It’s not unusual for new business owners to manage their small business accounting and invoicing using Excel spreadsheets at first. That’s fine for the first few months, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassles if you switch to using free or low-cost accounting software.
It’s the best way to keep accurate records, reduce human error and prepare documents you’ll need at tax time without hours of agonizing calculations. Plus, if you ever need to apply for a loan, you’ll be able to gather the documents you need quickly, in the formats lenders need.
So which program should you choose? Ask owners of businesses in your niche which software they use to get a sense of what works in your industry.
Many accountants and small business owners recommend QuickBooks, but, since every business is different, test a few programs to find the one that you’re most comfortable using. QuickBooks offers a free trial, and some of the newer cloud-based small business accounting programs also offer free plans. Try using them for the functions you’ll use most often, like, say, creating an invoice. The easier a program is to use, the more likely you will be to stay on top of your accounting.
FreshBooks is very popular among freelancers and very small businesses. It offers simple online invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking for hourly projects, and a variety of instant reports, such as balance sheets, a P&L statement, accounts aging, expense reports and sales tax. The basic version, allowing you to invoice up to three clients, is free. Once you need to invoice more, it will cost you $19.95 a month. I use it myself and find it works very well. If you want to give it a try, use this link. I have to say I continually am impressed with Freshbooks and how well it works for my business.
Other software options
Each has unique benefits.
Wave’s program is free to use for invoicing, no matter how many clients you have, for instance; the company charges for other services, like payroll.
The business apps marketplace GetApp, which lists a bunch of FreshBooks alternatives that its community likes, has a tool you can use to compare them. That’s useful in narrowing down the offerings.
Use it well
Once you choose your accounting software, use it to improve your cash flow. You’ll find that creating an invoice is a lot easier than drafting each one from scratch by using a template. That makes it easy to submit an invoice the moment a project is completed. Get into a rhythm in which you send out invoices at a certain time each week or upon the completion of each project, so you don’t fall behind.
Also check the “accounts aging,” feature at least once a week, to keep an eye on any payments that are past due. Following up on unpaid invoices as soon as they become due can help improve your cash flow dramatically. There’s no point in waiting until 90 days to find out that an invoice has gotten lost in a client’s inbox. Most of the applications allow you to set up automatic payments reminders, but don’t forget that a well-time phone call or email can be the impetus needed to get a payment coming your way as well.
Strong cash flow is essential to growing your business. With a well organized accounting routine, you’ll have a much better understanding of where all your cash is going, and how to better manage your business. Plus, if you ever need to apply for financing to expand, healthy cash flow will help you win a better deal. Even the most basic small business accounting software will make it much easier to keep your cash flow where it needs to be.