This post is for all of those starting a business with the intent to do everything, or nearly everything, yourself (legal, bookkeeping, etc.) to keep costs down.
There’s a few steps to this, including finding an accountant that will do your year-end books using an online bookkeeping system and ensuring your know the right steps and tricks for filing your sales taxes (GST-HST in Nova Scotia), Income taxes, and Payroll.
Bookkeeping & Accountants
I’ve used two online accounting systems before, both of which have worked very well for my small businesses:
- Wave Accounting is a free expense tracking tool that will pull in all your transactions from your bank account(s). The software is a bit slow to load reports and transaction lists, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to categorize everything automatically (at least from RBC accounts), but hey, at least it’s free!
- Less Accounting costs quite a bit more, but it’s also super fast and makes reconciling your accounts really really simple. It also learns from your categorizations and auto-categorizes about 90% of transactions (from Scotiabank) successfully. I’d recommend paying the money if you want to simplify your bookkeeping as much as possible.
The accountants we use in Halifax are called Swain and Associates. They’ve got great year-end book preparation and income tax filing services at a great price, but we always encourage looking in to alternative options. We found it difficult to find accountants that are willing to log in to online systems, rather than those which require the use of specific software for bookkeeping, but these guys had no problem doing it.
If you’re a partnership or sole proprietorship, then you can avoid paying the accounting fees and use the TurboTax Online service to file your taxes. It makes the whole process super easy, excluding only the amortization parts — that part will require close reading of the CRA website on which class to apply to each equipment purchase.
There’s certainly no harm in using an accountant — typical fees will be around the $500 mark to create and submit your small business (non-incorporated) return. Comparatively TurboTax is around $50 – 80 depending on sales.
The CRA and filing anything
If there’s anything we’ve discovered about the CRA it’s that almost nothing is well written in a clear “this is exactly what you need to do” manner. Aside from at least skimming all the resources available on their website, here’s a few details we found incredibly helpful that weren’t made obvious to us.
GST-HST: The quick method
Unless you’re doing a ton of purchasing of Canadian taxed goods that you can use as input tax credits (none of my businesses are) or making too much to use it, you should apply to use the Quick method of accounting. Rather than having to gather all your purchase receipts every month (or quarter, depending on when your remittances are) and calculate how much you’ve paid others in sales taxes then use that number against the amount you’ve collected from customers, you can simply remit a fixed rate. No need to collect receipts and add things up manually.
For example, in Nova Scotia you collect 15% HST and remit 10% where the 5% difference is kept in the business in lieu of not having input tax credits. This makes remitting your HST to the CRA much simpler than the standard method. Details on your precise remittance rate can be found on the CRA website — search for the quick method of accounting.
When filing, you must file using netfile and then remit payment either using My Payment or your bank’s tax payment service.
Corporate Income Tax
When filing your corporate income tax instalments you only need to remit payment, there’s no official assessment/filing completed until the end of year. You can use an online tax calculator to calculate your percentage to remit from each payment, then simply pay the difference, or get the difference back at the end of the year.
Bank Accounts / Credit Cards
We’ve done the research time and time again and as of Mar 2018 there were still two clear winners for which bank accounts to choose:
- RBC Small Business eAccount: I haven’t always had the best of experiences with RBC. Sometimes their staff are super cranky and they can’t do anything online… it’s always appointment this and appointment that. Then when it comes time to set up access cards half the time they don’t work until weeks later. But, they are the only bank in Canada with a no-fee account. All electronic transactions are free. That’s pretty awesome. If you don’t require a complete cheque book, and even if you’re depositing thousands of dollars worth of cash each month, this account will save you tons.
- Scotiabank Basic Banking: This is a good account for banking where you’re not doing most e-Transactions. But it’s also not that much different from most other bank’s offerings, so you should compare it directly to the bank you’ve been using for personal accounts; it may just end up simpler to work with the familiar.
If you’re just starting out, or only one of your partners has good credit, then you may not be able to get a small business credit card. In these instances you can simply use a personal card, but make sure that you have primary access to the biz bank account so you can always pay that off first. Also make sure you use a dedicated personal card for this; never share one card for personal and business as it will make separating the transactions a serious pain in the ass. This is especially true when you want all of your transactions to be auto-imported into your accounting software of choice.
Don’t waste money on a dedicated business line in your house. Simply set up a second line service like RingCentral or use the “Hushed” app. These setups cost no more than $150 / year and can most definitely help keep costs down.
Generally speaking if you’re not a good notetaker, it’s best to avoid communicating on the phone whenever possible. This is because your clients want you to be accountable for everything you’ve discussed, yet you might not have good quality notes or you might have interpreted what they are saying incorrectly, thus resulting in a sub-par experience for the client. Try to push all clients to email communication and interpret their messages with a neutral tone as much as you can. This way you can be sure to get the full factual account of what they want without the tone-bias.
Doing this will also help free up your time to spend on more prospecting or more real-work on whatever your business is all about. This is because telephone calls and meetings generally waste time.
Share an email account or use a CRM. It’s not a bad idea to set up a single account like firstname.lastname@example.org and share it with your partners when you’re first getting started, but you will eventually need/want to move away from that configuration. Firstly it’s impersonal for your clients to communicate with an “info” account, and second it’s dead-simple for threads/conversations to get split or lost. Instead, use a CRM that pulls in all emails. There are some great options for this like SuiteCRM, SugarCRM, or Highrise HQ.
They all support contact managment, client notes, prospecting systems and more, which make them well worth the learning curve as they will ensure you stay on top of follow-ups and don’t cross wires when communicating with your clients.
The more you can push people to using email to communicate with you, the less of a requirement there will be on you being a slave to your phone. Yes you can still email with your phone, but if you set up your notifications right or practice self control, you can choose when to look and reply to messages on your schedule, as that’s the standard expected behaviour (for most people) when it comes to email. I definitely can’t say the same about telephone calls.
Email also has the benefit of being easily splittable. In a couple years when your business gets to be too much for your to handle, you can easily assign emailed tasks/requests to others on your team. Doing so with telephone calls is considerably more difficult.
I really hope that these tips will help you in getting started with your small business. They were things that I had to learn on the fly when starting Websavers in the mid-2000’s and while some of these practices have gotten easier over time, they’re still occasionally difficult to stick to. I assure you, in the long-run you will be thanking your past self if you take these practices into account.
Have any questions? Hit me up in the comments below.