Choosing accounting software is often a matter of fit, flexibility and features. These “3Fs” may be different for each business owner, but one thing is for certain, it takes a little homework to find an accounting application that ticks the boxes for all three. As the following seven questions before you buy small business accounting software.
1) Does Your Business Really Need Accounting Software?
Small business owners are usually entrepreneurial self-starters who wear many hats. Frequently, that means they (or their team) perform many of the tasks that larger businesses pass on to experts, contractors, or a department. Accounting and finance is often one of the “DIY” tasks, particularly for micro-businesses, freelancers/self-employed professionals and consultants. Doing these tasks yourself means you save money, have more control over the financial direction of your company, and come to understand the nuances of your business’s finances. If you are a “hands-on” business owner as described above, there may come a time when you consider the benefits of doing your own small business accounting and finance rather than hiring costly financial advisor.
There are many small business accounting applications on the market, so how do you choose? Following are a few questions to ask yourself as you kick the tires of an accounting app.
2) Will the Accounting Software Fit Your Small Business Needs?
There are a few ways you can determine whether the small business accounting software will be a good fit. Finding answers to the remaining questions is a good start. Before you begin to investigate, make a list of requirements. The list can include things like ease of use, features, scalability and cost. If you are a small business owner, it’s very unlikely that you’ll require enterprise level accounting software. Eliminating what you don’t need is another great way to narrow the field of contenders.
3) Does the Software Require Expertise to Use?
If you, a partner or employee are going to use the software, consider whether it is easy to use. Do you need to be an accountant or have financial expertise to perform common bookkeeping and financial analysis tasks? The only way to find out for certain is to try the software. Most desktop or online accounting applications can be used as a free trial before you buy. Take advantage of the trial period to examine whether the software is easy to use.
While using the application trial, ask questions, such as:
- Can I easily find what I need?
- Is the navigation intuitive?
- Can I perform common tasks easily and intuitively (e.g. create invoices, record bills, record payments)?
- Can I understand the interface?
- Do I get lost easily?
- Is there a readily-available user guide or help system?
- Are there videos that show walk-throughs of important features?
4) Is the Accounting Software Flexible?
Some software is inflexible. You may have to use it in a very prescribed way and may not be able to deviate from a workflow. Flexible small business accounting software such as Flare, allows you to use the application in a way that works for you. Maybe you only want to create invoices and track expenses. Perhaps you want to manually record all bank transactions instead of setting up an automated bank feed. On the other hand, you may be a power use – someone with experience using a full-fledged accounting application. Flexible accounting applications will satisfy the needs of many users – from those who only want basic functionality to those who want to lift the hood and check out all the moving parts.
5) Does the Accounting Software Have Must-Have Features?
Make a list of accounting and finance software features you need or want. Review the software website’s features page, sign up or download the application and review each feature on your list.
Features to consider:
- Financial dashboard
Does the small business accounting software have a dashboard that shows important financial information including: book and bank balances, revenue, expenses, profit, due from customer, top customers, invoices aging, due from vendors, top vendors, bills aging, latest transactions, budget vs. actual.
- Invoice payments.
- Customer-value tracking.
- Bill payments.
- Vendor expense tracking.
- Bank accounts and bank transactions.
- Bank feed (connect to online banking and download transactions).
- Bank reconciliation.
- Cash register reports.
- Financial reports (e.g. income statement, general ledger, statement of cash flow, sales tax, receivables aging, payables aging).
Can you invite your accountant or bookkeeper, business partner or employees to view your company finances?
- Can you manage multiple companies from login or installation?
6) Is the Accounting Software in the Cloud or a Download?
Many software providers are moving their applications to the cloud…for good reason. Software that you download and install has a downside. Desktop/laptop software often consumes system resources and so is slower than many cloud applications; to get the latest version you must purchase the new version or pay for an upgrade; there may be software or hardware incompatibilities; and, the accounting system and your data is only as safe as your desktop’s security and your backup practices. With online accounting applications, you don’t need to download or install anything. You sign up and login and you’re ready to go. You are always using the latest version and don’t have to pay for upgrades to your current plan. Cloud systems are also very secure, hosted on secure networks and backed up frequently. Your data is safer in the cloud than it is on your desktop or laptop.
Online accounting software also provides small business owners maximum freedom. As long as you have an internet connection, you can log in and use the application from anywhere, any time you want.
7) What is the Pricing Model?
Desktop software may require a monthly payment or one-time pricing. One-time pricing can be in the hundreds of dollars and you’ll likely have to pay for new versions or upgrades. With cloud accounting software, you pay monthly (or yearly, often at a discount). You are always on the latest version and don’t have to pay for upgrades. Monthly pricing of online accounting applications varies, depending on features and plans. Pricing can range from $10/mo to $50/mo (USD).
Before you buy small business accounting software, try it and answer the questions above. Makes lists of features, take notes about the software as you use it. If you investigate before you make a purchase, you’ll wind up with a suitable application that fits you and your business needs.