Russ Williams


All but the smallest of today’s small businesses rely on bookkeeping software of one sort or another for their basic bookkeeping needs and managing their finances. A person running a very small business from home, or perhaps in a small shop, could get by the good old-fashioned way, doing basic bookeeping using paper records, files, invoices and so on, but when things start getting more complicated, bookkeeping can quickly become so involved that it’s far safer and more economical (in terms of time and money) to computerize.

If you’re just setting up a new business, or if you’ve grown a business to the point where you need to upgrade to bookkeeper software, here are some key points to consider when evaluating programs:

▪ Is the program easy to understand?

Does it use simple, plain language, or is it loaded up with a lot of specialized accounting terms?
Many software programs seem to have been put together by people who are highly trained and experienced accountants and bookkeepers. They roll right ahead with specialized jargon as if everyone will just naturally know what they’re talking about. If you happen to be trained and familiar with all that – and you’re the one who’s going to be using the software – then this isn’t necessarily a concern.

On the other hand, if your bookkeeping (right away, or somewhere down the road) is going to be done by someone who isn’t already thoroughly familiar with accounting terms, you’re on dangerous ground. People who have to use software (or any tool) which they don’t thoroughly understand will ordinarily (a) dislike working with it and tend to avoid it, and (b) make frequent mistakes – sometimes very costly and disruptive mistakes. Not because they’re stupid or naturally incompetent, but just as a natural result of having to work with something they don’t entirely grasp.

They might not have any idea what a term means and just mentally “skip over” that area or instruction. More commonly, they’ll have a mistaken idea of a word’s meaning (while being quite certain their erroneous idea is correct) and as a result, they’ll take wrong actions.

Bookkeeping and accounting are subjects where the danger of such mistakes seems particularly high – and where the results can be particularly costly and destructive.

Why risk such headaches and potential disasters? Find some bookkeeping software that’s designed and intended for use by anyone – not just by bookkeeping specialists.

▪ Is the program simple to operate?

Are its instructions clear and easy to follow? Are the functions you need easy to find, and easy to work with? Is it easy to create or update all the different kinds of records, invoices and other items you commonly use? Is it easy to track where you stand financially (sales, what you’re owed, what you owe, etc.), and to generate useful reports, statements, spreadsheets and other documents? This factor can be especially important to entrepreneurs and business owners. The ability to call up, examine and analyze a business’s current numbers, for making projections, plans and decisions – all simply, at any time, and without having to depend on an accountant to do the work and interpret the results – can be priceless.

These first two factors – ease of understanding and simplicity of operation – are important for another reason. When it comes to training someone to use new software, enormous amounts of time can be saved if the right software is chosen. With easy-to-understand and simple-to-operate software, initial learning time is far shorter (and a lot more pleasant), and so is the on-the-job learning curve.

▪ Does it look good?

This might seem like a minor point, but appearance can make quite a difference in a software user’s experience. Studies have shown that the general look and “feel” or tone of the user’s screen, the ease of finding and reading menus, tabs and other on-screen tools and information, even colors, graphics and type styles combine to make using a program stressful and something to be avoided, or pleasant and stress- reducing. There’s enough stress in any business environment already, without adding to it. Especially with bookkeeping and finances, where details and accuracy are so very, very important.

▪ Is it scalable?

Simple bookkeeping may be fine when just starting out, but as a business expands, its bookkeeping needs commonly expand, too. More accounts, more customers, more suppliers, more employees, more government regulations and requirements to attend to – all these and more may soon go beyond the capacity of bookkeeping software that seemed just fine when you started out. So it’s ideal to start off by purchasing software that can be scaled up as you grow, adding features, function and capacity.

Though the need to upscale is more common, you may run into a situation where you’ll want to scale down. For example, you might decide to open a new office or branch, with fewer functions (and simpler bookkeeping needs) than your main office or larger branches. In such a circumstance, it could be very useful to be able to set up the new office with a simpler version of the big-office software – fully compatible, but with unnecessary features and functions stripped away.

▪ Is it cost effective?

There are several costs to look at when evaluating this factor – and it very definitely pays to do your homework in this area before you buy.

There’s the initial cost of buying and installing the software, of course.

Then there are the costs of implementing its use, such as training your staff (and yourself!), setting up standardized and “personalized” invoices, forms, spreadsheets and the like.

Next, there’s the cost of support. A “great bargain” of an initial price can be pretty quickly wiped out by high support costs. These can include high “per visit” prices, and the costs that mount up with software that has frequent problems or crashes.

Support speed creates another cost factor that’s often overlooked. If you or an employee have to spend hours on the phone while a software support person diagnoses and remedies a problem, all that otherwise-productive time is lost and wasted.

Yet another factor to be aware of is costs for upgrades. Some software has a very attractive price in its more basic versions, but upgrades that are surprisingly expensive. And if you’ve already made a sizeable investment of money and time in the initial setup, the prospect of switching to a completely new system with the capacity you need may be too painful and costly to face.

All of the points above are also applicable if you already have bookkeeping software in place, and are considering a change. If your current software “scores well” on all or most of these points, you may not want to change. If it falls down in any department, though, it may be very well worth investing in a change.


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