Most Small Business Owners Lack Necessary Accounting Skills

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While the majority of small business owners claim they are confident about managing their finances, only 45% can define basic accounting principles.

A survey conducted by Staples, the office supplier, revealed that 94% of small business owners said they can manage their finances, yet less than half can define the basic accounting principles such as "accounts receivable" and "accounts payable."

Another shocking revelation from them is that 19% of respondents claim that they have saved emergency cash at some point in strange places, including a desk drawer or 7% have stashed money in the car.

"A firm understanding of finances and business performance is crucial for a small business to be successful," said Steve Strauss, president of TheSelfEmployed.com and a small business owner for 20 years. "Managing finances is a challenging process, and many business owners are often unaware of the tools and resources available that can help them make smart decisions and ultimately, improve their bottom line."

Before starting their own business, 40% of small business owners said they wish they were more knowledgeable about management. In the survey, 23% admitted to bouncing a check in the past year.

These survey results are in line with the research conducted by Unleash, a San Jose-based software company focused on small business owners, said Insaaf Mohideen, Unleash's CEO and founder. Three out of four small businesses fail in under five years primarily due to accounts receivable, fraud and waste, he said.

"Small business owners are very passionate about their businesses and they would much rather spend their time growing their business, meeting customers or building products," Mohideen said. "Accounting, finance and risk management are elements that are furthest from their minds."

The survey also revealed that 28% of owners lose sleep over cash flow while 48% will pay others before paying themselves.

Financial and cash flow challenges have resulted in 28% postponing hiring employees and 42% of Millennial small business owners saying they wish they could get more support from the community.

"It just shows it is a constant learning process for small business owners," said Strauss. "You have to be a lifelong learner. Things change so rapidly in the business world. It is just the nature of the world we live in."

Managing finances remains a large hurdle for owners with 29% who say they have postponed paying vendors or suppliers and 45% of respondents who do not use software to track cash flow.

Millennials are more likely to use business software to manage cash flow and track their business with 63% already using it while only 50% of Baby Boomers have embraced it. However, 53% of Millennials are concerned with cash flow compared with 46% of Gen X or 38% of Baby Boomers.

"Small businesses simply can't afford a CFO even on a part time basis," said Mohideen. "In enterprises, a CFO helps mitigate those risks by ensuring appropriate cash flow management -- optimal receivables, payables and expense management -- and ensuring that a business has appropriate reserves given the type and size of business. Unleash acts like a cloud-based CFO and helps small businesses manage their accounting and finance with proactive advise, alerts and risk management based on custom small business benchmarks."

The best way for small business owners to be more successful is to have access to financial training and affordable access to capital, said Roberto Barragan, CEO of Aquaria Funds, a nonprofit organization that provides small business loan funds and training resources.

"We require many of our small business loan applicants to attend free seminars, workshops and training programs as a pre-condition to get their loan funded," he said.

A study by the Enterprise Council on Small Businesses found that 74% of small business owners are craftspeople who run a business in order to practice their trade. Another 24% of small business owners left the corporate world and opened a business for lifestyle reasons, such as a more flexible work schedule or greater independence. While most of them are highly skilled and have several years of experience, most of them have never written a business plan before nor do they have any formal accounting or finance training, said Barragan.

"The likelihood of a small business not surviving over the long term is significantly greater when the small business owner does not have a firm grasp of cash flow management, accounting and finance," he said. "Poor financial skills often inhibit a small business owner's ability to secure the working capital he or she needs to invest in the business and grow."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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