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Getting a business up and running: 9 tips for deciding on your accounting software

By Jason Glass, Partner, BDO Cape Town

When you get a business up and running, there are a host of important things to consider. Some of these may include how to source funding, where to find a supplier, how to manage a customer database or even prepare an employment contract. One of the questions likely to arise is how to choose the right accounting software for your business.

The right kind of accounting software can help a small business track their financial health and identify potential problems at the outset.

These days accounting software is sophisticated enough to let you manage as much or as little as you need to within the package. As well as generating invoices, management reports and financial statements, you can also opt for features that split bills by project, track expenses, set reminders for customers to pay their outstanding invoices, automate repeat invoices, pay staff and much more.

With so much on offer, it can be tricky to work out which is the right accounting software for your business needs. Here are some tips to assist you in your pursuit for the right software for your business.

Your accounting needs

Sometimes the biggest stumbling block to picking your accounting software is working out what you need it to do. You’ll have an idea of tasks you already do that you’d like automated or streamlined. However, you may not know what other features you can merge into your accounting software until you start looking at the options. Start thinking about what kind of tasks your bookkeeping software could do for you as you research your options. Small businesses might want the following:

  • Have payroll functionality.
  • Allow multiple currencies.
  • Enable work across different countries and appropriate tax rules and regulations.
  • Manage various cost centres and departments.
  • Integrate stock lists.
  • Integrate with multiple applications to support your business needs
  • Automate entries

User-friendly software

The ease of use is a prime factor to consider when buying an accounting system. The user-friendly software provides you with a dashboard that shows charts giving the financial status of your company.

Seeing cash in or out of the company over the last six months, invoices owed to the company or bills to be paid by the company, and all user activities in one place is a great help. The software should simplify your bookkeeping and accounting.

Multi-currency transactions

The internet has reduced the distances between the consumers and businesses. Today, even small enterprises serve overseas clients.

If you have such clients, make sure that accounting software that you are investigating facilitates multi-currency transactions. It must also handle foreign exchange rates and conversions as per your convenience. It must also show these transactions in your base currency.

Web-based application

The new breed of business owners prefers to use online accounting software. They like to keep in touch with their business’ financial data on-the-go and email invoices to the clients from wherever they are. Web-based accounting software for small business allows them to collaborate with their staff or the accountants to speed up the daily processing thereby allowing access to real time financial data and reports. The anytime and anywhere access to the latest financial data assists them in decision-making. Cloud-based systems make this option a reality, and some accounting software programs offer mobile apps you can use to make quick payments or get an overview of your data at a glance. If you outsource your accounting and require your accountant to access the application and you want them to have access these cloud-based systems allow for login from their own premises.

Integration with other business software

Choose software that will integrate seamlessly with your suite of other business software. The eco-system that integrates with accounting systems is significant and can have negative consequences on your business if it is unable to integrate with core other important applications. It may disrupt the smooth and efficient running of your business.

At a basic level, most small businesses will want their accounting program to integrate with Microsoft Office to make manipulating or sharing financial data, such as at board meetings or with investors, as easy as possible. 

However, your business may also benefit from having accounting software that integrates with your CRM, e-commerce or inventory systems to save you time when it comes to re-entry and keep your systems and reports as up-to-date as possible. 

Data security

The market trend is to use web-based accounting software. The heydays of desktop-based software tools are fading fast.

With the online accounting software, you can save business’ financial data on external servers. It is safe there from any physical hazard at your end. You should know when the data is backed up and make sure the frequency is as per your needs.

Many business owners hesitate to store their financial data on external servers. However, it is actually safer there than on your own servers. The security experts look after it. They use the latest technologies to secure it. It should be one of the factors to consider when selecting a software package.

Customer Support

Switching to new accounting software, however, user-friendly or advanced, is a bit uncomfortable to everyone involved. Be sure that from time to time you or the staff are going to need support from an expert. The product’s user manual is not going to have all the answers.

The level of customer support offered by the manufacturer of accounting software is one of the vital factors to consider when selecting a software package.

Try before you buy

Depending on the size and type of package that suits your business, most suppliers will provide a free 30-day trial or download or an online or onsite product demonstration.

Once you have finalised a shortlist of suppliers, viewing the software in action or using it in a trial environment is a great way of evaluating if it will meet your expectations and of identifying any final pre-purchase questions you need to ask. Always test drive the product. It is the best way to determine a user’s experience.

Don’t forget to grow

When investing in any business software, don’t just consider the business you are right now – think about your short and long-term goals and the business you want to be in future too.

If you are investing in software, it is important to factor in the ability for it to grow with your business or to enable you to move to another package if need be.

Check if your solution is scalable – if your business grows, can the software grow with you? Are there larger solutions that you can move to in time? What support will the supplier offer you in doing so? Making sure you check this will save you a lot of time and money in the future.

BDO is a proud Partner of the NSBC.