Selecting Small Business Accounting Software

Linda Jenkins, April 06 2014

xero accounting softwareIt will happen eventually. As your business grows, you will at some point outgrow your current accounting system, whether you started out with a spreadsheet, manual ledger or simply a shoebox.

The need for a new accounting system may manifest itself in many different forms. You may find that payroll is becoming more onerous to calculate and track as you hire more employees. If you run a manufacturing or resale business, you may keep running out of stock on high-turnover items because you are out before you know it. If you run a service business, you may start losing track of how much time should be billed to each customer. Regardless of the various symptoms, the problem remains the same: your bookkeeping system is taking more of your time than it's worth.

There is always a balance in any small business enterprise between time and money. You can spend either time or money (or both). Scrimping on one will cost you more of the other. For example, if you decide to buy the least-frills accounting package that you can find on the shelves of your local office supply store, you may spend an extra 10 hours per week forcing it to do what you want it to do. If you could take that 10 hours and sell more to your customers, then it perhaps would be worth spending more on more sophisticated accounting software.

Recently, Deloitte & Touche did a study of the top criteria used by businesses when selecting their bookkeeping software. It's quite interesting to see that first-time business owners and seasoned entrepreneurs have different priorities in this regard. This would suggest that experience teaches business owners what's really important when choosing financial software.

The top three criteria used by first time business owners are:

1) Price of software

2) Ease of implementation

3) Ease of use

These reasons make sense. They are all important things to consider in the purchasing decision.


But now take a look at... the top three criteria used by businesses selecting their second bookkeeping system:

1) Level of support provided by the local firm

2) Developer's track record of performance

3) Software's ability to fit the business


Level of support provided by the local firm: Many of the entry-level accounting systems are billed as being turn-key; you just load the software and you're up and running. However, it's never quite that simple. It's important to make sure that you can easily and economically access customer and technical support for your new system. Some bookkeeping software companies charge for support calls, which is fine as long as you can get hold of someone when you need them. You will also want to consider whether there are consultants based locally that can come into your business and provide customized setup and training.  When you're looking at consumer reviews of the product, pay special attention to what they say about support.

Developer's track record of performance: A first-time buyer may very well discount the importance of how well the software has worked in the past, but seasoned entrepreneurs understand how much time it takes to work around bugs in the software, or to install patches to fix problems as they arise. Keep in mind that bookkeeping software is generally updated annually, so there are many opportunities for programming errors to arise. Knowing that the company has been in business for several years with little incidence of major programming bugs can ease your mind in this area.

Software's ability to fit the business: Entry level bookkeeping software systems try to be "one size fits all". They allow you to customize the chart of accounts to make sense with your particular type of business. For example, if your business is computer consulting, it doesn't make any sense to have inventory accounts showing up in your books. However, each software system has strengths and weaknesses for every type of business. Some handle real-time inventory better than others. Some track billable time better. Having a good understanding of what's important to track for your particular business will help you be able to assess which package is best for you.

As you can see, there are more considerations than just price when purchasing accounting software. Spending time understanding all of the critical considerations will help. You should also ask fellow small business owners what they use and how it's working for them. Another important source of information is your accountant, so make sure he or she is consulted during your decision process. Most of the major software websites (Xero, Quickbooks and Peachtree, for example) have free trials, a video overview or online test versions. This gives you the opportunity to "test drive" the package to make sure that you're comfortable with it before you buy. 

Selecting your accounting software is an important task in your small business and may seem daunting. Keep in mind, however, that most systems can be converted to others fairly painlessly. Mistakes are not terminal. If you are in the startup stages of a new business, or have a low number of monthly transactions, consider using accounting spreadsheets before graduating to more sophisticated software. If you are ready for software, going with an online/cloud-based solution has many advantages over downloadable or packaged software since you can create feeds to your banking data and the software is automatically updated saving you from having to constantly upgrade to newer versions.


Solutions We Recommend: 


Cloud-based Software:

For a fully integrated online accounting, inventory and payroll solution try...
Xero Small Business Accounting Software - Try Xero for free now.

Gold Alliance Group uses Xero as an accounting solution and is also an authorized affiliate. 


Are you a freelancer? For a simple, no frills solution try...
Wave - Try Accounting by Wave 


Excel Accounting Templates:
Micro to small-sized business: Income and Expenses Spreadsheet - A simple bookkeeping template for organizing your income and expenses.

Micro to small-sized business: Accounts Receivable Spreadsheet - Track invoices and overdue accounts. Monitor accounts receivable to get paid faster.


Excel Invoice Templates:

Simple Online Invoicing by Aynax