By Ian Edwards,
on 19 Nov 2009
Views : 6211
Published in : Blog, Software
One of the biggest headaches for a small business, or a business start-up, is keeping control of your finances. Often what happens is that initially you keep records manually or on a spreadsheet but as the number of transactions increase (all being well) this gets more difficult to manage so your thoughts turn to accounts software packages. Most of the small businesses I encounter using purpose built small business accounts packages have either Sage or Quickbooks.
Up until recently Microsoft offered their own small business accounts software (the starter version of which was conveniently free) but they have recently announced they are dropping this product, their argument being that small business can manage with templates in Microsoft Office and bigger businesses are catered for by their Navision ERP suite. I am afraid I don't agree with Microsoft's argument there. Spreadsheets are not the perfect tool for managing small business accounts for a number of reasons (see also my post here ) and it's a big jump to Navision which is not cheap to implement or run. Microsoft's decision is probably more a reflection of their failure to significantly challenge Sage or Quickbooks in the SME market coupled with a realisation that the trend is to move these applications online.
The market leading small business accounts products (Sage and Quickbooks) have been around for a while in various editions and are favoured by accountants, and that is probably their shortcoming. Accountant friendly does not equal small business friendly. In terms of usability they are quite technical from an accountancy point of view, and they come as a licensed product which you install on premise. On premise installation incurs cost in infrastructure and maintenance and puts the onus on the user to manage backups.
My specification for small business accounts software (and I am talking here about very small businesses (ie the one to three man bands that are a significant part of the UK economy) is ..
- Always and instantly available: I want to be able to access from anywhere easily and quickly so that I can input transactions on the fly.
- Easy to use: I am not an accountant and don't have any plans to become one.
- Secure: Secure both in terms of access and reliability of data and backups.
- Automation: I would like to be able to automate the sending of regular invoices and regular bills.
- Inexpensive: I don't want to pay the earth for this and ideally would like to find something open source and therefore free to use.
- Modest capital investment: I don't want to have to spend a lot on servers or software licencing up front.
- Regular update: I want a product that is updated seamlessly to accommodate changes in law or the addition of new features.
- Comprehensive reporting and simple year end procedure.
A relative newcomer to the small business accounts software market which meets most of the above requirements is Kashflow . This is a UK developed and hosted product instantly provisioned by signing up online, it isn't open source and it isn't free but it is inexpensive and doesn't require upfront investment. You access Kashflow through your browser, so no software installation is needed and updates to the product appear frequently and instantly (there have been 5 significant feature updates so far in November). Kashflow offers a 60 day free trial which is long enough to do something useful with the product and really check it out.
Kashflow does currently have some limitations. There is only one user account so you can't have different users with rights to different parts of the system (eg sales and purchasing) and although you can give your accountant access to the system you have to give them your username and password. It's not good practice for two users to share the same login credentials under any circumstances. Multiple user accounts is a feature that has been requested by users so I would expect to see this in Kashflow before too long. Also there is no checking of password strength when you register so make sure you use a good (obscure) password.
If you are worried this limits Kashflow's scalability (which it does at the moment) or are reluctant to build your business around a relatively new product then Kashflow gives you an exit route. All data can be imported and exported as a CSV file and you can set a periodic backup which emails the data to you as a Sage compatible bunch of CSV files.
The feature I really like though is the ability to setup repeat billing and repeat purchases. If you invoice customers regularly for a service (eg support contract or rental) you can easily setup the invoice to be sent automatically at the required intervals, and you can include variables that customise the invoice by, for example, inserting a date range relative to the invoice date. Repeat billing works in the same way, so regular monthly bills are entered automatically.
If you have found this review useful you can say a small "thank you" by using my affiliate link here, which will also gain you a 10% discount if, after your free trial period, you decide to sign up to Kashflow.