laptop for record keeping

Record Keeping for small business

by Angus Jones

Running a small business is about understanding what is going on and about meeting your obligations. You might have obligations to employees, suppliers, the taxman or more simply an obligation to yourself to understand if you are making any money or the ability to look up a past agreement.  This guide will look at why record keeping is important, what you need to keep records on, and how to keep good records.

Record keeping is the activity or occupation of keeping records or accounts.
Record keeping in financial terms is the process of recording transactions and events in a ledger or accounting system. Since the principles of accounting rely on accurate and thorough records, record keeping is the foundation accounting.

WHY should I care about record keeping?

Keeping good records is important for any small business. Whether that is to help manage your costs, whether it is for legal, regulatory or tax reasons, or simply to help manage and improve your business.  Collecting, storing, and effectively analysing your data is vital.

Without adequate records, it would be impossible to measure the health of your business and to keep track of your progress. It also helps avoid fines for doing the wrong thing and demonstrate your financial position if you need a bank loan.

Records must be kept by law for:
  • 5 years for Australian Tax Office purposes
  • 7 years for Human Resources time and wages records
  • 2 years after you have offset a capital loss against a capital gain (individuals & small business)

Keeping good records will make running your business easier and save you time in the long run.

WHAT should I keep records on?

The types of records you should consider keeping include:
  • Client Files
  • Contracts
  • HR required records for 7 years
    • employee details including pay, leave and work hours
    • reimbursements of work-related expenses
    • workers compensation insurance for each employee
    • pay as you go (PAYG) tax instalments
    • superannuation contributions
    • ending employment
  • HR records recommended:
    • resumes and job applications
    • contracts of employment
    • performance reviews
    • trade or registration certificates
  • Business records (for example, business registration, formal meeting minutes etc)
  • General business information (for example, job tracking, customer correspondence)
  • Accounting and tax for 5 years
  • Business expenses
  • Bank statements / credit card statements
  • Annual tax returns
  • Quarterly/Monthly tax filings
  • Payroll
  • Inventory
  • Sales
  • Revenue
  • Petty cash
  • Vehicle logs
  • Invoices
  • Cancelled cheques and cheque stubs
  • Purchase orders

HOW do I make record-keeping easy?

Under Australian law records must be:
  • readily accessible if required
  • must be unchanged and must be stored in a way that restricts the information from being changed or the record damaged (changes may be permitted for correcting an error)
  • in writing (electronic or paper)
  • legible
  • in English
  • explain all transactions
  • accurate and not misleading

A bookkeeper or your accountant can help with this process but this will not remove your need to still be involved in keeping accurate records.

Although you can keep records on paper it will be much easier if you do so electronically.  Refer to our essential guides on expense management, accounting software and payroll software to understand more. If you are concerned about outlaying funds for software you could set up a series of spreadsheets to help manage your accounts.

Other key documents like signed contracts, lease documents etc should be kept in a safe preferably fireproof storage. These documents can also be scanned and stored electronically ensuring you have back up copies.  Refer to our guide on Storage and sharing of files.

Electronic solutions and storage of records have the following advantages:
  • back up records in case of disaster
  • automated processing and provide ready-made reports
  • produces taxation and employment reporting requirements for government submission online
  • keep up with the latest tax rates, laws and rulings
  • save on physical storage space


The Australian Tax office (ATO) provides a record-keeping evaluation tool which will help you evaluate how well you are keeping your business records.

The ATO provides an App for sole traders to help them record business income, expenses, and vehicle trips.

SUMMARY – keep records under Australian law

Record keeping is not just about keeping records for accounting.  Under Australian law, some taxation, superannuation and employment records must be kept for 5 or 7 years. 

Accurate and regimented record keeping will help you find the information you need, provide reporting and make running your business easier.  Modern accounting and payroll cloud-based solutions will not only streamline the process but also produce required government reporting for you.

Lack of record-keeping, false or misleading reporting can result in fines. Always ensure you have backup copies.

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