It used to be easy to define entry-level accounting software -- QuickBooks, Peachtree, and MYOB pretty much covered it. That's far from the case now. With microbusinesses becoming ever more popular, and new accounting and bookkeeping applications based in the cloud, your clients have a wider range of options.
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A changing definition of entry-level accounting is also altering the landscape. Many small businesses don't need, or even want, the complexity that is inherent in most entry-level accounting applications. Rather than estimates, statement and inventory, sometimes all your clients need is an application where they can send out invoices and record payments, with reports that are limited to what's billed, what's owed, and general ledger and profit and loss reports. In other words, basic bookkeeping.
To be honest, that's not far from where we started out 30-plus years ago, with electric checkbook software for the Apple II, Commodore Pet and 64, and the TRS-80. But the electric checkbook evolved into One-Write Plus, then Quicken, and as time went on, the software became more and more capable and more and more complex.
But limited functionality, even if that is what your client really needs, doesn't always come with a small price tag. It costs money to produce media and packaging, generate user documentation, and distribute the units produced. And the ones that aren't sold are either returned to the distributor, trashed, or sold at deep discounts.
That's one of the reasons that electronic distribution has become so popular -- there are no physical manufacturing or distribution costs, and no surplus units of the software. Of course, the two most popular vendors of accounting software, Intuit and Sage, still offer physical units of their software. Point of sale is still an important sales channel for them, and that implies boxed software on the shelves of office and big box superstores.
But even here, it's not unthinkable that the future will see a change even in the physical distribution of accounting software. Redbox, which produces DVD and Blu-Ray movies on demand, has thousands of units in supermarkets and other locations. The Redbox DVD on-demand model doesn't need a lot of fiddling to be adapted to producing application software discs on-demand, with no need for large shelf space or inventory. It doesn't take much to imagine being able to pick up a DVD for QuickBooks or Sage while shopping at a nearby supermarket. Indeed, many supermarkets already carry computer supplies and even printers.
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!
One big game changer that's emerged over the years is the proliferation of online bookkeeping products for both individuals and small businesses. For the most part, these provide the essentials that many of your smaller clients need, such as invoicing, a general ledger-type report, and possibly even check printing capability. With many clients moving rapidly to making payments electronically where possible, the ability of most of these services to import bank statements and easily classify transactions is only going to become more popular, and in many cases it's going to displace in-house accounting and bookkeeping.
To assist you in helping your clients decide what the best solution is for their needs and circumstances, here's a quick look at six bookkeeping/accounting applications -- three of them the traditional in-house editions and another three available online.
While we didn't look at them, both Intuit and Sage offer entry-level bookkeeping applications online. Intuit's is QuickBooks Simple Start for $12.95 a month (with other online editions available at increasingly higher monthly fees). Sage's cloud-based entry-level product is Sage One, and is priced at $29 a month. For your smaller business clients, one or the other may offer an excellent combination of affordability and usability.
We also didn't look at Outright and Mint, two popular cloud-based offerings. These are really intended to be financial management applications, rather than true accounting systems.
Regardless of whether you or your client(s) choose to go in-house or in the cloud, keep in mind that the trend in the accounting software industry is to move to a subscription-based pricing model. That's true in other application markets as well -- Microsoft is "selling" Office 365 solely as a subscription product.
To some extent, this approach is attractive, since all subscription-based plans include support and upgrades built-in. The downside is that it forces you and your clients to upgrade every year whether you want to or not. Many users are running on accounting packages that are three or four years old (or even older) and are quite happy remaining with their current package.
AccountEdge Pro 2013
Acclivity Group LLC
Sometimes, with companies changing names and product names, it's easy to feel that you're playing the shell game when you are searching for a particular product.
To simplify, AccountEdge Pro was previous called Premier Accounting. And Acclivity Group was the company formed when former management purchased the U.S. and Canadian version rights from MYOB. So though the names (and management) have changed, it's still basically the same company that's been selling accounting software since the early 1990s. So with two decades behind it, it's a good bet that you can have confidence that your clients won't be left high and dry in the future.
The 2013 edition has some new features. Acclivity has added document management, allowing invoices and other documents to support transactions. Add-ins let your client process credit cards.
AccountEdge isn't sold at retail; it has to be purchased directly from Acclivity or one of its resellers. If a client of yours is using AccountEdge Pro, Acclivity will, if you are a CPA or chartered accountant, send you an Accountant's Copy so you can work with their files.
QuickBooks Professional Bookkeeper
It probably doesn't come as news that Intuit's QuickBooks has the lion's share of entry-level packages being used. The 2013 editions are probably not going to lose many users to in-the-cloud accounting, since most of the QuickBooks products are now available in online versions. As in previous years, Intuit offers different editions of QuickBooks for selected vertical industries, as well as editions that vary slightly in features (more features, more expensive).
New this year is the QuickBooks Professional Bookkeeper 2013 edition. Available as either a single purchase or a monthly subscription, QuickBooks Professional Bookkeeper 2013 is similar to the latest version of QuickBooks Pro 2013 but offers several enhancements that a bookkeeper with multiple clients will find useful. These new tools include a File Manager, so the bookkeeper can launch the correct version of QuickBooks that each client uses, and batching capability for invoicing time and expenses. More than a thousand client transactions can be maintained in Excel and batched or pasted into the client's books. The bookkeeper can also work on two different clients' files at the same time.
For those clients that maintain their own QuickBooks files, a bookkeeper can create journal entries and e-mail them to the client for them to post.
Sage 50 Premium Accounting
For years, the two most recognizable names in entry-level accounting software were Intuit's QuickBooks and Sage Software's Peachtree Accounting. An overhaul of the naming across Sage's entire product line two years ago muddied the waters somewhat, but even though the Peachtree accounting line is now Sage 50, it's still basically the same Peachtree software we've known for decades.
As in its previous name incarnation, Sage 50 comes in several additions. These add features as the edition increases in price. Sage 50 is also available in a variety of vertical editions, and, as with QuickBooks, an Accountant Edition is available so that you can work on your clients' books, making adjusting and closing entries remotely. Unlike Intuit's QuickBooks, the Accountant's Edition is only available to members of Sage's Accountants' Network.
At the top of the product line is Sage 50 Premium Accounting. This edition is available in one-user, three-user and five-user versions. Just as Intuit offers an Enterprise Solution for companies needing dozens of licenses, Sage offer a Quantum Edition for your clients that need to license more than the five-user maximum that Premium Accounting permits.
Sage 50 is a mature product, and for 2013, the software has received only minor polishing. This year, Sage is pushing its service plans for both the client and the accountant.
Some of what Sage claims as features in Sage 50, such as Business Analysis, are actually add-on packages with their own subscription fees, but having a very large choice of add-ons gives your client a lot of flexibility in customizing the accounting system to their own needs.