Once upon a time, I quit my real job (restaurant manager - good salary, benefits and someone to cover for me when I wasn’t around) and went to work for my husband, Hot Rod, in his contracting company. It was the dumbest decision I have ever made.

Once upon a time, I quit my real job (restaurant manager - good salary, benefits and someone to cover for me when I wasn’t around) and went to work for my husband, Hot Rod, in his contracting company.

It was the dumbest decision I have ever made. It was hell. I left my steady paycheck behind and assumed financial responsibility for a company that was sinking fast. I was college educated. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. in business administration.

The B.S. really stood for my approach to business. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was the rookie bean counter. And, I didn’t know my asset from my elbow.

I did not want to crunch numbers, look at spreadsheets or confront our financial situation. I wanted so badly for a magical bean counter fairy to wave a wand and make millions of dollars appear in our checking account.

“Shouldn’t our accountant handle this?” I fumed. “I don’t have time to figure this out.” I just didn’t want to deal with the money. That approach might have worked if we had lots of money. However, we were running out and digging a deep hole of dept.

When the pain of the current condition becomes greater than the fear of change, you’ll change. When I finally got fed up with financial worries, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, I’ll do this.”

Once I committed, it took me about a year to develop a firm understanding of the accounting. Thank goodness for my helpful accountant, Brenda. I struggled along and she checked my homework. I tackled my accounting software and labored over debits and credits. I did whole months of data entry all wrong and had to undo and redo them.

There were serendipitous moments of … fun. Yes, fun! Accounting is like a crossword puzzle. Numbers add up and across. If you are “off” somewhere, it is probably you, not the computer or the software. And, it is fun to find and fix the glitch in your data entry. I raised my nerd flag and to this day I wave it proudly.

The best part: finally understanding where we stood financially. I was afraid of knowing. That’s why I fought it for so long. Once we had the data, so many of the emotional issues fell away. We had the score and could make decisions based on the score. No more arguing about working hard enough or being good enough. We could see the problem. We weren’t charging enough. We had to raise our prices. If that meant we would go out of business, so be it. What a relief.

Turns out people pay much higher prices than you think they would. How about that? We made decisions based on the data. I knew where the money went and how to make more of it. Very cool.

Commit or Quit

How about you? Are you the wife of a roofer? Did you get thrown into the bookkeeping? Are you still kicking and screaming? If so, I encourage you to make a decision right now. Get going or get out.

Are you new to the company and overwhelmed by what the boss is asking of you? You aren’t an accountant and you don’t have much experience with accounting software. He can’t possibly want you to make sense of the mess of numbers … can he?

Why not? Why not you? Commit or quit. Should you choose to commit and learn basic accounting, you will have a skill set that is in high demand by employers. You will also have the tools you need to manage your family fortune - and maybe start your own business. No bad thing comes from learning business and accounting basics.

Here’s the key for moving from rookie bean counter to rockin’ moneymaker: your commitment. This stuff is not that hard. You can do it. Figuring out what the accounting words mean is more than half the challenge. You can do it. Basic accounting is a simple, beautiful, logical system. You may even learn to love it.

You will need some help, however. Are you struggling with a bossy, unavailable or uncommunicative accountant right now? Do not put up with a weak financial team. Find an accountant who will teach you how to handle the bookkeeping and will check your homework. Or, e-mail me atcontact@barebonesbiz.comand I will steer you in the right direction.

Where to Start?

If I were a betting woman, I would bet a $1,000 that the current state of your financials is a slinky-knot mess. When I work with my clients, I start by doing a financial audit. This lets me and my client know the current financial situation and what needs to be addressed. The goal is to get to the known financial position (KFP). Here’s how to do the financial audit:

  • Run a balance sheet and year-to-date income statement dated the last day of your last fiscal year.
  • Compare the balance sheet balances to the balance sheet section of your tax return. As of the last day of your fiscal year, your accounting system balance sheet should match up to the balance sheet on your tax return. Most of the time, your accountant will make year-end adjustments for depreciation or to record the purchase or sale of an asset. It’s up to you to make sure that you adjust your financials to reflect those changes. If you don’t match up - assets, liabilities and equity - make a note of it on your financial audit spreadsheet.
  • Go through the most current balance sheet and income statement, too. Next to each account, indicate whether the account is OK or needs to be fixed. If you don’t know if that account is accurate, just put a question mark next to it. This financial audit serves as your “punch list” for getting to KFP.
  • For example, do you balance your checking account every month? Does your accounting program bank reconciliation balance? If so, terrific. Mark the checking account OK. If not, put a question mark next to the account on the financial audit.
Bit by bit, you can work with your accountant to nail down the accounts. As the owner, you are responsible for the accuracy of the financial reports. If they aren’t up-to-date and accurate, how do you make sound decisions? KFP is the place to be!

Software Needs

Do you need an industry specific accounting program? Maybe. If you have less than five employees, you probably don’t need one. I recommend MYOB accounting software for basic accounting. It is a simple, solid accounting program and the folks at MYOB are helpful and knowledgeable. (Check out MYOB atwww.myob.com.)

As you grow, you may want to look into a system with customer service and dispatching features. Global positioning systems and real-time inventory modules are also of service for larger companies. Here is my advice: Only move up to an industry-specific program when you are at KFP with a basic accounting system. This makes it easier to nail down KFP with the new program.

Also, a computer program will not make you more profitable. High-tech or low-tech, you have to charge more than it costs to make a profit.

The Chart of Accounts

The chart of accounts is the complete listing of all the accounts in the company. It is the framework that supports the entire accounting system.

While your accountant’s input is desired, don’t craft your chart of accounts with the primary goal of simplifying your tax reporting. Your accountant has a tax software program that makes it easy for him or her to do your taxes. If your chart of accounts aligns with that program, it makes it simple to plug and play for Uncle Sam. However, direct your accountant to accommodate a chart of accounts that reflects your business and gives you the data you need to make better, faster, more profitable decisions.

Keep it simple. If you are not going to use the detail to make a decision, don’t bother tracking it on a day-to-day basis. You can always use a columnar pad and a pencil to track additional information. Just because you have an accounting program doesn’t mean you have to use it for everything. As Gail Gudell once said, “Don’t use a backhoe when a teaspoon will do.”

Payroll Implications

When I do a financial audit, payroll is usually out of whack. Why? Because it is a complicated transaction. Work with your accountant to find and fix payroll data entry errors. Do not mess around with your payroll requirements for Uncle Sam. Follow the rules. Make your deposits. If you need to revise previous reporting, work closely with your accountant to get in compliance.

You need a sound, simple procedure for Payroll. I recommend using a Payroll service, like ADP or Paychex. Then, enter the journal entry for payroll in your accounting program.

Change the Outcome

Once you start operating from KFP, you might notice that you are not making any money. You might notice that you have a boatload of debt. Well, the only way to make more money is to charge more than it costs. Once you know, you can change. Change your selling price. Change you operating systems. Notice the effect those changes have on your financial position. Put a budget together and compare actual to budgeted financial performance on a weekly basis. Once you know the score, you can play the game to win.

If you have the energy, the commitment, the “fizz,” then all you need is information and experience. You can do this. And you will be well served by this set of skills. It’s time for you to play in the big leagues. This may be your breakout year. Dear rookie bean counter, I see you creating a fortune.