Posted in Small Business Hacks | by: Kinjal Dagli Shah

These Are the Best Accounting Tools, According to 250+ Small Business Owners

We asked over 250 small business owners about the tech tools they swear by. Based on 500-plus hours of research, here is our curated list of the best apps and software for tiny companies—as told to us by real small business owners.

 

Many business owners deal with their accounting to-dos directly—like cash-flow management and tax filings—while others team up with accountants or bookkeepers to take those things off their plate. Regardless of how deep you dive into your own accounting, it’s helpful to know about the tools that actually make the money magic happen.

“As a business owner, an amazing accounting and bookkeeping experience starts with selecting the right platform,” says Will Lopez, Founder of AdvisorFi, a South Florida-based virtual accounting firm. “Technology that has a creative approach to the fundamental tasks will make business ownership feel less hectic.”

Here are the accounting programs the entrepreneurs we spoke with trust the most.

The winner: Xero.

Xero _ The Best Accounting Software for Small Business Owners in 2018

Xero, (pronounced “zero”), was voted the best accounting software among the business owners we polled. Respondents appreciate its “non-jargony platform” and the robust feature set that comes with an affordable price tag.

Why business owners recommend it.
  • It’s the gold standard for small businesses and their accountants and bookkeepers. “Xero’s universally liked by small businesses, their accountants, and bookkeepers,” says Kenji Kuramoto, CEO of Acuity, an Atlanta-based financial accounting firm. “They can all collaborate easily inside of the Xero platform.” Andi Smiles, a small business financial consultant based in San Francisco, agrees with Kuramoto’s stamp of approval. “Xero would be standard for a bookkeeper to use,” she says.
  • It’s a good deal for when you’re just getting started. Xero is designed for small businesses on a budget. At $9 a month for the Starter plan, which includes unlimited users, the software is “very affordable” for companies that only have a few projects and clients.
  • It’s great for business owners that want to be more hands-off with their accounting. Maia Bittner, a serial entrepreneur and CTO of Pinch, likes that Xero makes it easy to pass information over to her accountant. “I set it up and configured it, but our accountant uses it now. I was surprised at how easy Xero was.” Other users note that the language used, like “billing” instead of “accounts payable,” makes it easy to learn even if you don’t have an accounting degree.
  • It connects to a variety of banks and credit cards. Bittner appreciates that Xero supports the various banks she uses for her business, so banking statements can be pulled directly into the platform. “With banking, there can be a lot of onerous security requirements,” she says. “We used both standard and unconventional banks, so I was happy that Xero integrated with all of them.”
Things to consider.
  • You still need a basic grasp of accounting. While respondents say Xero has the smallest learning curve compared to its competitors, whenever you work with accounting software, you need to know the common terms and your end goal.
Price.
  • The main difference between each plan comes down to the number of invoices, bills, and quotes included, along with when payroll kicks in.
Plan Price
Starter $9/month
Standard $30/month
Premium 10 $70/month

Best for business owners who have some accounting knowledge: QuickBooks Online (QBO).

QBO _ The Best Accounting Software for Small Business Owners in 2018

Many small business owners we surveyed ranked QuickBooks Online, nicknamed QBO, as their accounting software of choice. However, respondents noted that it requires a little more accounting knowledge than other tools.

Why business owners recommend it.
  • It’s versatile and works with many add-on apps. “QBO has better bank syncing capabilities than the smaller software companies and it integrates with a lot of third-party apps,” says Smiles. “That automates the bookkeeping process as a whole.”
  • You don’t have to upgrade it. Unlike the desktop version, QuickBooks Online doesn’t need to be “upgraded constantly,” says a respondent. Instead, new features are added automatically.
Things to consider.
  • It’s on the pricey side (given what it includes). Some respondents say QBO is “too expensive” and not as user-friendly as other accounting software, like Xero or Bench. “It works for what we need,” says another respondent, “but we could be convinced to switch if a better (more efficient, more cost-effective) tool was presented.”
  • You need to have some accounting knowledge. Others say it’s important to first understand basic accounting before jumping in. “QuickBooks is not for some people,” one respondent says. “You need to understand things like accounts and how to track things—too many people think it’s just an ‘electronic register,’ but it’s not.”
  • If you’re on the desktop version of QuickBooks, you should switch to QBO. “Another important thing to know is that QBO isn’t going to support QuickBooks Desktop for Mac starting in 2019,” says Smiles. So Mac users should switch to QBO if they want to stay in the QuickBooks family.
Price.
  • QBO’s plans are 50 percent cheaper without the free 30-day trial. However, free trials are often a good way to get a handle on new software before committing.
Plan Price without the trial Price with the trial
EasyStart $10/month $20/month
Essentials $17/month $35/month
Plus $30/month $60/month

Best for business owners with less than five employees: Bench.

Bench _ The Best Accounting Software for Small Business Owners in 2018

Bench is a popular accounting tool to help business owners compile all of the info needed to file taxes: financial statements, notes of items that require special tax treatment, and backup in case the business is ever audited.

Why business owners recommend it.
  • You don’t need to find a bookkeeper. One benefit of going with Bench is that they pair you with a real, in-house bookkeeper so you don’t have to go through the trouble of finding one on your own. This can be great for folks who don’t know where to start. Specifically, Bench bookkeepers use FreshBooks for daily invoicing while they take care of the financial reporting.
  • It collects a majority of the information your accountant needs. “It helps me provide in-depth details for my accountant,” says Kenny Tjay, owner of video production agency Indiemarch Film
  • You can start no matter where you are in your bookkeeping journey. One cool feature is that you can add “catch-up bookkeeping” to whatever plan you go with, so your Bench bookkeeper can help you get up to speed with any work that’s been piling up.
Things to consider.
  • It doesn’t have a robust feature set compared to its competitors. “I usually don’t mess with anything that’s not QBO or Xero,” says Smiles, “because usually the feature set is lacking!” Respondents mention that Bench lacks features like bank reconciliation, automatic backups, and cash-flow statements, which can be important for a growing business.
  • An accountant can’t really get into your books with Bench. If you’re working with an accountant or other financial pro, they can’t immerse themselves in your books like they can with QuickBooks or Xero. “Accountants are going to have a strong preference to work inside systems that are built for them,” Kuramoto explains. “QBO and Xero have platforms designed for accountants to get in and help small businesses—Bench doesn’t have this capability.”
  • You can’t do the accounting yourself. Because of the built-in bookkeeper feature, business owners are unable to do some or all of the accounting themselves.
Price. 
  • “Bench is a lot cheaper than QuickBooks,” Tjay says, “because the monthly price includes the bookkeeper that prepares your books.” This is a big draw for many business owners.
Plan Price (billed annually)
Micro $115/month
Boutique $165/month
Venture $215/month
Corporate $295/month

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Use this advice as a starting point, and then talk to your bookkeeper or CPA to see which platforms they’d recommend—before you sign up. That way, they’ll help you decide which tool is best for your situation and their level of involvement.

“With all of the tax and financial changes that businesses have to navigate these days, owners need accounting systems that connect and communicate with their accountants on a real-time basis,” says Kuramoto.

It’s also important to play around with the different programs before taking the plunge, even if your interaction with them will be minimal. Says Smiles, “A lot of these tools have 30-day free trials, so you could just try them and see which one you like best.”

 

Best Accounting Software for Small Business Owners Pinterest Image

 

About Kinjal Dagli Shah

Kinjal Dagli Shah is a writer and journalist living in Toronto. She has worked in newsrooms in India, the US, and Canada over a span of 15 years and counting.