Skip To The Main Content

First Steps: Setting up your accounts


Getting on top of money coming in and out of a business – and complying with regulatory and tax rules – can be challenging. Nick Huber outlines some basic steps that can ease the burden for small business owners

Starting your own business can be exciting, scary and exhausting. But financial paperwork – your company accounts, tax and payroll – can feel like a chore. It’s easy to neglect, even though doing so could make the difference between your business surviving and thriving, or collapsing due to a cash flow shortage.

Accounting software can help new businesses manage their finances. But according to research published in 2017, around one in six (16 per cent) small and medium-sized businesses in the UK uses a shoebox for their book-keeping. The research by the UK200 Group, an association of UK chartered accountancy and law firms, also found that 23 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses still use manual records.

That will soon have to change. The Government plans to make the tax system digital by 2020. By then all but the smallest businesses must keep digital records and submit digital VAT returns quarterly. The following are all areas to consider if you’re looking to stay on top of your accounts. 

Produce a business plan

First, write a business plan. This should include an executive summary (a summary of your business and what it’s trying to achieve), an analysis of your competitors and a financial section that includes an income statement (how your business will generate money each year) and a cash flow statement (how much money will be needed to meet your business obligations). 

“A business plan doesn’t have to be long, complicated or onerous to produce,” says Elaine Clark, Managing Director of accounting firm “Without the formality of this pre-launch activity, any new business could be in danger of going off track before it’s even started.” 

Book-keeping: DIY or outsource?

As a business grows, you’ll have less time to spend on the accounts because you’ll be busier dealing with other matters. This may be a good time to get support. You could bring in your own accounts assistant or book-keeper, or outsource your financial management to your accountant. 

The right option will depend on how much accounting you can do, or want to do, and what you can afford to outsource to an accountant. The important thing is not to get behind with your accounts. “As you grow, there are more regulations to adhere to, like VAT registration and reporting,” Ms Clark says. 

When starting a new business, accountancy support is often seen as an expense that can be “done without” during the first year of trading, says Marsha Ward, founder and CEO at The Number Hub, a Cardiff-based accounting services business.

But this decision can be a false economy, as “an accountant should work with you to develop a good understanding of your business”, says Ms Ward, an FSB member. “Your accountant will go on the journey with you and guide you as a trusted advisor so that you can operate in a tax-efficient manner, while working within budgets.”

Think about whether the accountant or book-keeper can serve your needs now and into the future. Maybe you need advice on business strategy – such as mergers and acquisitions and attracting investors – or basic book-keeping services to free up your own time.

Accounting software 

Online cloud technology has helped to make accounting software easy to use wherever you are − and cheap. Some accounting software for small businesses costs less than £30 per month, although fees rise when more workers use it.

“Tracking progress through an accounting system keeps the business owner in charge of their income, costs, profits and cash flow,” says Ms Clark. 

“A new business could be making profitable sales but without robust cash flow control could soon run out of money and find themselves in a fix.”

Using accounting software to manage your business finances can be quicker and more efficient than keeping a record of expenses and invoices on a spreadsheet or paper.

“There are apps that use algorithms that allow you to take a picture of a receipt and submit it for processing in the cloud,” Ms Ward says. “Data from the receipt, along with a PDF of the receipt, is then entered into the accounting system. This saves significant time on book-keeping tasks, allowing you to spend more time building your business. We know this because we use it too.”

You could ask a similar sized business how it manages its accounting/payroll. “You should also draw up a shortlist and gain references,” says Rhys Bateman, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Sage, a supplier of accounting software. “It’s important to check out their fees are realistic to your business too.” 

New payroll system

If you’re an employer, each time you pay your employees, you must report the information (amount paid, tax deducted, and so on) – to HMRC. 

Under the old Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, employers reported their payroll information at the end of the tax year. The annual filing meant that a person’s employment record could be out of date if he or she changed jobs every year or had more than one job. This is one reason why HMRC says it changed the rules for reporting PAYE information.

The new payroll system is called Real Time Information, or RTI. It began in 2013.

“Payroll underpins everything that happens in a business,” says Mr Bateman. “Many people think it’s all about complex legislation and numbers on spreadsheets. It’s much more than that. Paying staff on time and correctly means happy people and a happy business.”

Employers should also check that their payroll software supplier complies with auto-enrolment requirements. 

The Pensions Act 2008 requires every employer in the UK to offer a pension to any employee without one who is older than 22 and earning more than £10,000 a year.

Auto-enrolment has been phased in since 2012, and is aimed at encouraging workers to save enough for retirement. FSB Business Essentials members can access a straightforward, simple-to-understand and cost-effective auto-enrolment solution through FSB Workplace Pensions. Visit for more information.

Stay in control of your books

1. Choose a business type – e.g. sole trader, limited company, partnership –  and register it
2. Open a business bank account
3. Manage your cash flow. Make sure that more money comes into your business than leaves it. Understand credit control and sales forecasting, and tackle early on any unneeded costs, including excess stock 
4. Stay on top of late payments. Know your customers, understand their payment terms, avoid cheques and start chasing late payments straight away

5. Use accounting software to manage your book-keeping. This can automatically pull transaction records from your bank account so you don’t have to manually enter each transaction
6. Get to grips with financial information. The three most important statements you need to understand are the balance sheet, the income statement and the cash flow statement
7. In addition to managing your incomings and outgoings, make sure you’re on top of your taxes, e.g. self-assessment, VAT and corporation tax