items or strange ones. Then ask “why is that there, and what’s the story?” If it’s material, clear it up ASAP so your view of available cash remains up to date.

3. Payroll Report

Once you accumulate five or six employees, I believe you should track payroll. You can sort through this report in two to five minutes, even in a 50-employee company. Request a monthly report from your payroll provider (or internal department) and have your bookkeeper provide it to you. Save each payroll report yourself on a monthly basis so you have it.

This information can be a great reality check that shows the cost of your payroll and allows you to ponder what everyone is accomplishing. From there, you can keep an eye on your headcount and pay amounts and watch trends. This is where you can see overtime. And you can ensure there are no unauthorized payroll changes. (I’ve seen unapproved bonuses or reimbursements, changes in pay rates, and all sorts of shenanigans when payroll isn’t supervised.)

4. Key Balance Sheet Account Reconciliations

Certain accounts will be quite busy, depending on your business — and your challenge is to know exactly what is going on in there. Some of the most common to watch are prepaid expenses and accrued expenses. Pick out key balance sheet accounts that are critical or that carry a material dollar amount. If your inventory is large, for example, build a schedule to watch that. Fixed assets can be another hot spot if you are buying monthly and need to track them.

For each key account, have your bookkeeper create a roll-forward from the prior month to the current month and the next month, and ask them to show both new and cleared items. This practice contributes to good financial control.

5. Spend By Vendor

In a standard profit and loss statement (P&L), you see your operating expenses and where they originate, like marketing, rent, and utilities. Spend by vendor teases apart expenses by destination. I find it’s good to see how many dollars are going out the door and to whom. It’s also useful to identify any unusual transactions. (“Why are we buying this?”) You can see issues that may not be obvious in the P&L. It’s a good practice to eyeball this list on a monthly basis. If you review monthly, you can keep erroneous spending at bay.

6. General Ledger Journal Entries

This report gets a bit technical. It’s often an easy report for a bookkeeper to run and shows all the special entries made in the system by hand. These are unusual (sometimes recurring) transactions that require a special entry. If recurring items are missing, or if you see something you don’t understand, ask why they used a general ledger journal entry to record it.

Often, these entries are used to correct problems. When the financials are off or they forgot something in a prior period, you can see what the bookkeeper is “fixing.” This report can be a good control and review of the guts of your financials.

7. P&Ls And Balance Sheets

This set of financial reports helps you spot trends and get an overview of your entire business. It should include:

• A P&L statement showing all your expense and revenue accounts next to the prior month’s.

• A P&L versus budget for the month, with the variance, so you can find out why you were off budget.

• A P&L showing every month this year for trends analyses: If it’s August, this report will have eight columns. You could also look at monthly P&L for the current year-to-date or have the current and prior years in total as well.

• A balance sheet by month: You can compare, for example, accounts receivable (collections) and sales: are they growing in lockstep? Declining or accelerating?

• Other reports you may want: sales by customer, channel or class; margin by product or channel; or P&L by class.

I believe this seven-part monthly set of reports is a perfect DIY starting block for the small and growing company. It establishes two good accounting practices as well: making sure bookkeeping is done on time and keeping finances under control.

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