Small business accounting software guide

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AccountingWEB editor John Stokdyk digs into our software satisfaction database to stake out the landscape for anyone considering a new small business accounting application.

For the past couple of years the accounting software market has been in flux. While it is still dominated by desktop products, their hold is beginning to weaken in the face of younger, faster challengers offering online “cloud” products.

How to use this SME software guide

This article is based on the results of last year’s Software Satisfaction Survey. SSA13 ratings are provided for products that gained more than 3% of the overall sample. Less widely used tools are listed with pointers to their strong and weak points. For convenience we have gathered similar programs together under the following headings:

The accountancy profession lagged behind the wider business market in embracing cloud applications, but 47% of the small business accounting software respondents in the 2013 Software Satisfaction Survey used online applications, continuing the momentum that has been building for several years.

With a sample size of nearly 5,000 SME accounting software users, we think our benchmark is robust measure of what is happening among online AccountingWEB members, and reflects similar findings from IRIS, Xero and Exact.

At 17% of our SSA13 survey sample, Sage 50 retains the biggest desktop accounting user base. But this dominance is under severe pressure, with FreeAgent achieving a higher share (22%) of our survey sample. As they continue to offer the smallest companies a simplified, low cost route into automated accounting, cloud applications are reducing the new business pipeline for Sage’s flagship application.

This article draws on the user feedback collected in the software satisfaction survey and to review the established names and leading cloud contenders. We will also try to bring forward some of the less well known names trying to gain a foothold in this highly competitive market.

A word about the ratings and scores

The product ratings are given as marks out of 5 for ease of use; functionality; support; and value for money (VFM). The user recommendation percentage is calculated by subtracting those offering scores lower than 6 out of 10 from advocates rating it higher than 9. Where the former outnumber the latter, the user recommendation percentage can be a negative figure.

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About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and


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28th Aug 2014 12:22


Thank you!


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28th Aug 2014 12:38

Is that a typo

SageOne User recommend -23% - is that a typo? Is the score really minus 23%?

Thanks (3)
28th Aug 2014 12:38

The software review

Dear John

Thank you for your hard work... !

This subject area never goes away



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28th Aug 2014 12:45

Missed one!

We seriously missed Ledgermaster (and its team-mate PAYEmaster), when IRIS took it and blew it. It was just so good. Regretably no-one translated it into Windows.

But - along came Adminsoft. I guess you didn't list it because it's FREE in its "with adverts" guise. It is also portable, RTI compliant and it has a lot of built in flexibility including email, invoicing and corrections. It has NEARLY (but not quite) replaced Ledgermaster for SMEs. Maybe Windows doesn't allow the flexibility that DOS did.

Two clients have recently ditched Cloud systems and taken to Adminsoft - and paid a modest fee to run without advertisements.

It's worth a look especially as you can put it in your pocket on a small memory stick and run it on any standard PC/Laptop.  



Thanks (4)
By Ray051
28th Aug 2014 12:46

A very useful survey.

Thanks for that survey which documents the marketplace. It would be good to do a blow by blow comparison of the features in the big Cloud offerings. Also what is available in the mid range market.

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28th Aug 2014 13:12

Thanks for all the comments and suggestions

They're exactly what I was after. Some of the names didn't show up in our survey of 5,000 users so I felt justified in not naming every known developer. But those that come forward will be added.

@Ray051 - we have a lot of user feedback from both the surveys and comments on AccountingWEB, but to really deliver a blow-by-blow comparison eats up a lot of resources. We would really like to beef up that side of our software coverage, but there are a lot of other priorities that I have to make sure we stay on top of (stuff like new tax measures, accounting standards, audit rules and the like). Fortified by your request, I am planning to increase this kind of coverage next year. In the mean time, have a look at my overview last year: Cloud accounting pitches for the mid-market (NB - as you might expect, a lot has changed since then).

@Elaine - the negative rating for Sage One users' willingness to recommend the cloud application to other people is correct. As the note at the beginning explains, "The user recommendation percentage is calculated by subtracting those offering scores lower than 6 out of 10 from advocates rating it higher than 9. Where the former outnumber the latter, the user recommendation percentage can be a negative figure." It's not very common, but can happen, as it did here.

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28th Aug 2014 13:48

yes JS Quickfile is a real disruptive contender

it is free and full of useful nuggets, also they will produce a set of statutory accounts and do the tax  for 199 + vat from your records tho i m not sure that you get much in the way of tax advice


someone will buy it and close it

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By SueJ
28th Aug 2014 13:51

Brilliant - thank you

Clients often ask what accounting software they should use. I tend to stick with Xero, Sage 50 and VT Transaction + depending on requirements, type of business and budget.  

If I am asked a question about another package, I'll usually follow up with some research, partly out of curiosity on my part, partly to show I go the extra (unpaid) mile to help. 

It's great to have a summary of everything on the market as in this article. I'm going to print it and share next time the question arises. Thank you!


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By gradow
28th Aug 2014 15:24


A useful summary review. As above, I would love to see a mid-market review as so much seems geared towards SMEs. Most cloud packages currently focus on SMEs and I'm not sure there is something suitable and affordable for the mid-market.

I like the look of Twinfield and was encouraged by the positive comments in your review.

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28th Aug 2014 16:03

Gold dust

Many thanks for this survey. As a new practitioner, the decision on preferred software has been a big one, so I am prevaricating between Quickfile, Kashflow and Xero. I've been using Kashflow for over 3 years with a £1m t/o client, and it has been OK, if a bit limited in some areas, eg budgets, bank recs, reporting.

I am trialling Quickfile myself and for one previously manual contractor client. He is made up with it, and I am struggling to find a downside. So far, it's been great, and it's well worth exploring as a cheap substitute for the less well-off client. I've had the training on Xero, but without a live system to work with, I can't yet comment on its useability, although it is feature-packed, and their marketing effort is spot-on.

The trouble with Kashflow and Xero is that you don't get marketing support without 5 live clients, but how do you get 5 live clients without marketing support? 

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28th Aug 2014 18:10

VT al l the way!

Thanks (1)
28th Aug 2014 21:42

Variety is etc etc

Adding my thanks to John & team.

After 30 years of only having 2-3 cumbersome, desk-bound offerings to chose from it's great to see that we now have 2 dozen fleet of foot, evolving & adapting offerings that are so better suited to matching what we and our client's need rather than having to put up with what the provider deemed suitable.

Whilst I now use 3 of them every day, my brain has reached the limit of what it can handle and so, for me, the downside of all this choice is when the next new client approaches me using a system I'm not familiar with.  Do I turn them away or do I spend time learning and assessing a 4th (5th or 6th) system, just for one client?

Being a life-long Iris user I had a similar dilemma when it bought Kashflow.

On Ray051's point, a blow by blow analysis of Cloud features would be out of date within a week of it being issued.  

I'd far rather see an area made available to users where we could keep each other up to date with views and discoveries on each system we use.  This would enable us to see through the hype and to do comparisons enabling newbies a far better chance of trialing 2-3 systems that are likely to be close to what they want.  A bit like what Xero has finally started to do with its 300 add-ons.

So John, just give us 24 (sorry 25....whoops 26) blank blogs with a couple of dozen tags and let us play?

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28th Aug 2014 22:41

Brilliant, thanks John, really useful!!

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By Isla
28th Aug 2014 23:05

Major Point - 2 VAT Registrations?

Do any of these systems allow you to operate 2 VAT Registrations? 

1 in UK and 1 in Ireland but still one set of accounts?  I have found a system that does called Fusion Accounts, from Northern Ireland, they have this to deal with all the time so very important for them to have this option.  But, just wondered if there were any other systems so that I could compare them?

Nothing that I have looked at so far apart from Fusion actually does what is required with the VAT records, but I was hoping for something with more reporting options than I can find within Fusion.

I did ask this question before and a few people did give me some ideas which have been considered but none of them appeared to be an exact fit.

So far it looks like I am continuing to use Excel for the foreseeable.

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29th Aug 2014 16:06

@Isla, I think Twinfield and quickbooks online can do this to have 2 vat registrations in one company.

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29th Aug 2014 08:17

Diamond Discovery

Just to clarify the ICPA have NOT "switched allegiance" to clear books. The ICPA continue to provide FREE of charge the Diamond Discovery cloud solution "Prelude Online". This product is well received by our members who can maintain 60 accounts for free and it does everything a small booking package should do. The ICPA and Diamond Discovery have worked together fruitfully for many years and we have helped in the development of the product for the benefit of our members and the claims of "Simplicity and Clarity" are fully justified and it is a working relationship we have every intention of continuing. The ICPA have always endorsed and accredited the Prelude Product and nothing has changed.

Our relationship with Clear Books is merely the offer an alternative and of the products now available we chose them above the rest.

Tony Margaritelli - Chair ICPA

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29th Aug 2014 09:00

Diamond Discovery - My mistake

Apologies to Diamond Discovery and the ICPA for misconstruing the relationship. I searched the institute's website for a link to the software but couldn't find it, and saw the Clear Books lite listing instead. On returning back to double check, I did spot DD in the same list.of membership benefits).

I could suggest that in terms of web design, this might equate to hiding the application's light under a bushel, but equally it may demonstrate that the ICPA has so much to offer.

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29th Aug 2014 16:15

Hi John,

Thanks for the article, well researched and helpful comments.  I'd put myself in the Xero camp, we're big fans of it with the number one reason being it's easy to use, it's easy to demo to clients and clients have responded really well to it with is the most important thing, it's difficult for them to make mistakes with the bank feed feature also which helps us and them a great deal.  We used Kashflow for a few years but got very frustrated with it and not being able to implement any real new features, particularly the multi currency bank accounts, this was a major problem for us being based in Northern Ireland.

But there is so many options now I echo the thoughts of Paul, much better to put your flag in one or two camps, 3 max on what you will recommend & offer to clients than to try to become experts in them all.  We've a few clients using Quickbooks online so will focus on this and Xero.

The support Xero has given us too has been great, with an account manager coming out to see us in person which I couldn't see any of the other software providers bothering to do, but meant a lot to us.

Thanks (2)
01st Sep 2014 19:50

Accounts for freelancers

Is there a cloud bookkeeping application that treats self-employed / sole traders / freelancers as such without assuming by default that they are companies?

For example, is there a cloud package that correctly deals with the equity / capital account of a sole trader / self-employed business?

Your replies would be much appreciated.


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02nd Sep 2014 01:06


Hi - I have self employed clients using Clear Books, FreeAgent and Xero and all three deal with the Capital account / Drawings correctly.

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02nd Sep 2014 19:19


Many thanks, Paul.  I will have a look at Clear Books and Xero.

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08th Sep 2014 15:40

What about the add-ons?

Do you do a similar review of accounting system add-ons?

One of the advantages of the cloud-based platforms is that they easily integrate with systems like Satago (although we work with desktop software too).

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08th Sep 2014 16:13

Review of Add-Ons?

@Steven_Satago the problem with reviewing add-ons is in the sheer number, maybe 10 to fifteen times the number of Cloud accounting systems?  Then of course there will be some basic accounting systems that need add-ons to make them complete.

Your Credit Control add-on for example, may be treated as an add-on to some systems where there is no inbuilt credit control administration but completely unnecessary (some may say rightly so) in others which have built in credit control management, eg chasing reminders and state of play stats.  The same goes with Payroll for me.

The real benefit of an add-on is to the existing user who can not link it to their existing accounting software and so will look at accounting systems it does have a link with to try out.

Thanks (1)
09th Oct 2014 06:50

Fair point. I'd argue that credit control is a category all of its own, distinct from (but connected to) accounting software.

Most of the accounting softwares indeed have some basic reminder functionality, but I take the philosophy that software companies should concentrate on doing one thing and doing it well. Once we do a demo, people usually see the difference pretty quickly.

Anyway, don't take my word for it, I'm clearly a tad biased. We've just been audited and accredited by the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers. You can read their audit report here:

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13th Sep 2014 10:00

What a recipe for disater

It does not matter what system they use, 70% of the time it ends up in a mess.

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21st Sep 2014 12:04



have any of the online packages updated for the change in electronic supplies to EU countries from Jan15 / MOSS

just starting to look at this for 2 businesses :


1]  a publisher - magazine hard copy, sold on subscriptions and retail  but importantly also the online version where subscriptions are being sold to both Co [ vat + non vat reg]  and individuakls across the EU.  So MOSS will be th answer - but how do you raise the subscription invoices for VAT in each country for each client type.



software as a servcie [SAAS]  - where the program is available on line hosted on servers in London NY + SNG as part of continual data recovery , sold from UK via subscription to any actively paid Subscriber = co or individual worldwide - incl EU


Do any of the mega list of aforementioned packages cope with these changes ?

Starting to work my way through - the majors were not aware when I asked them @ Accountex !!!    eek


Anyone any expereinces or ahead of me - to share outcomes/research?

Many thanks

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06th Nov 2015 12:44


We have exactly this issue with some of our service items, our software providers added a feature for this which has worked well (so far) for us. I honestly don't know why people use systems like Sage and Xero when there are so many smaller companies who can offer you affordable customisation. I can't praise Hudman highly enough to be honest:

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23rd Sep 2014 12:57

MOSS....we've let it grow!!

Hi kiwilondon99 - yes, you are right, it's been the elephant in the room, or more accurately, next door, for some time now but things are hotting up.

I work with Clear Books and, like most of the other accounting software suppliers I guess, they/we are looking to see how many users this will effect and, if not many, whether it's still worth building functionality to attract new business.

My own view is that the suppliers will look to support the single MOSS return, rather than individual, per country, registrations and, at its most basic, this might just be a case of an extra MOSS VAT classification per invoice with the customer data specifying the country and the software either providing a drop down VAT rate or the user entering a manual VAT rate.  This would be enough for the software to exclude those transactions from the UK return and provide a report, or even electronic submission, for the MOSS return.

This is still my guesswork and I'm not at liberty to disclose what CB's plans are yet but it will be interesting to hear other thoughts on this.


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27th Sep 2014 08:04

Re Moss

When some popular systems STILL don't support flat rate scheme VAT, I don't think we need to hold our breath re MOSS.

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20th Jan 2015 06:38

Cloud Based accounting software

I have been using Invoicera for few months for my accounting purposes. . It's a feature rich and user friendly software. I think your list can be updated with as it’d help most of the businesses.


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By benh
02nd Apr 2015 17:16

Lesser known desktop programs

Re lesser known desktop programs - you have missed this one

Does anyone use Avanti Accounting Software or does anyone know if there is a user group?

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06th Nov 2015 12:37

Central Accounting & ERP

We've been using Central ERP by Hudman for over 6 years its worked well for us. We have complicated stock management and MRP issues and could not afford a system such as SAP or similar. We got most of the functionality that you'd expect from a large ERP system for under £250 a month and it handles our complex multi currency accounting with no issues.

If you have a manufacturing business like mine you'll find it really useful.

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11th Oct 2016 17:05

Great list there - but you have missed some fantastic free options.

10 Minute Accounts for example, which is very good. It integrates nicely with PayPal and is very good at standard record keeping, especially for small businesses.

Thanks (1)
to Barnaby Dixon
13th Oct 2016 16:20

Hi Barnaby - given that this article is now over two years old, much of the listhas been updated in more recent posts.

BTW - It's usual for posters to declare an interest if they recommend a service or product.

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