When shopping for the best accounting software, there is a common misconception among many business owners that more is better – that even if you don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with big-time software, get as much as you can afford and maybe your business will grow into it.
The reality is, not only are you throwing money away by overbuying on accounting software, but you could actually hurt your bookkeeping process specifically and your business in general. Look for these signs that your accounting software is more than what you need.
Too much software can be as much trouble as not having enough.
You Paid for Basic Needs
If your accounting needs consist of keeping track of what’s coming in and what’s going out; linking your software to your outside accounts; keeping records by day, month, and year; and automatically calculating profit, loss, and expenses – if you paid at all, you paid too much. Many sole proprietors – such as freelancers – who don’t pay employees, deal with payroll, file invoices, and handle shipping or inventory simply need to keep consistent, accurate, automatically updated books.
For virtually all of them, there are reliable, web-based accounting software programs that don’t cost a dime. Free applications such as Mint and Outright should be explored before you purchase anything.
Put your software – and your business’s needs – to the Excel test. Could your business function using only Microsoft Excel? If so, does your current software, or the software you’re intending to buy, do more than offer a faster, more efficient version of the accounting software that started it all? If so, you’ve probably overbought.
Potential Upgrades You’ll Never Make
Some software companies charge handily for the potential to upgrade in the future to improved versions of the program you’re buying without having to purchase an entire new package. Some software, for example, promises the ability to seamlessly integrate point-of-sale (POS) systems. If you don’t sell anything physically, like a restauranteur or retail store does, then that’s likely an upgrade you’ll never make. You’re paying for that ability.
With some software, you pay extra to license it to other branches, other locations, or other employees. The biggest program in the QuickBooks family, Enterprise, allows up to 20 such licenses. If you don’t need them, don’t presume you will in the future. Buy only what you need.
The biggest, most obvious, and most common indicator that you’ve overbought is ease – or lack thereof – of use. If your software is too complicated, if you’re constantly making mistakes, if your staff is taking too long to absorb it, or if you need repeat training, you’re likely suffering from one of the most common pitfalls of accounting software: an unnecessarily steep learning curve.
The right accounting software provides all the features you need – and no more.
Accounting software was designed to make bookkeeping easier for small businesses. One of the easiest ways to gum things up and actually make it harder is one that is counter-intuitive – buying as much software as you can afford instead of how much you need.
Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about small-business management and profiles accounting software.