I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but during my first year as a small business owner I maintained pretty much all of my records in a small folder. I didn’t use any accounting software or in any way organize my records. Instead, I just stashed all of my receipts into the folder and forgot about them until tax time. When tax time did come it took hours to make sense of the mess of receipts and other documents I’d collected. In retrospect, it was clearly a mistake not to select accounting software upfront to keep things organized. If you’re operating a small business, don’t make the same mistake. Get the tools you need to help you organize your business from the beginning.
There are plenty of options for small business owners seeking easy, cheap, and effective apps for effortless accounting. Which one is right for you will almost certainly depend on your needs and the nature of your business. For example, if it’s just you or you plus a few employees (let’s say you’re an appraiser, handyman, writer, or a solo attorney, like me) you’ll probably prefer a cheaper tool that boasts a straight-forward user interface like Freshbooks, Outright, and Shoeboxed. More complex businesses with payroll issues and complicated bookkeeping needs will prefer options such as Quickbooks and Sage 50.
Need a little help making your choice? We’ve broken down the benefits of each to make it easier for you:
Freshbooks: Automate Billing and Expense-Tracking
Freshbooks has become an increasingly popular options for small businesses. It is cloud-based and, therefore, easily accessible from any web browser. It allows you to create and send customizable invoices (via email or snail mail) to clients and customers. It connects to most banks and similar services (such as PayPal) in order to automatically track your expenses. Paired with detailed reporting tools, you can get a big picture view or drill down deeper so you can learn what’s working (and what’s not). For example, they offer time tracking by project and task so you can see the time you spend working on projects of every type and size. And for any small business, getting paid is a top priority. Freshbooks makes it easier with online invoices and payment processing so it’s simple and fast for both you and your clients. If you’re a small business with an inventory, Freshbooks allows you to easily monitor products so you always know what’s on the shelf and what’s been sold. Freshbooks doesn’t offer any native tools for managing payroll, so you’ll need to look elsewhere to manage that aspect of your business. It’s also important to note that a free account only supports up to three clients (after that plans start at $19.99 a month for up to 25 clients).
Outright: Simplify Tax-Time
Like Freshbooks, Outright is a cloud-based bookkeeping and accounting program, but with a relatively greater emphasis on bookkeeping. However, Outright’s primary focus is to make federal taxes easier by effortlessly categorizing your expenses into IRS approved tax categories (so you don’t end up with that big pile of receipts at the end of the tax year). Outright also tracks profits and losses so you can examine your business’ bottom line. Outright is free and offers an upgrade for $9.95 per month that allows you to create annual, quarterly, and sales tax reports. The tools for tracking sales tax will prove especially useful if you’re selling products subject to sales tax.
Shoeboxed: Organize Your Receipts Effortlessly
Shoeboxed focuses on storing and organizing paper receipts and other physical documents in an online cloud-based storage place. With everything online, you may never have to dig for a receipt again–and you’ll have your important records backed up, just in case something happens to your physical copies. One of Shoeboxed’s most interesting features is the ability to send in your paper receipts to be scanned, OCRed, and verified by their team. Shoeboxed then enters your receipts into your account for you. Once you have everything in the cloud, you can use simple expense reporting, basic accounting tools, some limited bookkeeping applications, and other options to simplify your tax preparation.The basic service is free (which allows for 5 document scans a month), but more advanced plans begin at $9.95 a month.
Quickbooks: Keep Your Books and Payroll Like the Pros
Quickbooks is the ubiquitous bookkeeping and accounting software used by professional accountants and bookkeepers. That means it is exceptionally easy to send your records to your accountant come tax-time using Quickbooks. It also offers a vast range of services for more complicated bookkeeping and accounting. However, it’s also somewhat less intuitive and more expensive than many of its competitors. Unlike Freshbooks, for example, Quickbooks allows you to manage payroll and payroll taxes, so it’s especially helpful if you are operating a bigger business with multiple employees. Quickbooks offers software you can install on your computer (starting at $249.95) or the cloud-based Quickbooks Online ($39.95 a month).
Sage 50: Create Intuitive Workflows for Your Bigger Small Business
Sage 50 is one of the most critically acclaimed accounting software apps out there. Like Quickbooks, it’s definitely well-suited for small businesses with comparatively complex structures. For example, it offers an intuitive workflow interface that begins with providing a quote, turning a quote into a sales order, a sales order into invoice, and so on, all the way through depositing the money into your bank. It provides tools to manage payroll, inventory, jobs, invoices, time tracking, and reporting. It’s also not particularly cheap. There is a 30-day free trial, but after that plans begin at $369.
There are many other options out there, but these are a few of our favorites. If you think we left one off the list, or if you’d like to share how you’ve used one of these apps for your business, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.