Module 2: Recordkeeping
If you’ve made it through Module 1 and this far into Module 2, then you’ve probably noticed a recurring theme – computer-based tools are a big help when it comes to accounting, bookkeeping and records retention. As a small business owner, you may initially want your hands in everything. Eventually, the business of running the business becomes a full-time job, and you can’t be all things to all people any longer.
Sure, you can add an employee or two to manage some functions. But you’ll soon find that a good computer system and a suite of business productivity tools can do the work of several workers and give you critical insights into your operations and profitability.
There are hundreds of business software solutions out there; far too many to list here. Our advice is first to figure out what parts of your business can be automated using a computer software product, cloud-based services or a combination of the two. Then make sure that the solution you choose can scale to match your business needs down the road. It can be hard to change your software midstream as a lot of data can be lost in the transfer.
Following are some of the tasks a computer or cloud-based system can automate for you, and just as important, assist you in maintaining and retaining proper records:
- Point of sale system integration
- Accounting & bookkeeping
- Invoicing and accounts payable/receivable
- Personnel & payroll
- Work schedules
- Supply chain
- Online sales
- Customer service
- Marketing & sales
- Multiple business locations
Here’s a closer look at some of these business needs and how computer or cloud programs can help you manage them more efficiently:
Inventory: Most accounting programs have inventory tracking features built-in. Automating the process will allow you to maintain more profitable inventory levels since products on a shelf are costs, not profits. Some platforms can even connect you directly to your suppliers to further automate ordering.
Sales: Whether online or in-person, programs allow you to track customers, gauge the acquisition cost, predict purchasing habits, create upsell opportunities and build more loyal relationships with your best customers. You can also choose platforms that will automate customer service, including product returns and exchanges.
Manufacturing: If you manufacture something, these systems can help you monitor the process, identify opportunities to increase efficiencies or reduce inventories, improve quality or control costs.
Other tools you can use
If you’re not computer savvy or the idea of automating some of your systems seems daunting at this point in your business’ lifecycle, there are some computer tools that are easy to use and can create efficiencies with very little work. If you have a teenager around, they can probably help you get everything set up and even train you. What mystifies one generation is the norm for the next.
One tool you probably don’t even think about is email and texting. Available on phones, tablets and computers, it’s so common that we barely consider this modern miracle that can shoot someone a message across town or halfway around the world instantaneously.
Email is excellent for communicating with customers, employees, suppliers, vendors and contractors. It is also a perfect tool for keeping records. To maximize its use, you want to create a sound recordkeeping system so that you can easily keep track of conversations. As with paper, a folder system in your email program can help you keep your communications sorted, searchable and accessible.
Spreadsheets are a time-honored tool for keeping track of customers, inventory, sales and much more. Emulating traditional paper accounting worksheets, spreadsheets can be set up to automatically calculate formulas so you can do “what-if” scenarios with cash flow, inventory, staffing – any number of things. The formulas automatically change the equations and generate new results as you update the numbers. It is best for business owners who know their way around spreadsheets, as setting up the formulas can be a challenge or require additional training. Online or specialized software usually works better since all the calculations are already built into the tool.
Accounting & Bookkeeping
This was covered in-depth in Module 1, so we’re not going to bore you with a recap here. Suffice it to say that these powerful tools can centralize a lot of your daily reporting and recordkeeping tasks, from helping you manage inventory and sales to tracking financial performance, running scenarios and generating reports such as your balance sheet and cash flow projections. What’s more, this software or online platform will keep all your historical records, so you can look back in time whenever you like to identify trends or possible improvements. Best of all, if a customer loses a bill or a supplier is missing an invoice, you can find it quickly and shoot them a copy via email.
Like any other recordkeeping tool, you should find a solution that matches your near-term business needs but which has enough features that it can expand with you as your business grows. Starting with a new tool can be painful and expensive. Speak with other business owners, a bookkeeper or accountant, or a financial adviser to see if they have a recommendation.