Balance sheets are a key way for businesses to monitor their finances. Whether you need day-to-day information about money matters or you’re about to make a major financial decision, your balance sheet will help you get a clear picture of your company’s assets, liabilities, and equity.

Your balance sheet will help potential investors, creditors, and your accountant determine your company’s overall financial health. Think of a balance sheet as a quarterly snapshot of your finances: once you know how your business is doing, you can make educated decisions on everything from marketing expenses to hiring new employees or investing in real estate.

Here’s a simple guide to preparing a balance sheet for your small business.

Balance sheet overview

Balance sheets calculate the book value of a business entity by adding up the total assets and subtracting the liabilities and shareholder equity. Balance sheets should always balance, so if you notice any inaccuracies, look for errors in your data entry, transactions, inventory, equity calculations, currency exchange rates, or loan data.

The following broad categories make up the contents of your balance sheet.

Assets

Assets include any property your company owns with some sort of cash value. Assets can be current, which means that the business expects to convert them to cash within a year. This includes cash, inventory, accounts receivable, and prepaid expenses. They can also be non-current assets, like warehouses, office spaces, and storefronts or patents, trademarks, and copyrighted work.

Liabilities

Liabilities include anything your business owes, such as rent, utilities, debt payments, accounts payable, taxes, and payroll. Liabilities can also be classified as current or non-current. Current liabilities are due within a year, while non-current liabilities won’t be repaid completely within a year. This includes leases, loans, and other long-term expenses.

Shareholders’ equity

Shareholders’ equity is the net worth of the company—the money that would be left if all the assets were sold and liabilities paid. This equity belongs to the shareholders, whether private or public.

Balance Sheet Preparation

Follow these steps to prepare your own balance sheet:

1. Choose the reporting period

Balance sheets are typically produced on a quarterly basis. Therefore, the reporting date is usually the final day of the quarter. If you operate on a calendar year, the reporting dates are March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31. A yearly balance sheet reporting date is typically December 31, although companies can choose whichever date they prefer.

Although balance sheets may have a reporting date, it’s common to take a few weeks to prepare them. The first step in the preparation of a balance sheet is to pick your reporting period and date.

2. Identify and list assets

Next, you’ll identify and list your assets as of the reporting date. These are generally listed in two ways: total assets, plus individual line items. This makes it easy for anyone reading the sheet to determine what your assets are and where they came from, as well as the overall value for quick reference.

As noted earlier, your assets should be divided into current and non-current assets. Current assets include cash and cash equivalents, accounts receivable, inventory, short-term securities, and more. Non-current or long-term assets include property, intangible assets, goodwill, long-term securities, and anything else that won’t be turned to cash within a year. Add up your current and non-current assets, both separately and together.

Identify and list liabilities

Just as you listed your assets, you’ll need to list your liabilities as of your chosen reporting date. They should also be listed as total liabilities plus individual line items so analysts can quickly determine the type and source of the liabilities and their overall costs. Be sure to subtotal and add each category of liabilities together.

Current liabilities include your deferred revenue, accounts payable, the current portion of any long-term debt, accrued expenses, and more. Non-current liabilities include non-current deferred revenue, long-term debt, long-term lease obligations, and more.

Determine shareholders’ equity

Next, calculate your shareholders’ equity. Since most small businesses are privately held by a single owner, this is a fairly easy calculation. Publicly held companies have more complex calculations, depending on how many different categories of stock they issue. Shareholders’ equity typically includes common, preferred, and treasury stock, as well as retained earnings.

Make comparisons

Finally, you can make comparisons between the totals to ensure your balance sheet is balanced. Add together the total liabilities plus the shareholders’ equity. Then compare that to the total assets.

Consider accounting software and other tools

Balance sheets are even easier when you have the right software or tools to create them. For instance, QuickBooks accounting software is a popular choice among businesses of all sizes. However, if you’re not ready to invest in accounting software, there are plenty of free or low-cost solutions. Microsoft 365 offers a balance sheet template in their Office product subscription, but you can also use free tools like Google Sheets to make your own.

The bottom line

The preparation of a balance sheet is fairly simple, but the insights it provides are invaluable. Creating your own balance sheet will help you keep track of your business’s financial health, so you can make better decisions. Whether you use accounting software or a simple spreadsheet, you’ll have a better idea of where your company stands.

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