The best way for investors to know how you're going to treat their money is to look at how you treat your money. It's similar to the way a traditional mortgage lender looks at a credit report, an investor looks at a business's financial statements, including your balance sheet, which represents your assets, liabilities, and net worth in an easy-to-digest format.

The structure of a balance sheet is built around a basic financial accounting equation:

assets - liabilities = owner's equity 

Here's a breakdown of those terms as well as valuable tips, resources, and examples to help you create a snapshot of your business financials. 

Assets 

Assets include the value of everything owned by and owed to the business. On a balance sheet, assets are usually split into current and non-current assets. 

Current assets are cash and those items that are likely to become cash in one year or less, such as inventory, accounts receivable (amounts due in the short term), and notes receivable (amounts due within 12 months).

Fixed assets, such as real estate and equipment, are categorized as non-current because they are less likely to sell in a year or less. 

For purposes of the balance sheet, assets will equal the sum of your current and non-current assets — less the depreciation (or decrease in value over time) of those assets. 

Liabilities 

On the other side of the equation are your liabilities, both short- and long-term, which are the monetary obligations you owe to banks, creditors, and vendors. Short-term liabilities include accounts payable, such as monthly invoices owed to vendors and creditors, and notes payable owed to others within the next 12 months. Long-term liabilities, or those due more than a year away, include a mortgage balance payable beyond the current year. 

Owner's equity 

The last component of the balance sheet is owner's equity, sometimes referred to as net worth. This is your net investment in the company. It's equal to total assets minus total liabilities. The financial statement should balance, showing assets equaling liabilities plus owner's equity. 

Making balance sheets work for you 

While all balance sheets follow the same equation, the types of accounts listed will vary based on the type of business. Product-based companies, such as retailers, sell goods to consumers and have overhead expenses like inventory and real estate. Service-based companies, like dry cleaners or law firms, sell services instead of goods, so they do not typically have inventory or raw products on the balance sheet. The method and time period in which payment is accepted may also change what's listed in the balance sheet.

Balance sheets are usually drafted at the end of accounting periods: monthly, quarterly, or yearly. It's a good idea to look at these documents alongside others such as income statements (which show long-term profits minus losses) and cash-flow statements (which show how quickly revenue is collected). A financial advisor can help you create and analyze these financial statements for a clear picture of your cash flow. 

Helpful resources 

Balance sheets can be created with ease, even if you're not an accounting professional. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a free 30-minute Introduction to Accounting course. SCORE provides a downloadable balance sheet template listing the categories in the financial statement. 

Bookkeepers and Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) can also be invaluable. Consider enlisting a bookkeeper for day-to-day accounting and a CPA to prepare and analyze statements to help plan your financial future.

Resources for Small Business

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