What one change will make the biggest difference in your small business’s efficiency, profitability and success? Switching from paper-based accounting to an accounting software system.
Today’s accounting software programs do more than keep the books. With one click, you can generate reports that tell you and your accountant everything you need to know about your company’s financial situation, import transaction data from your bank, create and send invoices, and more.
With so many choices, how can you find the perfect accounting software for your business? Follow this advice.
Know what you need. A one-person consulting business that just needs to track sales, expenses and taxes has different requirements than a multi-employee retail business that must handle payroll and inventory management. Your business’s size, number of customers and employees, and industry are among factors affecting your choice of accounting software.
Investigate add-ons. Some accounting software programs offer add-ons to expand their functionality. For instance, you might be able to add on programs to integrate the software with your e-commerce site, accept credit card payments or track expenses, if the software doesn’t already include these functions. Keep an eye on costs, however—add-on expenses can mount fast. It may make better financial sense to pay more upfront for software with everything you need built in.
Consult your accountant. Talk to your money manager to ensure the software you choose generates the kinds of financial reports he or she needs. Also make sure it integrates with the software he or she uses so you can share information electronically, speeding up tax preparation.
Consult your bank. Choosing software that integrates with your bank’s software enables you to import bank transactions automatically, which saves you a lot of time.
Get opinions. Read reviews about the software you’re considering—both objective reviews and user reviews. Talk to other business owners to see what they recommend.
Think ahead. What works for your business today may not work for it tomorrow. Keep your business’s growth plans in mind and choose software that’s flexible enough that you won’t have to replace it if your customer base, product line or staff expands in the future.
Put your head (and data) in the cloud. All the solutions mentioned in this article are cloud-based. Instead of buying a software package you download and install on your computers, the software is hosted online; you subscribe to it by paying a monthly fee. There are many advantages of cloud accounting software, including:
• Updates happen automatically in the background, so your software is always current and you don’t have to worry about installing security patches.
• As long as you have an Internet connection, you can access your data wherever you are using an Internet browser or the accounting software provider’s mobile app.
• Cloud accounting software typically provides greater security than having the data stored on your own network.
• Cloud software can integrate with your bank’s software so your bank transactions are automatically entered into your accounting system.
Find out about support. What kind of customer service is provided? Can you get help by email, chat or phone? How will you be charged for support, and is any free support available? For example, you might get free support for a limited time while you’re learning to use the software, or have access to free user forums or help centers where you can get advice from other users.
Consider mobility. What types of accounting functions do you need on the go? If you spend a lot of time out of the office and need to generate invoices, create estimates or track expenses on the fly, a good mobile app will be important to you.
Try it out. Most online software packages offer a free trial period so you can see whether the product is right for you before you commit to it. Ease of use matters—the best product in the world isn’t right for you if you have trouble understanding it or simply don’t like the interface.
Here’s a closer look at the most popular online accounting tools for small-business owners. Choose the right accounting software for you, and you’ll quickly find you spend less time inputting numbers… and more time growing your business.
QuickBooks is the big name in small-business accounting for good reason—it’s got all the functionality your accountant or in-house bookkeeper could ever want, but the essential features are simple enough for small-business owners to handle themselves. In addition, the many add-ons can create even greater functionality.
Key features: Generates reports; imports bank transactions; tracks time and expenses; generates invoices; performs credit card processing and payroll processing; tracks inventory; provides free mobile apps for iOS and Android devices; offers phone support and an online help center.
Pricing: starts at $9.95/month
An up-and-comer competing with the more entrenched QuickBooks, Xero is a fully featured accounting solution that can handle complex accounting tasks such as fixed-asset depreciation. It also integrates with many add-on apps to provide customer relationship management, inventory, time sheets and more.
Key features: Generates reports; imports bank transactions; generates invoices; tracks project management; performs credit card processing and payroll processing; tracks inventory management; comes with free mobile apps for iOS, Windows and Android devices, free email support, and an online help center.
Pricing: starts at $9/month
Designed for one-person businesses, small startups and freelancers, Sage One’s strength is the way it integrates project management with accounting. If you have a lot of employees or inventory, Sage One isn’t for you—but if you work with contractors, freelancers or virtual teams, it could be just what you need.
Key features: Generates reports; imports bank transactions; tracks time and expenses; generates estimates and invoices; manages contacts; enables you to create, assign and manage tasks and projects; perform credit card processing and payroll processing; and lends support via live chat and an online help center.
Pricing: starts at $9/month
Originally launched as an invoicing and expense-tracking tool, FreshBooks has added more accounting functions and offers a slew of add-ons that can expand its functionality. FreshBooks’ strong suit is its simplicity, mobility and (live) customer support. If you’re a one-person business or freelancer who doesn’t enjoy bookkeeping, this could be your ideal solution.
Key features: Generates reports; imports bank transactions; performs credit card and payroll processing; tracks time and expenses; generates estimates and invoices; offers free mobile apps for iOS and Android devices and free live customer support.
Pricing: starts at $19.95/month
With a focus on simplicity and collaboration, FreeAgent is a good solution for one-person businesses, partnerships or freelancers who work closely with others. FreeAgent supports unlimited users, clients and accounts; you can grant users different levels of access. You get a free 20-minute phone call during your introductory period; after that, get support via email and an online help center.
Key features: Generates reports; imports bank transactions; generates invoices and estimates; tracks time and expenses.
Kashoo will keep both you and your accountant happy. This fully featured accounting package follows generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), but it’s also easy for non-accountants to learn. However, it doesn’t track inventory or projects, and although it offers an award-winning iPad app, it doesn’t have a smartphone app.
Key features: Generates reports; imports bank transactions; generates invoices; tracks expenses.
Mobile Payment Tools
Do you provide services to clients in their homes or go to their offices and have to invoice them later? Do you sell products at events and have to turn away customers who don’t have cash? Get paid right away—wherever you are—with mobile payment options.
This service accepts credit and debit cards and charges 2.75 percent per transaction.
This accepts credit and debit cards. Pay 2.75 percent per transaction or pay a monthly fee for lower transaction rates.
Save ever-so-slightly with a 2.7 percent per transaction fee. PayPal Here accepts credit and debit cards as well as checks and PayPal payments.
Obviously, the full-blown accounting programs offer invoicing solutions, but for the times when you want something quick and easy, check out these tools.
Invoice-o-matic and invoice.to.me
These services are free, and you don’t even need to register. Just type your information into the template to create a PDF you can print or email.
The Invoice Machine
A simple interface and options such as calculating taxes and creating estimates are found here. Free for one user and up to three invoices and estimates per month; paid plans available.
Choose from several templates, track invoices and payments, or accept online payments. And there’s this super-cool feature: Zoho Invoice can actually mail paper invoices for you. Free for one user and up to five customers; paid plans available.