There are many aspects of accounting software that help make it a useful tool. As a small business owner, it's important to know which features to look for. Most online accounting software offers accounts receivable, accounts payable, banking and reporting features. Some programs include inventory management, project management, time tracking and payroll tools.
Here are some of the core features to look for in accounting software:
This feature connects the software to your business bank and credit card accounts to receive a daily update of your transactions. This saves you time, because you will not have to upload transactions manually. It also gives you a daily, rather than monthly, overview of your accounts. A real-time bank-feed feature can assist with reconciliation, allowing you to make it a small daily task rather than a monthly ordeal.
When you log in to your account, you'll be greeted by a dashboard that shows you an overview of your account activity and key metrics, such as cash flow, profit and loss, account balances, expenses, accounts payable and receivable, and sales. Some accounting programs allow you to customize what you see first by rearranging the information.
If your business sends invoices, the ability to email them and accept online payments helps you get paid faster. Some accounting programs integrate with third-party payment processors; others require you to use their in-house processing services. It's a plus for accounting software to also serve as an invoice generator.
With this feature, you can schedule the system to automatically generate and send invoices for recurring charges, such as subscriptions. You can choose how frequently invoices are sent – daily, weekly, monthly or annually – and indicate whether there's an end date to the billing.
Automatic Payment Reminders
This feature helps you remind customers about upcoming and past-due payments. Some have sample email text that you can use as is or customize. You can then choose when you want the reminders to be sent. Some programs give you the option to send thank-you emails to customers after you receive their payments.
Smart reconciliation tools identify potential matches between your bank transactions and the bills and invoices you've entered into the accounting software, saving you the hours it would otherwise take to sift through your bank account for this information. You can then approve or deny the suggested matches. The best applications suggest potential matches as you reconcile your accounts, and a few include a reconciliation tool in their mobile apps.
Every accounting program can generate financial reports. But some are more basic than others, and some require you to subscribe to a pricier plan for advanced reporting. If you need specific types of financial reports, you'll want to make sure they're included in the software application and plan you choose. Detailed reports can help you interpret your financial data to make informed business decisions.
Not all accounting and invoicing programs have mobile apps, but the best ones do. There is, however, quite a range in the capabilities of mobile apps. Some can only capture receipts for expense tracking, some allow you to create and send invoices, and others have almost every feature the web-based software does. It's worth checking if the software you're considering offers a mobile app and, if so, what features are included in the app that will help you manage your business while you're away from the office.
The ability to connect your accounting software to other business programs you use saves you valuable time because you don't have to manually transfer data from one system to another. Payroll, payment processing, POS systems and CRM software are just a few of the popular types of integrations that are available with accounting software. Integration with systems you already use also cuts down on training time for employees who will use the software.
Tracking for Billable Hours
If you're a consultant or your business bills clients by the hour, you need software that allows you to track and bill your time or that integrates with the time-tracking program you already use. This is an important feature for freelancers.
If you have a retail, e-commerce or distribution business, you need an application that helps with inventory tracking and purchase orders. You may need to subscribe to a top-tier plan to get this feature. If you need more advanced inventory features, look for software that integrates with a dedicated inventory management system.
Firms, freelancers and consultants who work with clients on projects or jobs should look for accounting software that helps them track their projects' tasks and budgets. The software should allow you to invoice customers for tracked time and bill them for project expenses.
Support for Multiple Businesses
Several programs we evaluated let you add more than one business to your account, though some companies charge extra for this convenience. Also, the types of accounting tools that are important to you will depend on the specific needs of your business. For example, if you run a small freelance business, project-based billing might be the most important feature on your list. Or, if you plan to do some work on your mobile device, a full-featured mobile app might be at the top of your list.