As your accounting data grows, as well as your backup procedures and storage media will need to evaluate the age of your system
It used to be that keeping “the books” for a business was literally a paper-based process, involving a ledger, lots of columns, and a pencil to record a business’ essential financial data. In the digital age, however, even the smallest business can benefit from a wide variety of small business accounting software products on the market. Accounting software can not only help you reduce human errors in your calculations, but it can help you gain insights into your business that you couldn’t see in paper form — such as generating sales forecasts for the next quarter, determining which items are overstocked, and pinpointing your least profitable service.
Business accounting software can be the source of all this information. But finding the best accounting software program for your business can be a challenge, with an explosion of shrink-wrapped software products and online application offerings. In order to choose a business accounting software program, you need to understand some business accounting basics, take a good look at your business and its accounting needs, and assess the products available today.
“It’s really important to get this right. In a lot of cases, it can make the difference between businesses that are profitable versus not profitable,” says Mike Budiac, president of Find Accounting Software, an independent website affiliated with CPAOnline. The website allows you to complete a two-page survey about your software needs which it will match to qualified vendors. “I think it’s pretty essential for everyone these days. And the product prices are so low in some cases, that the smallest businesses can be helped by using the software. As they grow, larger the impetus to do it is even stronger.”
The following pages will detail what types of financial software products exist today, what you need to know about your business before considering accounting software, and ultimately how to decide what business accounting software is best for your business.
Business Accounting Software Options- Types of accounting products available
The range of accounting software products available for small and mid-sized businesses has been growing steadily. Right now, there are a few general categories to choose from: small business payroll and accounting packages, more full-service business management programs, online Web-hosted applications, and free programs. Here is a run-down of each category and some of the popular products available for small to mid-sized firms:
Small business payroll and accounting.
There are several top-selling accounting software programs you can buy off the shelf, or over the Web, that will meet most small business needs by providing the accounting tools and reports you need to use your financial data. Available in a variety of tiered editions and for which there are add-ons, such as a cash-flow calculator. Other popular products include the easy-to-learn drag-and-drop formatted Simply Accounting by Sage Software, which is available in up to 20-seat licenses.
Business management software programs.
These are higher-priced and more full-features accounting programs that may also include other financial functions you need to track in your business, such as point of sale, inventory control, customer relationship management (CRM), billing, purchasing, and even enterprise resource management (ERP). Some popular picks in this, which integrates all business processes into one solution — the latter of which boasts that it’s “everything you need in one powerful solution.”
Web-hosted accounting applications.
A new breed of online financial management applications has emerged in the last few years, taking advantage of the growing confidence that businesses are developing in the Web as a safe business environment. Now that entrepreneurs are indeed becoming comfortable with the ‘software in the cloud model and the inherent benefits it offers, they are in growing numbers starting to look beyond e-mail or office productivity to more sophisticated and sensitive applications like financials.
How to Choose Business Accounting Software: Understand Your Accounting Needs
The first step you need to take in choosing accounting software for your business is to undertake a good needs analysis, which will address both managerial and financial needs. It should be broad, exploring both obvious questions and ones that really make you think. Take your time with this important step, since the last thing you want is to have to repeat this process within the next two years. If you experience unexpected growth that forces an upgrade, terrific, but good planning at this stage can help you avoid having to change software too soon. Get some help before you buy anything.
What you need to know about your business
The first step you need to take before deciding on accounting software is to make sure that you are somewhat financially literate. “One of the mistakes businesses make when they buy accounting software is in believing that they don’t need to know anything at all about financial accounting because the software will just take care of it for you,” says Linda Pinson, author of Keeping the Books: Basic Recordkeeping and Accounting for the Successful Small Business (Kaplan Business 2007). “They need to understand small business accounting.”
There are several ways that an entrepreneur or small business executive can become proficient in understanding what data their business needs to keep (in order to make better business decisions) and what reports they need to generate (for the Internal Revenue Service and state tax authorities). You can read books. You can take classes. You can do research on the Internet. “You can’t use any accounting software if it’s like garbage in and garbage out,” Pinson says. That’s what the result is “if you don’t understand what you’re putting in.”
Another consideration is the type of business you operate. Several different sectors have specialized modules or add-on packages because they need to keep specialized data. If you are a manufacturer, for instance, then you may need to have an understanding of inventory and handling of parts and labor. If you are a retailer, you may also need to have an understanding of your inventory through a point-of-sale program. A doctor’s office needs specialized programs for billing insurance companies, although many may farm this function out to middlemen and/or consultants.
Talk to your accountant and staff
If your business has an accountant — either an outside consultant or an in-house accountant — you would be wise to consult that expert before you take the plunge into accounting software. Your accountant may be able to recommend software that works with programs they have. In fact, Pinson says, some accountants may help you set up your accounting software so that it gathers the data that they need to help you file your taxes, as well. “They know what kind of business you have and what you need,” Pinson says.
Your IT department is just as important as your accountant. You also need to understand your hardware situation. Business accounting software packages use big databases, usually consisting of many different data tables all working together, so take a good look at your disk space. As your accounting data grows, which happens quickly, the more room it will need. This is the most important item to review, but not the only one. You will need to evaluate the age of your system, as well as your backup procedures and storage media.
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