This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol3", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
There is a general impression that market gardeners and market growers generally do not worry themselves much in the matter of keeping strict account of their financial transactions. This impression may be correct so far as some of the older school of market growers is concerned, but we doubt if there are many modern commercial horticulturists who do not keep a fairly strict account of their business transactions.
There are undoubtedly some men to be found who treat the subject of keeping accounts with the utmost disdain, and such cannot be brought to see that it is essential to know exactly how their business stands. They take their goods to market, and so long as what is taken for them is entered up in a pocket book, that is all that matters. Any surplus cash is paid into the bank, but payments for all kinds of things are made out of the cash takings without any account being kept. Memory is trusted to very largely, but it is no real evidence that any certain transactions have taken place should they be at any time questioned. Besides, as one grows older, the memory loses its sensitiveness, and important business transactions may be easily forgotten, or the details of them may become so obscure as to make it impossible to arrive at a correct result.
It is therefore of the greatest importance that an account should be kept of all commercial transactions, and that a system of bookkeeping should be adopted to suit the special requirements of the business. Some growers will have one system and some another, but they must all be founded on the fundamental principles of debit and credit - of buying and selling, of giving and receiving. In business, if a man gives something, he expects to receive something for it in return, either in money or goods, and as the essence of all business is to make a profit, he always endeavours to secure a higher amount for an article than it has cost him to produce. Thus, a man who grows, say, 100 tons of Tomatoes every year hopes to receive more money for them than it has actually cost to grow them. He must receive a price sufficiently high to pay for his labour, coal or coke, rent, rates, taxes, water, interest on capital, and depreciation, in addition to which there must be something over for the benefit of himself and his family. If he secures a price to meet all these demands he makes a profit; but if he fails to do so, then he makes a loss, and he must make this loss good from some other source, if available.
Men who are careless over their bookkeeping arrangements not infrequently come to financial grief. Even if they do not reach the bankruptcy court, they are always in such a muddle with their affairs that they are continually having overdrafts at the bank, for which, of course, "charges " are inevitably made, because banks must make a profit on money in the same way that a grower must make a profit on Tomatoes or Cabbages.
Speaking generally, it will be found a wise plan, whether the business be large or small, to keep a strict account of all moneys received and paid away, and what they are received and paid away for. If the business is too large for the owner, or one of his family, to keep his accounts, probably, then, one or more clerks who have had a horticultural training or experience should be engaged at a fair wage to attend to them properly. The employer will indicate the lines on which he wishes his accounts to be kept, and the more simple the system he adopts the better. He should arrange the system in such a way that the details of any particular branch of the business can be analysed in a few minutes. He will then be in a position to ascertain whether any particular crop is "paying its way", whether there is a loss on it, or whether it is in such an evenly balanced condition that there is neither profit nor loss. Having discovered exactly how matters stand, the wise grower will soon "cut his losses ", and devote his energies to developing the branch or branches that his accounts and analyses show to be paying him best.
One can almost fancy some of the old-fashioned market growers exclaiming: "What nonsense all this is about keeping accounts with clerks, and having analyses made out! My father and grandfather never did anything of the sort, and why should I? My bank book is all the bookkeeping I want to do!" This is the spirit that eventually leads some growers to the bankruptcy court, where they sorrowfully state that they really don't know how they stand, because they "never kept any accounts". What did for father and grandfather in the old non-competitive days will not do in these days of keen competition, hustling, and scientific developments.
Even if a business is only a small one, the owner of it will do well to keep a strict account of its progress or the reverse. If progress, then a feeling of satisfaction prevails, and a man realizes that his system of conducting business is at least on the right lines. If no progress is made, then he must alter his methods, but before doing this he must be able to put his finger on the weak spot which is responsible for his losses. The beginner must always be careful how he goes to work, and he must not assume, because his neighbour Mr. A. is making a good living by growing certain crops, that he also will achieve the same result without any trouble or organizing ability. He must weigh matters up carefully, and draw up estimates as accurately as he can forecast of his probable receipts and expenses, being careful to put down impartially all essential items of expenditure in detail. He can then survey the field of operations and decide whether it is worth while risking his capital, or whether it is better to work for someone else.