Saturday, November 27, 2010

Making good accounts

This time of year, every year, I dread having to do my accounts for tax purposes.

I am fairly numerate, but when it comes to accounting, I wallow in the abyss between the debits and credits.

My dear husband, trained in accounting, thankfully tolerates sitting down with me to sort out the numbers. Always we row over my poor book-keeping(??), my lack of analysis, and ... O dear!

So last year, for Christmas, I was given Book-keeping for Dummies which I attempted to read, and even did exercises, etc.

Last Saturday we sat down to do the accounts.

I had made a start on the Trial Balance and the numbers on various bank accounts were adding up properly, etc. But still I managed to put some DRs and CRs in the wrong columns -- which he spotted, and I failed to find a record of my last payment to the accountant (!).

But, BUT, we managed to balance the account without getting too cross with each other. Whew!

Profit/Loss? Apparently I made a tiny, teeny profit, not enough to buy a half-decent handbag.

But I was surprised at the amount paid out on items like storage, postage, courier, stationery, website maintenance, consumeables, TAX, etc. apart from the actual goods purchased.

If I were not trading and crafting, even with this low turnover, it would mean even lower revenues for the purveyors of these goods and services, and therefore possibly more unemployment.

And so, multiply this by the number of small businesses up and down the country.

OK, we're not the Middletons with our barn in Berkshire or wherever. But one day I know our little business will grow.

The point is small businesses like ours go quite a long way in keeping other businesses going. And we certainly pay our taxes.

I could very well do nothing and make a zero contribution to this society.

But I've chosen to run Organic-Ally to do our bit for the environment, to promote ethical business ideas, fair trade, and to support co-ops such as
KV Kuppam (via Bishopston Trading) so that consumers this end of the globe could actually make life better for producers on the opposite end.

When I relate this to what's happening in the wider economy and in particular after watching "The Trillion Pound Horror Story" I come back again and again to: We must make (or grow) things to sell.

We must encourage small businesses, and give these small businesses time and opportunity to grow.

When I first came to this country nearly 20 years ago I noticed that manufacturing had declined. I was told the service/finance sector was the way to go. This country cannot compete with India and China in terms of labour costs.

Whilst that argument about China/India might be true, the service/finance sector has also failed us.

We must return to making things to sell to customers who want those things. Not just antique Chinese vases.

I also wonder how much the UK welfare system has sapped the entrepreneurial vigour that was so much a part of this nation.

I read of young people, graduates, school-leavers trained in hairdressing, eg, saying, "If I don't get a job I would have to sign on."

And I think back to my first graduating from university with no job in sight (and no welfare state). What did we do? We took on whatever jobs were available.

I worked at two-and-a-half jobs at any one time because I needed to support my family, plus I had a Rotary Club student loan to repay.

So I was part-time oral history interviewer, part-time university tutor, and freelance newspaper columnist. This last I became because I was fearless (shameless?) in bombarding editors with unsolicited articles.

Not quite a "manufacturing" job, I know, for I was trained in manufacturing ideas (including ideas that sell newspapers) rather than ... handbags.

If I were trained as a hairdresser I would definitely look to starting my own business.

Most interestingly some of my friends started a little craft business. OK it lasted only until they found a "proper" job. But it was their spirit of enterprise that impressed me. And I am sure it was this spirit of enterprise that impressed their eventual employers.

So why don't our young school-leavers think about starting their own business? Why does "business" seem a bad word to some people? What do young people in similar situations in countries with no welfare provision do?

I know parents who own shops who do not wish their children to remain shopkeepers "because it is such hard work". They would rather their children get a job in an office.

How do I say to such parents: "I worked in an office, too. From 8.30am to whenever. Sometimes all weekend. Made so much money I had not time to spend it." (I even needed a personal shopper to buy my clothes.)

We need businesses to generate revenue, to feed other businesses, to create employment.

What must this country make (or grow) to sell?

I would think not those things that the Chinese (and note I am an ethnic Chinese) can make cheaper and faster. But products that depend on changing the whole outlook on consumerism.

I don't believe we should spend our way out of the recession. But I think we really must evaluate our buying/spending patterns.

Finding that balance between buying organic/conventional, sustainable/disposable, fair trade/cheap and plentiful, supporting the local/global is not at all easy.

If I do not need another handbag it's probably only because I only buy good, well-made, handbags.

See also: Workshop, not Casino

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