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10 Features to Look For in the Right Accounting Software

Nadav Shemer
accounting software
Getting accounting software for your business involves an investment, and like any investment you should do a comparison job before choosing. When comparing features, the key is to think about what you might need in the long-term.

Cloud-based accounting software lets you easily add new modules or third-party integrations as you go. Therefore, you can start small and add new capabilities as your business grows.

Here are 10 features to look for when shopping for accounting software.

1. Easy onboarding

Accounting software is supposed to free up your time to focus on growing your business, so it stands to reason that it should be easy to set up. One of the benefits of choosing the top accounting software providers is that their programs are intuitive and easy to learn. Because everything is cloud-based, you can easily set up the software on as many devices as you need. 

Where the best accounting software stands out from the crowd is in integrating your existing financial information into your account. For example, when you sign up to KPMG Spark, you have the option of securely connecting your bank accounts to immediately begin your bookkeeping, saving you the trouble of moving records over manually.

2. Expense tracking

Expense tracking can be one of the most frustrating parts of being a business owner. Every dollar you spend could save you money come tax time, but it isn’t always easy keeping up to date.

The best accounting software gives you the option of downloading transactions instantly from your bank or credit card, filling in expenses using a simple online form, or even scanning and uploading receipts to a mobile app. 

3. Tax preparation

One of the benefits of accounting software is that all the information you need for tax filing can be found in the one place. Come tax season, all you need to do is take that information and transfer it onto the necessary forms.

Good accounting software provides balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and other reports you may need in order to file taxes. For an extra cost, some accounting software providers offer a supporting team of accountants and CPAs to help you with tax preparation.

4. Payroll management 

Payroll usually isn’t built into accounting software, but is offered as a third-party integration. Payroll is often one of the biggest expenses for a small business, so you want to be sure to use accounting software that gives you the option of integrating payroll—even if you’re a new business.

As an example of how this works, FreshBooks offers integration with Gusto’s all-in-one payroll and HR solution. Basically, you have to sign up to Gusto separately for functions like payroll processing, time tools, and employee benefits. You can then link your business’s Gusto account to your FreshBooks account to seamlessly pull in all payroll expense data.

5. Business insights

Online accounting software gathers a lot of data about your business, so why not use all that data to your advantage? The top software providers offer customizable dashboards where you can view and analyze your performance, unlocking business insights to help you make data-driven business decisions.

To give one example, the QuickBooks dashboard displays an overview of your company, including the status of your income and expenses, bank accounts, and more. If you wish to dig deeper for business insights, it offers a view of profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and dozens of other reports with a single click. 

6. Professional, branded invoices

Every interaction with customers is a chance to promote your brand identity and remind them how your business stands out from your competitors. Professional, branded invoices are one of the easiest ways to strengthen your brand identity. You’re already sending the invoice anyway—so why not brand it?

The best accounting software lets you create professional-looking invoices in mere seconds. For example, FreshBooks’ invoice generator lets you create and customize your invoice, add your logo, and personalize your thank-you email. For very little effort, you get a great return.

7. Third-party integrations

Good accounting software doesn’t only save you time and effort on accounting tasks. It also integrates with top third-party apps, helping you save time and effort in other parts of your business operations.

As an example, QuickBooks integrates with more than 650 popular business apps, including:

  • Payment apps
  • Inventory tracking
  • Payroll management and HR benefits
  • Budgeting and forecasting tools
  • CRM (customer relationship management)
  • Project management and estimates
  • Ecommerce orders

8. Support for mobile 

According to a 2019 survey from the National Small Business Association, 94% of business owners use their smartphone or cell phone for business activities. If you do too, then you’re going to want your accounting software to include a mobile app.

At a minimum, an app should give you instant access to your data, as well as allow you to enter transactions, record expenses, and invoice customers. It should also back up to the cloud and sync across all your other connected devices. Apps should be included with all pricing tiers—starting from the most basic plan.

9. Scalability

Whatever the size of your business, we’re guessing you want to be bigger in future. The great thing about cloud-based software of any kind is its scalability. Because there’s no need to download or save anything to your device, storage and download capacity is virtually unlimited. 

When shopping around for accounting software, look for providers with flexible pricing. Tiered pricing gives you the ability to start small and then work your way up to higher-priced tiers when you feel you need more capabilities. Per-user pricing is great for saving costs if you’re just a 2- or 3-person operation, while also allowing the flexibility of being able to add on additional users when you grow. 

10. Dedicated support

While one of the main purposes of accounting software is to automate accounting and bookkeeping tasks, the top providers will actually let you outsource manual tasks to them. For example, KPMG Spark premium plans included access to dedicated bookkeepers and accountants.

Even if you don’t think you’ll need help with accounting tasks, it’s still important to choose accounting software with great customer service. You never know when you might want something from the cloud, like restoring your business data from a specific date in the past.

Always do a comparison shop

Most of the top accounting software providers do the basics equally well, but it’s the extra features that make the best providers stand out. Doing a thorough comparison shop is key to finding the right accounting software for your business.

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He writes for top10.com where he discusses the latest innovations in financial services and products.