Accounting Advice

What's the best accounting software for small businesses?

13 Jun 2013

It's a rite of passage. After years of doing battle with increasingly uncooperative spreadsheets, the time finally comes to grasp the nettle and move your business to a purpose built accounting package.

How to choose your software package

There are three things to consider when choosing a package. The first is to determine whether you need the package to integrate with your day to day commercial operations - things like managing stock, generating invoices and producing timesheets. If you don't need any of these, then you can opt for a no-frills accounts only package.

The next is whether you need a web-based or desktop system. Web based systems allow for easy integration with your accountants' systems and can be updated at any time from any computer or mobile device. If this isn't important to you, then a standard desktop system will work fine.

Last but not least is cost. Web based systems tend to bill monthly in perpetuity, whereas desktop system can normally be bought outright. It's worth noting too that new entrants in the accounting software market tend to be a lot cheaper as they battle to gain market share from their longer established rivals.

Here's what we think of some of the systems currently available:

Desktop: Sage Instant - £102 (one off)

Sage Instant is reasonably priced and is highly recommended if you are a one man band or a business with only a few employees. But if you need multiple user log-ins then a costly upgrade to Sage 50 is needed. Training or relevant experience is also essential as a degree of accounting proficiency is required.

Our verdict: 6 / 10 - only suitable for owner / managers with a good grasp of accounting

Desktop: Sage 50 - £450 (one off) 

Sage 50 provides the most complete accounting software for small to medium sized companies with great stock, debtor and creditor control. But it comes with the highest price and an essential need for training or relevant experience as the interface is not at all intuitive to the non-accountant.

Our verdict: 8 / 10 - still the market leader for SME accounts

Desktop: QuickBooks - £320 (one off) 

Quickbooks is not quite as comprehensive as Sage 50, but is cheaper and would do a great job for most small and medium sized companies. The reports are much more flexible than its more expensive rival and it is a very good alternative to Sage.

Our verdict: 7 / 10 - the cost effective desktop choice

Web: SageOne - £12 per month

Sage One is inexpensive and offers 24/7 support. But compared to the other Sage products it is fairly basic - it lacks stock control functionality and some features which may be needed by your accountant (things like control accounts and journal entries).  It is however ideal for startups with relatively few transactions.

Our verdict: 7 / 10 - a bargain and a good choice for businesses with small numbers of transactions

Web: KashFlow - £22 per month

KashFlow is a fantastic piece of software and one of the most popular online alternatives. The stock function is superior to its online rivals so comes highly recommended for inventory sensitive companies and has a very user friendly interface that can be operated without a great deal of accounting experience.

Our verdict: 8 / 10 - very user friendly with plenty of functionality

Web: Xero - £20 per month

Xero if used to its full potential can be better than any desktop software. The reports produced are very useful and the system is capable of dealing with complex transactions. Stock control is not yet in place but this system is a great alternative for any sized company without an inventory requirement, but needing a multi-user or multi-site capability.

Our verdict: 8 / 10 - excellent reports but a non-starter for business with inventory

If you would like any help choosing an accounting package then please don’t hesitate to drop in to our London head office or get an Instant Accounting Quote. Or if you are a small business looking for your first accountant, you may be eligible for our new low cost online accounting package.

Keir Wright-Whyte


Managing Director

0207 043 4000

About the author

Originally graduating with a degree in geography from Edinburgh University, Keir claims that he was then tricked into becoming an accountant by one of the UK's top 5 accountancy practices.The deception extended to the usual training in audit and associated activities.

Keir subsequently worked in a number of advisory roles with clients including in the energy trading, pharmaceuticals and financial services sectors.

He loves working at Accounts & Legal because of the variety of work and clients, the excellent team ethos and morale, the importance placed on genuinely helping and being useful for clients and because he believes what he does matters to clients and helps the firm.

Keir's primary role is to ensure that new clients with complex businesses or needs are on-boarded in the best way and he is a "trouble shooter" both for clients and where complex issues arise internally. He also helps the accounting teams strive to improve what we do for clients, whether processes or services.

When not debiting or crediting, Keir has a penchant for fixing old buildings, skiing, surfing and cycling.


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