When you first start out as an entrepreneur one of the first things you learn is that you need to keep track of your accounts. Until you know better you might find yourself building simple spreadsheet documents. Eventually, you realize that it is way too much work that way. You really need a dedicated software solution.
This is a review of a few of the best accounting software products for small business, Gusto (formerly zenpayroll), Xero, Freshbooks, Quickbooks and a look at how they compare. I have used both of them in my business. My recommendation is that you try at least a couple of accounting software options before you decide on one.
Xero is a beautiful cloud-based accounting software. It is very popular with small businesses and professional service providers. Xero was ranked No. 1 by Forbes as the World’s Most Innovative Growth Company. They offer a free trial. I heard a lot of good things about Xero and I was eager to find out more.
Here are some of Xero’s benefits:
- Automated bank feeds, to import your bank statements directly into Xero.
- No installation required. Xero is a cloud-based accounting system, so it is available anytime as long as you have internet access.
- Do you like getting paid fast? You will love Xero for its invoicing feature.
- Reports such as P & L are easily generated.
In contrast to the straightforward style of Quickbooks, Freshbooks has a light-hearted, quirky interface that even has a mascot. Freshbooks is aimed directly at the freelance and startup industries but it still useful for any business owner. The company says it is more intuitive and so accounting should be easier. They pride themselves on their invoicing tools, which are well suited to the needs of freelancers such as web designers or consultants. There is a choice of “classic” and “clean” styles of invoice.The company also focuses on the benefits of being a cloud-based system. Being able to access the software anywhere is useful to freelancers who may travel to see clients.
Something unique is that you can create an “Estimate” document for your clients. I use Freshbooks to send proposals to my clients and prospects. Sometimes it is difficult to know how long your work will take so the estimates feature is a good one along with the time tracker. If you bill by the hour, you will love the time tracker feature. Also, because some freelancers work in teams, there is a handy “Team Timesheet” that can be shared.
A downside of Freshbooks would be that it has fewer graphs to use within the site. Especially disappointing is the lack of graph function for reports. It is possible that a graph feature is less useful to most freelancers. So you’d have to decide based on your particular needs. Freshbooks is still one of the best accounting software products I have used. One last point is that Paypal can easily be used through the software.
In summary, the Quickbooks people really know what they are doing because they have been around longer. They have produced some of the best accounting software products there are. Plus, it’s nice to have the option of going ‘desktop’ or ‘cloud-based’. Freshbooks, on the other hand, is a bit more “cool” and fun, if you can call accounting software fun. But, there may be some limits to some businesses on account of the fact that they are aimed at the freelancer.
Gusto (formerly zenpayroll)
We used to process our own payroll in our business. It was tough. Payroll is a real specialty. It is time-consuming and complicated. Before we have used Gusto we used one of the giant payroll processing services. Their software was clunky. Things that are a breeze with Gusto were much more complicated with the old school alternative. I like that fact that Gusto doesn’t assume that we have an entire department to deal with payroll. We need something that is super simple and does everything we need to do with payroll.
Here is why I love Gusto:
- It is really simple. I know everyone in business tells you that their solution is easy. In reality, only a small percentage of business accounting software is simple.
- Gusto feels like it was designed for small business. I am not ashamed to say that we are a small business. We appreciate when a business creates something with our requirements in mind.
- It saves me time. I don’t want to know that details. Gusto takes care of the details.
- Gusto is easy to set up.
- It is mobile-friendly. The giant payroll processor we used in the past never quite understood why their software should be mobile-friendly.
Quickbooks organizes your books into Customers, Vendors, Employees, and Other. this makes it quick and easy to find what you need. You can either print or email your invoices and payments can be made through the system. There is an extra charge for this, however. There are two options for dealing with expenses and you can even pay your bills from the software. Payroll is also easy to organize, including tax information. Any of these features can be put together and run as a report. The reports are presented in clear graphs and can be exported to email or Excel.
It is fully PC and Mac compatible and it doesn’t matter if you use Mac and your client uses a PC. Quickbooks for Mac appears like a typical Mac application and is easy to navigate. The PC version is maybe not as sleek but still does the job well.
You can get Quickbooks in both a cloud-based online version and a desktop version. With the desktop version, a single cost could potentially last you a few years. However, with the online version, you get regular updates. Also, of course, you can access it from anywhere. With the desktop version, you’d have to be at your main computer.