Sometimes it can seem that the most difficult part of running a small business is selecting the proper software to take care of the more tedious details for you. Sure, your grandfather just sharpened his pencil when it came time to take care of the books, but this isn’t your grandfather’s business climate anymore. These days, there are many products available to streamline the process for you, so you can put your mind to more important things…like making money.
Deciding which is the best product for you is a matter of zeroing in on your business’s unique needs and perhaps identifying what business-related tasks you have zero tolerance for. Then you can select software to lighten your load. Want some help? Read on to see which programs are best suited to your needs.
Best Overall: QuickBooks
QuickBooks is offered by Intuit, a giant in the personal finance industry. It’s widened its scope to address small business needs as well, and it’s an extremely popular choice.
QuickBooks offers literally hundreds of templates for almost any report you could conceivably need. Invoicing? You got it. Accounts payable? Not a problem. Inventory? Check. Time tracking? Yes. QuickBooks will manage your contacts and handle tax issues, forms and returns. It will create a budget for you and do your payroll — although the payroll feature is an add-on that costs a little extra. QuickBooks does pretty much everything except drive you to work.
One downside and a common complaint from users is that its numerous features make it a complicated program to master. This wouldn’t be so bad if it offered solid customer support, but that’s not the case here. Phone support is available, but it’s not free.
You can buy the QuickBooks disc for a “one-time” cost or download the super-duper version for some more dough, but you’ll probably end up footing the bill for upgrades in future years (and the upgrades cost almost as much as the original software). And some of the software’s features and reports just aren’t necessary for small businesses, so you might end up with a lot you can’t use. QuickBooks Pro accommodates up to three users, and QuickBooks Premier can accommodate five users, but an extra two or four users will cost you extra, too. It’s only compatible with Windows.
Best Document-Sharing Software: Microsoft Office 2019
Microsoft is another you-can’t-go-wrong-with-it name in software. Office 2019 is an upgrade from Office 2016, offering a few more administrative features, but the interface is largely similar, so there’s no steep learning curve if you’ve already been using Office 2016.
Many of the Office 2019 features are the same as those offered by other software, but Microsoft stands head and shoulders above the rest in one area: document sharing. If you also sign up for Microsoft’s Office 365, a subscription service, you can store documents in the cloud and invite others to access them. They can view them, add to them or edit them in real time, as long as they’re equipped with Office 2010 or a later version. You can literally have a business meeting with people located all over the globe.
The Microsoft Office Home and Business version has Outlook, Word and the indispensable Excel. Its version of Excel offers a “Tell Me What to Do” link that you can click on for help when you’re unsure how to proceed with a certain task. One drawback: “Tell me” won’t tell you how you can find the recommended applicable command.
Best Tax Accounting Software: TurboTax Self-Employed
TurboTax is the granddaddy of tax software, having won numerous awards and receiving excellent reviews. It’s recently spruced up its Home & Business version, renaming it “Self-Employed.” It doesn’t do everything that QuickBooks does, but it can be exceptionally helpful if if preparing your business’s tax returns is your Achilles heel.
You’ll still get a few other features besides, such as expense tracking and an “It’s Deductible” feature that can help you out all year long, making tax time that much easier. And the “SmartLook” feature enables you to talk to a tax expert in real time if you run into a problem. When you grant the expert access, he’s able to see exactly what you see on your monitor so he can provide guidance.
You can download the program for a fee or buy the disc at a slight discount. The software is compatible with both Windows and Mac.
Best Software for Marketing Assistance: Infusionsoft Complete
Infusionsoft is the brainchild of author/entrepreneur Clate Mask and it excels in its marketing tools.
Infusionsoft Complete can track up to 10,000 contacts for you, but Infusionsoft also offers less complex programs that accommodate less if you don’t need this capacity. You can live-record interactions with clients or customers and incorporate comments or details regarding how “hot” they are, as well as their preferences or quirks. You or an employee can call up the file before meeting with someone and get a quick rundown of what you can expect.
Infusionsoft Complete manages email campaigns with a “Custom Campaign Builder” feature that can target recipients based on your contacts list. It will monitor your website, recording number of visitors, sales, and how long each visitor lingered—an invaluable wealth of information if your business is Internet-based. And if you’re not yet Internet-based but want to be, the software can help you design a landing page.
The software’s only real drawback is its complexity, Infusionsoft requires that you enroll in a training program when you purchase the software, and this is an added charge. And if you’re looking for a lot of bookkeeping features, you won’t find them here, although the software will create and send invoices for you.
Best Software for Mac: Xero
A whole lot of software is compatible with Windows, but Mac users sometimes get left out in the cold. Xero is excellent cloud-based software that’s compatible with both Mac and Windows. What sets it apart is that Mac users don’t get shortchanged with features as sometimes happens with other software. Xero isn’t a “bare bones” Mac option.
The focus here is on accounting and the program can integrate with 500-plus third-party apps. Xero support is reasonably strong. You can get help via email or live chat, or request that someone call you, although incoming calls aren’t accepted. Phone calls don’t cost extra.
A subscription to Xero runs varies depending on the plan you choose. Xero will handle five invoices for you, pay five bills and reconcile up to 20 transactions a month with the starter version. You get unlimited reconciliations, invoices and bills with the Standard or Premium plans, and the Premium plan will also handle payroll for you. You’re not locked into the plan you choose — you can change at any time.
Best Software for Very Small Businesses: Zoho Books
This one is particularly helpful for sole proprietors, freelancers and microbusinesses. If you just don’t need all those mega-features that a lot of other software offers, why pay for them? But you don’t want dummied-down features, either.
Zoho Books is a subscription-based accounting software with enough features to meet all your small business needs without the hefty price tag. It can sync with your bank accounts and help you create and send invoices. The time- and expense-tracking features are top-notch. The Basic plan will track your billable hours and accommodates up to 50 contacts. The Standard plan supports two users and accommodates up to 500 contacts. You can track inventory if you upgrade to the Professional plan. The Professional plan supports up to 10 users and holds unlimited contacts.
Best Free Software: Wave Accounting
This cloud-based accounting software won’t cost you a thing, but that’s not to say you won’t get a fully functional program. Wave Accounting is fully loaded with all necessary accounting features and tools. It lets you sync with your bank and credit card companies, and it can handle sales tax reports, balance sheets and profit and loss statements.
Like Zoho Books, Wave Accounting is geared toward smaller businesses, those with no more than 10 employees. The average Zoho Books client employs three to five workers. It’s also more appropriate for service businesses than retail businesses. It can’t handle a lot in the way of inventory, and you’d have to upgrade for the ability to process credit card payments. The same goes for added payroll features. This upgraded version isn’t free, but the cost is nominal.
Even Wave’s customer service is free, but you’ll encounter your fair share of ads when using the program. Creating an account and getting started is a breeze, and you can even customize your dashboard — yes, for free.
Best Software for Accounting on the Go: FreshBooks
Running some small businesses means you’re tied to a desk or anchored to a cash register. Other businesses require that you’re constantly on the road and on the go. This is where FreshBooks can help, and it’s been rated among the most user-friendly software available.
FreshBooks is also cloud-based and it integrates very well with iOS and Android phones and tablets. You still get all its key features when you’re not at your desk, including the ability to track your time by project, invoice customers or clients and manage expenses. Invoices are custom-designed and FreshBooks will even let you accept credit card payments online. Customer support is said to be top-notch.
You can try FreshBooks free for the first 30 days, then the cost varies depending on how many active clients you have. Very small businesses with only five or fewer clients pay only $15. The Plus plan accommodates up to 50 clients for $25 a month. The Premium plan accommodates up to 500 clients.