March 14, 2012 09:00 ET

Tax Tunnel Vision: New Xero Survey of U.S. Accountants Reveals Most Common Small Business Financial Mistakes

Provider of Cloud-Based Accounting Software Reveals Tips to Help SMBs Take Control of Finances This Tax Season & Beyond

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - Mar 14, 2012) - Accountants say the two most common mistakes that small business owners make is not having ongoing insight into their financials and only talking to their accountant during tax time, according to a new survey from Xero, online accounting software for small businesses. President Obama recently proposed a reduction to the corporate tax rate partly to ease the burden of taxes on small businesses -- more proof that managing taxes and financials are becoming an increasingly complicated part of owning a small business. Today, Xero revealed results from a survey of 500 U.S. accountants and compiled tips to help small business owners take control of their finances during tax season and beyond.

Summary of key findings:

  • Mixing Business & Pleasure: About half (45%) report that mixing business and personal expenses in deductions is the most common mistake businesses make that could trigger an audit by the IRS, while a quarter (26%) say it is excessive deductions to income.
  • Home is Where the $ is: Three in ten (29%) say the home office is the most commonly overlooked deduction for small business owners, while one in four (24%) say it is hiring new employees.
  • Tax Tunnel Vision: One in four (26%) say not having ongoing insight into their financials is the most common mistake small business owners make when it comes to their finances, while one in five (18%) say it is only talking to their accountant during tax time.
  • Constant Contact: About half (47%) think small businesses should communicate with their accountant once a month in order to keep their business in good financial standing, while a fifth think communication should take place once a week (22%) or quarterly (19%).

"The biggest challenge that small businesses face is simply that the owners typically work in the business and not on the business, and for many that means only diving into their finances during tax time," said Simon Gray, accountant in Xero's network and managing partner of Gray Consulting, Inc. "With Xero, managing business financials can essentially be turn-key, as its software provides small business owners with ongoing insight and tools for managing their finances in an easier way."

Overall, accountants polled say small businesses should communicate with their advisors on a more frequent basis to gain more control over the finances. Moreover, most accountants (71%) reveal that they're able to give more meaningful advice to small businesses that provide a real-time view of their finances to their accountants.

"With cloud-based financial tools, small businesses can now benefit from ongoing insight into the overall health of their company," said Jamie Sutherland, Xero president of U.S. operations. "Xero is delivering a powerful, hassle-free way for small businesses to manage the complicated task of their finances, enabling them to focus on what they do best -- run their business."

Xero compiled its top five tips to help small businesses take better control of their finances:

1. Forecast Financials: It is critical that businesses take a look back at their financial statements, activity and sales to determine what worked and what didn't so they can make a plan for the year ahead. As part of forecasting, understand the sales tax the company owes and keep that money in a different account to eliminate the possibility for error.

2. Follow the Money: It is critical for small businesses to have real-time insight into their bank balance and review it on a daily basis. Cloud-based accounting applications, like Xero, provide small businesses with an instant view of their financial picture and enable them to share reports with key players in the business so everyone is aware of what's going on with the company's finances.

3. Insight into Cashflow: It's important that businesses have a daily process set up so they can easily review the cash they expect and know what is overdue, so they can immediately follow up on delinquent payments. By implementing an easy-to-use and manage system, small businesses have a way to ensure the cash is getting back to their business.

4. Monitor Customer Activity: Small businesses should have a clear picture of their customer base -- including the overall health and wellness of the group, purchasing patterns and behavior, and where they all stand on payments. It is also important to align your sales, support and management teams on customer goals to ensure you're all on the same page about how that maps to financials and forecasting.

5. Understand Tax Time Obligations: Small businesses should always take time to understand their tax obligations and learn if they've changed at all from the previous year. By planning ahead for their obligations and meeting regularly with their accountant to estimate what will be owed, small businesses can plan accordingly so they can start and finish the year strong.

About the Survey
Xero commissioned the survey via IBOPE Zogby International through an online survey of 501 accountants in the U.S from February 1 to February 14, 2012. A sampling of IBOPE Zogby International's online panel, which is representative of the adult population of the U.S, was invited to participate. Additionally, IBOPE Zogby International's partners supply email addresses for accountants in the U.S. The margin of error is +/- 4.5 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. The MOE calculation is for sampling error only.

About Xero
Xero is beautiful, easy to use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. The company has over 60,000 paying customers and 240,000 users in more than 100 countries around the world. Xero's US team is based in San Francisco.

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