This latter point is important. While the accounting industry largely debates how many of their major clients are actually moving to cloud-based computing, there is virtually no hesitance on the part of small business owners. These are companies whose owners are closely attached to consumer technologies. They make use of cell phones in place of office telephone systems; email as a primary form of communication; and the Internet as an accepted way of accessing information and applications.
This makes cloud-based systems attractive to start-ups and small businesses because they are easier to use and learn; they cost less to use; and they can be accessed from anywhere. Which is perfect for the new breed of solo owners who operate from coffee shops. And for the rising number of "virtual" companies that have no physical office space.
These are new and bold offerings, but with strong underpinnings. All are from companies with vast experience spanning several years, even if the specific small business accounting platforms are new. All provide direct links for accountants, acknowledging the importance of the accountant-client relationship. They are the six best packages we have found for 2013.
Accounting by Wave
Price: Accounting by Wave, and modules Invoicing by Wave, Personal Finance by Wave and Receipts by Wave are free. Payroll module, is $5 per month plus as little as $1 per employee.
Accounting by Wave
Wave, suite of cloud-based, integrated small business software products, currently is used in 200 countries and is primarily aimed at freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs, and owners of companies with nine or fewer employees.
Current modules include Accounting by Wave – a free program featuring unlimited, double-entry accounting that includes free unlimited bank connections, multiple businesses, unlimited collaborators and more; Invoicing by Wave, which sends unlimited, customizable invoices to an unlimited number of clients; Personal Finance, including bank connections, investment tracking and collaborators; Receipts by Wave, a free unlimited program to scan receipts into the Accounting module; Payments by Wave, a credit card processing service that is a companion to Invoicing by Wave; and Payroll by Wave, a per-employee payroll program with a $5 per month overhead fee.
In the U.S., full payroll tax service (optional) is available for $20/month, for the following states: New York, California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, New Jersey, Alaska, South Dakota, Washington and Nevada.
New features added in the past year include complete integration of all modules; Receipt scanning; credit card Payments; mobile apps for iOS and Android; and extensive feature improvements including recurring invoicing and better customization of chart of accounts.
Largely free, highly integrated and operating in the Cloud, the Wave suite of applications is built specifically for start-ups and other small businesses with nine or fewer employees.
Exact North America
Price: Free through the end of 2013.
Exact Online is a set of cloud-based business applications for manufacturers and wholesale distributors, designed to streamlines tasks such as logistics, CRM, production and inventory management to bridge the gap between financial software and manufacturing/wholesale distribution processes.
Exact's software integrates with QuickBooks (both online and desktop versions) to enhance modern manufacturing and wholesale distribution, particularly in small businesses that manage businesses processes such as accounting and client relationship management in-house. This integration with QuickBooks provides a comprehensive view of the business, allowing accountants to offer better insights to their small business clients.
Exact is the parent to Macola, which has been known in the United States for decades. Exact Online has been previously available in the Netherlands, where Exact is headquarter. This year marks the introduction of Exact Online to U.S. markets.
Price: $36 per month per business with unlimited members.
Less Accounting, a simplified, cloud-based system, is aimed at freelancers and others who don't particularly want to spend any time on accounting but want to be able to manage a small business.
Though the system has been offered for six years, it underwent a major re-launch in April. Current features include accounting, invoicing, expense tracking, proposal creation templates, CRM system, bookkeeping reports and a log for business mileage use of vehicles. It has the ability to import data from hundreds of U.S. banks (and some overseas banks), plus the ability to import QIF and QFX files.
In addition to banks and credit card companies, Less Accounting integrates with a number of third-party applications for payments, CRM, project management and e-commerce.
New in the latest iteration are an enhanced ability to track invoices, integration with the WePay payment system in addition to PayPal, the ability to copy previous invoices for retainer customers, and enhancements to tips throughout the system that provide guidance and information.
Less Accounting has carved out a niche for itself based on simplified cloud-based accounting and strong customer service. It is not unfriendly to accountants, and offers the ability for accountants to download data from the system to prepare more formal accounting and tax documents.
Mountain View, Calif.
Price: 30-day free trial; starts at $12.99 per month or $124.99 per year, and includes access to all Intuit mobile apps.
Intuit has re-engineered its flagship QuickBooks as a cloud-based platform designed to expand beyond accounting into diverse areas of business management. It is now an open platform that includes Intuit's robust small business tools such as third party apps, payroll and payments.
QuickBooks Online (QBO), a fast, scalable and customizable platform, provides a unique "mobile-first" philosophy to make the applications accessible from anywhere. Data is available in real-time in more than 100 countries and in 10 different languages. Real-time data updating also allows for instant collaboration between accountants and clients. And QBO allows large-scale app integration and access to Intuit's Apps.com, a diverse small business apps marketplace.
QBO allows businesses to create and track invoices; connect to banks and credit card companies to reconcile transactions; accept credit cards for payments; turn payroll services on and off; and utilize a wide range of small business applications through Intuit's Apps.Com site. It is offered in three versions: Simple Start, which offers invoicing, transaction downloading and mobile support; Essentials, which adds multi-user capabilities and bill payment; and QuickBooks Online Plus, which has all of the features of Essentials but adds inventory tracking and the ability to prepare and print 1099 tax statements.
Sleek, powerful and redesigned for today's mobile workplace, QuickBooks Online represents a new generation of the venerable small-to-medium business software package. With an existing base of 4 million QuickBooks users, even a modest conversion rate to the new system will keep Intuit at the top of the small business accounting segment.
Sage North America
(866) 835-9301 9am-6pm ET
Price: Free 15-day trial; $24 per month with sign-up before October 31 and then $29 per month.
Sage North America introduced Sage One in May 2012 as an integrated but simple, cloud-based business management solution. Its goal was to combine accounting with online collaboration, financial management tools and project management.
Since its launch, Sage has implemented a number of enhancements that include bank account integration; credit card processing; contact import; and the ability to create quotes and estimates. A major update to the software, planned for November 2, will include Projects and Tasks management; the ability for collaborators to track time, share files and post messages for their team; and a seamless process for signing up for a merchant account. And on January 1, Sage One Canada will launch.
Also planned for November 2 is the launch of Accountant Access, to solve the problem of real time data access to client accounts. This will allow accountants to log into all client accounts that have been linked with them from a single interface. Collaborating on financials in real time allows clients to undertake the day to day transactions such as invoicing and entering expenses while the accountant manages the accounting tasks. The update will also add functionality for accountants, such as the ability to create journal entries and additional reporting in the initial release.
Sage One enables two administrative users, unlimited collaborative users, and 5 Gigabyte of storage for a flat monthly fee. It is a new, crisp online service designed around the needs of small business owners and their accountants as expressed through a series of industry surveys.
San Francisco, Calif.
Price: Small plan, $19 per month. (5 invoices/5 bills per month, reconcile 30 bank statement lines per month). Medium plan, $29 per month. (Hundreds of invoices per month, reconcile hundreds of bank transactions per week). Large plan, $39 per month, adds multi-currency to the Medium plan features.
Xero, a cloud-based accounting software platform for small and medium-sized businesses, offers simple accounting, invoicing, bank reconciliation and more than 200 third-party applications for other business needs. The company is a global accounting force, with more than 200,000 customers in 100 countries. Its first U.S. office was established in January 2012.
The software is offered at no cost to accountants and bookkeepers, with fees for Xero's three editions based on the needs of each client company. It works in real time, available on any device at any time via online access, and includes a professional toolset featuring Reporting and Practice Management software for a simplified practice. Xero also supports an expertise-based, value pricing model for accountants that replaces tradition time-based billing.
Xero releases updates every three weeks. Features added recently are online invoicing, integration with payment services, direct bank feeds with City National Bank, an inbuilt calculator for invoices, bills, AR, AP and Journal Entries and a new iOS mobile app. The next Xero U.S. release is planned for this week, and will deliver Files, an online document storage system, and later in the year Purchase Orders and Payroll are planned for launch.