Financial tips for early-stage startups from accountants who’ve seen it all
It’s easy to understand why early-stage entrepreneurs might see hiring an accountant as unnecessary. Tight profit margins, little-to-no investment and a small working staff mean even the tiniest expense can make or break a company. However, an accountant’s job is about more than just filing taxes and crunching numbers.
A dedicated accountant is like a year-round business partner. It’s a lifeline for entrepreneurs during the bad times and reassuring one during the good ones. Considering almost half of all new businesses fail in their first year, bringing on experienced financial assistance is less of a luxury and more of a necessity.
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David Silber, a Senior Tax Manager at Crowe Soberman, has spent the last seven years working with investors, startups and small businesses across Canada. He’s seen how easy it can be for entrepreneurs to mismanage their company into trouble and out of a money.
“Entrepreneurs are very good at looking at the big picture,” Silber explains. “However, they can lose sight of the fact that there are some financial reporting and obligations that go along with running a business that they can’t afford to ignore.”
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Mac Killoran, a partner at Fruitman Kates LLP, agrees. Startups tend to ignore how crucial professional planning is and don’t always understand why it sets them up for success down the road, he says. “I would say entrepreneurs for the most part try to reduce upfront costs and not pay professionals. When they do it on their own, it often results in penalties and larger headaches resolving the issues with CRA.”
Find resources you can afford
In a perfect world, every entrepreneur should have enough money set aside to pay a professional bookkeeper. But, since reality rarely works out as planned, a smart backup plan is to consider online accounting tools, like QuickBooks.
This helps businesses stay on top of their financial responsibilities in the interim, so they don’t rely on faulty memory or overworked staff.
If you can’t afford an accountant, online software will help you track expenses and payroll
It’s also important to separate personal and business expenses from the very beginning when starting a business. Founders that commingle the two can end up costing themselves money or garnering unwanted attention from the Canada Revenue Agency.
“If you can borrow money from your corporation, even unintentionally, there’s a rule in place that if that debt isn’t repaid within one year the money is added to your income and gets taxed the following year,” he explains. “Just don’t do it.”
Paying yourself a salary
Whether or not you should draw a salary during your startup’s early years is a question
that has plagued even the most frugal founders. Should company leaders pay themselves a salary when bootstrapping or focus on reinvesting that money? The answer, like everything in business, is complicated.
According to the experts, it all depends on a company’s future goals and cash flow. For Silber, he suggests entrepreneurs first recognize what their priorities are and then decide whether drawing a salary hurts or helps in the long run. A good compensation plan may be to pay a mix of salary and dividends.
Not taking a salary while bootstrapping your company isn’t always the smartest thing to do
Startups that pay into a dividend benefit in two ways. First: They lower their tax bracket so they pay less tax at the end of the year. Second: Later, when their business is doing well they’re not bumped up to a higher tax range. “What I do is tell entrepreneurs to pay a dividend of $30,000 or $40,000 for their salary, which results in less tax,” explains Killoran.
The future is up to you
The world of business is tough.
The hard truth is that every year hundreds of startups across the country shut down and
close up shop. It makes sense for entrepreneurs to use every tool they have at their disposal to tilt the odds in their favour. It might just be that an accountant’s experience and money knowhow may be the one factor that helps
their company thrive and survive in today’s cut-throat economy.
Looking to boost your money knowledge? Check out our previous post about the best money podcasts to listen to online.