I am not yet in business - still working a day job and chipping away
at learning more and making pieces when I can. If things keep going
they way they are for a little longer I should have enough saved up
to have a reasonable shot at getting a modest business underway. In
the meantime I have been thinking about and checking what I need to
do to be in business rather than be a “hobbyist”. I see the main
differences as 1) Needing to develop more effective, time efficient
and financially viable ways of working; and 2) Needing to develop an
understanding of good business practices in the actual “business
management” side of things - officework/admin/accounting etc. The
second point is the one that I am seeking advice on in this post.
I am wondering if people could advise me on what they have found to
be the best ways to “manage data” and I mean particularly as someone
starting out. Is it good enough to start by using spreadsheets in
microsoft excel or do most people see a real need to invest in some
sort of management system? If I set up spreadsheets now
listing things like inventory, consumables/suppliers/prices,
sales/customer details etc, etc would this be helpful to me later or
just a waste of my time? Am I misguided in thinking that this is the
kind of that you need to give priority to managing? If I
start with spreadsheets in a standard program like excel can the
be easily migrated to most management
I know everyone has their own style of business management and
probably there are varying priorities for management for
different people but I am sure that there are many here who have
carefully thought out practices, developed over time that work for
them - I am interested in hearing about all of these if people would
be so kind. I know I will need to find my own way to some extent but
I am certain that my expectations of being in business will not be
spot on as I’ve never attempted to do it before so any advice or
opinions that is on offer will surely help me to plan ahead better.
Buy some software that contains all that stuff in one place. No need
to re-invent stuff here. David Geller even has a package specifically
There are lots of good programs out there, Quick Books, MYOB, for
I recommend you take some classes at your local SBA/SBDC. And sign up
for a private session with a SCORE counselor.
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay
I have been “in business” for a little less than a year now, made it
through my taxes and my best advice is to get Quickbooks. I love it.
If I had not entered everything in the program already, doing my
taxes would have not been fun. And believe me… it was more fun
than a roller coaster. The program takes a bit to set up, but after
that I have found it is a breeze. I know most people probably use an
accountant, but at this point I like to do everything myself. I
actually enjoy sitting at the computer for a few hours a week and
doing all my own accounting and business stuff. It helps keep me
hope this helps
A Basic knowledge of bookkeeping practices and accounting is
absolutely necessary to a good business. Even if at som e point you
are able to hire out these jobs the business owner must be able to
look at the data produced and make sense of it in a mangerial way as
well as making sure it is being done correctly. This is important for
the growth of any business and keeping it in line with what lenders
are looking for and government is requiring. Spread sheets are a very
good way to start. They are simple and clear, something lacking in
programs like Quickbooks, where a beginner can get lost asdn the data
can get so screwed up that it is more costly to untangle the data. A
good filing system, in line with the spreadsheets is also invaluable.
If you would like more indepth advice on this ask me off list, I can
send you the formats for the spreadsheets I use. This type of
bookkeeping is directly involved with every desicion the manager of a
business makes, for spending as well as pricing. Very important to
get good data filing with a method that doesn’t take up too much
Sam Patania, Tucson
I am wondering if people could advise me on what they have found
to be the best ways to "manage data" and I mean particularly as
someone starting out. Is it good enough to start by using
spreadsheets in microsoft excel or do most people see a real need
to invest in some sort of management system? If I set
up spreadsheets now listing things like inventory,
consumables/suppliers/prices, sales/customer details etc, etc would
this be helpful to me later or just a waste of my time?
I am also someone who is starting out. This year was the first year
I loaded everything into Quickbooks and I found it very helpful to be
able to have a picture of how things are going and also to be able to
give the info to the accountant.
As far as managing data in Excel, I think this is fine if you know
how to segregate items. If you have an accountant already, he/she can
advise you on this. An example would be this: If you went to a class
and had to stay in a hotel, you would want to put the charge for your
hotel room in one account and the charges for your meals in another
account as they are treated differently for tax purposes.
If there is a local Chamber of Commerce for your area, you might
check if they have small business workshops. An intro to accounting
would be very helpful to you now. If not, maybe a local community
Probably (imo), a couple of the most important things to keep a
handle on are 1) the level of raw material you are carrying 2) the
amount in your bank account. I was a partner in a bead store
previously. I was absolutely floored when one of my partners brought
in a picture of her “bead room” at home. She was thrilled to announce
that she had thousands of dollars worth of beads at home. I saw it as
material that was sitting there instead of making money…a huge
loss from my standpoint. I am always shocked to find out how many
business owners do not know how much they actually have in their
checking accounts until tax time. Talk about living life on the edge.
Having an adequate customer record will be helpful to you as you
will want to announce things to them like shows you’re in, new
galleries that carry your work, open studio events…that kind of
It is great that you are starting early on in organizing things. It
absolutely will make things easier later. It is much more difficult
to go back and try to sort things out as opposed to keeping good
records from the start.
Book keeping is the number one thing to do in the office, keeping
records comes next and keeping a good customer list (database)
No, you are not going overboard on this, records are the life blood
of your work and your business. You will need them for taxes, pricing
your goods and tracking what sells and what don’t. What works on
things and what don’t, I have a record of everything I do and every
piece of rough I cut or touch. I have records of all my tools, when
purchased what mods were made, and what to look for in new equipment
when/if I replace it. I have a notebook at my bench at all times and
I do review it when things are slow and before repeating a project.
The spread sheet might be ok to start with, but who will do your
taxes and what program or format do they like the data in, sometimes
you can even get a reduced rate if you simply put things in a format
that is easy for them to use. On accounting programs, I really have
no suggestion, I have used a number of accounting programs and hate
them all. I will never get past thinking a debit is subtracted and a
credit is to be added. But I use what the tax preparer wants, it’s a
difference of about $300 when I have my taxes done.
Rio sells a nice program for tracking your product and supplies and
will let you upload pictures of the finished product. I and my sister
use it in her jewelry business and for what I have seen it is a
useful program that is very reasonably priced compared to some of the
programs for this type of data. Some run $20,000, no joke, I saw it
in one of the magazines. The Rio program runs about 190 if I remember
right, that could have been with shipping.
Good idea on your part to get into this now, opening day is the
wrong time to start figuring out how to work your programs.
You will need to keep track of income and expenses. The most simple
way is a check book system called a OneWrite system. It is set up
like a spreadsheet and the checks carbon through to a record sheet.
Bank deposits are your income and owners equity deposits. The checks
you write are your expenses. Columns are already there for tracking
your expense accounts. Just put in the headings. You total out the end
of each page either @ the end of the month or when the page is full.
Very easy, very clear. I started with this.
I use Quickbooks now though. I like to have a updated Balance Sheet
and a current P&L at hand with the ability to look at the data
different ways. There ar a lot of programs out there to choose from.
Don’t over complicate it though. And you can go to computerized books
any time you want.
I think you should start out simple and expand as needed. It is
important to keep good records of your vendors and pay them ALWAYS on
time. Vendors like businesses that pay their bills on time…That’s
one of the reasons they ask for TRADE references. Your ability to get
credit lines with companies depends on it.
A spread sheet can be used for mailing list from your
customers or you can get a program that is designed for that. Again
keep it simple…Spreadsheets are very portable to other programs for
upgrading down the road.
Accounting records are very important but they don’t have to be
difficult. Don’t let the details stop you from doing your business. An
accountant can help you set up the record keeping if you need help.
The best thing is to use score and other organizatios like score.
I used the toolbox from Score.org to get a grant from the an
industrial organization. Plus Score does give decent advise.
Before spending a lot of money on office stuff, take a couple of
classes and talk to the local SBA office near you.
I think databases are the answer to your question. If you have the
time, learn the basics of databases - how to create forms and
reports, and how to use the “find” button! Professionals make custom
databases, and pre-made ones are available at a price. These will
likely be compatible with accounting programmes as well.
Spreadsheets are completely freeform and are great for price lists
and calculation tables. A database is better for customer records,
stock control and inventory, specially when after a few years the
records are in the thousands. The data belonging to each record is
locked in, it cannot get mixed up. They are designed expressly for
recording, retreiving, manipulating and presenting data. Microsoft
Access and Filemaker Pro are the best if you are willing to pay the
price, they come with pre-made databases for common tasks that you
mention. I use Lotus Approach (98) which is a surprisingly advanced
database for the price, and have learned to create my own
cross-linked databases with all the forms and reports I need. As a
one man operation, compatibility with other systems is not an issue.
There are free databases out there - a good way to get the feel of
them, and they are interchangable ie data can be exported from one
to the other - and to Excel - quite easily.
Hope this helps,
My best advise is to go to workshops given by the Small Business
These are available and free to attend in most cities. They can
connect you to successful, retired, business people who are willing
to mentor new businesses.
The SBA can help you put your business plan together and into
perspective. They offer tools to understand the next step you need to
take to make your business work for you.
The management system I have seen many successful
artisans use to get started is very old technology, two accordion
folders with alphabetized pockets. One is for suppliers (who is
owed) the other is for accounts/clients (who owes you). A business
accountant comes in once a month and does their books. A simple data
base in Excel is maintained and used to generate statements, this is
sufficient and cost effective. (Perhaps add a third accordion file
for tracking inventory. Color xeroxs of finished work and job
As the business grows the data input which you would need to have
done to support an management program could be hired out
to an office support / secretarial service, freeing you to do more
It seems to me that if you haven’t started the business yet,
worrying about managing any or data bases that the
business might generate is putting the cart in front of the horse.
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612