Accounting programs come in all shapes and sizes, from simply tracking expenses to invoicing and bill payments, cloud based to desktop software, free to upward in the hundreds. With so many options which is the right one for your business? People ask me this all the time and my answer is always the same:
The best accounting program for your business is the one you will actually use
That’s great Andi, but how do I know I will use it before I buy it? Well first you gotta ask yourself some questions and you gotta spend some time considering what you want out of the program. It’s like going grocery shopping- when you go with a list you’re likely to get what you really want than if you go hungry, exhausted, and craving Cheez-Its. The same goes for accounting programs. The more you know about what you want, the more likely you are going to get a program you will use.
Here are the questions you need to consider before buying an accounting program and a bonus 4-page worksheet filled with exercises that will walk you through each question that will make your grocery lists look like child’s play:
How involved in your finances do you want your accounting program to be?
People generally fall into 3 categories here. The first are those who use their program to track their real-time finances. What I mean by this is that their program is up to date and at any given time they can open it and see an accurate overview of their finances. This includes seeing upcoming bills so they know how much money they have to work with. This the highest level of involvement.
The second group wants to keep an eye on their finances, but not on a day to day basis. They want a weekly or monthly overview but don’t want a daily relationship with their program. This is the middle of the road involvement.
The final group doesn’t want to deal with it at all. They just want to have everything in one place to make tax time as easy as possible. They don’t want to run reports or use the data in their program for analysis. This group is the least involved.
Where do you fall?
What do you need your accounting program to do right now?
A good way to start with this question is to consider how your business currently operates. What are you already doing in your business that you would like to streamline into one program?
Do you track your time and then make invoices in Word and send them via email? Perhaps you want your accounting program to automate that for you. Do you keep a spreadsheet tracking the number of products you sell a month? It might be nice to have this all in one place where you can run reports. Or, maybe you just need an easy way track your income and expense so you aren’t going through a shoebox of receipts at the end of the year.
Make list of all the things you need your accounting program to do based on your current business model. If you are feeling stuck, the worksheet has a handy checklist to help you sort our your needs.
Now that you have everything you need your program to do, make a list of your top 5 priorities for your accounting program. These are your non-negotiables and the very first things you should look for in a program.
How do you see your business growing in 3 years?
Make a list of everything you think may happen in your business in the next 3 years. For example, perhaps you want to start offering workshops or selling digital products. Maybe you want to hire a personal assistant (and easily file 1099s). Or you plan to outsource the production of your goods.
Whatever it is, write it down.
This list is the bonus list. When you are shopping for a program, refer to this list and see if these bonuses are included. Ideally, you want a program that will grow with your business, so the more of these things are included, the better fit the program is for your business.
You can also use the bonus list to see if a program is way too complex for you. For example, if you only have 1 bonus and the program you are looking at has 20+ features you won’t use, it is isn’t the right fit.
How often do you see yourself using your accounting program?
You know all the things you want to do with your program now and later. Now consider, how often are you going to be using your accounting program? Are you going to use it daily? Every Friday? On the last Monday of the month? Once a quarter? Once a year?
Be realistic here and acknowledge your unique working style.
For example, I work best with a lot of structure, so I structure the last 15 minutes of my day to do my daily bookkeeping (yes, that is all it takes!). If you are someone who likes a lot of freedom in your work week, perhaps a weekly when-ever-it-gets-done schedule is better for you.
Do you want a desktop or cloud based system?
This question can eliminate a lot of options. The main difference between the two is that desktop software can only be accessed using the computer where the application and file live while a cloud based system can be accessed anywhere from any computer because your file is stored on the program’s server.
Make a list of all the scenarios in which you would immediately need to access your accounting program. How likely are these scenarios? Do these scenarios fit into your work and lifestyle?
For example, I am the type of person who likes having a time set aside to do things. I don’t like dealing with my phone after a lunch with a client to log something. Since I like routines, having a cloud based system isn’t important because I always do my bookkeeping at the same time, in the same place.
You might need to log things right when they happen or they don’t get logged at all. In this case, a cloud based systems is better for you.The best accounting program for your business is the one you will actually use. Click To Tweet
How much upfront investment do you want to make for your program?
Pricing for accounting programs varies greatly and so do the payment structures. A lot of cloud based programs are a subscription based model where you pay a lower monthly fee. This is a great way to start if you aren’t ready to invest in an $100+ product.
When looking at pricing tiers, be sure to look at all the pricing options and their features. You might just need the $20/month software now but what if you need the $50/month option in 6 months (Hint: Go back to your 3 years from now list for reference)? Be sure to factor this into the investment price and what you can afford.
Also, most programs (including desktop versions) offer a 30-day free trial. I highly recommend you take advantage to this to see if the program layout is intuitive for you. For example, I find QuickBooks Online very unintuitive for how I like my workflow to be, so I use the Desktop version. Yet others love QuickBooks Online.
We are all unique individuals with different needs so be sure to try before you buy!
How much time are you willing to put into learning an accounting program?
Is it 3 days before your taxes are due and you just need to get your information into something stat! Then you don’t have a lot of time to learn and will need something geared towards beginners. Is it the beginning of the year and you’ve decided to dedicate 5 hours a week to learning a new program? Then you have more times to learn a more complex system that can grow with your business.
Also consider how much money you want to invest in learning a program. Do you want to use free resources like YouTube? A book? An online course? Factor in this cost into the total investment of your program.
Alright friends, you are ready to start your record keeping journey! The worksheet will walk you through all of these questions. Be sure to keep it handy when you are researching programs to make sure you are getting the absolute BEST program for your business and work style.