How to Read Your Balance Sheet

The Balance Sheet is an important report in your business’s financial statements.  Most small business owners are unsure of what all of the numbers mean on this report, so let’s see if we can shed some light on what they mean.

A Summary of Balances

One big characteristic of a balance sheet is that it represents one date in time, for example, 12/31/2014.  The numbers represent balances, and since the balances change daily, a balance sheet only represents one point in time versus a range.

Three Parts

There are only three parts to a balance sheet, and the easiest part to understand is the assets, or what you own.  Most balance sheets start off with cash balances, and these typically represent what you have in the bank less any uncashed checks that could reduce your account once they come in.

If customers owe you money that you have invoiced but not collected, you might see an Accounts Receivable balance on your balance sheet.

If you sell products, the cost of all of them that you haven’t sold yet and that you may have stored in a warehouse is in the Inventory account.

If you own equipment, furniture, cars or trucks or something similar that lasts for years, you will have a balance in Fixed Assets for what you paid for these items.   If it’s been a while since you’ve owned them, you may have a Depreciation account, and when you net the two, your Fixed Asset values are reduced.

All of the above are assets and they are listed in the first section of a balance sheet.

What You Owe

If you owe money for taxes, to vendors, or to employees, then it will show in the Liabilities section which is the second of three major sections of a balance sheet.  Day to day unpaid bills are in an account called Accounts Payable.

If you have bank loans, they usually each have a separate account like a bank account does.   Each bank loan account represents the principal due on a loan (the interest you pay goes to another place).


The final section of the balance sheet is Owner’s Equity.  It is the section that will vary the most depending on the type of entity your business is set up as.  For example, if your business is a corporation, then there will be a common stock account which will represent the original amount of money you put into the business; it will match the Articles of Incorporation that you drew up when you incorporated.  This amount will rarely ever change for the life of the business.

There is also usually an account called Paid-in Capital which is how much additional money you’ve put in or taken out of the company beyond the common stock balance.

A corporation will also have a Retained Earnings account.  This reflects accumulated profit (or loss) through the years of operation.

If your business is set up as a partnership, the equity section will include an account for each partner that represents their balance in the firm, which is the net amount of money they have put into the business over the years plus or minus the business income or loss through the years.

Keeping It Simple

These are the very basics of the numbers represented on your balance sheet.  If you have questions about any of the numbers, please feel free to reach out and ask.

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Is There an App for That?

The technology side of the accounting industry is rapidly changing and expanding.  Literally hundreds, if not thousands of new companies and new software applications have sprung up to help small businesses automate their processes and save time and money.

The best way to profit from all of this innovation is to first identify where you can best use the technology in your business.  Here are three places to look:

1.     Paper Chase

What business tasks are you still using pen and paper for?   Look what’s on your desk or in your filing cabinet in the form of paper, and that will be your next opportunity for automation.  For example, are you still hand-writing checks?   There’s an app (or two) for that.

Sticky notes and to do lists have been replaced with Evernote.  Business cards you collect can go in a CRM (customer relationship manager).  All of your accounting invoices and bills can be digitized and stored online.

Make a list of all the manual and paper processes you do every day and look for an app that can make the task faster for you.

2.     Fill the Gap

Take stock of what systems you already have in place.  The opportunity to fill the gap is where you might have systems that should talk to each other but don’t.  If you need to enter data into two different places, there may be a chance to automate and/or integrate the systems or data.  For example, your point of sale or billing system should integrate well with your accounting system.  A few other examples include accounting and payroll, CRM and accounting, inventory and accounting, project management and time tracking, and time tracking and payroll.

The more your systems integrate and work as a suite, the better.

3.     Mismatched

It could be you have your systems automated, but the systems are not the best choice for your business requirements.  If your systems don’t meet many of your business requirements, it may be time to look for an upgrade or a replacement.

If you are performing a lot of data manipulation in Excel or Access, this might also signal that your systems are falling short of your current needs.  Look where that’s happening, and you will have identified an opportunity for improvement.

Look in these three areas in your business, and I bet you’ll not only find an app for that, you’ll also find some freed up time and money once you automate.

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