Cashflow capers – bookkeeping for beginners

This week’s perilous ascent on the steep slope of small business start-up has found me slack-jawed and stupefied, and all because of business bookkeeping.

But let’s make one thing clear right from the start. Yes, I was pretty crap at maths at school – trigonometry and algebra left me deeply disinterested and disaffected. But I was good at arithmetic. I’m not a total dunce when it comes to adding up columns of figures, I’m adept at long division, and can even work out that income and expenditure must more or less balance if you want to have any hope of putting food on the table. So, you’d think I’d be able to get my head around the business of  bookkeeping. Surely it shouldn’t be that difficult to create a list of what’s coming in and one for what’s going out?

But for the first time since Mr. McKinley’s 3rd year maths class at Hillhead High school (circa 1978), I found myself overhwhelmed with a deep sense of arithmetical disaffection. When faced with the reality of having to do the sums for myself, I reverted right back to that adolescent moody maths refusenik. And it’s not like the sums are actually difficult or anything. I don’t need a brain the size of Archimedes’ or John Nash’s – I’m a sole trader for goodness sake, not a FTSE listed multinational with numerous staff on the creative, and offshore, accountancy payroll.

After a few days of chewing my pencil and gazing out of the window wishing the bell would ring, it has slowly dawned on me that it’s not the sums that have been making me procrastinate for Scotland, it’s the words! Because, for someone like me, someone who’s spent their whole working career dealing with the wizardry of words, starting my small business bookkeeping has been a bit like arriving in Turkmenistan without a single word of the local lingo. What might seem screamingly obvious to the more numerate amongst us – cashflow forecasting, profit and loss, income and expenditure, receipts and payments, balance sheets, Xero, Sage and Excel – was plain gobbledegook to this lady of letters.

And that was partly because everyone who’s proffered bookkeeping help and advice to this numpty newbie has spoken a slightly different version of the foreign language of finance. So in classic teenage style, I just glazed over and stopped listening.

It just goes to show, book-keepers, financial advisers and accountants need skills with words as well as numbers, if they want to make themselves understood, that is. The number-crunchers are essential to keep the financial wheels of commerce turning, but I reckon it’s up to small businesses like mine to train service specialists to junk the jargon in favour of clear communication.

As it is, the mathematical mist is clearing, and I have begun to see exactly what  I need to do to reach the bottom line. Now, pass that rubber, I’ve made a mistake in the expenses column…