What every informed consumer needs to know...
Accounting software is crucial to running a business, whether that business is small, medium or large. In recent years, the number of accounting software options has grown tremendously. There are now accounting software applications designed for specific industries and different business sizes, all with varying levels of functionality. Selecting the right accounting software not only helps keep your business’ finances organized, but can also help you manage and grow your business, and improve your overall workload. For prospective buyers, selecting an accounting software program for your business can be intimidating, especially with so many options available.
To learn more about how to get find the best accounting software program for you and your business, we’ve written this helpful consumer’s guide.
Accounting Software Checklist
1.) Business Size
The size of your business is the first thing to consider when shopping for Accounting Software. The accounting needs of a small business just getting started are far less complicated than those of a large company with a dedicated accounting department.
The majority of the Accounting Software programs we review are specifically geared towards small business owners, however we also review programs for medium and large businesses for when your small business grows out of its accounting software.
For a small business, we suggest selecting an easy to use accounting software program for your day-to-day accounting needs, such as book-keeping and billing, and relying on a professional accountant to review your books and manage your general and tax reporting. This leaves less room for accounting errors that could cost you in the long run. Most small business accounting software is simple to learn, easy to use, and lower in cost. However, in order to keep it simple, don’t be surprised if your program lacks the functionality of more advanced software programs for larger businesses with more accounting resources and needs.
For the most part, small businesses tend to have less complicated accounting needs, and therefore are less complicated to learn and use. On the other hand, the most complicated accounting software programs are often the best option for larger companies with more complex accounting needs.
Before selecting an accounting software program, consider the accounting tasks you will be taking on. If you’re looking to perform basic daily financial tasks for your small business, chances are you don’t need a system that will run comprehensive forecasting reports for various marketplaces. Instead, start with the basics:
Bookkeeping: Any accounting software you select should allow you to preform basic bookkeeping tasks. This is essential to any business, large or small. This is where you record the daily financial business transactions, like sales and payment received, and expenses and receipts.
Invoicing (Accounts Receivable): Almost all basic accounting software programs come with an invoice creation tool. Additionally, many programs make it easy to send invoices to your customers by email or even through the mail. Some companies also offer credit card processing, to make accepting payments easier. However, be prepared for a small transaction fee for each payment processed.
Bill Management (Accounts Payable): Some programs will help you stay on track with paying bills, reminding you when payments are due or helping you set up online bill pay from your bank account.
Monthly Reconciliation: At the end of each month, all your business’ recorded transactions must be matched to the transactions reported in your bank account. The act of checking your records to your bank statement is called monthly reconciliation. Many small business accounting software programs will work with your banking institution to import your bank statements into your program to make side-by-side comparisons of these transactions fast and easy.
Financial Reporting: Whether you have an accountant or do it all yourself, the most basic accounting software will provide the reports necessary for your general and tax reporting. More advanced programs for medium or large businesses will allow you to create dynamic financial reports to help you track business growth and analyze finances.
Forecasting/Budgeting: Depending on the needs of your business, you can select a software program to help you create business forecasts, or assist in creating budgets and track your expenses for projects. Using your business’ historical data, you can create a forecast to help you plan and estimate future sales or profit. With the budgeting tool, you can plan out a project, track the expenses, and analyze your progress.
Added business tools like inventory management, are also available with some accounting software programs. You can track your business’ inventory to help you know when to make your next purchase. Some accounting software also includes payroll support, which ranges from simple payroll tax reports to managing timecards and creating W2s and 1099s.
Depending on your needs, there are different levels of accounting software with tax reporting features. Most accounting software will at the very least run reports you or you accountant will need for filling out tax forms. If you’re looking for more than just basic reports, you can select a program that will fill out tax forms on your behalf, and some programs will even e-file them for you.
Assess your specific situation to determine which of these features are critical, and then go with the accounting software that works best for you. If one program comes with bells and whistles you don’t think you’ll need, it may be best to save the time and money and choose an option that has only the features you absolutely want and/or need to run your business efficiently.
3.) Ease of Use
More often than not, the difficulty of learning the accounting software is directly related to the complexity of accounting functions the program is able to perform. The more complicated accounting tasks the software can perform, the bigger the learning curve for new users. If you’re just getting started with accounting, pick the software program you can use today, not the one you hope your business will grow into. Many small business software programs have the capability of growing with you, and will work nicely for medium sized businesses as well.
Accounting software is no longer just a program you run on your computer. As cloud-based information and technology progresses, more and more companies are adding cloud-compatibility to their software. Choosing a web-based system drastically reduces upfront investment, because they eliminate the need for a dedicated server. The monthly premium includes storage on their cloud servers, which are accessible from desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets. Some programs even allow you to send invoices via your mobile device. However, if you do decide to go this route, be sure that the program is available on your operating system of choice. Most are available on both iOS and Android, but beyond that it becomes scarcer.
Another important feature is automatic data backup. Most of the top 10 software companies include this feature, which prevents you from losing your data due to unsaved progress, corruption, or hardware failure. In the event that something goes wrong, it’s essential that you be able to retrieve your information safely.
If you would prefer on-premises desktop versions of software, there are still companies who offer more traditional accounting software. About half of the top 10 companies on our site still offer desktop versions of their accounting software, but be advised that cloud-based software is probably the better bet for the long haul. With demand skyrocketing, more emphasis is being placed upon mobile-friendly and web-based options, which could leave you with outdated software within a few years.
One last thing to consider is that most of the top 10 accounting software options offer an unlimited number of account users and clients, but a few of them have restrictions in place. Having plan with a limited number of users or clients is ideal for small business owners with a limited customer base or few employees looking to keep their overhead costs low. However, this can be limiting for others. Increasing or lifiting these limitations oftentimes means paying for a more inclusive package. If you don’t want to worry about how many people can use the software or hitting the client limit, be sure to research this feature before committing. It all comes down to personal preference, so these are just some points to consider while shopping around.
5.) Customer Service
While it may seem strange to think customer service should factor into a software choice, it’s worth consideration. For example, many companies offer first-time customers a trial period in which they can try out the software risk-free. The common trial period is 30 days, which is plenty of time to experiment with the software and determine if it’s right for your company.
All of the software options in our top 10 provide links on their websites to their terms of service and privacy policies, which you should read over before committing to a software option. It is also important to inquire about the cancellation policy. If services are rendered on a monthly billing basis, many companies will offer to prorate to the nearest month and refund you that money after termination. If no contract is required, cancellation is usually allowed at any time. However, not all software companies offer refunds, so be sure to find that section in the terms of service agreement.
Accounting software is especially important to those users who possess little to no formal accounting training. This is why it’s important that the company you choose offer supportive services to help solve any problems that may arise along the way. Whether it’s in the form of an online help guide, a built-in support function, or telephonic/digital communication directly with the company, make sure you have the option to ask for help if you need it.
Additional fees may apply for various services and features. For example, if the software offers credit card processing, there is usually a per-transaction fee involved. There may also be a limit on the number of people who can access the software based on your level plan. Adding staff access could cost you an additional fee. Ask the customer service team these questions to make sure you’re getting exactly what you need and that there are no unexpected fees that may come up through use.
The cost of accounting software varies based on the size of your business and the features you select. Most accounting software for small businesses offer multiple plan options with varying features at different price points. Services are usually billed on a monthly basis, and the starting price for a basic plan is commonly about $10 per month. If you’re looking for a more inclusive accounting option for your small business, the monthly fee on average jumps up to the $40 to $50 per month range for the highest priced plans. However, some companies bill yearly at a higher price, and some even cost a one-time payment that unlocks the software forever (additional fees do apply).
If you are looking for a professional level accounting software program for your medium or large business, be prepared to pay upwards of $500 a month for your software.
Some companies offer discounts if you choose to subscribe for six months to a year, as opposed to staying month-to-month. If during the trial period you fall in love with the program, it’s definitely worth looking into those long-term options to save money.
Accounting software is designed to simplify the many tasks involved with running your own business. It can improve efficiency, especially for small businesses. However, the cost of the monthly premiums may seem like a big investment to a young company. Ultimately it comes down to your needs and available funds to determine if an accounting software application is right for your business. But every business owner knows that being on top of your finances is critical to running a successful company. Using an accounting software that’s well-suited for your company’s needs can be a hugely valuable time and money-saving tool.
When reading Accounting Software reviews consider the following points.
- Statistical Significance: Make sure the number of reviews posted is significant. If there are only a couple reviews, the star rating is going to be less helpful than if there are 200 customer reviews. Remember, the fewer the number of reviews, the more weight the scores of the specific reviewers will have on the overall score. If you find a product with a limited number of reviews, take a moment to look at the individual ratings to get a good idea of customers are generally pleased or displeased with their purchase.
- Word Sentiment: It can be helpful to scan reviews for words that stand out. Do you see more positive or negative language being used? In addition to star ratings, scanning for specific words can be a useful way to get a general sense of how satisfied current customers are with the various accounting software options. Everyone has different methods of scoring, so what is great to you may only be satisfactory to someone else. Looking at the word sentiment may give you a clearer understanding of the ratings.
- Customer Care: If a software company has the opportunity to respond to customer feedback, do they? Do the companies you are researching make the effort to resolve individual complaints? Look for companies who thank customers for positive reviews, and respond politely to negative ones. Remember, companies who go above and beyond to resolve customer complaints will likely do the same for you if you become a customer. If the company cannot respond, do reviewers address how helpful the company was in resolving their specific issue?
- Learn from other people’s mistakes: If you see negative comments directed toward a company, think about how this problem could have been prevented. For instance, if the issue was because someone didn’t understand how to use a specific feature, take the time to read FAQs and familiarize yourself with the feature options available. Everyone makes mistakes, so if a company is at fault, look for how the problem was resolved. And if it wasn't, this may be a good sign to look elsewhere.