A buyers guide to accounting software for start-up businesses. By Nigel Harris

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Most accountants would agree that good financial management information is essential to the success of any new business. Appropriate accounting software can make it easier to produce this information on a timely basis. Many of the major players in the accounting software market have recently launched specific packages for new businesses. Are they any better than what was already available? With even more choice, how does a new business owner choose the best package for them?

#1 Ask your accountant

The best person to ask should be your accountant. We would say that, wouldnt we but with good reason. A start-up business has a lot to learn and the accountant can be an essential support in the early days, so it makes sense to use an accounts package with which your accountant is familiar....

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17th Oct 2006 16:54

I find it frustrating that these articles continue to punt the idea that the accountant is the best person to advise.

An *informed* accountant is the best to advise and sadly there are few of those about. By informed, I mean one who knows how to think like an SMB.

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By Anonymous
18th Oct 2006 16:06

No real shock that accountants are once again recommended as the best people to buy from. However this overlooks the fact that accountants often sell the software themselves and as such may well recommend what is simply the package they sell. Furthermore the article seems to forget to mention the software solution centres who have equally good knowledge of the products and sell a range of packages meaning they can recommend the optimum solution for the type of business as well as support when using the product!

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18th Oct 2006 17:17

The problem with Accountants

The real problem with using a system recommended by "your accountant" is that most of them are very good at preparing Final Accounts and Tax returns, but havn't a clue when it comes to running a business.

The small start up business needs an accounting system to run your business first and foremost so it needs to be set-up and geared to that objective. Sadly, particularly small buiness packages, mostly do not do that very well. Especially when set-up by an accountant "in practice".

Wizards are a particular danger area, as they tend to assume that all businesses run in the same way. They don't, particularly when it comes to getting information for the management of a busines, especially if it has diverse product lines.

To set up an accounting package, you really need a "Systems Accountant". One who has previously had experiance of producing Mangement Accounts for the operational staff of a company. And preferably one who has a mix of industries in their experiance. Also one who has experiance of non accounting operational aspects, such as procurement, stock control or even manufacturing. OK, I may be quoting from my own CV but having set up quite a few systems for both major PLCs and much smaller companies, and had to start again when the "accountant" had set up the system. I have as they say been there and done that.

It is worth getting a Systems Accountant in who can specify what is required from the system and any associated products such as CRM, Stock Control before any purchase is made. The System Accountant will also be able to Project Manage the introduction of such the packages and prepare procedure manuals relevant to your company. The cost of change in the future will far outway any fees we might charge.

As for "on line" packages - having just experianced over a month of system failures with my ISP - I have one comment - NEVER!


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By Anonymous
19th Oct 2006 13:18

Most accountants are relatively IT illiterate
So long as the majority of accountants continue to recommend Sage for the preparation of accounts, accountants in general are not the best persons to ask for a recommendation for an accounts package.

I have made a lot of money for myself, while saving even more for my clients, by slashing the amount of time it takes to prepare accounts by advising new clients to abandon Sage. Often I persuade the client to this by buying an alternate package and giving it free to the client. The cost to me is more than made up because I acquire the client's goodwill and confidence when the client sees the huge increase in efficiency and speed with which the accounts are prepared using the new systems. The client also notices much improvement in the quality and timeliness of the accounts and other reports because the time saved by not using the inefficient Sage package is spent more productively reviewing the numbers and not ignoring accruals, prepayments, etc which it would be tempting to ignore on spurious "materiality" grounds (but really because it is too time consuming to put these through or revise in Sage). And by abandoning the straight jacket imposed by Sage's reporting system, I am able to provide each client with reports designed for the client's particular business and information requirements.

(I have no prejudice against Sage - I was one of the first accountants to use Sage when it was a DOS based package and continued with it into Windows but had no hesitation in abandoning it when better tools became available. And I will have no hesitation in starting to use Sage again in the unlikely event that their package becomes competitive again.)

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By nigel
20th Oct 2006 13:56

Why ask your accountant?
Afzal seems to have grasped my point. If you check above (Dennis!) I didn't say "buy" from your accountant, simply get some advice. I know some firms do resell software. (We used to but there's no margin for us and we didn't want stock sitting on the shelf that would quickly go out of date so we gave up.)

My point is that accounts are prepared for two purposes - management information and compliance. The small business owner probably needs help on the former, if only to understand the data, and he has to work with his accountant on the latter. At the very least it makes sense to either use software that the accountant is competent with - or find an accountant who is!

I agree that a "one package fits all " approach won't work. We're Sage resellers (at least nominally), but we get referrals because we also know MYOB for Mac and have QuickBooks-trained staff too. But if it works for them we're happy for clients to stick with what they've got.

The important thing is that they use the software properly - reconcile the bank, VAT, etc. - and get valuable management information out of it during the year. I imagined that was what all accountants do, but maybe I'm out of touch!

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19th Oct 2006 20:09

Accountant in the end
I agree that some accountants are unable to think like the small business managers (SBM). Further, ease of date entry into the software is very important, otherwise the SBM may get frustated and not use the software.

If the SBM wishes to utilise the reports generated, he should seek the assistance of a professional accountant. Ultimately, the major reason most small businesses maintain accounts is for tax returns. Again an accountant is useful here.

Maybe I am prejudiced as I am apracticing accountant. The SBM is competent in his field and the accountant in his. Both working as a team would produce excellent results.

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16th Oct 2006 14:40

VAT flat rate - not just one
More software will also do VAT flat rate scheme, with a bit of tweaking by the accountant during the set-up stage.


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