What Is Bookkeeping?

Bookkeeping is an organized way to track and record the details of income and expenses by a business using bookkeeping software or printed books or spreadsheets like Excel. 

All people who earn money from their self-employed activities and who operate as sole proprietors are “in business” and need to have a good bookkeeping system of some sort to track their finances.

This includes solopreneurs, bloggers, creatives, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches and other goods and service providers. 

Bookkeeping is part of the full accounting process which gets the business accounts ready starting from the initial entry of financial transactions all the way to filing tax returns, and for incorporated or limited businesses the preparation of year-end accounts by an Accountant.

Besides small business owners doing their own bookkeeping, there are thousands of people who choose bookkeeping as a career to either be employed by companies or be self-employed professional bookkeepers starting their own bookkeeping and consulting businesses

The Purpose Of Bookkeeping

The purpose of bookkeeping is to

  • enter the financial transactions resulting from business activities accurately and in accordance with good bookkeeping practices 
  • and to communicate the financial results of those activities.

1. Entering Financial Transactions

This is done by identifying and organizing the business transactions into account categories.

Say I sell a hat for $10.00.

The transaction is identified as a sale.

The transaction is “measured” by the amount involved, which is established as $10.00. 

This is then recorded into the Bookkeeping system to the appropriate Account Category, for this sale it will be an Income account. 

Go to Chart of Accounts to learn more about these account categories.

Activities And Transactions

Here are a few examples of business activities that result in financial transactions.

  • Activity : Selling goods (PDF books, crafts, courses and other items) and services
    Transactions: Sales invoices and depositing check or cash payments or receiving credit card and bank payments.
  • Activity: Purchasing goods and services
    Transactions: Purchase invoices and paying bills with check, bank card, credit card or cash
  • Activity: Returns
    Transactions: Entering credit notes for goods returned or services not completed
    Activity: Employing people
    Transactions: Payment of wages and salaries

A transaction that has no currency value attached to it should not be recorded in the system.

For example, phoning the Bank Manager – this is not a financial transaction so it doesn’t get entered into the books.

2. Communicating Results

Once all the transactions are entered, useful reports can be created to communicate what has occurred with the business money. 

The main reports are the Income Statement and the Balance Sheet

These reports should be easy to read and understand so that anyone in business can pick up one up and quickly interpret how well or not the business is doing, hence the need for national accounting standards (more on this below) so that every report has a similar layout with the same types of accounts. 

The Difference Between Bookkeeping And Accounting

In addition bookkeeping focuses on the day to day financial activities of a business. A sole proprietor or bookkeeper needs to know how to enter all the day to day financial transactions into the bookkeeping system.

Accounting is the pulling together of the bookkeeping results by an Accountant into standardized annual financial statements. These are not usually required for sole proprietorships or sole traders unless you want to borrow money – the lender may want to see a proper set of accounts.

These year-end financial statements must align with national accounting standards governed by the accounting standards boards within each country. 

Experienced Accountants are well trained and knowledgeable in the country’s tax laws and accounting standards and can tweak the business accounts prepared by the bookkeeper to get the best tax advantages within a legal framework.

Accountants can analyse the statements and advise the business owner on ways to improve business trading, and they can carry out audits to double-check the accuracy and transparency of the financial activities of a business.

What Is Bookkeeping: Types

There are two main types of bookkeeping:

Single Entry

This is a simple and easy bookkeeping solution for very small, start-up businesses or sole traders using printed papers or Excel type spreadsheets.

The minimum requirement that a business must have is a cash book (which reflects the bank account activities of receipts and payments) and many small businesses can stick with just a cashbook to do their bookkeeping.

The most basic of bookkeeping records should enable people to see all the income earned and all the expenses paid resulting in a difference (income minus expenses) for a period of time like one month or the whole year.

This type of basic bookkeeping is acceptable for sole proprietors to handle.

Cash books are typically only for the cash basis of accounting.

Double Entry

A more complicated bookkeeping system found within developed software like QuickBooks or Xero which includes cash books, accounts payable and receivable, tracking of loans, inventory, payroll, journal entries, ledgers and trial balances.

Reports from these systems can be for either the cash basis of accounting or the accrual basis of accounting.

Is Bookkeeping Easy To Do?

It can be easy to do with a bit of patience, practice and consistency whilst learning. Things only go off track when shortcuts are taken, or when dis-organization reigns or when laziness sets in (possibly caused by wanting to put the bookkeeping in the “too hard basket!”).

The person performing the bookkeeping should set regular times to stay on top of the recording the income and expenses, and the filing, and the debt collecting… so things don’t get ‘out of control’.

If you’re self-employed and you struggle with this side of the business outsource it to a bookkeeping provider

Professional bookkeepers can provide several options to suit differing budgets and because they are also self-employed you don’t have to worry about processing their wage, or finding a desk, computer and space in your office for them.

What Is Bookkeeping Automation

Advanced bookkeeping automation is becoming more of a thing now – it’s done by machine learning software that has artificial intelligence capabilities.

This means a small business’ bookkeeping can be done quickly and easily by machine without paying an actual bookkeeper, although you must still pay fees for this automated software and it’s management by humans.

A common one is Botkeeper

Does this mean bookkeepers will become obsolete?

Well, it is possible.

Professional self-employed bookkeepers would do well for themselves to take on a strong consulting and specialist advisory role to their clients, stuff that a machine cannot do, because the day to day time intensive bookkeeping recording is going to eventually be all done by machine.

The Importance Of Bookkeeping

  • it helps a business owner or manager to know if the business is making money (profit or surplus) or losing money (loss or deficit) 
  • it helps the business reach a calculation of taxes to be paid and to file tax returns
  • from the bookkeeping records a bank manager can see if it’s worthwhile lending the business money if the owner wants to sell the business
  • organized bookkeeping records will encourage a prospective buyer if the owner wants to sell the business.

What Is Bookkeeping: Examples

Go here to check out some bookkeeping examples which include a chart of accounts, a cash book, journals, ledgers and reports.
Bookkeeping Cashbook Example

What Is Bookkeeping: Summary

What is bookkeeping? 

It’s keeping an accurate record of all the financial activities of a business, and at the very least helps the self-employed person track their income and expenses to be able to file their tax returns and fulfill their tax obligations.

Bookkeeping is a necessity to all business and can be done using the single-entry or double-entry type in manual spreadsheets or automated software. 

Bookkeeping is a respectable career choice providing the opportunity to become self-employed or may give you encouragement to do further studies and work towards becoming a Chartered Practicing Accountant and open your own Accounting practice.

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