Zoho Books Review 2017
A complete accounting suite with a very strong inventory system; the program has come a long way but there are still issues with the interface.
By Mauricio Prinzlau – Last Updated: 19 Jun'17
Here at Cloudwards we’re all about making people’s lives easier through cloud-based computing.
Since small businesses are people, too, we’re doing a series on browser-based accounting apps that will allow you all the benefits of being able to work from anywhere yet still have all the power traditional accounting programs offer. For a primer on accounting find our 2017 buyers guide: best accounting software
Today, we’re talking about Zoho Books: Zoho Books.
alternatives to Zoho Books:
Zoho has made a lot of strides over the last few months: not too long ago it was often seen as a rather poor accounting alternative with as only saving grace an excellent inventory system. The inventory system is still great, maybe even the best among cloud-accounting apps, while the rest of the system has seen some serious improvement.
When you decide to use Zoho Books you’re looking at an app that goes a long way in offering everything professional competitors do. Though there are some wrinkles to iron out here and there, Zoho is a pretty good program for anyone who has an extensive inventory to manage or who is looking for an extra bit of control over their finances.
A Full Accounting Suite
Part of this control comes from another great strength of Zoho’s: it’s part of a larger suite of products, giving users many, many options in the form of add-ons that can be either purchased or gotten for free, giving you great flexibility and in some cases making it possible to run an entire company using the program as a kind of command center.
As with any other accounting software, Zoho Books has some strengths and weaknesses that we’ll cover in this 2017 review. Hopefully, it’ll make your decision easier.
- A complete accounting suite that lets you control the entire financial side of your business & gives you stock control
- There’s no learning curve to speak of & users will master using it quickly
- Add-ons give you a lot of flexibility beyond doing the books
- The interface can be rather confusing
- Zoho’s documentation is of little help
- For full functionality customers need to pay $30 per month
- Still a work in progress
Zoho deviates from the standard by offering a 14-day trial rather than one for 30 days. Besides that, its pricing scheme falls a little below average compared to alternatives when looking at cost per month alone. However, on closer inspection there are a few snakes in the grass.
$ 9 00monthly
$ 19 00monthly
$ 29 00monthly
- 50 contacts;
- 500 contacts;
- Unlimited contacts;
If you’re a sole proprietor or have a tiny business the basic plan seems like a pretty good deal, except that you can’t enter bills, thus taking the whole expenses angle out of the picture. This means that you have an advanced invoicing system to your disposal with some bank reconciliation thrown in, but it will not meet all your accounting needs.
There are competitors who offer a similar package at more or less the same price but do include billing, making them a better deal if you need it.
Pricing – The Full Package
The standard plan is probably the best bet for users who want a complete accounting solution, though you do miss out on Zoho’s greatest strength, the inventory system. The professional package gives you all the bells and whistles, including the ability to add as many users as you want, and is still a pretty good deal at $30 per month.
Taken altogether, Zoho’s pricing scheme feels a little fractured.
Sure, it’s great to have as many contacts and users as you like, but it’s odd that you need to pay for that just to get the inventory. On the other hand, companies that ship many small items to many different customers, Internet resellers spring to mind, will find that Zoho is perfect for their needs.
Considering that as the target group, Zoho will cost most users $30 per month, placing it firmly in the higher scale when compared to competitors like Xero.
Besides the regular features we always discuss, Zoho has, as said before, an excellent inventory system. Of all the programs we’ve reviewed it’s most likely the best as it offers unparalleled control over your stock levels and as a bonus syncs directly with your books.
What’s in Stock – Inventory
The inventory overview not only tells you how many you have in stock of what, but also gives the purchase price and what you sell it for. When you set up automatic purchasing this should update without interference from you, giving a pretty good idea whether you’re charging customers enough.
When invoices are set up you can link the item directly to your stock and it will update automatically. This is the kind of thing we use computers for and Zoho definitely takes away a lot of time from doing the books, leaving you free to actually run your business.
Accounts receivable, or incoming money in all its forms, is found under the “Sales” tab on your dashboard. Users looking for a full range of bookkeeping options, such as entering credit notes, sales orders, etc. will be happy to know that Zoho offers a complete A/R suite that performs as well as some professional programs.
If you’re not into accounting very much, but still want the control and interface of a well put-together program, you might still want to look into Zoho. The interface works well and entering invoices takes only a few minutes, especially once you have your contacts set up.
Invoicing, as well as other A/R functions, is a two-step process: first you enter the contact information of the person being billed, then what the damage is and what they’re paying for. The whole process is as smooth as any alternative accounting solution and is a real pleasure to use. Attaching a payment link isn’t a standard option, though Zoho has deals set up with companies like WePay and Stripe so you can have your customers pay directly by credit card if you prefer.
Not only people with items to sell will like Zoho. If you bill clients for your time the program allows the setting of a clock that will track your time and automatically export it to the invoice when it’s ready to go.
Although it does mean you need to set up a project which in turn means another menu to work through, it can be done pretty quickly and integrates well with the task-flow manager included in the rest of the Zoho suite.
Your outgoing money can be found under “Purchases” and offers another great selection of options, making it a genuine A/P feature rather than a place to record your bills. Think options like credit notes but also a clear division between expenses and bills, making it easier in the long run to keep tabs on where your money is going.
It integrates with inventory just like Sales does, so anytime you place a purchase order and record it, it updates the stock tab, too. This is the kind of automation that saves time and thereby money, ideal for resellers.
Bills – Time And Again
Zoho also helps you shave off time by setting up recurring bills, so certain monthly expenses you’ll only ever need to enter once. There’s no way to pay your bills through Zoho, so you’ll still have to put the payment through yourself, but the data entry part at least is taken care of.
The easiest way to make sure the amounts you entered on the sales and purchases are correct is to take your bank statement and check each transaction on there with your data.
As you can imagine this is a highly laborious process, or at least it was until accounting programs allowed you to directly import your statement from your bank and have the machine do most of the work for you.
Zoho does a great job of this: not only is reconciliation, the act of checking these figures against each other, automated, it’s easy to set up. Zoho definitely took a leaf out of some competitors’ books and it works well, allowing you to do this otherwise time-consuming task in a few minutes.
Once you click the “Banking” tab you’ll see the above screen with the major banks in your country or region, smaller or foreign institutions can be searched in the menu below that. It’s important to note that not each accounting program works with each bank, so it’s best if you use the trial period Zoho offers to make sure all this works as bank feeds are too great a tool to give up.
The reason you’re doing all these tasks yourself is so your accountant doesn’t have to do them. Since these professionals charge by the hour, keeping the time they spend on your books low is key to saving some serious money. For this to work you need to be able to give them the reports they need to check your figures before reporting them to the taxman.
Zoho makes this process easier by letting you give accountants access to the program itself; they can then select and print out whatever they need without needing to bother you. This speeds up communication and lets you get on with running your business while they do their thing.
The reporting tab is fairly easy to navigate and offers almost everything you could wish for. More advanced reporting, like capital gains, etc., is missing but there are other ways to generate it so that’s not a major loss. You’ll quickly find that with some experience you can read these reports yourself, so getting a quick overview of how you’re doing financially is only a button-click away.
Navigating the interface is where Zoho drops the ball a bit.
Earlier versions, it has to be said, had truly an awful user experience and the company has definitely made a lot of improvements but they’re not there yet. It started with signing up: Zoho doesn’t recognize all email addresses as being valid so I spent some time messing around before signing up a throwaway account via Hotmail before I could even start the trial.
Once I did manage to register, signing up was very quick: it took maybe a minute before I could get started properly. The questions I was asked were all standard ones but I was just whisked through at record speed.
Once on the dash you see a small yet clear overview of incoming and outgoing money without the bells and whistles that make some alternatives confusing. You navigate mainly by using the left-hand bar where each section can be expanded with a single click. Zoho makes it very easy to move around the program, so kudos there.
Hide and Seek, Zoho Style
On-screen tutorials are present for most common actions and are clear and easy to follow. More advanced help can be found in the online documentation. Here’s the rub: the documentation is clear and features step-by-step instructions to find whatever you need, it is, however, not been revisited since the last update and most instructions are no longer relevant.
For instance, I wanted to switch on inventory and see how it works. The documentation told me where to find the button to switch it on (beneath several layers of menus), but I couldn’t find it after looking for several minutes.
Turns out it was beneath several layers of other menus altogether. Although I did manage to eventually get the inventory to work, I was pretty annoyed by the end of it.
This brings up another point: though all basic functions are right there on the surface, more advanced setting can only be found under several layers of other settings. Many users will find themselves getting impatient when trying to do something simple, like changing currency and so on. Zoho is definitely not a program for the short-tempered.
Last but not least, my inner editor had some trouble with some of the spelling in Zoho: though I realize it’s not a deal breaker in any way, I really didn’t like the sloppiness of some of the mistakes in English I saw, like spelling the word “magic” with a capital “M.” Once these kind of details are worked out, Zoho will be a truly great user experience, until then it scores barely above average.
Zoho is the kind of program where everything works well and at a reasonable price, but where the real cost is calculated through the annoyance of its users. The interface means that you will experience a steep learning curve when learning the ropes, a real pity as everything else works well.
Despite this, if you have an extensive inventory or need other components of the full Zoho suite, Zoho Books is worth checking out. Just hope that some of its wrinkles are ironed out over time.