Finances and Taxes

Do I Need Payroll Software for My Small Business?

Gusto Editors  
Do I need payroll software for my small business?

It’s that time again: Payday.

It’s a day employees celebrate with glee. But if you’re like a lot of small business owners, payday is not exactly the highlight of your month. Payroll can mean fire drills, late nights, and spending time away from the things that actually go into running your business.

Could finding the right payroll software make this routine more manageable? First, let’s figure out your payroll needs.

Are you paying independent contractors?

If you are only paying independent contractors, then it’s not payroll. That’s because independent contractors are generally considered self-employed. You simply need a way to get them the funds, like writing them a check or transferring the funds electronically. And you’re typically not responsible for withholding their taxes.

Are you paying employees (including yourself)?

Depending on the type of business entity you own, you may be required to give yourself a salary as an employee. If that’s the case, you’ll have to run payroll in order to pay yourself and any other employees.

Federal rules affect whether a worker is classified as an employee or independent contractor and whether you need to withhold payroll taxes. But it’s always a good idea to consult a tax advisor if you have questions.

How can payroll software help?

If you have employees on payroll, you might want to consider using software to handle everything. Here are just some of the ways it can help:

1. It can save you time.

According to SCORE, most small businesses spend between one and five hours doing payroll every month. And that number doesn’t even include the 41-plus hours spent on year-end tax preparations. If you use payroll software, you could spend some of that time on other things.

Photographer Nicole Chen used to dread the end of the month when she’d spend an hour and a half sorting through labor codes and technical glitches to get her payroll right. With payroll software, it now takes her five minutes.

“[My business partner] Karen and I can do a lot with that extra hour and 25 minutes,” she said. “We’ve been making a distinct effort to work on personal creative projects, so that additional time is really valuable.”

2. It can help you avoid crucial payroll mistakes.

For the 2017 fiscal year, the IRS levied over $5 billion in penalties for mistakes businesses made with their employment taxes.

IRS Employment tax penalties table 2017

There’s no way around it: Errors can be costly, time-consuming to fix, and stressful from start to finish.

From calculating and withholding taxes to helping with end-of-year filings, good payroll software can help you avoid the most common payroll-related mistakes. Payroll software companies usually update their systems to stay on top of changing state and federal requirements. They even automate tasks like tax filings and send you alerts when you have deadlines to meet.

3. It can help you focus on your business.

Using software to streamline payroll means you can focus on actually running your business. Wish there were more hours in the day to interact with customers, bond with your employees, figure out marketing, or brainstorm new ideas? Payroll software can give you more than a few.

“My time is everything to me,” said Andrea Talley, owner of GreenLid restaurants in San Francisco. Using software for payroll gives her “more time to be in the business—like thinking about our products, and our quality and sourcing—and doing the types of things that I started the business to do.”

Signs that you might need payroll software

If you find yourself drooling as you look over this list, chances are you’re a good candidate for switching payroll providers.

You want to automate as much as possible.

From filling out forms for new hires to calculating and filing your payroll taxes, to paying your staff and your contractors on time, the ability to set it and forget it (or at least forget parts of it) is what sets modern payroll software apart.

You want customized software that works for your small business.

Whether you run payroll weekly or monthly, offer benefits, allow employees to make charitable donations from paychecks, or give the occasional bonus, your payroll system should be tailored to your needs. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing more admin on the side, which really defeats the purpose.

You want to simplify your business taxes.

Payroll software can do much of the heavy lifting with your employment taxes—withholding, filing quarterly reports, preparing W-2s and 1099s, and more to help end-of-year accounting go much more smoothly.  

You want to offer an employee portal.

Workers often need to be able to access their own pay and benefits records. A portal can actually improve employee morale because they’ll have access to information when they need it and better control over their work lives. It’ll also save you time by empowering employees to access their pay stubs or W-2s on their own.

You want flexible access and integrations with other software.

Maybe you want your HR manager to have a login. Maybe you want your accounting or time-tracking software to sync with payroll. Whatever the case, payroll software can help take the administrative pressure off yourself by offering software integrations and features that let you collaborate with other people.

You want great customer support.

You want to know that someone has your back. Any payroll provider you work with should be responsive and able to help when you need it.

Updated: May 2, 2019

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