Which Bookkeeping Package Should you Use?

Ray Stewart Bookkeeping, Business, General, Tax Matters, VAT 1 Comment

I am well aware that there are few places for you to go and ask questions about the different accounting packages that are available.  Not many of you have an accountant in the early days of business so where do you go for unbiased and expert advice on the choice of bookkeeping package?

Do you ask friends and colleagues?  Do you wait for months until you find a review in a magazine of 2 or 3 packages and use that?  Or do you go to one of the large computer stores and look at what packages they sell and pick one of those?

There are information websites established to deal with such questions and provide forums for people to visit and ask for free, expert advice on any bookkeeping package you are using, rather than pay the expensive support fees that most suppliers of accounting software require before they answer even the most simple question but these sites are few and far between and tend to be bias towards the sponsor company running it!

As an Accountant I constantly come across most of the main software accounting packages available, and more recently, some of the new on-line offerings that are popping up.  This puts me in an excellent position to see how the packages are changing month by month and which ones people are using and what issues are cropping up.

Some of the newer offerings are quite good, and the on-line ones can be cheap, or even free.

So, what package do I recommend at the moment, taking into account features that I deem important for small businesses? taking into account ease of use, cost (both to buy and to support annually).. even down to computing power needed to run them!

At the moment – there is still nothing else that comes close to VT Transaction Plus.

I could give you a list a reasons why I feel this way, but the easiest thing for you to do is go and download the beta version from their website and have a play with it. This is not a product I have any involvement with, it is just that it is the best available.  However, because it is a relatively unknown package I feel that more people should be able to try it and benefit from it.

For example, if you do something wrong, you just edit it.  Whatever you need to enter in the way of payments, cheques, purchase invoices, sales invoices, credit notes, VAT they each have their own button – just click and enter.  Just about everything you enter can be changed or deleted so you need never fear about making mistakes.

The reason for such flexibility lies in the way the product developed.  Initially it was written for professional accountants to use for making sense of the small jobs people brought in to their office in paper bags. Just a pile of receipts and bits.  The package had to be easily editable to make it a useful tool.  A few years ago though quite a few business people were buying the package because their accountants had used it on their books in the early days and as their business developed, it was logical for the clients to take over the package with all the past history that the accountant had entered.

A decision was made to develop the package into a more formal bookkeeping package and that is how VT Transaction Plus came into being.  I recommend this fantastic little package to most businesses that ask because it is so flexible.  There are some though who need point of sale software for tills and other specialist tasks and so VT Transaction Plus is not suited to them.

But It does suit 90% of small businesses.

Most people who start to use it cannot believe how easy it is and wonder why they haven’t heard about it before.  Unfortunately, accountants seem to like to keep the art of bookkeeping a mystery and one that needs expensive well known packages such as TAS, SAGE or Quickbooks to meet their needs – and obviously the accountant can then get a commission from the sale and extra fees from sorting out the mess you get into trying to fathom the workings of it.

I can’t do that.

I want people who are determined to keep their own business records to have the easiest, most practical and cheapest solution available – and VT Transaction Plus is it for most.  It is even fully multi-currency with an option to choose the base currency – so it has worldwide appeal.

Other packages are editable – which means that if you realize you have made an entry incorrectly, you can go back into that entry and change it – rather than have to start raising confusing journals to put things right.  These range from Quickbooks to DOSH, MYOB to the new offering from Microsoft themselves.

However, the editability in some is quite limited, you have to catch the transaction quickly before it is “posted” by the system or you have to go the journal route anyway.  Also, Quickbooks in their new 2008 version have removed the multi-currency option.  It seems that each of the big packages change over time and not always for the better.  For instance, if you were using the multi-currency option in Quickbooks – you are stuck up a creek without a paddle.  You can’t upgrade as you lose the currency option… I understand it has been withdrawn due to costs for Intuit, but people who use and need that option are now forced to go elsewhere and learn a new package all over and incur all the costs that go with it.  It seems Quickbooks have realized the gaff they have made and their website now says “Important information about multi-currency – Although the multi-currency feature is not available in QuickBooks 2008, it will be re-introduced in the future.”   But when, and for how much?  Not a good position for a business to be in with their bookkeeping.

I am told by SAGE that 80% of accountants recommend their products and that there must be 100,000’s of users worldwide that are happy.  However, I have not found an accountant that recommends this, and until this year most small businesses have not been able to even look up easily transactions in their own records, let alone try and edit anything.  If you pay more money for this year (2008) updates, the reporting is now starting to become easier.  The reason I come across people using SAGE say they have stuck with it is simply because it took so long to learn and some much training to use that they don’t realize there are better, cheaper, easier alternatives available.

As far as TAS goes, I used to use that within my own company as it had all the requirements of editability and ease of use.  But a few years SAGE bought TAS and immediately started “improving” it.  I personally feel that they bought the competition because TAS was such a superior product.  They then proceeded to change it to become more like SAGE – what a shame that was.

The problem with all these companies is that they offer “Accountants” clubs.  So if a new entrepreneur goes to an accountant for advice about bookkeeping software, accountants being only human, are bound to direct people to the package they have joined the club for.  These “clubs” offer accountants significant amounts of software for a yearly fee of around £300 and it is bound to introduce a little bias into the equation.

So, if you go to an accountant for advice, ask them if they are a member of any software clubs (sometimes you will even see stickers on their windows).  If they say they have reviewed all available packages and the club they joined is the best software available – ask them to demonstrate that to you.  How is it better, how is it cheaper, prettier, more efficient, stacked with what extra features.  At least then you will be making a decision based on some experience.

Really, the only way an accountant can offer strictly unbiased advice is to be a member of every accountants club available and but all other packages that are available – and therefore be in an educated position to recommend the best software for each set of requirements.  That is as rare as hen’s teeth!

I hope this trip around some of the bigger and better known packages has helped you at least start asking more informed questions about bookkeeping packages before you buy, and opened your eyes at least a little to the fact there are alternatives to these available, it is just that you need to be told they exist.  I recognize this doesn’t cover every package available – but I am human too.  I can only comment on the packages I know in detail from experience.  As far as the on-line offerings go, although some are cheap and even free, none of them yet seem to show much editability in general use.

I have also ignored more detailed needs such as multi-user, remote access etc. and just focused on the straight forward needs of most new small businesses.


Ray Stewart
I am a qualified Certified Practising Accountant having passed my final exams way back in 1981. I actually can’t believe that was 37 years ago!! Anyway, I am now in my 60’s and I have been running my own business since May 1983. And before you ask, no, I have never regretted a moment of it! Part of the membership requirements of my professional body now dictate that I spend quite a lot of time on “CPD” - continuing professional education (one of their better ideas) - and over the last two years I decided to study business growth and marketing. I have learnt such a lot and that knowledge has radically changed my old “accountants” approach to business. It has made such a difference to the way I work and operate I feel that I just have to pass on this knowledge. It is simply too powerful to hold back!! - but I will try and do it in simple terms rather than expecting you to spend hours, as I had to, working through the difficult language that trainers seem to use to pass on their concepts. I hope you find the blog a useful resource and interesting place to visit as the months pass. I will do my best to keep up the flow - but if there are any topics you would like me to cover, then please let me know. Ray Stewart
Ray Stewart
Ray Stewart

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