Brightbook: Free web accounting software

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A couple of London-based designers have taken the Cloud accounting revolution to its logical conclusion with Brightbook – an application designed for freelancers and sole traders.

Brightbook
grew out of the experiences of graphic designer James Henderson and his colleague Warwick. “Warwick and I both run small businesses and the one thing we don’t enjoy is bookkeeping,” said Henderson. “I’ve tried other solutions like Sage and some of the online ones, but they just made me feel worse. Ultimately they’ve done things I haven’t wanted them too.”

Henderson describes Brightbooks as a “mashup” of all things they wanted a bookkeeping service to do. “I wouldn’t say it competes with Sage; the main thing we’re doing that’s different is changing the way people feel, because that’s fundamentally what the issue was.”

On first sight, Brightbook is definitely not your average accounting software – the interface is a vivid pinky red and the interface lives up to the designer’s claim of simple-minded user-friendliness. Even more attractive for the casual user is the price – nothing. You just log in and start using it.

The program lives up to the launch publicity, but how will Brightbooks make its money? After much deliberation and comparison with other online web offerings, Henderson and Leicester decided to go down the free software route. “Our goal is to make the free version a no-brainer that will do most things a small business wants. Ultimately we want to build a base where we can get as many users as possible and then develop paid-for features,” Henderson said.

Having signed up some 1,200 users through its FaceBook page and from a bit of pre-publicity, the developers are trying to recruit enough customers so that it can provide advertising opportunities and targeted financial services.

Accountants will also be part of Brightbook’s second marketing phase. “We’ll be offering this as a platform to their clients. We really want to work with accountants and help them overcome the frustration of sending paper around.” Having won over his own accountant, Henderson claimed, “Brightbook will be fantastic from an accountant’s point of view. You’ll be able to log in, get the details and you’re off.”

About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight

AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.

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18th Mar 2010 11:49

Slow to use!

This has the usual problem facing cloud based accounting software - it is much slower to use than desktop based software such as QuickBooks.  I have a fast computer and connection and it still takes a few seconds to go into each screen.  And it will not improve if they are offering a free product because there is no cash available to pay for a fast server, etc.

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By terrye
18th Mar 2010 12:00

Cloud

It can not be any slower than the latest sage line 50 offering :-/

For small businesses who only make a few transactions a day, I see cloud accounting (especially one that is free) a step forward.

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18th Mar 2010 13:44

Data location

My concern is as to where is the data held? This is my data protection act reaction.

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18th Mar 2010 13:52

Business model

I expect the data is safe, more of a concern is how long will the company last and how do you get your data back in a useable format if it fails.  The business model of giving the software free for life and trying to sell bolt ons later doesn't inspire confidence.  If its good why not charge for it.

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19th Mar 2010 09:59

Data Location - UPDATE

Well, I asked them, and they confirmed that they do use a UK data-centre (in Cambridgeshire, to be specific!)

They've got a tough job ahead - ad-based revenues kind of need high volumes of users to attract advertisers, and when your target users are small businesses being asked to place their core accounting functions with you - that's going to take time.

 

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19th Mar 2010 15:45

How secure is your desktop data?

Stephen: Can I ask where your QuickBooks data file is located - is it on a PC, laptop or server in your office, or at your home?

In either scenario, you still have a data protection issue - what happens if you have a burglary and all of your kit is stolen?

Data centres are the best place for ... erm, data.

Adrian Pearson, Top Accountants

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20th Mar 2010 13:49

Backup

I don't think the issue is really a question of whether the data is 'safe' - professional accountants are required to have back up procedures for desktop applications anyway - my firm's data is backed up online and stored on multiple servers.  More to the point is who owns the data and what happens if the company goes into liquidation or sells out.

I'm in favour of online systems, but they have yet to get to the stage where they are fast enough for accountants to use, compared with a desktop application where I can have multiple windows open, update and see the effect on the report, not have to keep on going in and out of single windows, etc. 

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20th Mar 2010 14:21

Back ups

I don't think the issue is really a question of whether the data is 'safe' - professional accountants are required to have back up procedures for desktop applications anyway - my firm's data is backed up online and stored on multiple servers.   Posted by BryanS1958 on Sat, 20/03/2010 - 13:49

 

We use a dual backup system

We keep daily backups on an external hard drive - and - as we use Norton security, we use their online backup service on a weekly basis.

That way our data is secure no matter what happens.

I dislike online systems.  Speed is one issue, but for me lack of control is the other, and of course if your internet access is down you have no access.   

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20th Mar 2010 22:18

Well Done

I think this is a nice, simple to use package that will be very popular with clients. I'm sorry to see a lot of negative comments following this blog, so I hope to bring some balance. If the developers want to get in touch, then they can contact me through my website www.hallaccountancy.com

In the meantime, I've signed up and I'll do some testing. Initial thoughts are that it fits well with our "keep it simple" approach.

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21st Mar 2010 12:28

Simple systems can cause chaos

The problem with 'simple' systems is that clients think they can just start using it without any training and suddenly every client thinks they are a bookkeeper!  Then, come the end of the year the accountant has to sort out the mess and the client complains about the cost of doing so.  With online systems the cost of sorting out the mess tends to be higher because they are slower to use than desktop systems and are generally not multiple window, so the accountant has to go in and out of different screens which is time consuming, especially when getting on to each screen can take several seconds.

I can practically guarantee that with these so called simple systems over a period of time numerous errors will build up and clients will not realise.  Common ones are deleting/adjusting items, changing dates, 'correcting'  to agree to invoices/payment amounts, entering data in prior periods after VAT returns have been done, etc.  Clients (and many bookeepers) do not understand the impact these changes can have.

The solution is proper training on any system, be it online or desktop, because the ability of clients to mess things up when entering accounts information is amazing.  However, how many clients will pay for that?  At the end of the day, clients should be banned from doing their own bookkeeping; it is often cheaper and faster for the accountant to do it.  Even bookkeepers make a mess of things half the time.

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21st Mar 2010 17:08

Data security is not just about you

 Taking regular backups, and having data backed-up to multiple servers online is good practice and certainly will safeguard the availability of data to you, the accountancy practice.  That's "disaster recovery" covered, but what about the more important issue of protecting private client information?

You might have a copy of your client's data on an external hard-drive.  You will also have that data on your desktop machine or server and those pieces of hardware physically reside in your office.  I you have a break-in and those devices are stolen you, the accountancy practice, have your data restore option so you are ok - but where is that sensitive client data now?

If the data is in a data centre and ONLY in that data centre, you do not have a problem with the physical security of your office.

Adrian Pearson, Top Accountants

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22nd Mar 2010 10:37

Data security

It is highly unlikely that complete security of client information can be guaranteed in the event of a break in. Even if data is stored online there will almost always be a filing system in the office, client records, paperwork in filing trays and so on.

It would be impractical to have all client data held online because online systems are almost always too slow for general usage.  Online bookkeeping programs are slow enough, imagine trying to have a system where accounts production and tax programs are accessing the internet for data.  Iris is quite slow on a desktop based system, I hate to think how slow it would be if it was trying to acccess data located on the internet.  And we have up to date PCs and fast connections!  Also, who is to say that a third party will not be able to access the data which is passing through the ether or residing on a third party's servers?

The best you can really do is make back ups as secure and remote as possible, ensure adequate locks and alarms on doors and cabinets and put maximum security passwords, etc on PCs, so even if they are stolen it is difficult to extract any client data from them.

Anyway, this is really getting away from the main subject, which is whether Brightbook is wonderful or not!  My view is not, but I haven't tested it properly because it is quite slow and even the first screen had error messages on it (maybe because I hadn't entered any data).

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24th Mar 2010 12:17

Brightbook Support

Although I have my reservations about cloud accounting software, one thing you can say about it is that they are able to react very quickly to changes, whereas with desktop software you often have to wait for new releases or do workarounds. 

I did receive a response from Warwick of Brightbook, who advised as follows:

"Thank you for letting us know that you were experiencing a performance issue. It is really helpful to hear when people have issues (as thats the only way we can fix them!).
 I just wanted to let you know personally that we've allocated Brightbook a lot more processing power and it should be all speedy now." I still prefer desktop packages with multiple windows, they are far faster - as confirmed by my assistant who has been complaining about how long it takes to do a bank reconciliation on Kashflow because you have to go out of the bank rec window, into the item that is incorrect, correct it, go back to the bank rec window and so on, rather than just switching between open windows or drilling down a la QuickBooks.

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29th Mar 2010 15:22

Browsers have multiple windows natively

Regarding the question of multiple windows, in most modern browsers this is not a problem at all.  Usually holding down the SHIFT key when clicking on something, opens a new window.  You can have as many open windows as you wish.

Adrian Pearson, Top Accountants

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29th Mar 2010 15:36

Multiple windows

Agreed, but it doesn't work in the same way as a multiple window on desktop software in my experience.  For example, in Kashflow you have to log in every time a new tab is opened and then you have to navigate to the correct page, whereas QuickBooks is much faster to use and navigate.

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