FirmBee / Pixabay

A key component of any successful business – regardless of size – is its accounting system. It is the critical element that ties all business activity together. It doesn’t matter how good you are at sales, marketing, networking, and all other aspects of your business. If you don’t have a good accounting system in place, your business will never thrive.

Although many online accounting systems have similar functionality, there are substantial differences in cost, features, ease of use, and other factors. Some systems are ideal for small businesses, while others are best suited for large corporations. You will need to consider a variety of factors to determine which system is best for your needs.

What is the Scope of Your Business?

How big is your business? Is your venture a startup or micro business? Or are you a one person operation? If so, the type of accounting system you’ll need will almost certainly be different from a company with dozens of employees, a warehouse, and a fleet of delivery trucks.

Another thing to consider is the type of business you are engaged in. Are you involved in the sale of physical products? Or are you a service provider? Although most online accounting systems are flexible enough to meet the needs of either a product or service-based business, there are many advantages to choosing a system that was designed for your specific business activity.

Is the Company Established?

It’s best to choose an online accounting system from a company that is established with a proven track record. This lets you check the company out. You can read company reviews online to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly.

How is the company rated by the Better Business Bureau? Does it attempt to resolve customer complaints, or does it ignore them? Does the company thank customers for their honest reviews and make a commitment to improve? How a company treats customers with valid complaints speaks volumes.

Is a Free Trial Available?

One of the most important things to consider is whether a free trial is offered. A free trial lets you take a test drive to see if a particular software meets all of your needs and is easy to use without making a commitment.

Free trials of accounting software are very common. Most companies will let you review their products for at least 30 days. Definitely take advantage of a free trial period to put a system through its paces. This will reveal its strengths and weaknesses and help you make an informed purchase decision.

Is There a Steep Learning Curve?

Is the accounting software you are evaluating intuitive and easy to learn? Or does it come with a manual as thick as the New York City phone book?

A complex system is not always a better system. A simple system that is easy to learn and understand enables you to get up and running quickly with fewer mistakes in your financial records.

Is Training Available?

You don’t want to end up in a position where you have to figure things out as you go. A structured training program – whether online or in person – can really shorten the learning curve.

It is now common for many companies to offer their software training entirely online. This lets you learn a new system during times that are convenient for you. Training is usually in the form of online modules with video instruction and quizzes. Some companies even offer formal certification for completing their training programs.

Is Help Available If You Need It?

If you encounter a problem of some kind and the manual doesn’t provide an answer, what do you do? Are you left to figure things out on your own, or is there a way to contact a company representative for assistance?

All reputable accounting software companies will provide a way for you to contact them if you run into anything you can’t figure out. Larger companies usually offer live phone or chat support. With a smaller company, you may have to submit an online ticket and wait for a response.

What Kind of Features Do You Need?

Not every business needs an online accounting system with all of the same features. A freelance graphic artist, for example, probably does not need an elaborate inventory management system. And a small family-owned company probably does not need all of the features of an expensive enterprise resource system. It’s important to choose a system that has the right set of features for your business needs.

Many accounting systems give you the option to pay for and use only the features you need. These features – or modules, as they are often called – can be added to your system as you need them. For example, by adding a payroll module you could potentially save money by keeping your payroll in-house. With a system that is scalable, you will be better positioned for future growth.

Does It Connect with Your Bank Account?

Real-time data is critical for any business. Not knowing where you are financially at any given time can delay a critical business decision – or result in a bad decision. To have access to real-time data you will need an accounting system that can connect to your bank account.

With a real-time connection, you can always know how much money you have in an account at any given time. The information is usually just a mouse click away. Many accounting systems allow you to connect with multiple bank accounts to maximize positional awareness.

How Much Does It Cost?

Prices for online accounting systems vary widely, and nearly all of them charge by the month. There are some systems for small businesses and self-employed individuals that are available for as little as $20 a month. Prices go up from there depending on the size of your business and the features you need.

Don’t let the price of an accounting system be the major deciding factor in your decision. There are some inexpensive systems, for example, that are very capable. And it’s also possible that a more expensive system could actually end up saving you money in the long run by automating some tasks that you currently do manually.

Make an Informed Decision

A quality online accounting system is an investment in the future of your business. As such, you’ll definitely want to take your time in the evaluation process. Be sure to review several systems to see which one has the best features, support, and cost. Also, be sure the system you choose is easy to use and can handle the future growth of your business.