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What is Bookkeeping? How It Works & Why You Need Them

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If you are an entrepreneur venturing into your first business or an established business owner contemplating an overhaul of how you manage finances, understanding bookkeeping is crucial. 

This article will explain what bookkeeping is, explore various bookkeeping methods, and explain why it’s essential for your business's health and sustainability. We will look into the differences between single-entry and double-entry systems, discuss cash-based and accrual-based bookkeeping, and explore the various types of bookkeepers you might encounter or consider hiring. 

By the end, you will understand not just the "what" and "how" of bookkeeping but also the "why"—helping you make informed decisions about managing your business finances effectively.

What Is Bookkeeping?

How Does Bookkeeping Work?

Bookkeeping involves a series of systematic steps to manage the financial data of a business effectively.

The process starts with collecting financial data from various sources, such as invoices, receipts, payroll records, and bank statements. These documents provide the primary inputs required for bookkeeping. 

The next steps include identifying financial transactions, recording them in journals, posting these transactions to ledger accounts, and summarizing the information into financial statements, such as cash flow forecasting documents or balance sheets and so on.

Why Do You Need a Bookkeeper?

Having a bookkeeper is essential for maintaining the financial integrity of a business. A bookkeeper ensures that all transactions are accurately recorded, which helps in preventing errors and fraud that can lead to significant financial discrepancies. 

Without proper bookkeeping, businesses may face unbalanced books, missed payments, or invoicing errors, which can further result in cash flow problems, legal consequences, and damaged business relationships. Additionally, a professional bookkeeper can help streamline financial processes, ensuring timely reporting and compliance with accounting standards and tax regulations. This organized approach is vital not only for internal decision-making but also for providing reliable financial information to external parties such as investors, creditors, and tax authorities. This is especially important if you do international business. Each country has its own set of financial regulations, so comprehensive bookkeeping ensures that all cross-border transactions are compliant with the financial laws and taxation rules of the countries involved.

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Types of Bookkeepers

  1. DIY Bookkeeper: A small business owner or a close associate (like a spouse or family member) could take on bookkeeping tasks out of necessity. These individuals are typically self-taught and handle basic bookkeeping tasks such as data entry, bank reconciliation, invoicing, and preparing documents for accountants.
  2. Freelance Bookkeepers: These bookkeepers run their own one-person firms, usually after starting as informal bookkeepers and developing a passion for the field. They operate independently, often gaining clients through referrals and networking, and may have formal training and certifications.
  3. Bookkeeping Firms: Similar to accounting firms, these are professional firms that offer bookkeeping services. They may offer a range of packages from basic bookkeeping to more strategic financial advisory services.
  4. In-House Bookkeeper: These professionals handle all aspects of a business’s bookkeeping needs and often report directly to the senior management or business owner. They may coordinate closely with external accountants to cover all business accounting needs.

Bookkeeping vs Accounting

While both bookkeeping and accounting are essential for any business's financial management, they serve different functions. Bookkeeping is primarily concerned with recording financial transactions in an orderly manner. It involves daily transaction recording, maintaining ledgers, and ensuring data accuracy. 

On the other hand, accounting goes beyond just recording to analyze financial data, generate insights, and produce complex financial statements. Accountants use the information compiled by bookkeepers to assess financial health, aid in budget planning, perform audits and make strategic business recommendations based on financial trends.

What Are the Different Bookkeeping Methods?

Single-Entry Bookkeeping

Single-entry bookkeeping is a straightforward method suitable for small businesses and sole proprietorships that do not engage in a large volume of complex transactions. In this method, each financial transaction is recorded only once, either as an income or an expense, which directly affects the cash and bank accounts. This method is akin to maintaining a personal checkbook. It's simple, easy to maintain, and doesn't require any formal training in accounting or bookkeeping.

This is ideal for small private companies, sole proprietorships that operate mostly in cash transactions, and businesses that do not have significant inventory or capital.

Double-Entry Bookkeeping

In contrast, double-entry bookkeeping offers a comprehensive system in which every transaction impacts at least two accounts: one is debited and another credited. This meticulous approach ensures adherence to the fundamental accounting equation—Assets = Liabilities + Equity—thereby maintaining a balanced and precise financial portrait of the business. 

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Recommended: We have an article detailing other simple mathematical formulas for cash flow to help with your bookkeeping, too.

Choosing Between Accrual-Based and Cash-Based

Deciding whether to use cash-based or accrual-based bookkeeping comes down to how your business recognizes its revenue and expenses.

Accrual-Based: Accrual bookkeeping is more sophisticated, recognizing revenue when it’s earned and expenses when they are billed, not paid. This method provides a more realistic idea of income and expenses during a specific period and is required by companies in certain jurisdictions, mostly under GAAP.

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Tip: While accrual-based accounting offers a clearer view of your business finances, it also risks uncollected receivables. Make sure to follow up on past-due invoices to avoid financial errors and losses.

Cash-Based: In this method, transactions are recorded when cash changes hands. This straightforward approach is well-suited for small businesses or startups that do not have extensive credit transactions.

Software Name

Features

Pricing

Best For

Automated transactions, invoicing, payroll, reporting

Starts at $25/month

Small to medium businesses

Cloud-based, integrates with multiple third-party apps, real-time data

Starts at $11/month

Small to medium businesses, especially those needing strong mobile access

Invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking, project management

Starts at $15/month

Freelancers, solopreneurs, service-based businesses

Invoicing, cash flow management, inventory management, hybrid (cloud and desktop)

Starts at $50.58/month

Small to medium businesses looking for desktop software with cloud access

Automated workflows, custom invoicing, expense tracking, comprehensive dashboards

Starts at $15/month

Small businesses that want to integrate well with other Zoho apps

Free (add-ons available) invoicing, accounting, receipt scanning

Free, pay for payroll & payments

Small businesses, startups on a tight budget

Statrys mobile application dashboard showing a total balance in a business account.

Cesar Cobo is the COO of Webris, a legal marketing agency. They specialize in helping law firms in competitive markets generate more leads.

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“Xero's cloud-based system and real-time reporting capabilities significantly enhance our bookkeeping, enabling us to make informed decisions swiftly and maintain precision in our financial records.”

Cesar Cobo
COO of Webris
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Q&A

Which bookkeeping software are you using for your business?

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For my business accounting, I use Xero. It's a popular choice for smaller businesses like mine because it offers a comprehensive suite of features. Xero automatically imports bank transactions, which saves me a great deal of time. I like it a lot.

Why did you choose the accounting software you are using?

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How has using this accounting software improved your bookkeeping?

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Conclusion

Effective bookkeeping not only helps maintain accurate financial records but also supports strategic decision-making by providing clear insights into the business's financial status. 

Whether you choose to manage this function in-house or outsource it, ensuring meticulous bookkeeping practices is fundamental to the success and scalability of any business. As your business grows, remember that investing in professional bookkeeping and accounting services or reliable software can safeguard your financial management and offer peace of mind.

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FAQs

What Is the Meaning of Bookkeeping?

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Bookkeeping is the process of recording, organizing, and managing all financial transactions for a business. It ensures that records of individual financial transactions are accurate, up-to-date, and comprehensive.

What Exactly Does a Bookkeeper Do?

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What Is the Difference Between Bookkeeping and Accounting?

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Should You Do Your Own Bookkeeping?

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