An exploration of what features to look for when choosing accounting software for your small business and how the leading brands in the field stack up.
Small business owners have to wear many hats. There are always more tasks that need doing and one that can’t be avoided is to do your business accounts. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since the days of double entry using a pen and paper. Today, small businesses can make their accounting lives easier by using one of the many accounting software options available. The only trouble is that now you need to choose the best one for your business. Given the hassle and cost of switching between accounting programs, you need to get the right one for your needs. Here is what you should look for when choosing the best accounting software for your small business.
What Features Do You Need?
Small business accounting software can come with a huge amount of bells and whistles, but you might not need all of them. Extra features could just make it all more complicated and cost you unnecessarily, but you still want to be sure you can manage all of the accounting-related tasks that face you. If you’re managing a small to medium business, you’ll probably need online payroll or inventory management like that offered by Xero. It’s also helpful to use a program that integrates directly with your bank accounts to help track income and expenditure and enable faster invoice management. Software like Xero, Intuit QuickBooks Online, and Wave include this option.
The ability to handle multi-currency payments can be important for Ecommerce retailers who should turn to Wave or Kashoo for this feature. Other useful features include tax report preparation, credit card processing, issuing online invoices, time and project tracking, and help preparing other financial reports. Not all accounting software enables double-entry bookkeeping, but Xero, Zoho Books, Kashoo, Intuit Quickbooks, and Sage all include it so there’s a wide range to choose from.
Integrations and Add-Ons
Plenty of accounting software offers valuable integrations and add-ons. Retail businesses might value a program like GoDaddy which integrates with Amazon, Paypal, Ebay, and Etsy to make invoicing easier. Many also integrate directly with your bank account but there is also software which connects with your CRM, like Zoho Books which integrates with its own native CRM to coordinate invoicing and project tracking. Quickbooks, Xero, and Sage all boast many third-party integrations and apps which can really speed things up come tax season.
How Big is Your Business?
A freelancer or sole employer needs different capabilities in accounting software than a business with 5, 10, or 100 employees. Some accounting programs such as Freshbooks are ideal for freelancers and microbusinesses which mainly need time tracking, invoice generation, and expense reporting but can manage without paying for payroll and other premium services. Wave is also targeted at businesses with under 10 employees which need effective bank integration, invoicing, and expense tracking. At the other end of the scale, larger businesses will need multi-user access and multi-user project tracking and should look for software like Sage which allows for that.
When you choose accounting software at the start of your business, remember that hopefully your business will grow. Can your accounting software grow with you? Many programs offer a series of plans that begin with lower-price tiers for just a few users and contacts and expand up through the price levels. Zoho Books is a good option for flexible scaling, since you can start with the basic plan that allows for just one user and easily upgrade to the Standard or Professional plan which ultimately permits unlimited users and contacts. It’s important to look for programs that let you scale without any stress.
Ease of Use
The best accounting software in the world is only going to be worthwhile if you know how to use it and can do so easily. Intuit Quickbooks Pro is one popular choice thanks to its ease of use. An intuitive user interface and clear organization of tools and settings can be more valuable than the tools themselves.
It’s also very useful to have a mobile app for your accounting software so that you can log expenses, track projects, manage invoices, and organize your finances when you’re out of the office. Most accounting programs do include a mobile app, but some are easier to use than others. Not every program includes full functionality on the app, so if mobile accounting is important to you then it’s worth it to investigate which features are accessible via mobile. Xero and Kashoo both offer strong and intuitive mobile apps.
The bottom line is always going to matter. There are freemium accounting software programs available like Freshbooks and Wave which offer limited features and fewer users for the free versions. If you’re just starting out, it can be a good idea to begin with the free version and upgrade to a paid plan as your business expands and you need more features. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of the free trial offered by most accounting programs.
GnuCash is one totally free and very powerful accounting software suite. It’s open source downloadable software which includes powerful features like customer and vendor tracking, invoicing, payroll, and bill payment. The downside is that it’s not the most intuitive system and you’d have to work it out yourself since there’s no technical support.
If you’re looking for paid software, you have the option of a downloadable program which requires a one-off payment, or an annual or monthly contract for online cloud-based accounting software. Your choice will depend on your cash flow and tech preferences as much as the cost. It’s important to consider the features that are included when you compare prices, since there’s no use in cutting costs to end up without the functionality you need.
If you get into a major accounting muddle, is there someone there to help you? Processing invoices, creating tax documents, and managing payroll is a serious business. It’s important to have good customer support that responds quickly when you need help and offers trained and knowledgeable representatives who know how to assist you. Look for accounting software that provides live chat or telephone support 24/7 and can be relied upon to connect you to a real person. Sage and GoDaddy are both highly appreciated for their good customer service.
Cloud-based or Download?
One final choice to make is between cloud-based software or downloading a program onto your own system. A lot will come down to personal preference. Some businesses prefer the nature of downloaded software which is often loaded with plenty of features and only requires a one-off charge. Although security is often cited as better for downloaded programs, cloud-based software is increasingly safe and secure today. It’s worth bearing in mind that although there are both downloadable and online versions of some accounting programs, like Sage and Intuit Quickbooks, many companies are moving their capabilities online.
Regardless of your business situation, whether you are a freelancer or manage an extensive workforce, whatever your industry, you can find small business accounting software that fits your needs.