How to do small business accounts

Covering everything from legal requirements to what records to keep, our expert guide will explain how to tackle your accounts without losing your mind.

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As the turn of the tax year approaches in April 2024, now is the time to learn how to do your small business accounts professionally. Whether you choose to hire an accountant or manage your own accounts with quality accounting software, it’s vital to know how the whole process works so you can keep good records throughout the year, keep a close eye on your cash flow forecast, and even potentially cut down the hours your accountant bills you.

That’s where we come in. This guide will explain what you need to know about small company accounts, including what you absolutely have to do to satisfy HMRC and Companies House, and the best way to keep records of the specific information they’ll need every year.

You’ll learn exactly how to prepare for the entire process, and what to ask your accountant when it’s done.

What is a small business according to HMRC?

According to the official government guidance on small and dormant companies, to be considered a small company, a company has to tick two of the following three boxes:

  • Have an annual turnover of £10.2m or less
  • Have 50 employees or less
  • Have £5.1m or less on its balance sheet

What’s the difference between small business accounting and bookkeeping?

Small business accounting and bookkeeping are closely related but distinct financial processes that play vital roles in managing a company’s finances.

Bookkeeping involves recording your daily financial transactions, maintaining accurate records, categorising the transactions, and ensuring that all financial data is organised.

Accounting goes beyond bookkeeping, and encompasses the full interpretation and analysis of this financial data to provide insights into a company’s financial health. Accountants use the information prepared by bookkeepers to generate statements, such as profit and loss and balance sheets. They also offer strategic financial advice, help with tax planning, and can provide a deeper understanding of a company’s overall financial performance.

In summary, while bookkeeping is primarily concerned with recording financial data accurately, accounting involves using that data to make informed financial decisions and meet regulatory requirements.

Best small business accounting software of 2024

The cliched image of accounts season is people running around like headless chickens in a desperate search for vital bits of paper.

Any small business owner wanting to save themselves such deranged scenes should look to use accounting software instead. The best accounting software for small businesses can digitally create and store purchase orders, invoices, quotes, and anything else produced by the business. Some of the top-end plans have even added extra features like cash flow forecasts and tax bill estimates, so you’re bound to find one that suits your needs.

If you’re worried about the cost of accounting software, it’s worth knowing that it can be free – take a look at our list of the best free accounting software if you’re on a tight budget, but be aware that these options won’t be as sophisticated as their paid counterparts.

To learn more about how the top contenders stack up in terms of cost, features, ease of use and customer support, you can check out the table below or use our handy 🔍free cost comparison tool. Answer a few questions about your needs, and we’ll match you up with the right accounting software providers for you. They’ll be in touch directly with personalised quotes for you to compare, and answers to your questions.

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Clear Books

Zoho Books

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£15 per month (excl. VAT)

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£13.00/mo £6.50/mo *first 3 months (excl. VAT)

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Free, or £10 per month (excl. VAT)

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Can I prepare my own limited company accounts?

There’s nothing to stop you preparing and filing your own accounts using accounting software. All you need to do from a legal perspective is make sure that the accounting software you’re using is Making Tax Digital (MTD) compliant.

Making Tax Digital for VAT, which was introduced in April 2019, requires all VAT-registered businesses – including those that are voluntarily registered – to store their VAT accounting records digitally, using HMRC-recognised accounting software. QuickBooks and FreshBooks, for example, are both MTD-compliant.

If you’re self-employed, you need to be aware of the Making Tax Digital for Income Tax scheme instead, which is set to be introduced from April 2026. It requires self-employed people with a gross income of more than £30,000 per year to use compatible accounting software that can submit quarterly income and expenses reports to HMRC, and also submit ‘end of period statements’ at the end of the financial year to replace Self Assessment tax returns. QuickBooks is already compliant with MTD for Income Tax as well as MTD for VAT.

HMRC is still deciding what will be required of self-employed people making less than £30,000 per year, which may be more relevant to you.

For day-to-day operations, it’s not mandatory to have an accountant if you’re using accounting software, but their expertise can be incredibly beneficial.

Barry Cumberlidge, Client Director at small business accounting specialists Moose, strongly backs up this view:

“You can prepare and submit your own company accounts, but a tiny minority choose this option as the software available to do this is limited. It would only be advisable if you’re a qualified accountant, but even in these circumstances, they tend to employ Moose to file on their behalf.”

Businesses should view this as an opportunity rather than a financial burden. Cumberlidge identifies three areas in which accountants can really help small businesses:

  • Incorporation – If you are starting a business with a colleague, an accountant can help ensure the right structure and associated agreements are in place. They can also, as Cumberlidge puts it, “assist in asking the founders the tough governance questions”.
  • Investment – For any company looking for investment, having neat and tidy books to show prospective investors is really important. Additionally, an accountant can help you apply for funding through the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and/or the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), which offer tax relief to individuals that invest in your company.
  • Tax savings – This is the crucial benefit for most companies. Using an accountant will ensure that you are claiming all of the costs you can and utilising all capital allowances, meaning you pay less tax. They can also help you with applying for R&D tax credits, which can provide a handy cash injection for eligible businesses.

Finally, Cumberlidge discusses how he works with its clients, and emphasises how accounting software makes the whole process much quicker and easier:

“We normally work with the company on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly basis with an accounting tool such as Xero, Quickbooks or Freeagent (we have a preference for Xero), which means the collation of data is expedited compared to 10 to 15 years ago.

“Utilising the information from these tools, we then pull the data into our practice management software, and prepare the statutory accounts format for review by the client.”

How do I plan my annual accounts?

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. As clichéd as this may be, it’s not a bad motto for life, and it’s definitely how you should approach accounts season.

Keeping track

To avoid tearing your hair out looking for vital bits of paper later, it’s important to keep proper records during the year. You need to easily be able to get hold of your sales receipts, or payment invoices, or your tax returns. And this doesn’t just make a big difference when you’re putting together your end of year accounts – keeping on top of this stuff while you run your business will mean you have much better knowledge of the money coming in and going out.

Take control with accounting software

Using accounting software makes this much easier – you’ll be able to create invoices, quotes, estimates, and almost all the other business documents that you might need on the go. What’s more, everything is stored in the cloud, meaning that it’s always at your fingertips whichever device you’re working on. There are loads of different options out there so it’s easy to find one that fits your company, and some of the more comprehensive plans will even estimate your tax bill as you progress through the year. To get started, check out our quick guide to the best small business accounting software.

Decide a plan of action

When it comes to actually putting together your end of year accounts, you first need to decide just how much work you want to do yourself. You will almost certainly have to use an accountant at some point, but keeping accurate records (as discussed above) will reduce their workload (and billable hours). Once again, accounting software can really come in handy here – many plans allow you to give access to your accountant, so they can easily access the records they need.

Expert insight

Once you’ve hired an accountant, remember to view them as a useful resource, rather than a necessary evil. For example, make sure to ask how you could reduce your tax bill before the end of your financial year – for example, you can sometimes make significant tax savings by bringing forward certain expenditure to reduce your company’s profit in that financial year.

Looking ahead

Just as importantly, once the end of year accounts have been submitted, it’s a great idea to book a closing meeting with your accountants in order to identify areas for improvement over the coming year. For example, you could ask their opinion on whether you should upgrade your accounting software (or how it could help your business if you’re not using it), or how you can manage your creditors more effectively. You can also get expert insight into how you can control costs, make tax savings, and manage your business’s cashflow more effectively.

What accounting records do I need to keep (and for how long)?

Generally speaking, when you’re running a small business, it’s a pretty good idea to keep a record of almost everything that happens in your business. Accounting software makes this much easier – all your documents and data are stored in the cloud, meaning it’s basically impossible to lose them, and they don’t take up any space in your office.

The key accounting records you are legally required to keep include:

  • Income and expenditure records – You need a record of when and how your business spends and makes money, so make sure to keep records of all sales and purchase receipts, cheque books, and up-to-date bank statements.
  • Unsold stock and uncompleted work at year end – These are known as ‘floating assets’, and are really important for service businesses who often have a lot of work in progress that cannot be counted as a fixed asset (see below).
  • A register of fixed assets – This is a list of the equipment and property your company owns, including the value of each piece and other important information. It does not include stock, which would come under the ‘floating assets’ discussed above.
  • A record of company liabilities – Liabilities are essentially things your company owes, so this should be an accurate and complete record of any debt or investment your company has taken on.
  • Staff payroll information – HMRC keeps a particularly close eye on payroll and expenses matters, so make sure you keep accurate records of who’s been paid what and who’s claimed expenses for what.
How long should I keep company records?

Thankfully, the answer to this one is nice and straightforward: you should keep company records for six years.

This is according to the official page on running a limited company, which also states that six years is the minimum, and records must be kept for longer if:

  • The records show a transaction that covers more than one of the company’s accounting periods (i.e. more than one financial year)
  • They relate to a company asset that is expected to last more than six years, such as equipment or machinery
  • The Company Tax Return was sent late
  • HMRC has started a compliance check into the Company Tax Return

How should I keep payroll and expenses records?

Few things are more important in business than getting your payroll right – your employees won’t stay happy and productive for long if you’re not paying them correctly, and it’s your legal responsibility to ensure things like the correct National Insurance (NI) contributions are paid by everyone working in your business.

Payroll service providers and accounting software can make a huge difference here to help you work out payments and deductions. Many plans also offer a complete outsourced payroll service as an additional paid add-on.

As for expenses, the key is to ensure that you have a universal system in place for all claims, and that a record is kept for each claim. The simplest way to do this is to draft a standard expenses form, and require employees to attach receipts.

Expenses are another area where there’s some complexity when it comes to tax. Basically, most expenses incurred personally by company employees are exempt from tax, and don’t need to be reported as long as certain criteria are met. However, other expenses – like company cars or private healthcare – do need to be specifically accounted for using the (notoriously tricky) form P11D.

For more information on this, speak to your accountant, check out the page on expenses and benefits for employers.

How do I keep records of my business’ sales and purchases?

Something that stresses out lots of small business owners is the best way to keep records of the sales and purchases made by their business.

Here are a few handy tips that should make this quicker and easier, saving you time and stress later on.

Use unique invoice numbers for different products/services

Make sure that you mark all sales or purchases of a particular product or service with a particular invoice number, so you can easily pull up all the sales/purchases of that product or service. Someone running a clothing business might for example use 1234 for sales of white t-shirts, and 4321 for sales of black t-shirts – allowing them to easily access records of each.

List your outstanding debtors at year end

An “outstanding debtor” is a person or company that owes your business money, most often customers who have bought a good or service but not yet paid for it. It’s really important to keep track of these, so make sure you keep an accurate list. You should also ensure that this list includes the unique invoice numbers for each transaction, the payment due date, the amount owed, and the name of the customer.

Also, if you are reasonably certain that a particular invoice won’t be paid (if the company that bought from you has since gone out of business, for example), then mark it as a potential bad debt and explain why. Doing this means your accountant may write it off as a ‘bad’ or ‘doubtful’ debt, which means it could count as an allowable business expense.

List your outstanding creditors at year end

An “outstanding creditor” is a person or company that your business owes money to, and it’s obviously rather important to keep track of these too. The process is the same as for outstanding debtors – make a list that includes the unique invoice numbers for each transaction, along with the payment due date, the name of the supplier, and the amount you owe.

Again, if you don’t expect to pay for a particular purchase (if you received damaged goods, for example), then make a note of this and explain why.

List debtors and creditors by date

This may be simply common sense, but make sure to order these lists with the oldest debts first – this will help you analyse which debts are likely to go bad, and helps you work out which creditors you should pay first and which debtors you should be chasing up.

Statutory year end accounts: what are they, and how are they different?

Statutory year end accounts – often known as ‘financial statements’, to differentiate them from the normal accounts you use to run your business – differ in two main ways from the company accounts you send to HMRC with your corporation tax return.

Firstly, these financial statements are sent (or, more accurately, submitted electronically) to Companies House. Their purpose is to give an overview of your company to anyone searching the Companies House register – in other words, they demonstrate the reliability and solvency of your company. You also must give a copy to any shareholders in your business.

Financial statements also have a different deadline to accounts sent to HMRC – they must be submitted within nine months of the end of your company’s financial year.

There’s also one other difference – any company that satisfies the “small company” criteria set out by HMRC (see above) only has to submit an abridged financial statement (but must still send full accounts to HMRC). If you fulfil this requirement, all that’s needed is a balance sheet signed by a named director.

Everyone else, though, will need to submit full accounts. This brings us nicely onto:

What do I need to include in my statutory year end accounts?

To start with, you’ll need a director’s report. This is, as you’d expect, a statement written by the company directors which gives an overview of how the business is doing. It should include a summary of how the business performed throughout the year, as well as the directors’ view of its current state, and how they expect it to perform in the future.

There are two other vital documents that must be included:

  •  A balance sheet – this is a record of the total sum (i.e. the financial value) of the company’s assets (the things it owns) and liabilities (the things it owes) at the end of the accounting period (your financial year).
  • A profit and loss sheet – this should give a summary of your income and expenses over the previous accounting period, including records of your sales, expenses, tax calculations, and – crucially – the total amount of profit or loss over the period.

The key difference between these two is that the balance sheet gives a snapshot of your business at a particular time, while the profit and loss sheet explains how your company performed over the entire financial year.

Finally, it’s a good idea to also include explanatory notes that add further detail to the balance/profit and loss sheets, so that the figures are given proper context.

QuickBooks accounting software

We recommend keeping records of your business’s sales and purchases with online accounting software. QuickBooks is our top pick, offering everything a small business owner might need to keep on top of their finances.

QuickBooks is currently the winner when it comes to the best accounting software for small businesses right now overall, AND for best self-employed accounting software. So definitely worth checking out!

How do I keep records of stock and uncompleted work?

When you’re running a small business, it can be hard to know what the line is between a completed and uncompleted sale – a crucial difference when it comes to your year-end accounts. The key is to be aware of the cut-off.

Generally speaking, there are two key rules:

Firstly, if a purchase has arrived but you have not been invoiced, you include the cost in your accounts.

Secondly, if you have invoiced but not delivered stock, exclude the items from your stocktake (see below) – the sale will already appear in your accounts.

With these principles in mind, you should complete a three-stage process when it comes to accurately calculating stock levels for your year-end accounts.

1. Perform a stocktake

A stocktake just means literally physically counting all the stock your business holds, so you can then value it.

In order to minimise disruption, you should plan for this process in advance – making sure no new stock comes in on stocktake day, for example, will make things much easier, and you can speed up the process by setting aside stock of the same type so it’s easier to count.

If you have employees, it’s crucial to have a standard stocktaking procedure in writing, so that everyone is on the same page.

2. Calculate the total value of your stock

Now you know exactly how much stock you have; the next step is to work out how much it’s worth.

Remember that, for tax purposes, you want this value to be as low as possible, so either use the cost you paid for the goods or the price you expect to sell them for – whichever is lower.

Match the descriptions and names of your goods to the ones used in suppliers’ brochures or price lists, so everything tallies up and there’s no confusion. Old, damaged, or unfinished goods should have a corresponding depreciation in recorded value – a fancy and complicated way of saying that if a piece of work is 25% unfinished, then its value is 75% of the value it would have when it’s finished.

3. Use the percentage of completion method to calculate the value of unfinished projects

As mentioned above, this is much less complex and technical than it sounds.

What it means is that, to work out the value of unfinished projects, you work out how much of the project has been completed, and then use that as a percentage of the total completed value.

So, if you’ve completed 50% of the project, then the value would be 50% of the finished value in your year end accounts.

To work out your percentage completion, use time records, costs, or diaries (so make sure these are kept up to date as you work).

How do I keep records of fixed assets?

A fixed asset is something that your business will have for a long period of time (as opposed to stock), such as property (e.g., your business premises), vehicles (a company car or van), and IT equipment (computers, laptops etc.). Supplying accurate records of these is a crucial part of the year end accounts process.

To get started, make a list of all your fixed assets, making sure to record the following information on each:

  • Type of asset – property, vehicles, IT equipment etc.
  • Purchase date
  • Purchase price
  • Asset description
  • Asset location
  • Other information (such as vendor contact details for IT equipment)

You should also keep a record of assets disposed of or sold during the previous year.

Needless to say, holding on to proofs of purchase is really important when you’re running a business, so make sure you file invoices and receipts in a safe place.

So far, so straightforward. However, you need to account for depreciation, and here’s where things get a bit more technical.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: depreciation refers to the way things you buy (assets) lose value as you use them. A common example is the way a new car loses some of its value as soon as you drive it off the forecourt.

This also applies to any fixed assets owned by your business, and you’ll need to account for this in your year end accounts. Make sure to ask your accountant what they think the best strategy would be for your company.

How this affects your tax bill is another complex area. Because different companies use different assets for different periods of time, it wouldn’t be fair to simply allow companies to apply set rates of depreciation to offset their tax bill.

Instead, fixed assets are governed by capital allowances, which essentially means that you can subtract some or all of the value of the asset from your profits before you pay tax. This works differently for different types of assets – for more information, see the page on claiming capital allowances.

Legal requirements for end of year accounts

A vital part of small business bookkeeping is knowing what you have to submit and when, so here’s the lowdown.

As you’d imagine, this is hugely important for any company – HMRC uses your accounts to check your tax calculations, so not doing so (or submitting late) can have all sorts of nasty consequences.

The law also requires you to:

  • File statutory accounts with Companies House within nine months of the end of your company’s financial year, while keeping detailed accounting records

If you qualify as a small company in the eyes of HMRC (see below), then you can submit abridged accounts to Companies House and don’t need to be audited.

You will, however, still need to submit more comprehensive accounts to HMRC – it’s only your statutory accounts that can be abridged.

Final thoughts

As you can tell, there’s a lot that goes into preparing and submitting your company’s end of year accounts.

However, if you want the quick version, here are the three golden rules:

  • Use accounting software – Accounting software makes it much easier to keep track of everything your business is doing, plus all your data is stored in the cloud, so you can access it wherever you are. Quickbooks is our top pick for small businesses, as its single-user tiers are great value, offering a tremendous depth of features. Quickbooks starts at £10 a month, but it’s currently offering three months completely free to help you get a head-start on tax season in April.
  • Hire an accountant – Yes, it’s an added expense, but doing it on your own just isn’t a realistic option. Remember they’re a resource and not just a financial burden, so make sure they check you’re doing everything you can to lower your tax bill, and ask if they have any recommendations on how you could run your business more efficiently.
  • Keep records – Your accounts shouldn’t just be something you think about at the end of your financial year, but should be baked into how you run your business. Make sure you always keep organised, accurate records, and putting together your annual accounts will be much easier.

This guide should give you a good grounding in the basics, but there are loads more resources out there if you need more help. If you’re struggling to understand certain concepts then there are specialised guides available, while if you want to know what is the best option for your business, then the best option is to discuss it with your accountant.

There’s no doubt that year end accounts are intimidating, especially for small businesses with little experience in this area. However, a bit of planning and research now, before the new tax year begins in April 2024, will make things go much more smoothly and save you no end of stress at the end of your financial year.

Good luck!

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What does basic accounting for a small business involve?
    Basic accounting for a small business involves tasks like recording income and expenses, maintaining financial records, and preparing for tax obligations.
  • Is it worth getting an accountant for my small business?
    It's often worth getting an accountant for your small business to ensure accurate financial management, compliance with tax laws, and strategic financial planning.
  • Can anyone do accounting for a small business?
    While anyone can technically do accounting for a small business, it's advisable to have someone with relevant knowledge and expertise to avoid costly errors and maximise financial efficiency. is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps to provide free reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.
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