A pertinent question today as many of us look at last year’s financials and taxes and we’re in a place where we can make a real effort to make sure our life in July 2019 is a happier one:
I just did my tax and I’m very frustrated!!! I need advice on what software or system to use to make it easier. Most I see are not designed for a sole owner operator that has not registered for GST (I earn less than 75k); they seem too complicated. I know what I earn and spend this shouldn’t be so frustrating. But I never know what category to put things in. I don’t know. What do you use? I have a subscription to 17hats I thought that might help but its basically designed for America.
The GST question isn’t overly important in this issue; most software today can easily adapt to changing to being GST registered, but the question of what software to use, and how to use it, is important.
But before we talk about those systems, here’s some really good advice:
Really good advice for every single person reading this
Get an accountant. A good accountant. Not a bookkeeper, not your dad, not your offspring, a good registered, proper accountant that knows their shit.
If you don’t have one, ask for a recommendation, I’m even happy to refer mine – many of my friends have George as their accountant now and we’re all very happy. I only really talk to him about 2-3 months before the end of the financial year, then as we do our taxes, and if I have questions about my accounts through the rest of the year.
An accountant is different to a bookkeeper. I didn’t know this when I started, an accountant is a real qualification and if they give you incorrect or bad advice it can end up in court. A bookkeeper is someone you might hire if you can’t do your own accounts (and by doing your own accounts I mean creating invoices and entering expenses into a system of some kind), but systems like we’re talking about below are slowly putting bookkeepers out of business.
Systems designed for a sole trader
When I was a sole trader I used Quickbooks Online and was happy enough with it, but I had seen a few automations that were available only to Xero (at the time in 2015) and was keen to move to the new kid on the block. Anyone that knows me knows I like a new toy, even if that “toy” is an accounting package.
In my business we are now a family trust with a company as the trustee and we reached that decision through consultation with our accountant and also probably because Britt didn’t like being referred to as my employee :).
Burt regardless of your business structure I believe that Xero, Quickbooks, Wave, and Freshbooks are all appropriate systems. I know that amongst Institute members all four of those systems, and more, are being used. I can personally only attest to Xero today, but I would only recommend it because it’s what I use, not because it might be better than others.
Difference between accounting and CRM software
Many customer relationship management (CRM) software packages have invoicing features (like Studio Ninja, 17Hats, or Tave) but that doesn’t make them an accounting package.
The ability to invoice is great, but when it comes to end of year financials you want to know what came in, what went out, and what’s left over, and CRM packages don’t have to do that job.
What I do
The best advice on what you need to do will come from your own personal accountant, but I’ll lay out some of my financial system, and I hope that it can help you lay out yours.
Before we have a software package we need a system. Once you have a financial system we’ll wrap a software package around it.
My system starts with separating business finances from personal finances. I have separate bank accounts for business cash, and a separate credit card for business expenses.
I have a transaction account and a savings account. The transaction account is for all money in and out, and then every week I put money aside for tax because I don’t want any surprises come tax time.
Separating business money and personal money, even if you’re a sole trader, allows for clarity of mind and separation of church and state. My personal recommendation is that you “take a wage” from the business, even if you’re a sole trader and obviously all profits are “wage” but the clarity allows you to track payments and expenses without the noise that is your grocery shopping and a friend transferring $20 to cover dinner when you went out last week.
Paying money, aka expenses
I put all of my business expenses on a credit card for two reasons:
- Frequent flyer points. I’m a points guy and can talk about this until the end of time. I love it.
- Recording expenses. For all significant purchases I receive email receipts and archive them in my Gmail email account and for less significant purchases I keep the receipts in a box, probably never to be seen again. But the instrument for both of these types of expenses is my business credit card. If there’s a transaction on that card then it’s obviously a business expense. So in my wallet are two cards, a personal credit card and a business credit card, and depending on the type of purchase, and my knowledge of what is a business expense as allowed by the ATO, I swipe/tap/insert the credit card that suits. And the ATO has ruled that the credit card statement is also proof of that expense. But keep the receipts anyway. If you are looking to pre-fill your tax return, try using the ATO’s deductions app.
Both my decision to have a separate bank account and a separate credit card will make more sense as you see they sync up nicely with my future decisions on software.
There are three ways that I want my couples to pay me, and two are preferable.
- PAYID. This is the new system for bank account transfers. Instead of telling people your BSB and account number you can now tell them your PAYID and the money goes straight into your account instantly. If you really want to try it you can send me money to email@example.com and I’ll let you know I received it. (Please note that I am joking, and if you send me money you’re either in on the joke and wish to just send me money for no reason or you haven’t read this: don’t send me money) also (PAYID isn’t available too all banks and banking customers yet)
- Credit Card Payment. I love giving my couples the opportunity to pay me via credit card because I’m sure plenty of them are hoping for the same opportunity that I would be: to collect points on their wedding purchases. It’s also important to respect their financial decisions plus many of them might be financing their wedding on a credit card, or even having family pay for the wedding using their credit card. (This topic has already been covered in this post.)
- Bank transfer. This is the old multi-day method of transferring money and I’m looking forward to dropping this option in a few years.
As to whether or not PAYID (I think some banks call it Osko) is available to you, and what your actual PAYID is you will need to check with your bank, but I recommend having a click around your internet banking profile or settings page and seeing what you can set up there.
Credit Card Payment
Gone are the days of needing to become a credit card merchant and having an EFTPOS machine at your house. Simply sign up for Stripe, Braintree, or Square (I use Stripe because Xero supports it) and they will accept all the VISA, Mastercard, and American Express payments for you, then transfer them to your bank account in one or two days time.
Stripe’s fees are 1.75% so depending on your business model and how you make decisions, you can either swallow the charge and make it part of your business plan, or on-charge it. I personally recommend swallowing the fee and increasing your total fee by the credit card fee. If you charge $500, the credit card fee is $9.05, so increase your fee to $510 and everyone thinks you’re a hero. For a $1000 transaction it’s $17.80, so increase your fee to $1020.
Our current business structure is such that we on-charge it.
You might be wondering how we actually allow clients to pay us with a credit card? That question is answered when we start looking at accounting packages.
Bringing all of that together into an accounting system
If you’re set up with separate bank accounts and a credit card for ins and outs, along with a Stripe account for receiving payments, you’re ready to integrate all of this into an accounting system.
If you’re already a Quickbooks, Freshbooks, or Wave user please jump into the comments of this article and let me know if my advice works on that platform or not.
I use Xero because my accountant likes it, I like it, Britt likes it, and it does everything we need it to.
With the help of Xero’s setup assistant, Google, my accountant, and my common sense I set up a general ledger of accounts that would suit my business.
Xero integrates with my bank automatically importing transactions from my transaction, savings, and credit card accounts so every morning the past days transactions are waiting to be reconciled and categorised.
I have revenue/sales accounts for the different facets of my business so I can track how each one goes.
I have expense accounts that line up with the different categories of ATO approved deductible expenses.
I have a motor vehicle expenses account that my accountant knows I have a log book for so 91% of those expenses are a business expense for the next five years.
Generally speaking, my general ledger matches my real life finances.
My booking system is home brewed using my WordPress website, Gravity Forms, and Zapier. But you might be using a CRM like Tave, Studio Ninja, or 17Hats. Some of these packages will integrate with Xero (I believe at least Studio Ninja does) and will create invoices for you automatically like my home brewed system does.
But in the end you want to be able to send an invoice from Xero to your clients email. Xero can also be set up to automatically email before and after a due date so invoices are paid without any hassle.
If you’ve integrated Stripe into your Xero settings then there’ll be a big fancy green pay now button so your client will receive the invoice on their phone, open it, click pay now, and by either entering their credit card details, or using Apple Pay or Google Pay, instantly pay you and you haven’t had to lift a finger.
Xero literally makes me money because invoices are paid without me doing any extra work.
Transferring money around
I pay off my credit card each week because I’m not using it for its credit facilities, I’m using it for its insurance, points, and statement facilities, so in Xero when I transfer money from my transaction account to my credit card that’s called a Transfer.
This is the same type of transaction as when I move money into my savings account.
Transferring money out of your business into your personal account like you might do if it was a wage is called “Owner funds withdrawn” and if you transfer money from your personal account back to the business that’s “Owner funds introduced”.
Paying staff, contractors, or other people
Paying other people in your business should fall under one of the regular accounts in your general ledger if they are a contractor invoicing you, but if you’re planning on bringing on a staff member – not a contractor – you’ll want to seek your accountant’s advice on this – but Xero has a wages module. I used to pay Britt like this.
If you start earning more than $75,000 a year you’ll need to register for GST and business activity statements will become your new best friend every three months. Around this time you’ll definitely need to consult with an accountant but my only advice is to have that GST you’ve collected, saved up. So many people are unprepared for their GST when it’s money you’ve already received.
Cash or accrual
On setting up an accounting system, you’ll be asked if you are operating on a cash basis or an accrual basis.
Cash basis means you pay tax on the cash you’ve received and you claim deductions on cash you’ve spent.
Accrual means you pay tax on the money you expect to earn, and claim deductions on expenses you expect to have.
Your accountant will give you better advice than this, but I’m almost certain that every celebrant in Australia will want to operate on a cash basis.
Saving for tax
Many confuse the words tax, GST, and BAS. Through this confusion we often end up at tax time with no money saved to pay your tax bill with so I wanted to round out the discussion with a simple explanation.
GST and BAS are things you worry about after you earn $75,000 a year or more in your business (this does not include income from other sources like a job).
GST stands for goods and services tax, and it’s a 10% tax Australian businesses collect on behalf of the government for goods and services offered in Australia. Celebrancy is one of those services. Expenses you have in your business would also render a GST that other businesses collect and if you pay any GST as a GST collecting business that GST you paid is actually refunded back to you. So if you’re a GST registered business and you collected $100 GST (on a $1100 income) and you paid $10 GST (on a $110 expense) you now only owe the tax office $90 at the end of your quarter on your BAS.
BAS stands for business activity statement and it’s the record of the GST you’ve collected and then GST you’ve paid. If you have staff it also records your PAYG tax you’ve collected for them.
Tax is what I refer to outside of the GST, and I mean personal income tax. For money you earn over about $18,000 (whatever the tax free threshold is at the time you read this article) you pay income tax on. At the end of the financial year the tax office expects this from you.
This is no doubt obvious, but the important thing to remember is that you only pay tax on profit, not revenue. That’s money left over after your allowable deductions (like paying for a Celebrant Institute membership – which also includes GST by the way).
Again, please be saving your 10% GST and about 30% income tax so that your end of quarter and end of financial years aren’t a surprise!
Basically, do your due diligence and learn the ins and outs of your business financials. This article is in no way a conclusive guide to business financials, but I hope it’s a good primer, and it encourages you to seek out an accountant, and start tracking your business finances through a system like Xero.