Many aspects of accounting software make it a useful tool. If you’re 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:
|Accounting software connects with your bank so that all your banking transactions appear in your online ledger as well.
|The best accounting software platforms feature organized, customizable dashboards with clear data visualization and organization features.
|You can create invoices and send them from entirely within most accounting software — no printing or mailing needed.
|Often, accounting software platforms include automation features you can use to set the same invoice to send at the same time each month.
|Automatic payment reminders
|Many accounting software platforms regularly and automatically remind your customers or clients to pay outstanding invoices.
|All accounting software should have no problem matching your bank transactions to invoices, bills, purchase orders, expenses and the like.
|You can use accounting software to generate basic forms such as P&L statements or advanced business health reports.
|Almost all accounting software platforms offer iOS and Android mobile apps — some of which include nearly all features available via browser or desktop.
|The best accounting software platforms integrate with POS systems, payroll services, HR platforms, CRM software and more.
|Tracking for billable hours
|Many platforms include features for tracking your time spent per task or project, or they integrate with your third-party time-tracking platform.
|Some accounting software includes tools for tracking your inventory, creating purchase orders and keeping your warehouses stocked.
|With this feature, you can bill your clients based on your time spent per project or task and your hourly rates.
|Support for multiple businesses
|Some accounting software platforms enable you to use the same set of tools for more than one business.
This feature connects the software to your business bank and credit card accounts to receive a daily update of your transactions. This saves time, as 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, which allows 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. Most 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 serve as an invoice generator also.
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 best accounting software mobile apps include all the features of the browser version, essentially resembling this version scaled down to smartphone size.
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, the best point-of-sale (POS) systems and the best customer relationship management (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 accounting 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, unless you use ZarMoney. 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.