Best Free to Use Bookkeeping Software?

New practice and looking for effective, free book-keeping software

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Hi, I am a sole practitioner having recently broken away from being employed and started my own practice. It's obviously a building process and I'm trying to keep overheads down by not footing the bill for client software. A number of my clients need me to look after their needs from basic book-keeping through to year-end accounts and whilst some use QuickBooks or Xero and are happy to absorb the cost, and some small businesses can have their year end done using a csv file plus additional info and a spreadsheet, I am trying to identify a free to use software option for those that need it but don't want to pay for it. I've looked at QuickFile but any advice or feedback would be greatly appreciated. 

Many thanks 

Replies (42)

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By Cylhia66
26th May 2024 06:25

I don't know if free and effective are two words that marry up very well.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 07:32

Yeah, fair point

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 07:32

Yeah, fair point

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By Matrix
26th May 2024 07:54

VT Software* if client does not need access or FreeAgent with a Mettle/NatWest account if client needs access.

* Not free but the incremental cost per client is nil and you can also use this for final accounts/MTD filing.

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Replying to Matrix:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 09:54

Much appreciated

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
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By Matrix
26th May 2024 09:59

This forum was indispensable when I set up my practice so stick with it. You just have to get used to never getting a straight answer here.

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Replying to Matrix:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 10:03

Thanks a lot. I will do. Maybe I’m just a bit naive in that it’s always nice to be nice

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
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By FactChecker
26th May 2024 14:13

It is indeed, but you (or anyone who posts a question) have to play your part in that process by explaining what you are really looking for (to do what? / for what type of clients? / why?).

Otherwise what are already, by definition, just a bunch of opinions from anonymous people (who may or may not know anything of relevance) may deliver perfectly 'reasonable answers' that are however wholly inappropriate to your circumstances.
And, strangely, those that try to give sensible pointers (in the absence of those foundational facts) are often accused of being unhelpful or patronising or plain rude ... which hardly encourages the more knowledgeable to comment.

For instance ...

* you are a sole practitioner who has "recently broken away from being employed" but we don't know the scale/volume of clients that you have (or indeed the rate at which you aim to increase that)?
* nor do we know either the range of services that you are mainly providing or which aspects you wish any selected software to cover?
* nor do we know if there are common 'themes' with regard to current or planned demographics of your clients (size, sector, tax status, etc)?
* and it's not clear whether you're merely looking for something to plug the gap of those who don't care what software is used (as your later comments suggest), or a 'standard solution' onto which you can encourage clients as they grow?

There are other equally obvious questions (some of which will quite possibly fall under the umbrella of things you may have considered "when you put together your business plan") ... but there's an unspoken warning underneath all this:
- swapping your 'preferred' software isn't fun (and gets harder as your client base increases), so it's worth taking decisions on a fully thought-out basis.

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Replying to FactChecker:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 17:25

You have clearly taken a lot of time to compose that reply and, whilst I agree with most of it and maybe not so much with some, I am grateful that you have made the effort to be constructive and I will definitely take your points onboard. Fair play to you and thank you

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By williams lester accountants
26th May 2024 09:09

You get what you pay for!

Did you not have something in place when you put together your business plan?

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Replying to williams lester accountants:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 09:19

Thanks, yes I did but I didn’t anticipate clients not wanting to pay for their own software, which has become an issue.
On another note, I can’t help but notice having followed a lot of these posts, that rather than just offering support and answers to questions asked - everyone has to start somewhere - it’s a common theme that apparently established colleagues can’t help themselves but to patronise with cutting remarks. I thought I was imagining it but you have just confirmed it. Thanks for taking the time to respond

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
By williams lester accountants
26th May 2024 10:52

Well, if your clients are not willing to pay £43 (QuickBooks Ledger) or so for a year of software, then I can only surmise you are attracting the wrong type of client.

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Replying to williams lester accountants:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 17:26

Once again thank you for your reply but when you start out you can’t be too fussy

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
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By Paul Crowley
26th May 2024 18:03

On starting out, if the basis of pricing is cheaper than the rest then the clients you attract will be short term as the next start up guy will race you to the bottom.
Clients should be using their software for bookkeeping and you would have agent software for your filing.
How will you cope when the first leaver wants his bookkeeping records passed over to him on departure. Four years is the minimum of records needed by the new firm, and its new client.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 18:42

Thanks - that makes sense

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 21:42

Thanks - that makes sense

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
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By Leywood
27th May 2024 17:26

You should be fussy. Otherwise you will soon be back on here bemoaning the fact that you can’t increase your prices or need to find a way to dump all the pita clients. Many have made the same mistake and indeed quite a few have admitted on here they would do things differently if they had their time again.

Focus on quality not quantity. The quality clients will bring more quality clients if you go about it in the right way.

If you don’t value yourself and your knowledge and skills then no-one else will.

Not all clients need bookkeeping software, but it’s down to you to sell the idea and persuade them of the benefits, if indeed they do need better systems in place.

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Replying to Leywood:
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By Glaagowguy29
31st May 2024 02:08

Thank you kindly for your advice and guidance. Really useful and appreciated

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By AdamJones82
26th May 2024 10:25

Pandle is ok for simple businesses

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Replying to AdamJones82:
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By Brend201
28th May 2024 14:46

I think Pandle is outstanding. It is web-based. It is free and the functionality is great. Even if you have to pay for some of the extra features, it is not expensive. Note that I am an accountant so I am able to use it competently. I am not so sure about how I would set clients up to run it with the minimum of supervision. I use it for two charities and a sports club. It's definitely worth looking at.

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By Tax Dragon
26th May 2024 21:58

I don't understand why you are even thinking about paying your clients' bills. They should be paying yours.

Plus... picking up where FactChecker left off... you keep going on about how it is because your business is new. Which implies that you don't expect to be paying for the software once your business is established. (Too right, we're an established business and - obviously - we don't and wouldn't do this.)

My [rhetorical, not expecting you to post an answer] challenge... but if you don't already have an answer for this then I worry for your future... once you start, how will you stop?

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By Glaagowguy29
26th May 2024 23:18

Suffice to say that the posts here are making me see the error of my ways! I had assumed that it would be a cost that I would have to absorb but clearly I’m completely weimg and it is down to me to show the client that a subscription to QB/Xero is as beneficial as it is essential. If you don’t want to hear hard truths don’t ask the questions and I have listened and learnt. Thank you

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
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By FactChecker
26th May 2024 23:39

Now that's how a thread should develop ... with challenge, learning, and a future to contemplate. Good luck with that future.

[Shame - I thought I'd learned a new word "weimg" that I rather liked ... but it turns out to be such a regular result of 'rapid finger input' that Google auto-corrects it!]

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Replying to Glaagowguy29:
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By Cylhia66
27th May 2024 06:21

You'll see that it will be easy to introduce this to your new ways. I've never known a client say no when I explained they need to purchase an accountancy software. For those who may be reluctant I'd explain that if I have to prepare their accounts manually instead it will ultimately cost them even more as it's so much more time consuming.

Good luck!

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By Glaagowguy29
27th May 2024 07:54

Many thanks for that - makes sense

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By nrw2
27th May 2024 11:42

Are you sure you want to build a practice off the profile of client who doesn't want to pay ~£15 / month for software to make your collective lives easier / more efficient?

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Replying to nrw2:
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By Glaagowguy29
27th May 2024 12:08

I would refer you to my earlier response…

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By Williampointing
30th May 2024 08:53

You can check Acting Office for bookkeeping, it is quite easy and very cheap to use.

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By abutler&co
30th May 2024 08:54

If you would like cost effective software for VAT Registered and non VAT registered www.lime-books.co.uk offers different packages for different clients a PAYG for just doing year end accounts a VAT package at £5.99 plus VAT per month and a non VAT package at £2.99 plus VAT per month will full support from accountants

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By abutler&co
30th May 2024 08:54

If you would like cost effective software for VAT Registered and non VAT registered www.lime-books.co.uk offers different packages for different clients a PAYG for just doing year end accounts a VAT package at £5.99 plus VAT per month and a non VAT package at £2.99 plus VAT per month will full support from accountants

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Replying to abutler&co:
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By Glaagowguy29
31st May 2024 02:10

Thank you - I will look into that

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By johnjenkins
30th May 2024 09:25

VT cashbook is free and gives you the option to upgrade to transaction+. All my smaller clients are using it.

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By D Rixson
30th May 2024 09:43

With Xero you 'get one free' that you can use for your own bookkeeping when you setup an account. You also get 15% discount for any other subscriptions. It's up to you whether you pass on that discount... QuickBooks also offers discounts for agents.

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Replying to D Rixson:
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By Glaagowguy29
31st May 2024 02:12

Thanks a lot, I already have started using Xero and QB and the wisdom seems to be that I stop worrying about passing on the cost to clients as the benefit more than outweighs the cost. I just need to box clever in terms of discounts etc

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By dmmarler
30th May 2024 09:45

Try Adminsoft and see if that suits your requirements.

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By Charlie Carne
30th May 2024 10:55

I would add to the comments here to quote the old adage that free software is worth every penny! I strongly urge you to start out as you mean to go on and build a stack of software now that will still be good in 5-10 years. For your sake, don't use software solely on the grounds that it is cheap and don't ever use free software for business purposes (except perhaps for non-critical comms eg WhatsApp). I would also recommend that you use true cloud software (that runs from anywhere on any device via a web browser), subject to my comment below re VT.

Your email should use a domain name you own (so don't use a Gmail address or similar), as your email address sells your brand. I'd recommend that it be hosted on either Microsoft 365 (one of their business plans, not their home or family plan) or Google's business Gmail platform.

For bookkeeping, Xero and QBO are, IMO, far and away the best products, though I hear good things about FreeAgent. If you have some clients for whom you do all the bookkeeping and the client only gets output reports, then you may want to use software that doesn't charge an incremental licence for each added client, which will likely mean desktop (rather than cloud) software. VT is an excellent spreadsheet-based solution and very sensibly priced.

I would also get a practice management solution from the start. I recently started using Client Engager, which is excellent and very inexpensive at £9 pm for up to 10 clients. You probably don't think you need a PM solution when you start out, but that is the best time. They just added a pricing engine to it for no additional cost, which will be a fantastic tool when you're just learning how to price your services.

And, while mentioning pricing, I would strongly advise you not to lower your fees to attract a client. This will mean that you will not win every proposal, but that is as it should be. I was advised some years ago that if I won every (or nearly every) pitch, then my fees were far too cheap! I'd also advise you to use value pricing (quote a fixed monthly price based on the size and type of business and client needs) and do not bill by the hour. Once you have your clients on fixed monthly fees, get them to pay you by monthly direct debit (GoCardless are easy to use) and, not only do you save hours as your invoices can be generated automatically each month, but you never have bad debts, nor do you waste time chasing slow payers. Remember that it is your business, so you set the rules. If a prospect tells me that they don't want to pay by direct debit, I thank them and respectfully suggest that they find another accountant. If they want to be a client of my firm, they follow my rules.

If you do any company secretarial work, Inform Direct is fantastic and also very inexpensive (it starts from £5 pm plus 67p pm per additional company).

Software
https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/microsoft-365/business/compare-all-micro...
- Business Basic is only £4.90 pm per user and gives you a strong email platform, 1 TB of file storage and use of app and web-based versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.
- Business Standard is £10.30 pm and does everything in Basic plus it adds full copies of Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. that can be installed locally rather than via a web browser (not critical if you're trying to save costs, unless you use VT, which needs to run as an extension to Excel installed locally)

https://engager.app
- £9 up to 10 clients or £19 up to 50 clients (unlimited users)

https://www.vtsoftware.co.uk
- £175 pa for bookkeeping, final accounts and tax filing

https://www.informdirect.co.uk/accountant-overview/pricing

https://gocardless.com

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Replying to charliecarne:
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By Glaagowguy29
31st May 2024 02:13

Thank you so much for taking the time to offer your detailed wisdom. Coming from someone with so much experience it’s invaluable. Much appreciated

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By ArianBloodwood
30th May 2024 11:12

For free stuff Quickfile is worth a look. You can do heaps on it for free, and the lower paid tiers are very cheap.

Odoo also is free for one app forever, and has a massive feature set, though it has an unusual UI which takes a bit of getting used to. The lower paid tier is reasonably cheap.

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David Ross
By davidross
30th May 2024 13:28

Regulars will not be surprised that I advocate FreeAgent, which costs money unless the client has a Nat West or Mettle business account. Otherwise the accountant can get a discount and pass that on.

My advice is to choose an accounting program and specialise in that - and I agree with others that you should not be looking at free software. To an extent you should manage your clients and their expectations - for their own and your good. Having just celebrated 40 years in practice I have 'legacy clients' who have been with me for decades and cannot cope with new technology, so I make exceptions for them

But you should start as you mean to go on. You should put your clients into a state where;

• they are set up for Making Tax Digital quarterly reporting as and when it arrives;
• you are using a tech stack that anyone else could take over if you fall under the proverbial bus.

Whilst I admire and respect Xero it is not fun to use. Try FreeAgent and I think you will like it (any the age of 67, having fun in my work is a major motivator!)

Good luck

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Replying to davidross:
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By Glaagowguy29
31st May 2024 02:14

Many thanks for taking the time to reply. You make some great points that I will take onboard

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Slim
By Slim
31st May 2024 09:50

I'm not sure how sustainable free is, but in my opinion there is a big gap for a no thrills cloud bookkeeping software priced below Xero, QBO Sage etc

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Replying to Slim:
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By FactChecker
31st May 2024 13:31

There's an even bigger gap for any cloud bookkeeping software that gives a thrill!

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