So, what is the best accounting software? Well, there is no such thing. You could, of course, say what is the best accounting software for my particular business, to which there may well be a definitive answer, but on the whole there is no correct answer to this question.
What is evident, and we have found this from the accounting and bookkeeping software reviews that we have carried out, is that there are a lot of very good accounting and bookkeeping software applications on the market. Products such as KashFlow, Clear Books, FreeAgent, Xero, and the various offerings from Sage, all provide very viable, low-cost, solutions for sole traders and small limited companies.
Online (web-based/cloud) or installable software
In recent years there has been a move away from accounting software that you download (or buy on a CD/DVD) and install on your own computer towards accounting software that is provided online ie web-based / cloud solutions.
There are pros and cons for both approaches, but the recent Heart Bleed security issue that hit OpenSSL has highlighted the point that anything that is stored or used on the World Wide Web is not completely 100% secure. The Internet and World Wide Web are based on hardware and software developed by humans and as such will always be at risk of containing bugs or faults that could potentially be exploited by talented hackers. For years, we thought that SSL meant that a web site was completely secure – now we know that that was not the case.
Having said that, it is a fair assumption to make that online accounting solutions are pretty safe and offer a very convenient way of recording and maintaining your company accounts. For a start, web-based accounting software is normally available from any web-enabled device such as a PC, laptop, mobile phone or tablet. Of course, some online accounting software applications work better than others on, say, a mobile phone, so it’s best to try out a few possibilities if you think that this is a feature that might be useful for your business. Being able to access your accounts from virtually anywhere at anytime is a great advantage that online solutions offer though.
However, if you ask the question – which is the most secure – online or installable? I would have to opt for installable. After all, with installable software you have the option of installing it on a computer that is not connected to the Internet, making it completely safe from attacks from hackers. Of course, if your house gets burgled and your computer is stolen, or your computer’s hard disk crashes, you’ll lose everything unless you’ve remembered to back things up.
Also, with online solutions you are always using the latest version of the software/application. This is really good as it means that as new features become available, you will in general have access to them. With installable software, you may well be stuck with the version you bought, or you you may have to pay (probably will have to pay) to upgrade to the latest software version.
With online solutions there will probably be a monthly fee to pay, which is normally in the region of £15 to £20 per month, whereas with installable software there is normally a one-off payment, which varies dramatically depending on the software you go for, but is typically in the area of £250 to £300.
Online versions normally have free, ongoing, help available, whereas installable software comes with support that lasts for a limited period of time unless you buy a support package. The advantage with help that’s provided for online software is that the provider can, if necessary, assess your account and resolve any issues. This is not so straightforward for software that you have installed on your computer’s hard disk.
Free or paid for
So, is it worth paying for accounting software when there are plenty of free solutions available, for example, Quick File, Earnings Tracker, VT Cash Book, Adminsoft Accounts, TurboCash, GnuCash, and Brightbooks … to name but a few. Well, I guess it’s a case of whether you can find a free accounting software application that does the job for you – if you can then, yes, go for it, as there really is no point in paying for software when there’s a free alternative that does what you need it to.
It’s also worth remembering that although products like KashFlow, Xero, FreeAgent and Clear Books are all excellent solutions, it may well be that they offer functionality than you just don’t need – functionality that you would be paying for if you bought the software. For this reason it is always a good idea to take advantage of the free trials that all of these products offer, giving you the chance to evaluate them before handing over any money.
It’s also worth looking at whether a free bookkeeping spreadsheet will suffice. This really is the simplest solution and will be sufficient for some people that are running very basic businesses. Of course, this won’t be a sensible solution for most people, but it’s certainly worth looking at and may well form part of a larger accounting / bookkeeping solution for your business.
Whether you decide to go for a free product or a paid-for product, the essential thing is that you get the right product for your business. Take your time in choosing something and try out as many possibilities as you sensibly can. Don’t be tempted to go for the ‘all singing all dancing’ solution unless you really need it, otherwise you’ll just be paying for functionality and features that you don’t need.
Bear these pointers in mind when choosing accounting software for your business:
- It needs to save you time so that you can concentrate on running your business
- It needs to offer the right amount of functionality for your business
- It needs to be easy to use
- It needs to be affordable
… and here’s a few suggestions to look at
Free accounting / bookkeeping software:
Paid for accounting / bookkeeping software: