Here at Cloudwards we like to help people pick the best solution for their cloud-based needs. Be it it new ways to store files or run a company, we’re here to tell you the ins and outs of the different products on the market.
Since small businesses are people, too, we want to make sure that entrepreneurs have all they need to run their daily activities. Love it or hate it, keeping the books is part of that package and we want to make sure you’re using the very best accounting software that you can use in any browser.
Online vs. traditional accounting
Accounting is one of the oldest professions, one of the first texts that still exists today details the yield of a Sumerian grain harvest. We’ve come a long way since then and in the past thirty years or so many of the most tedious tasks within bookkeeping have been automated thanks to computers.
The first generation of programs usually still kept some of the old conventions and basically were identical to the ledgers devised in 13th-century Italy, except they were displayed on screens rather than vellum.
Spreadsheets are cool, of course, but now that the Internet has given us the cloud it makes it possible to do all manner of tasks on the go. Bookkeeping is no different and right now there are plenty of options for people who’d rather send an invoice while sitting on their balcony than a stuffy office.
Alternatives to traditional accounting programs
So Lotus and ledgers are out, but what replaces them? Companies like Xero and Intuit (of QuickBooks fame) have more or less done away with the old ledgers and replaced them with dynamic entry fields that swap data and make bookkeeping more hands-off than ever before.
This is not to say they’ve thrown away the baby with the bathwater: some of the things that have been done for centuries have been done that way for a reason. So you still have a long list of in- and outgoing money that you need to check with invoices sent and bills received.
There’s no way on earth to make accounting truly fun.
There have been many innovations that make life a lot easier, such as the ability to give clients the option to pay your invoice the second they receive it, or have your bank statements imported in real time so checking if the ship is steady is a matter of clicking a button. The list goes on.
Online accounting and Mac, Windows, Linux
While on the topic of the benefits of doing your books online, don’t forget one major improvement: compatibility. So many programs will work on Windows, but not on Mac and vice-versa.
Sometimes they do work, but there’s a weird issue when changing from one to the other, etc. For instance, moving your QuickBooks for Mac file to your accountant’s Windows version is guaranteed to cause several massive headaches.
When you take your accounting online, these problems pretty much disappear. All online accounting apps are configured to work on all major browsers as well as iPhones and Android devices, making for a seamless transition between devices.
No matter where you are or what you’re using, your precious financial data is there.
Just like when you store your pictures on Dropbox or write your essay on Google Drive, your ledgers will be exactly where you left them: in the cloud.
You won’t have to worry much about if you’re computer has the specs necessary to run a program, as long as you have Internet, you’re good to go.
There are plenty of contractors who dread the idea of having to sit behind a computer just to do the books. Rather than being out and about they have to sit in an office and crunch the numbers, a vision far from what they dreamed about.
Depending on how hands-off you are, invoices can now be sent from your laptop in the living room while watching a good movie or even from your phone while stuck in traffic. This means that doing your books doesn’t take away more than a few minutes from doing what you love.
Online accounting benefits
For people who want to make the plunge into entrepreneurship but are worried about everything involved with actually running a business, online accounting could be the answer they’ve been waiting for.
Not only can you work from anywhere and is keeping the books more hands-off than ever before, it’s also saving you money since you’re doing many of the tasks accountants, with their high hourly rates, normally do.
The threshold to starting your own small business has never been lower and we have the Internet and the cloud to thank for a lot of that.
The programs we’ve reviewed are geared toward small businesses and their needs; on top of that we also figured many of our readers wouldn’t know their way around advanced functions. Just keeping the most basic part of the books has been the most important criterion.
All the online accounting solutions reviewed will offer good invoicing and billing tools to keep track of your incoming and outgoing money, respectively. Though there is way more to bookkeeping than that, this will keep your business running without shelling out unnecessary money to your accountant.
Any other features are basically either for those who feel comfortable doing more than the basics or who need more than that yet can’t or won’t spend the money to hire someone to do it for them.
Things like inventory and payroll won’t be thing everyone wants or needs, but are important enough to others that we have included them. It also pays to know what your program of choice can do when you start growing your business.
It’s not just entrepreneurs who benefit from using these programs, anyone has more than one stream of revenue should really keep an overview of the money coming in.
All the programs reviewed should help you keep track of what came in and when and allows you to untangle all the lines you have out there. Well-kept books means that you’ll have an answer for every question the taxman asks.
If you’re working a steady job, rent your home and have only a basic savings account you probably won’t need to keep your own books. Anybody who owns their house, has more jobs or has money put away in stocks or bonds should consider using a program to keep track of it all.
Even if you’re only confirming that you’re doing well, there’s no price to the peace of mind an orderly ledger can give you.
Online accounting software
Before we move on, it should be noted that people who know a little more about accounting may not recognize all the products we’ve reviewed. Right now a lot of programs still used in larger companies, like AccountEdge, QuickBooks and Sage, need to be installed on the user’s computer to run.
Our selection is based around the idea that the age of the installation disc is over and that being able to access programs via the Internet should be and will be the norm. Each of the accounting solutions below can be accessed via either a browser and often a phone app as well.
Besides offering flexibility, this also means that data is safe: burning out a hard drive sucks in any scenario, but by using the cloud you’re certain that your data, at least, has been preserved. All the transactions entered have been backed up by default, a comforting thought.
Online accounting reviews
The most important criteria for these reviews have been whether the program in question offers good value, if core functions work in an acceptable way and if users will be able to use it easily and effectively.
As said before, we’ve kept beginners in mind while not forgetting about hardened pros, either. When a feature we normally don’t review is exceptionally good we make sure to mention it and advanced features do get mentioned, especially if they’re lacking.
Online accounting users
There is also a tentative selection based on four loosely defined categories of user: people who prefer to be on top of their books versus those that prefer a more laid-back approach, as well as small businesses versus medium-sized ones.
Large companies have been more or less left out since they usually have a dedicated team to handle finances: we’re thinking of firms where it’s just one person, or a small team, without too much bookkeeping knowledge calling the shots.
There is a fair bit of overlap between each of these four fields, of course, simply because businesses, just like the people who run them, are unique and have varying needs. Below is a quick recap of each program’s strengths and weaknesses.
QuickBooks Online is the cloud-based version QuickBooks, a program that for many is the standard for accounting programs. Intuit, the parent company, was quick to see the value in cloud-based accounting and developed Online, a slimmed-down version that offers the same core functionality yet takes away more advanced functions.
Users are left with a great package that will serve pretty much anyone that’s willing to learn a little about accounting at first so as to save trouble in the long run. It also comes with a great price tag between $15 and $40 per month.
A new contender compared to Intuit, but then most are, Xero is winning in popularity day by day thanks to its uncomplicated approach to accounting and constant improvements. If a feature isn’t there today, good chance it will be there tomorrow.
Users will find that the learning curve is practically absent and that they can get a lot of complicated tasks done in minutes and without fuss. This great all-rounder can cost anywhere between $10 to $70 a month, though most users will find themselves paying around $20.
For people looking to do the necessary and little else when it comes to crunching the numbers, we can recommend FreshBooks. Though not a full accounting suite by any means, it covers the basics very well, making it perfect for entrepreneurs who’d rather focus on their own activities and leave the finances to an accountant.
If you’re approach to the books can be summarized as “hands-off,” FreshBooks is probably the best app out there. Expect to spend no longer than a few minutes per day, or even less, sending out invoices and logging expenses. FreshBooks can cost as little as $13 per month, though can rise as high as $40.
This contender from the UK offers a smooth interface and great functionality up to the intermediate level. FreeAgent seems to be made with people in mind who take great interest in doing the books, but don’t have too much time to spend on them, either.
Costing $20 per month regardless of features, it is by far the simplest pricing scheme on the market. Customers can expect to run anything up to a small business with ease, though it should be noted that some advanced features, payroll springs to mind, are limited to British customers.
The hardest hitter of the list, OneUp can handle anything from one-man bands to medium-sized companies with dozens of employees. The interface is great and you’ll never be lost for new functions to try out. It can cost anywhere from $9 to $169 per month, depending on how many people are using it.
OneUp does come with one large caveat, though: people with little experience or who don’t want to spend too much time on their books might want to think twice about using it. The dashboard quickly overloads with all different kinds of information and can be very confusing for the less books-savvy among us.
Zoho Books is part of a larger suite of management tools, ranging from CRM databases to workflow apps, but stands well on its own, too. Though it was lacking in some areas until not too long ago, the development team have made great strides and it’s now a worthy competitor.
$10 to $30 per month gets you a great accounting suite with probably one of the best inventory systems on the market. Part of the hidden cost is the confusing interface, so prospective buyers should make full use of the 14-day trial before making a decision.
This wonderful little program is like a small sportscar: when you see it you think it’s cute, but once you take it out for a spin you realize there’s a lot going on under the hood. Wave, despite the name and charming design, has some powerful computing behind it. Also, unlike sportscars, it’s free.
Well, the most-used functions are free: merchant services and payroll come at a price. More garden-variety tasks can be done at no cost, though, so entrepreneurs with no staff will be able to do their books without worrying about the bill.
Last but not least is BrightBook, a completely free program with a unique color scheme consisting of several shades of pink. Designed by two UK-based graphic designers fed up with how complicated accounting programs are, it’s easy to use and perfect for business owners with better things to do.
It’s lack of a price tag comes with its own cost, though, as many advanced features are missing and it has no way to directly import bank account information. Expect to do little more than the absolute basics, though expect to do them without fuss.
Best accounting software – QuickBooks Online
In such a varied and diverse field it’s almost impossible to decide on one absolute winner, the online accounting software that absolutely beats all others.
However, when you take into account that many people will need a bit of everything and will want a program that’s easy to use, QuickBooks Online comes out as the best all-rounder.
Intuit has been proving for several decades now that they know how to make a golden standard in their field: many of the features they have included in their products have been copied by competitors, high flattery indeed.
If you’re looking for a cloud accounting app that will see you through most situations, put QuickBooks Online at the top of your list.