Accounting software isn’t just about offering a better way to calculate profit and loss. Too many people think of accounting as something you do after your business closes for the day, or at the end of the month. But in reality, accounting software provides a constant stream of benefits for your business in real-time, from better management of your day-to-day expenses to cleaner and simpler invoicing.
How do you choose the best accounting software for your business? Is it best to simply pick the software package that offers the most features, or are there particular features that you should look for?
You don’t need anyone to tell you that accounting software can make a huge difference to the success or failure of any business, but not all businesses have the same needs. The perfect financial software for a large, multi-million-dollar corporation will require very different features than the best accounting software for a small local business.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ve broken down the best business accounting software to 2021 into three major categories: accounting software for small businesses, for midsize businesses, and for enterprise - the big boys.
Before we get into specific software suites, let’s look at how most of these software packages work and the specific benefits you can get from using them.
Subscribe, not buy: SaaS accounting software
Software as a Service, or SaaS, is one of the most common methods out there for delivering software solutions to customers. Rather than force companies to purchase a single software license and then install large files that occupied valuable hard drive and server space, SaaS allows customers to subscribe to a software solution for a recurring fee, typically paid monthly. The software is hosted online or in the cloud, and the user downloads a basic package to operate the software on different devices as needed.
Why the new model? SaaS offers some appealing benefits for both sides. Business owners gain access to financial software without being tied to it; subscriptions can be upgraded or cancelled as needed. If a business outgrows a particular financial software solution and requires a more expensive but more comprehensive one, it’s easy to switch.
On the other side, the SaaS companies themselves get a steady stream of revenue, not a single large one-off payment. Both sides also benefit from frequent updates and the ability to troubleshoot most problems remotely.
Major benefits of financial software
What do you get when you start using good accounting software?
Efficient use of your time
Entering your financial data into Excel spreadsheets, cell by painful cell, just isn’t the most efficient method of managing your business finances anymore. Using the right software streamlines the entire process, freeing you up to do more important things - like sell more products or promote your business.
Up-to-date financial picture
Everyone tends to put off any accounting till the end of the month, but that often means you’re making financial decisions without knowing the full picture. How much money does your business have on end? How much is tied up in inventory? How many invoices are outstanding?
Installing a quality financial management package lets you see a snapshot of your company’s finances in real-time and make decisions armed with the best information available.
Accurate cash flow picture
Cash flow is key, and knowing where you’re at at any given point can be critical to avoiding costly mistakes. It also allows you to take advantage of opportunities when they come - when you have cash on hand, you can jump on that extra stock for your shop or the website overhaul you’ve been planning on.
Shorten the (learning) curve
Unfortunately, even the highest-paid CEOs make mistakes sometimes. Chances are, you will too - but if you operate a small business, you probably don’t have the time to sit down and over-analyze what went wrong, Good accounting software should allow you to see the mistake quickly, and learn from it even faster.
Even better than learning from your mistakes is never making them in the first place. With the right financial accounting software, you can avoid the basic accounting mishaps that plague so many small businesses. Fewer errors means less stress and a better profit margin, meaning that most accounting software packages will essentially pay for themselves quickly.
Part 1: Accounting software for small businesses.
What’s one of the most important factors for small business accounting software? The ability to scale. Very few businesses intend to stay small - you want to expand your range and grow your endeavors as much as possible. For that reason, the best free small business accounting software is able to grow alongside you.
Cloud-based and mobile-friendly, Xero is the accounting software for the modern, self-driven business owner who is always on the go. Xero lets you track your cash flow up to the minute so you’ll always know exactly what’s happening. It’s easy to integrate with existing bank accounts, and you can even grant access to your account to other users. No need to send a pile of paperwork over to your accountant or financial advisor - just let them take a look at Xero.
What sets Sage apart is its ability to work equally well for small or large companies. Custom reports allow you to track unusual or niche-specific issues, and you can create individual logins for employees, allowing them to track their time and expenses directly within Sage. Sage excels at tracking revenue, making it an expense tracking software package that’s great for allowing you to see exactly where your money is going.
Does lots of things well, but it does invoicing even better. With an easy iPad and mobile app, FreshBooks can be used to quickly send invoices even while out and about or on the job. It also tracks sent invoices, letting you see exactly what’s going on.
Kashoo doesn’t offer the huge range of features that other programs do, but it does provide a simple package of tools that all work well. Income and expense tracking features are excellent, and the financial application itself is simple and easy to use.
Part of the vast suite of Zoho cloud-based solutions, Zoho Books is another straightforward small business accounting package. Zoho boasts a great interface that makes it extremely easy to use, but the features are rich enough that some larger businesses might be able to use it as well.
Part 2: Accounting software for midsize businesses
The best accounting software for midsize businesses will offer more than just a glorified spreadsheet. These packages will often start to specialize, doing a small handful of things very well, or forming part of a larger array of programs.
Tipalti focuses primarily on accounts payable, and in some places it accounts for well over 50% of accounts payable transactions. While not as comprehensive as other programs, what Tipalti does, it does extremely well.
No list of accounting software is complete without Quickbooks, which boasts tens of millions of users worldwide. Quickbooks could probably fit anywhere on this list, as it is commonly used by everyone from freelancers to large corporations. QuickBooks has diversified in recent years, offering cloud-based solutions as well as more specialized suites. At the end of the day, it remains the go-to accounting software for countless small businesses around the world.
As the name implies, MYOB keeps the focus on the basics - payroll, expenses, cash flow, billing, etc. Despite the pared-down approach, or perhaps because of it, MYOB suits the needs of most medium-sized businesses perfectly, offering all the tools without any accompanying bloat.
FreeAgent appears frequently on lists of the best accounting software for both freelancers and medium-sized enterprises. Why? Because the program is inherently quite flexible. It allows freelancers to track personal receipts and send invoices, while enabling business owners to manage payrolls and expenses. FreeAgent remains one of the most popular accounting software suites available for SMEs.
Talibro picks up where your old school accounting courses left off, giving SMB owners all they need to keep their accounts fully in order. While powerful, the software is simple and streamlined enough to be easy to understand and use. Features include tax management, accounts and invoices, and ledgers.
BQE Core is just one part of an entire suite of programs from BQE. Together, BQE offers a complete solution to accounting, project management, and inventory; BQE Core provides accounting solutions that include accounting, timesheets, and billing. This financial management software allows certain steps, such as invoicing, to be fully automated, saving time and money down the road without sacrificing oversight.
Global Shop Solutions
Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) is the next step beyond simple financial planning. With ERP, companies can integrate financial management with other aspects of their business. Global Shop Solutions is a comprehensive ERP suite, offering financial and accounting modules alongside CRM and inventory management options.
Built on the SaleForce CRM model, FinancialForce isn’t just a piece of accounting software; it’s a total ERP suite that helps you track everything accounts to inventory. As might be expected from such a robust platform, FinancialForce comes with a fairly steep learning curve. Nevertheless, lots of smaller businesses use FinancialForce as well as larger companies; the platform is flexible enough to accommodate nearly any business size.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the perfect accounting software, but there are enough choices available that any business, of any size, can find the right choice. Use this list as a resource, and browse the hundreds of other options viewable at Serchen