Our 2017 research and analysis of accounting software leads us to again recommend Zoho Books as the best accounting software for sole proprietors, freelancers, consultants, artists, and individuals operating ecommerce and home-based businesses. We chose Zoho Books from dozens of accounting software options. To understand how we chose this software and to see our methodology and a list of accounting software vendors, visit our best picks page.
Why Zoho Books?
Really small businesses don't need complicated, pricey accounting software, but they do need software that can grow with their businesses. Zoho Books is a simple online accounting software that syncs with your accounts and covers all the basics, allowing you to create and send invoices, track time and expenses and generate reports.
It has mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows devices, allowing you to accomplish various accounting tasks on the go. As your business grows, you can integrate the software with other Zoho products and third-party applications.
Like many accounting software companies, Zoho Books offers three pricing plans. The Basic plan costs $9 per month, supports one user (and an accountant) and allows you to add 50 contacts to the system. With this plan, you can reconcile transactions, create invoices, track expenses, and manage projects and time sheets. The Standard plan costs $19 per month, supports two users (and an accountant) and allows you to add 500 contacts to the system. In addition to the Basic features, you can use the software to track bills and vendor credits, and add reporting tags to your transactions. The Professional plan costs $29 per month, supports 10 users and allows you to add an unlimited number of contacts to the system. In addition to the Standard features, you can use the software to create sales orders, purchase orders and manage inventory.
Although other top accounting software providers offer similarly priced plans, you need to consider which software has the specific features your business needs in the lowest plan or at the best price. For example, consider the following three features to see how Zoho Books stacks up against its top competitors:
- Contacts: Zoho Books' $9 Basic plan allows you to add 50 contacts to the system. With FreshBooks' $15 Lite plan you can only bill up to five active clients. Xero's $9 Starter plan is even more restrictive, limiting you to five invoices and five bills per month. However, QuickBooks Online's $10 Self-Employed plan doesn't have a limit on this feature.
- Tracking billable hours: You can track time and add billable hours to invoices using Zoho Books' Basic plan. FreshBooks' Lite plan can do this also, though it costs $6 more per month. QuickBooks Online's Essential plan, which costs $35 per month, offers this functionality. Xero doesn't natively track time, so you'd need to add a third-party integration to the system to get this feature.
- Tracking inventory: Although you'll need Zoho Books' Professional plan to get the inventory management features, you'd need QuickBooks Online's Plus plan for this functionality, too, which costs $50 per month. Although Xero's Starter plan has this feature and at $9 would be the best deal, you're limited to five invoices per month, so you'd probably need to upgrade to Xero's $30 Standard plan, FreshBooks doesn't support inventory at all.
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Ease of use
Based on our research, many users find that Zoho Books is an easy-to-use accounting software application, even for the most accounting- and tech-challenged small business owners. To see for ourselves, we signed up for a business account.
Setting up an account is easy. Simply enter your business name, contact information and password, and you're good to go. Next, you're asked about your industry and type of business. You can also opt to fill out tax information if you need help with tax prep.
Zoho Books' dashboard has absolutely no clutter, and we easily found our way around the system using the sidebar menu, which is separated by task in an intuitive, logical way; it also collapses into icons when not in use, giving you more screen real estate.
Not only does the dashboard offer at-a-glance views of your business's financial performance, but it displays them in a visually pleasing way, so you can easily see and compare different metrics. Dashboard widgets include total receivables and payables with current and overdue amounts, top expenses, projects with billable hours and expenses, bank and credit card accounts, and a cash flow chart.
To try Zoho Books yourself, consider signing up for a free 14-day trial – no credit card is required. You can also learn more about using this accounting software by attending one of the company's live webinars or watching introduction and tutorial videos on Zoho's YouTube channel.
Accounting can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of running a business. It was no surprise, then, that the small business owners we spoke with said the most important thing they look for in accounting software are features that help them save time. Zoho Books' automation and online payment features meet this requirement.
Zoho Books works under one underlying principle: to help business save time by working in a smart way, automating workflow and helping businesses get paid faster online. First, the service keeps you organized by streamlining processes and keeping everything up to date, all in a single place. You don't have to manually make sure all the data you need is current and available because the system does it for you. This includes financial data, customer information, transaction histories and more.
Zoho Books can also save you time by automating your workflow. The sales rep we spoke with said this means you can set up the software to automatically perform tasks like sending recurring invoices, tracking expenses, notifying you with payment reminders and more. By automating the most common accounting tasks, Zoho Books lets you spend more time running your business and less time on repetitive tasks.
Another timesaver is getting paid faster with online payments. The sales rep explained that Zoho Books can connect with popular payment gateways like PayPal, Authorize.net, Stripe, Braintree and 2Checkout, so your customers can instantly pay their invoices online. This is an efficient way for you to receive funds and keep track of paid and unpaid invoices. Plus, it provides your customers with a convenient, hassle-free way to pay for products and services.
One of Zoho Book's biggest selling points is its customer support. The service offers email, live chat and 24-hour phone support five days a week in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and India. You can also find help online using Zoho Books' searchable knowledgebase and customer forums.
When you call Zoho, you're greeted with menu options to reach different parts of the company – sales, tech support, billing and payment, or corporate – so you know you're actually contacting representatives in the right department.
When we called, we were immediately connected to the company's sales line, but all sales reps were busy. Instead of keeping us on the line with an approximate time that we'd be on hold, we were directed to leave a voicemail with our contact information to have a sales rep return our call. Depending on your preferences, waiting for a sales rep to call you back may be more or less convenient than waiting on hold.
When we finally spoke with a sales rep, we were met with a friendly representative who was eager to answer all of our questions about the features and limitations of Zoho Books. There was no pressure to sign up for the service, though the rep mentioned the 14-day trial if we wanted to give Zoho Books a test run before purchasing a paid plan.
Like many accounting software, Zoho Books has a mobile app, so you can do your accounting on the go. What makes Zoho Books' app different is that it's available on more devices than most, running on the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android phones, tablets and smartwatches, Windows Phone, and Windows Surface.
The app has good functionality; the sales rep told us that in addition to managing invoices and quotes, tracking payments and expenses, and uploading receipts straight from a mobile device, the app gives you access to your dashboard for at-a-glance insights, reports and multiuser access.
Despite its benefits, Zoho Books has some drawbacks. Like its competitors, Zoho Books integrates with third-party productivity apps and business solutions, including Google Apps, Square point-of-sale (POS) system, several credit card processors, and tax services Track1099, Tax1099.com and Avalara. However, it offers fewer integrations than others. One way to get around this barrier is to use Zoho's own suite of business apps. Zoho offers customer relationship management (CRM) software, email marketing and social media marketing solutions, spreadsheet editors and other productivity tools.
Another disadvantage of using Zoho Books is that it doesn't include payroll services. This may not be a big deal for really small businesses, but it's an important consideration if your business is growing and you plan to hire employees. Currently, the only payroll task you can perform on Zoho Books is preparing and printing 1099s with the tax services mentioned above.
Ready to choose an accounting software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- How to Choose Accounting Software
- The Best Small Business Accounting Software 2017 Guide
- QuickBooks Online Review: Best Small Business Accounting Software
- Wave Accounting Review: Best Free Small Business Accounting Software
- Zoho Books Review: Best Microbusiness Accounting Software
- FreshBooks Review: Best Mobile App for Small Business Accounting
- Xero Review: Best Accounting Software for Mac
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.