Who likes doing their admin? Not many people and for those running small businesses it can be more than merely time-consuming. It can be crippling. As part of a report we carried out on business and accounting admin, we looked at how small businesses are affected by it.
We spoke to people who run them to find out exactly how much their workload was impacted by tax and accounting admin tasks, among other administration issues. Here’s what two of them said:
Sarah Burns, Prizeology: “The day-to-day running of the accounts is all down to me. It is the biggest drain on my resources without a shadow of a doubt. Yesterday is a good example. I always spend Sunday with my family but I spent three hours catching up on invoicing and doing month-end calculations. And it’s still not done!”
Tara Punter, Tara Punter PR: “I had rent to pay, tax, insurance payments, all my bills – they still go out whether my invoices are paid or not… I never knew when money was coming in. It was just the most stressful time of my life. It got to a point where a client hadn’t paid me a single penny for six months.”
Solutions to tackle business and accounting admin
Sound familiar? Our research found that in the UK, more than a third of the total time spent on admin revolves around accountancy tasks (including tax). Another third is spent processing payments, including issuing and chasing invoices.
This sheer quantity of admin overload can be a profound shock for anybody who’s started a business to follow a passion. It can stall growth and even destroy a business if things such as regulatory concerns aren’t addressed, including correctly paying tax on time.
Let’s take a look at the solutions traditionally suggested to help solve admin headaches:
Better time management
Improving time management is certainly worth the effort for any businessperson, if only from a personal efficiency perspective. Setting aside a set number of minutes each day to deal with invoices, for example, is likely to create a healthier cash flow situation if payment collection is something you struggle with.
Deciding on a set number of minutes for a given task can also help ensure you complete it too. Similarly, identifying regulatory crunch times – such as year-end accounting or quarterly VAT requirements – and ensuring you reserve a space in the calendar can stop them biting you.
However, the issue with time management is that you’re not altering or lessening the admin workload. All you’re really doing is being better organised in your approach to it.
Getting somebody else to do the work is certainly sensible but can be far from the panacea that it’s often identified as by management consultants and the like. Some tasks are also better suited for outsourcing than others, and with the rise of technology (see below) outsourcing is also evolving to become less of a black and white solution and more of a way of augmenting work you might already do.
However, for some tasks – such as the development of your website, marketing requirements, and having emails or phone calls answered via a virtual assistant – outsourcing is certainly worth considering.
As is often pointed out, outsourcing is a way of paying money in order to buy back time but the level of investment must always be measured against results.
A sad truth is that one of the biggest complaints with outsourcing is poor quality results. Because of this, administering outsourcing for a smaller business can often become a job in itself, thereby defeating the purpose.
The third revolution
But there is a better solution and it’s one that’s accessible literally everywhere you look. We might call it third computing revolution. It follows the earlier desktop computing revolution in the 1980s and the internet revolution of the 1990s.
The third computing revolution revolves around mobile apps and the internet – the same kind of technology you might already use in your personal life. Who among us doesn’t use social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, or email services such as Gmail and Outlook?
These aren’t tied to desktop computers, like in the old days, and most of us access them on our mobile phones.
Well, this same technology is empowering businesses by providing solutions to admin headaches and making it as easy as possible to take care of tasks such as accounting.
Rather than poring over paperwork and receipts to create your VAT return, using technology means you can collate the data as it’s generated and then file your return with HMRC with a single click, as just one example.
Just as you might access Facebook or Gmail wherever you are, or indeed at any time you want, you can access your financial dashboard or list of invoices at any time or place – from a coffee shop or on the train home from the office (and that’s if you even need an actual office when technology such as this lets you work anywhere – an intriguing thought). But how do you get started?
Get up to speed with the necessary tech
Getting the technology
Well, the good news is right here up front. You almost certainly already have what you need if you use a reasonably modern smartphone such as an Apple or Android device.
Similarly, there’s no requirement for a hugely powerful desktop or laptop computer because these services leverage the power of the internet to offload the hard work and storage. If the computer can browse the web without breaking a sweat then it’s good enough.
How to access the services
For many of these services all you need do is login to a website on your phone or tablet – and this is the same website that you also login to on a desktop or laptop computer.
Sometimes there are dedicated apps for mobile phones and tablets, or you might find there are add-on apps to help with certain services. An accounting service, for example, might provide apps to help log expenditure while you’re out and about.
Finding the service for you
A handful of websites exist to help businesses find the right tools. Examples include Capterra and G2crowd. These carry user reviews of apps and services that can help you decide which to choose. Review sites such as TrustPilot and Sitejabber also provide user opinions on services.
Sometimes the best way of finding a suitable app is to jump straight into the app store itself and search like you would when trying to find any other kind of app, such as a game. Again, you’ll see a handful of reviews, which can be useful for guidance.
Personal recommendations are obviously useful, particularly if they’re from a business of the same size or type as yours.
However, here’s perhaps the best bit of advice, and it’s something that’s arisen because of an increasingly sophisticated world of apps: look for those that can grow with your business, or perhaps a suite of apps that share the same data so that you can switch seamlessly to a more powerful service as your needs demand.
This doesn’t require crystal ball gazing. It just requires pragmatic common sense. You might not need an HR app right now in your business, for example, but if the accounting solution you’re considering offers that as a future add-in option then that can only be a good thing.
Getting your data from one rival app or service and into another often isn’t that difficult but it does take time and know-how – and that’s unlikely to be time you can spare at that particular moment when you need the new app.
The world of apps and services for businesses is evolving and the old world of a disconnected universe in which one-off apps and services simply don’t communicate outside of their own little worlds is starting to creak and groan as it struggles to provide what businesses need.
Ensuring you make a good choice first time can make for benefits that stay with your business and grow with it too.
How are you dealing with your accounting admin? Let us know in the comments below.
Reduce admin and boost productivity
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