Common accounting pitfalls for startups to avoid

Accounting is a critical element when launching a successful business venture. Unfortunately, it’s also an area where startups tend to make mistakes. Here are some common (and avoidable) errors that entrepreneurs should watch out for.

Failing to track expenses

Starting a new business is exciting — and it’s natural to focus on generating revenue and building business relationships. But it’s essential to keep detailed records of expenses, including receipts and invoices. This will help you properly allocate costs, price products and services, assess and improve financial performance, and claim tax deductions.

Forgetting to reconcile accounts

Reconciling accounts involves comparing your records to your bank and credit card statements to identify and correct any discrepancies. Account reconciliation ensures that your business pays close attention to its expenses and available cash. It can also help to prevent and detect fraud by third parties and employees.
Commingling personal and business expenses

When you own a business, you need to keep personal and business matters separate for financial reporting, tax and legal purposes. In addition to maintaining a distinct workspace for your business, you should have different bank and credit card accounts. This will avoid confusion and make it easier to track business expenses. It also will facilitate budgeting and forecasting.

Incorrectly classifying workers

How much control do you exercise over the people who work for your business? Are your workers an integral part of your operations? Misclassifying employees as independent contractors can have serious legal and financial consequences. Make sure you understand the differences between employees vs. contractors and categorize them appropriately. If you don’t follow the rules, the IRS, the U.S. Department of Labor and a state tax agency might challenge the status of your workers.

Not budgeting for taxes

Since many startups run at a loss, at least initially, some owners forget to set aside money for taxes. This can lead to cash shortages and other financial difficulties when tax time rolls around. Failure to make timely federal and state tax payments can result in penalty and interest charges. And don’t forget about payroll, sales and property tax obligations, too.

Failing to set up a formal accounting system

Entrepreneurs must select and consistently follow an accounting method based on their business needs. Many fledgling businesses start off using cash- or tax-basis accounting, then graduate to accrual-basis reporting as they mature. But lenders, franchisors and investors sometimes require accrual-basis financial reporting from the get-go.

It also pays to invest upfront in simple internal controls — such as locks on file cabinets, regular software updates, network backups and antivirus programs — to help prevent theft and fraud. Startups with valuable intellectual property, such as patents, secret recipes and proprietary software, should consider protecting these assets by requiring employees and contractors to sign noncompete agreements, implementing network security policies and filing appropriate legal protections. Additional internal control measures can be implemented as your business matures.

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