Best Accounting Software – 8 of the Best Solutions for Small Businesses, Freelancers And Anybody Else
By Fergus O'Sullivan — Last Updated: 09 Apr'182016-10-10T01:37:24+00:00
Managing and operating a business comes with a lot of responsibility. Keeping track of vendors, clients and staff keeps you busy enough without factoring in bookkeeping.
Retaining an accountant for every single task is too expensive for most firms starting out, leaving many of these tasks to the people who started it. Thankfully doing your own accounting has gotten a lot easier with the advent of cloud computing.
Pretty much every conceivable application is moving to the cloud these days, and accounting software is no different. There’s no reason not to, in one fell swoop you’re removing compatibility issues and storage problems, while also enabling yourself to work from anywhere and collaborate with anyone.
This guide is the result of our comprehensive market research. We dug into dozens of online accounting services picking only the very best for freelancers and small businesses.
Besides being able to have a mobile office, entrepreneurs can also enjoy other benefits that come with the modern age, like automating a lot of the tasks associated with bookkeeping.
Data entry, for example, has been minimized and most programs will handle billing and invoicing, as well.
All that’s left for you to do is check if everything is running smoothly.
Currently, there are many online accounting apps and programs on the market, we’re looking at eight of the best solutions and hope to give you the right guidance on which solution to pick.
Online Accounting Software Comparison
For this comparison, we’ll mostly be looking at different functions you might need while running a business.
There are many different cloud accounting programs to choose from, and we picked eight to look at for this article; our selection came down to the providers with the best quality and availability around the globe.
All the apps we discuss here will work just fine wherever you are, thanks to built-in currency conversion and other localization features.
Some may even allow you to produce reports tailored to your particular taxation agency.
This feature can vary rather strongly from country to country, and therefore has been left out of this article as a criterion, though we will mention it where needed.
You’ll find the apps we used for this review below with some notes.
Since enterprise accounting is such a specialized field, we’ll focus here mainly on small, consumer-friendly apps that don’t require an advanced degree to understand.
Besides being easier to operate, they also shouldn’t take too much time away from the actual running of your business.
After all, you started a business to do what you love, not to be bogged down with the financial nitty-gritty.
This article does assume that you retain a firm to handle the year-end reconciliation, tax returns etc., none of these apps can go quite that far.
What they will do, is make sure that you only deliver what is absolutely necessary to your accountant.
Chartered accountants charge by the hour and the key is to minimize those costs.
Cloud Accounting vs. Traditional Accounting
Online technology has effected a real revolution in the world of small business management.
Rather than employ a full-time bookkeeper, you can now have any member of staff do those tasks only part time.
Jobs that could take an entire day, are now done in an hour or two, and data entry can, in certain circumstances, be eliminated altogether.
Most of the programs in this article can handle run-of-the-mill accounting tasks that come with owning a business.
They will then produce the reports your accountant needs to take care of all tax-related matters and also look over your company’s financial health.
Cloud Accounting Benefits
Besides saving time and effort, going with an online accounting solution provides access to your finances wherever you may be.
Though not every program we’re looking at here has a dedicated phone or tablet app, they all at least have a website you can log into to retrieve data.
Cloud technology unshackles you from a desk and gives you the option to work from anywhere.
You could do data entry while on the train, for example.
While waiting for a meeting with a client, you could quickly check if they’re paid up in full, and decide then and there, if you’re ready to take on more work.
Another significant benefit is the money you’ll be saving.
Rather than purchasing an expensive, old-school desktop program, signing up to a cloud app is a lot cheaper, with most basic plans costing between $10 to $20 per month.
It’s certainly more cost-effective than simply handing over all records over to an accountant, as their bills rack up fast.
Keeping a tight rein on revenue and expenses is a vital component of running any business, using these apps will let you keep an eye on things without breaking the bank.
Cloud Accounting Compatibility
Online accounting software removes compatibility issues and increases mobility for business owners.
Since most of these programs need only a browser to run, you can forget about the usual Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux issues.
The usual suspects, Safari, IE, Chrome, and Firefox, shouldn’t cause any compatibility issues with the most popular cloud accounting programs.
You can start sending and receiving invoices right away.
We have an international audience here on Cloudwards.net, and we’ve kept that fact in mind while picking apps to review.
After all, if a program only works in U.S. dollars, while you’re in India or the UK, it’s pretty pointless.
The apps below work in most major currencies, but you may still want to double-check beforehand.
Since more and more countries find themselves operating internationally, this feature is quite handy; you can invoice European clients in euros, for example, while paying your Australian ISP’s bills in dollars.
One last thing to keep in mind is that financial legislation and tax reporting vary wildly all over the world.
Most apps below boast some form of payroll or tax functionality, if you want to make use of them, it’s best to check whether it works in the country or state where you live.
Best Accounting Software for Small Business in 2018
Freshbooks – Best for: Businesses Focused on Invoicing
A nice simple app that was programmed with the word ‘uncomplicated’ in mind, FreshBooks is ideal for people who want to do the basics and do them quickly.
It’s also great if you want something simple, but if you’re looking for more advanced functions, you may want to look at a competitor.
It costs a reasonable $15 per month on the low end, but the price can rise as high as an unreasonable $50 per month. In return you get a truly excellent invoicing app, with some limited accounting functions.
We recommend it for any hands-off entrepreneur who can think of better things to do than the books, and who isn’t too worried about keeping track of everything.
All programs above have the same core functionality; you can see at a glance all the incoming and outgoing money.
Automatic billing and invoice templates are core features in most of them.
Some cloud accounting apps provide specific features like payroll, inventory keeping, etc.
A small legal office, for example, would use all of these, while a web developer working from his living room might use none of them.
Not that this limits your choice of program, all of them support a host of third-party apps that can handle these tasks.
Online accounting software doesn’t differ so much in the features offered, but rather in how those features work and users interact with the program.
The redundancies built into day-to-day bookkeeping are necessary to ensure all information is easy to double-check.
A good, user-friendly program ensures these safeguards don’t interfere with a user’s experience.
At the core of any accounting program, is the need to see how much money is coming in, and how much is going out.
With this information, you’ll know if a company is doing well and calculate what you owe the taxman every year.
Everything else is optional; a work-from-home writer has no need for inventory management, and a guy who lays cable on the side doesn’t need to be able to accept credit cards.
With that said, let’s have a look at some of these core functions and see who comes out with the best ones.
1. Accounts Receivable
Accounts receivable is, to put it simply, all your incoming money. This can take many forms, but since we’re targeting beginners we focused on the ease of making and sending an invoice. Each of the programs we’ve reviewed gives A/R, as it’s called, a different name, but for each we wanted to make sure that a novice can use it.
The ability to create invoices is a staple of any business; customers need to pay for their services, after all.
Some features are the same across the board, like the ability to create templates, saving invoice copies and tracking them, after they get sent to a client.
Any submitted invoices are, of course, transferred automatically to accounts receivable, another great advantage to using cloud apps.
Just because everyone is in the race, doesn’t mean there aren’t any clear winners.
Quickbooks Online does an excellent job with invoicing tasks, as does Xero. These two are market leaders for a reason after all.
FreshBooks started as an invoicing program, and it shows, it looks great and is easy to use.
The overview of of your revenue is pretty basic, though, so if you want a good grip on that you may want to consider an alternative.
Another essential app to mention is FreeAgent, which offers great customization options with a few nice templates, and the ability to set up recurring invoices.
You can even have clients receive a thank-you note once a payment gets done.
Last, but not least, is OneUp, which offers great customization and the option to automatically send invoices on set dates, leaving you free to worry about other things.
2. Accounts Payable
If A/R is incoming money, A/P is outgoing. Think things like credit notes and the like, or, more likely, bills and expenses. Again we’ve focused on basic functions, so recording or even paying bills will be easier than ever.
Sorrowfully enough, we all have bills to pay.
If you’re lucky, it’ll just be a few every year, but plenty of companies have a substantial amount of vendors and will be shelling out thousands every month — just to stay in business.
What’s needed is a system that records all bills, and makes sure that all that information is correctly exported to your accounts payable.
Keeping track of this fact is likely the most vital aspect of business management, and QuickBooks Online, Xero, and OneUp seem to understand this point best.
Their apps give a clear overview of what you need to pay each month, and they’ll even send reminders when bills are due.
Regrettably, not all programs on our list quite make their mark.
For example, FreshBooks and BrightBook do of course have a chart to track outgoing money but lack the ability to track your bills, which means data entry awaits users.
This fact isn’t a big deal if you have only a few bills to pay, but companies that rely heavily on vendors should beware.
3. Bank Feeds
The ability to link your bank account to your books is probably the greatest benefit to taking them online. In this section our main criteria was ease of use and simplicity, so it’ll be quick and easy.
One of the main tasks of a bookkeeper is data entry, which entails recording, incoming and outgoing money.
These days, the process is automated via tracking, as described above, but a subsequent step is necessary — reconciliation.
There are redundancies built into the accounting system to double-check if everything is going as planned.
One of the most important of these redundancies, and regrettably an unavoidable one, is reconciliation.
Reconciliation usually gets done by comparing one set of figures (accounts payable and receivable) to another, in this case, your bank statements.
To do this task quickly and efficiently, the programs here all offer some form of automatic linking to a bank account.
Which may be their weakest link, as all of them will have a banking system they don’t connect to, leaving you to enter information manually.
BrightBook is the exception, as it’s the only program we’ve reviewed here where bank feeds are completely lacking, though FreshBooks only offers this service in North America.
So users have to either manually enter their statements or import them via a particular type of file, not unlike a spreadsheet.
Before you decide to start using a program, first use Google to find out if your current bank exports its information to the app you would like to use.
As there are thousands of different banks across the world, it’s almost impossible to give a concise overview here; this seems to be a case of “buyer beware.”
However, there are far worse things than doing manual data entry, and reconciliation is a step in the accounting process which can be skipped, or farmed out to an accountant.
If linking makes your life easier, that’s a great thing, but it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker if a program offers everything else you need.
4. Merchant Services
Sending an invoice is one thing, but how great is it when you can attach a payment link directly to it? Not all reviewed programs allow this, but we’re making sure to mention those that do.
What’s better than sending an invoice and attaching a payment link directly to it?
Thanks to modern tech, there’s no excuse for clients not to pay any more, if they have a credit or debit card, they can pay their bills.
You’ll be saving a lot of time, otherwise spent chasing after debtors. To some, merchant services are a godsend, but they aren’t for everyone.
Merchant service providers do charge a fee or percentage (usually both) of each transaction, which vary from country to country (or even state to state) and can hurt a business that relies on multiple small transactions.
Currently, all the apps mentioned here have partners that offer these services and will link directly to your company’s books, saving time and effort on your part.
Some, though, provide an integrated service, if you rely a lot on credit-card payments, look into QuickBooks Online, Wave, and OneUp.
All three can bypass a third-party for transactions, speeding up the payment process a great deal.
The ability to keep time while you’re working is great, especially if you can export it directly into your invoice. In this section we’ve concentrated on finding the best solution in terms of speed and user-friendliness.
Some businesses charge their clients for time spent working.
If you fall into this category, having a timer option integrated into your accounting program saves a lot of time and hassle.
Unfortunately, not all accounting programs offer this critical feature, so it’s worth double-checking our comparison chart.
The best options, in this case, are FreshBooks and FreeAgent.
Both adjust rates on the fly, handy if you have multiple price tags for various tasks, and they can also play around with different project settings.
QB online has a time tracking system that works well, but it’s only available with higher-tier plans.
Xero offers this option, too, but through its WorkFlow task management system.
Though it’s a bit clunky at times and doesn’t quickly adjust rates, it’s a good option if Xero’s other features fit well with your needs.
6. Inventory Management
Not everyone needs it, but if you do it better work well. There’s nothing worse than an unclear or confusing interface when you’re looking for one specific item, so with our help that will never happen again.
If you have a business that sells goods, rather than services, consider using a program that has a built-in inventory management system.
FreeAgent, for example, offers a very basic inventory management system, suitable for businesses with only a small selection of stock.
More advanced is Zoho, which has a relatively thorough manager that tracks, in and outgoing stock, costs, etc.
It even offers breakdowns and analysis of what’s in stock and how these items will affect your cash flow.
The winner in this particular category, however, is OneUp.
This program’s inventory management system lets you enter the weight of items, amounts of sub-items, and everything else.
If having a system like this is your foremost concern when choosing an accounting app, OneUp bears serious consideration.
7. Ease of Use
In a way the most important criterion when choosing an accounting program, ease of use is everything to a novice bookkeeper. We’ve kept beginners in mind when testing all programs for this section.
In a way, the most important thing for non-accountants is ease-of-use.
Which isn’t just about how the program operates, but also about the interface, overview, and functionality.
No one wants to work through piles of reports; you want to see what’s needed quickly and efficiently.
If you do know how accounting works and details are more important than a general overview, OneUp is your go-to solution.
It needs more than a passing knowledge of bookkeeping, but if you possess that, it’s a great option. As a bonus, you’ll be shying away from those pesky billable hours accountants charge.
For noobs, FreshBooks, BrightBook, and FreeAgent are better choices.
All income and expenses are displayed right on the dashboard; these three apps may not show every detail, but then again, all that matters here is ease-of-use.
Two other programs that give a good sense of how you’re doing are Wave and Xero, though both come with a small reservation; they’re a bit slow.
Both parent companies are working on it, but until a solution is found, users may occasionally get a little frustrated.
Xero is not only transparent but also easy to navigate.
Just like FreshBooks, QB Online, FreeAgent, and Wave, all tabs are clearly marked, and you can get around easily.
The exception to this rule is OneUp. Though an excellent program, its designers have focused on function over form.
You can get a lot done with it, but getting things done is quite a task, expect a steep learning curve with OneUp.
The last hero left standing is Zoho.
It’s a good, simple program that gets the job done, but this is despite its interface, rather than the other way around.
Expect some annoyances here and there, when using this app, unless you’re the patient type.
8. Advanced Functions
You may not need them now, but how about later? This section is meant for beginners who see their business, and their part in bookkeeping, growing.
As mentioned before, OneUp is a program meant for trained bookkeepers, offering double-entry accounting and an unparalleled level of detail in all its facets.
A new bookkeeper can do more than just look at accounts receivable, and payable, in the other programs on this list, however.
Payroll, sales tax, turning out reports, etc. are usually supported as well, and take no time to learn.
Plus they’ll save you time and money in the long run.
If you’re interested in learning and applying these skills, take care to avoid BrightBook and FreshBooks, as neither supports anything more than just the basics.
9. Mobile Apps
Smartphones are the future and the future is now. When reviewing these apps we kept ease of use and overview in mind as complicated interfaces have no place in a phone app.
Most of the programs mentioned here will have either a iOS or Android app so that you can check books on the fly, create invoices and the like, while on-the-go.
A quick tour of these apps shows that they behave much like their desktop counterparts, though please note that OneUp’s mobile app suffers from clutter, and Zoho’s can be a bit tricky to navigate.
The clear winner is Wave’s app, which installs within seconds and is as easy to navigate as the desktop version.
10. Integration With Wider Product Suites
You’d be surprised how many accounting programs let you control other aspects of your business. If you want to control every aspect of your business from a single program, you can do that.
A small business needs more than just an accounting program.
You may find yourself needing a system that can convert estimates into quotes, and quotes into invoices, has a built-in CRM and can do tasking functions.
Most of the programs discussed here will have some form of quote conversion, with FreshBooks leading the pack, and FreeAgent offering almost none at all.
Zoho and Xero are different from the rest, as the two accounting programs are part of a larger group of office applications.
Zoho is primarily known for its CRM software, while Xero has Workflow, as mentioned earlier.
It bears repeating that all these programs have third-party plug-ins that will provide more functions than you can shake a stick at.
If you need to do something in particular, but the app that looks best doesn’t have it, check out whether they have a partner that offers it.
This section is about value as much as money. Which program offers you the best bang for your buck?
Well, you can’t beat free, so in that respect, Wave and BrightBook win this category.
Then again, if we look at the value of the products on offer here, there something to be said for QB Online and FreshBooks, both of which offer a lot of features and a great interface at a reasonable price.
Xero is also great, as you can scale services required quite quickly and save money, by omitting unneeded features.
Zoho is a bit of a turkey here, as it’s quite expensive considering you need to pay $30 for full functionality.
While OneUp is also pricey in comparison, but it does offer anything and everything, you could ever want in an accounting app.
12. Customer Service
Even in the best of programs you can get stuck sometime. How the parent company deals with customers when this happens says a lot about the quality of their product.
When learning to use a program, or getting deeper into a familiar one, you’re going to need help figuring stuff out occasionally.
The customer service offered by your accounting app of choice may be a deciding factor, depending on how confident you feel in using any one of these programs.
In each case, online documentation is excellent, allowing you to quickly look up what to do and figure out how to proceed from there.
Then again, it could be the documentation doesn’t have the answer you need.
In these cases, as well as when there’s account trouble, you should be able to call or email the company in question and get the issue resolved.
All eight programs offer some form of support over the phone, though you’ll have to pay to access Wave’s services.
Most have good reviews and somewhat satisfied customers overall. Staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and a single call resolves most issues
Xero’s customer service is excellent, though a bit different from what you may be used to, it’s entirely email-based.
If a problem can only get solved over the phone, they will call you.
Which puts the ball in their court in each case, but they’re usually quick to respond and help out.
It’s nearly impossible to declare a clear winner, when you look at all the different options available, especially considering that no two businesses are alike. Based on the quality and amount of services offered, it is possible, of course, to recommend some programs across broadly defined categories.
Suited for Freelancers:
For freelancers, time is usually at a premium, and you need programs that work fast.
For the one-man shop, Xero and QB online are great all-around programs.
Some freelancers are on the road a lot, and for them, Wave bears looking into, as it has excellent mobile access.
Honorary mentions go to FreshBooks, BrightBook and FreeAgent, especially if keeping the books is low on your list of priorities.
The winner in this category is QuickBooks Online, as it balances functionality, cost, and ease-of-use.
Suited for Small Businesses:
QuickBooks Online and Xero steal the show again here.
They can reduce bookkeeping time, and have many functions necessary for running a successful business.
Zoho also bears a mention here, as it’s entire suite can run a company fairly easily, and it comes with inventory control, to boot.
OneUp also has excellent inventory management, and gives you everything needed to run a medium-sized company, but comes with a steep learning curve.
The best of the bunch in this category is Xero, as it provides a great overview of what is happening financially, and through its partners, can mix and match every conceivable management tool.
Suited for Seasoned Pros:
If you know what you’re doing and want to maximize revenue down to the last penny, look into OneUp and QB Online.
Both offer advanced tools that let you delve deep into the details, and you can tweak specific data others don’t even know exist.
QuickBooks Online is our favorite here, as it not only offers many great functions, but also is relatively easy to use.
Suited for Hands-off Entrepreneurs
Then again, not everyone likes doing complicated stuff, and small businesses would rather spend time doing what they do best.
Preferring to let their accountant handle the big-picture.
For the more laid-back types, who just need the occasional quick overview, FreeAgent, FreshBooks and Wave work best.
Though Xero is a great option too, if you need just that little bit extra functionality, without too many details.
Declaring a winner here should be a tie between FreshBooks and FreeAgent, but the latter’s cost is a little high, so FreshBooks it is!
Thanks for sticking around till the end, please feel free to leave a comment down below.