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Starting an eCommerce Business? Bookkeeping Basics You Need to Know

Just like a traditional brick-and-mortar business, your eCommerce business needs a good bookkeeping system for essential functions like tracking revenues and expenditures and filing tax returns. There are a lot of compelling reasons you need a bookkeeper, and for most small businesses, it’s generally more cost-effective to outsource the accounting and bookkeeping services to professionals like Xendoo that work with small businesses than trying to do it in-house. If outsourcing just isn’t feasible for your business, here are some bookkeeping basics for eCommerce that you need to know before trying to do it yourself.

Choose an Accounting Method

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide which of two accounting methods is right for your business – cash basis or accrual basis. The key difference between the two lies in when revenues and expenditures are recognized on the books. Let’s take a quick look at the differences between them.

  • Cash Basis: Transactions are recorded at the time the money enters or leaves the bank. If an invoice comes in during December but you pay it in January, the entry would go on January’s books.
  • Accrual Basis: Transactions are recorded at the time they are made, regardless of when cash enters or leaves the bank. An invoice dated in December would go on December’s books, even if it gets paid in January.

Cash basis accounting is simpler and easier to keep track of, but accrual basis gives a more accurate picture of the long-term profitability of the business by factoring in accounts payable and receivable ledgers. Most small business owners choose cash basis, but if you do, you may have to adjust your accounting software. QuickBooks, for example, defaults to accrual basis. Once you choose a method, you have to stick with it unless you are willing to go through a lot of government red tape to change it.

Record Your Transactions

Every time money comes into or leaves your business, whether it’s a retail sale, an invoice from a supplier that gets paid, or a loan payment, it has to be recorded “in the books.” Your “books” could be anything from an old-fashioned paper ledger to an Excel spreadsheet, or a full suite of accounting software. If you opt for manual bookkeeping, you’ll need to import all your information from your bank account into your ledger. Most good accounting software will interface with your bank and automatically enter transactions in your books for you, which can save you a lot of time. Whichever way you go, it’s crucial to stay on top of data entry so that you have an accurate picture of your business’s financial health.

A view of a couch on an eCommerce site

Categorize Your Transactions

You’re probably starting to see a trend in these bookkeeping basics for eCommerce, and that is to stay organized. Every transaction that gets recorded has to also be categorized for financial reports and tax returns. The two most basic categories you’ll need are revenue and expenses, although you’ll almost certainly want subcategories of each for your reports to be useful. You’ll need to be able to tell the difference between expenses for rent, payroll, utilities, debt installments, etc.

Another category that you’ll probably want as an eCommerce seller is “Revenue – Returns and Allowances.” This would encompass things like merchandise returns and credit card chargebacks in the event of fraud, which are not expenses, but rather debits to your revenue as essentially a reversal of the sale. However, if your credit card processor charges you a chargeback fee for the return, this would be an expense separate from the return itself.

Monitor Your Budget

If you haven’t already, you need to create a realistic budget that factors things like the seasonality of the business, how much inventory stock you will need to support your sales, cost of goods sold, and overhead expenses like rent, payroll, and utilities. Remember: a budget should not reflect what you hope will happen, but what is likely to actually happen. Many owners tend to be overly optimistic in their budgets and assume a best-case scenario for everything, which rarely happens.

Once the budget is in place, the company’s financial reports have to be checked against the budget regularly to see whether the business is over or under-performing your expectations. This can be simplified by using a budget calculator spreadsheet that uses formulas to compare actual revenue and expenses to budget figures. That way, you can see at a glance where your budget might need adjusting. 

Reconcile Bank Statements

Each month when the bank statement arrives, it’s crucial to compare what the bank says you have with what your internal books say you should have. This is done on a transaction-by-transaction basis and is critical for detecting problems early. If you find a discrepancy, you need to identify and resolve it quickly because it may be a sign of theft or another internal issue, or there may be a problem with the way you are keeping your books.

Check Your Cash Flow

Cash basis accounting gives a pretty clear snapshot of cash on hand, but if you’ve chosen accrual basis accounting, your books may show more cash on hand than you really have at the moment. This can be a problem if you need to pay a big invoice, so it’s important to run weekly or monthly cash flow reports to see the real amount of cash on hand and implement good inventory control policies.

Save & Organize Records

If there’s one bookkeeping basics for eCommerce rule you need to follow when you are starting out, it’s save everything. Good record-keeping is essential for any business, so you should save everything – receipts, invoices, statements, etc. You might just need to refresh your memory about a transaction you can’t remember, or you might need to validate your tax return for an audit.ecommerce business tips

You might notice that you are paying more than usual for a particular supply item and want to see what you paid for it in the past. You just never know, so be prepared. Here is a sample list of folders you should have in your filing cabinet for the basics of bookkeeping for eCommerce:

  • Invoices
  • Receipts
  • Other proofs of payment
  • Bank and credit card statements
  • Financial reports and statements
  • Shopify or Square revenue records
  • Cryptocurrency transactions
  • Previous tax returns
  • W-2 and 1099 forms for employees and contractors
  • Other supporting documents for income, deductions, or credits

Be sure to keep these bookkeeping documents in an area where you can easily find them.

File Sales Tax

Since the Supreme Court decision in Wayfair, Inc. v. South Dakota (2018), eCommerce retailers are subject to the sales tax requirements of each state in which they sell goods. That means that potentially, you might have to file 50 different sales tax returns monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the state. This is incredibly time-consuming for a small business and creates a lot of extra accounting overhead, which is just one of the reasons it’s generally more cost-effective to outsource your accounting and bookkeeping to a professional service like Xendoo.

Several tax documents are on a desk.

Pay Income Tax

Most businesses pay estimated quarterly income taxes and then file an annual return in April, in much the same way individuals have estimated withholding every pay period and then file a return in April. To calculate how much to pay each quarter, you’ll need to estimate your annual business income for the year. If you’ve been in business for a while this may not be too difficult, but if you’re just starting up you may need to make some careful calculations. The IRS has worksheets to help you calculate your quarterly taxes – Form 1040-ES for individuals and Form 1120-W for corporations. 

Generate Financial Statements

This may need to be done manually if you’ve opted to keep your books by hand, but generally, your accounting software will be able to generate these for you. You’ll need to go over your monthly profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and other documents. Once you have insight into all of these, you’ll be able to plan ahead to make your business more efficient. Without them, you’re flying blind. Your P&L statement can reveal several key things:

  • Administrative Expenses (too high if they are over 20% of gross revenue)
  • Cost of goods sold (should be less than 75% of gross revenue)
  • How much you can afford to reinvest in the businesses

Similarly, your balance sheet can provide you with a snapshot of your company’s total assets and liabilities, including debt and equity positions. With this information in hand, you can calculate some key ratios that a lender will look at when you apply for a loan, including:

  • Assets to Liabilities Ratio (the company’s solvency or ability to pay bills)
  • Debt to Equity Ratio (financing from creditors in relation to stockholders)
  • Asset Turnover Ratio (how efficiently you generate sales from assets)

These are the bookkeeping basics for eCommerce that you need to know before you start your online business, but to grow your business and sustain success, you’ll probably need to do more than just manage your books.

 At Xendoo, we specialize in small business accounting for eCommerce and offer a full suite of accounting and bookkeeping solutions. We can help you every step of the way with automatic bookkeeping entries, tax reporting, financial statements, and much more to keep your new business lean and mean. It’s also a lot more affordable than you probably think because Xendoo’s low flat monthly fee is less than half of what you would typically pay an hourly accountant. 

Sign up for a free trial today and see how Xendoo can help your online business grow.

This post is intended to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute as legal, business, or tax advice. Please consult your attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in our content. Xendoo assumes no liability for any actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

 

Cash Flow Management for eCommerce: 4 Tips for Smooth Sailing

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2017 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

Cash flow is a measure of your business’s liquidity and ability to pay its debts from sales revenue. Cash flow management can be one of the most challenging aspects of being an online business owner. Your business can be profitable but still have a negative cash flow because profit calculation takes into account assets like inventory that you can’t use to pay bills. 

E-commerce businesses have an edge in cash flow management by virtue of the immediacy of the transaction, but that doesn’t mean online retailers are immune to cash flow problems. The customer has to pay you before you ship the item, so that means you don’t have to deal with an accounts receivables ledger full of aging accounts. But you still have operating expenses that can deplete your bank account, and you might end up having a lot of cash tied up in inventory before being sold. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to smooth out the turbulence and keep your cash flow – and your business – on an even keel. Read on to see our cash flow management tips to keep your eCommerce business sailing smoothly. 

Minimize Inventory

If your inventory is sitting on the shelf for more than 30 days, you have too much. You can’t afford to have that much cash tied up doing nothing. Use stock-keeping units (SKUs) to track the sell-through rate for each item in your inventory. The sell-through rate is the ratio of inventory sold during the month to new inventory added. If you see that an item’s sell-through rate is too low, you need to dig deeper and find out why. Are you producing too much of it? Is demand for it falling? Maybe some of the cash tied up in that product can be shifted to a more popular item that’s selling better, or it might even need to be discontinued. Don’t be lured in by bulk discount offers from suppliers unless you know for sure the item will move quickly. The right inventory management software can help you make sense of what is going, out, coming in, and just sitting there. 

Shot of two boxes on a table about to be shipped to customers

Get Creative with Sales

At the risk of stating the obvious, one of the best ways to keep a positively manage cash flow is to get more sales from your eCommerce business. The big question, though, is how to do that. What’s the best way to drive traffic to your site and increase the conversion rate of your visitors, and maybe even do a little upselling in the process? Here are a few ideas you can try for driving website sales.

  • Offer free shipping on larger orders to encourage bigger quantities
  • Create a loyalty program for repeat customers
  • Offer Buy One, Get One (BOGO) on items with a high margin
  • Bundle high-margin products with best-selling products
  • Cross-sell by offering related add-ons at check-out
  • Offer a recurring purchase option for consumable products
  • Offer incentives to “abandoned cart” visitors
  • Use a human or automated chatbot to engage with visitors
  • Implement a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy to improve your site’s rank in search results.

If each of these strategies can increase your site’s average order by just 1 or 2%, that can quickly add up to 10% or more extra revenue coming into your bank account to help ease the cash flow. If you do go the free shipping route, make sure to read our tips on how to reduce shipping costs

Manage Your Payables

The other side of cash flow management is what’s going out to your accounts payable. You need to maximize the amount of time the cash stays in your bank account instead of going to your suppliers. When you set up contracts with suppliers, try to negotiate the terms. Standard terms will typically be 30 days, but some suppliers may be willing to go as far out as 60 or 90 days if you ask. Whatever the terms are, you should generally wait until the end of the term to make the payment so you can hang onto the cash as long as possible. Watch out for late fees, though. However, if your supplier offers discounts for early payment, they may be worth taking advantage of.

Consider an Inventory Loan

If you’ve done your best but still find yourself in a cash crunch and need to restock inventory, an inventory loan may be an easier option than a traditional bank loan. Lenders will look at more than just your credit history and will take into account your sales history and the stability of your business. Inventory loans can be either lump-sum loans or lines of credit with the bank that you can use over time. You won’t be able to finance the entire cost of your inventory, but you can expect to be able to cover around 50% of the cost through a loan.

Managing your cash flow wisely can be the difference between success and failure for your eCommerce business, even if you’re showing a profit on the books. Xendoo’s suite of products and bookkeeping services for small businesses can help you know exactly where your money is going so that you can manage it more effectively. Contact Xendoo today to start your free trial and see how we can help your small business grow.

This post is intended to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute as legal, business, or tax advice. Please consult your attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in our content. Xendoo assumes no liability for any actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

 

4 Ways for Retailers to Stay Out of the Cash Flow Black Hole

A potential pitfall for any retailer is the time gap between paying the manufacturer for the merchandise you sell and getting paid for it by the customers you sell it to. When that interval lasts too long, cash on hand becomes all too scarce. Here are four smart strategies for staying out of the hole.

Streamline your inventory.

If you have merchandise that sits on the shelf for more than 30 days, you have too much inventory. That means too much of your money is tied up on those shelves. A couple of streamlining tips:

  • Track your sell-through for each SKU, so you know which ones need to be reordered more quickly and which should be discontinued.
  • Don’t be tempted by bulk discount offers from your suppliers unless you have proof positive that those items will sell quickly.

Increase customer spending.

When your revenue per customer goes up, so does your available cash. There are many ways to encourage customers to buy more than they originally planned, including:

  • PWPs and BOGOs. “Buy this camera and get 20% off a camera bag” or “Buy 1 pair of sneakers, get another pair at 50% off.”
  • Upsell and cross-sell suggestions. “This TV has even better resolution than the one you’re looking at” or “Would you like the conditioner to go with the shampoo?”
  • Coupons for the next purchase. Include one in the shopping bag or mail/email it to customers who haven’t been in the store for a while.
  • Loyalty rewards for repeat customers. Accumulate shopping points to earn a discount.

Strategize your payables.

Shorten that gap between money going out and money coming in by waiting as long as possible to pay your supplier: 60 days, 90 days, or whatever it says in your contract.

Take advantage of early payment discounts. If you don’t know whether your supplier offers them, ask.

Consider an inventory loan.

If you’re short on cash but need to restock inventory, an inventory loan may be easier to get than a standard bank loan. That’s because lenders will look at your sales history, not just your credit score.

Paper profits may look nice, but good cash flow is the real indicator of a successful business. Being able to maintain it will improve your credibility … and your ability to take your business wherever you want it to go.

 

This post is intended to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute as legal, business, or tax advice. Please consult your attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in our content. Xendoo assumes no liability for any actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

 

Just What the Doctor Ordered: 3 cash flow tips for medical practices

You don’t need a second opinion to know that the healthcare landscape is drastically changing. Insurance companies are paying less and patients are paying more — yet many medical practices continue to run their business the same way they did five years ago.

If that’s you, it’s time to make a change.

Your practice’s cash flow is a big indicator of its overall health. Considering that…

• insurance reimbursements are plummeting

• self-pay is the number three payer behind Medicare and Medicaid

• about 68% of patients with medical bills $500 or less didn’t pay in full in 2016

…it’s time to help educate patients about their financial responsibility and use tools that keep your cash flow and A/R healthy.

Now that we’ve diagnosed the problem, here are three ways to improve your practice’s cash flow!

Train your staff

Step one is making sure your staff understands your practice’s policies, which should be clearly defined and not vary by physician. Help them understand why healthcare changes may be one reason behind patients’ unwillingness to pay and show them how to make decisions based on aging reports, not feelings.

Send invoices promptly and statements regularly

Your A/R is your practice’s largest asset, so it should be a priority. Promptly sending invoices and regular statements (sooner than 90 days overdue) helps patients get into the habit of paying on time and understand that they do owe you money.

Tweak your statements

Small changes to your patient statements can help increase the urgency to pay. Try removing the:

Aging boxes – which subtly tell patients it’s ok to wait until the last box before there’s a consequence

Amount paid box – which sends the signal that patients have the option of how much to pay

Statement date – which can be confused with the due date

And remember, even after making these changes, your staff may still make mistakes when it comes to a patient’s billing. But the sooner you correct mistakes, the sooner your patients will pay their balance.

 

This post is intended to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute as legal, business, or tax advice. Please consult your attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in our content. Xendoo assumes no liability for any actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.