It used to be that small business owners who took an interest in their own accounting had the choice of two products when it came to accountancy software – Quick Books or Sage. These days however, as more and more companies manage their businesses through cloud based services, a number of viable alternatives have popped up online that not only offer easy access and control of your accounts but also excellent value in terms of cost. And unless you have the funds to splash out on your own finance director (which most small businesses or contractors do not), choosing the right accountancy package for your business can be a crucial decision in making the day to day running of your business.
Often contractors and small business owners will split into two groups, those who prefer to leave everything to their accountants and those who like to be in control of all aspects of their business and consequently want to keep an eye on their finances every week. Many of these online accountancy packages offer a third way, which is an online software package where contractors can deal with their accounts themselves and keep their books up to date, but also access to an accountant at the end of the phone who can help deal with more complicated issues or even handles their returns at the end of the year. Such services will vary from product to product but the following offers a guide to some of the packages around at the moment:
Crunch are an example of one of the new ‘third way’ packages mentioned above and come highly recommended by a great many contractors. Crunch combines cloud based accountancy software with a traditional accountancy service in a single package for a monthly fee. It costs more than the other packages offered here (the full package can go up to as much as £60 per month) but also offers far more in terms of service and features and includes accountancy software, PAYE setup, annual filings, VAT registration, quarterly VAT returns and end of year accounts. There is a registered office service too and your own dedicated account manager and personal accountants. The software works on both PC’s and tablets and is easy to use and designed for people with little experience of accounting. The browser is tabbed with each area of your business assigned its own tab, such as tax, sales, inventory etc Clicking on one of those tabs will take you through to a well laid-out dashboard which has a summary of all the necessary information (such as stock management or recent transactions) and a chart with a visual representation of your data. Standard features are handled well and printing an invoice is as simple as clicking on the customer (that you have previously created) and deciding whether to email the invoice or print and send it. The software also produces detailed reports on everything from balance sheets to debtors and creditors to profit and loss. If you find yourself getting confused about anything the instructions are easy and responsive and there is always your own account manager at the end of the phone or email as part of the service. And that is what Crunch offers that the other packages don’t; a combination of both software, cloud computing and traditional accountancy. It’s slightly more expensive than the others, but that extra expense is worth it.
Aside from all the standard accountancy essentials, KashFlow offers a number of unique features that have seen it recommended across a number of small business forums recently. Firstly, one of the main features is its option for filing your VAT direct, simply by filling in the software’s VAT report feature and then entering the ID numbers given to you by HMRC. Secondly, it comes with another unique feature – stock management. This is not something that you will get with most online accounting software and though it is more basic than many dedicated stock management products it is still a welcome addition and includes reminders for when your stock is low. Thirdly, KashFlow is equipped with excellent payment integration, with built-in processing via Barclaycard and SagePay, both of which automatically update your accounts with new payment details. Finally, it is also designed to easily produce invoices via a one click system and to send out reminders when invoices are due. Best of all, unlike many other accountancy programs, KashFlow lets you send unlimited invoices (as well as transactions, new customers etc) , all included in the monthly payment. Throw in two weeks of unlimited telephone support for setup and 24/7 email support thereafter, all for £18 per month and there is much to be said for KashFlow. The only negatives are that it offers very little support for companies with multiple users which might put some small businesses off.
Another package well suited to small business owners, contractors and other freelancers who will not have done much accounting themselves and who want something that is practical and easy to use. FreeAgent gets rid of much of the jargon of accounting and replaces it with simple headings such as Expenses, Work and Personal and also allows you to set up the layout in a number of different ways according to which suits your working style best and according to various projects within your income or outgoings categories. Once these are set up you can quickly and easily get an overview of each project as well as of you whole accounts. Additionally the software includes a clever feature that allows you to simply create one-click reports on your income tax self-assessment and which can be included in your tax return. This simplicity is repeated all through the software including the creation of invoices and the sending of payment requests and reminders.
Unlike some of the other packages FreeAgent comes with the ability to service multiple users as well as including a time tracking feature which means your business can cover hot just your work and/or contracting but also that of other people you might need to hire. Each of those secondary users will get their own log-ins as well as their own time sheets but will not be able to access the overall financial details. It does not, however come with stock management abilities and only offers one free twenty minute call during setup. It costs £15 per month and can be trailed free for 30 days.
Sage One Accounts
For contractors or small business owners who are looking for a basic no frills package, Sage One Accounts is definitely that. It is cheaper than other packages and geared towards those people who want a very basic accountancy solution offering the essentials – profit and loss, tax calculations, invoicing etc – with a good support service on the side. Sage One comes with good support service considering the low cost, offering free email and telephone support whenever you need it. This no frills service is easy to use and easy to learn which is perfect for contractors or business owners with simple accounts but that also means that it is not very good for anyone with more than the most basic of accounts. It cannot handle stock management or foreign currency and lacks in certain other areas which mean certain types of business – retail, manufacturing, financial – could not use it. For those businesses you would want to upgrade to Sage Accounts Extra although this has often been criticised for being overly complicated and unwieldy. Still, the basic option is a reasonable choice for bare bones accounting software as it costs just £10 per month and comes with a 30 day free trial.
Sage One Video
Kashoo is the software to opt for if you are a larger, more international business and will be dealing in payments from multiple currencies. It offers all the usual bookkeeping features such as financial statements, expenses tracking, invoice creation, payment processing and organising your financial reports and it goes further, managing multiple different tax filing periods and tax rates and offers the ability to download bank transaction details from any bank. It offers detailed reports including transaction logs, change logs and profit and loss statements. However, it is in international currency that it comes into its own. Many other software packages will let you organise your account so that you can accept one currency, some even stretch to two but Kashoo is one of the only ones to work easily with multiple currencies and to regularly update itself with the latest exchange rates. All of this detail can be shared with your accountant for free (other packages charge for this) and it is a cloud based application with free iPad app. It costs $20 a month or $192 a year and there is a 30 day trial available.