Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking into on-line bookkeeping sites for a client of mine. I first did this exercise 3 years ago when the choices were limited and the services on offer were very basic.
I have been seriously impressed this time though.
The sites have matured beyond recognition and the services available are good enough to recommend.
I have looked in depth at eleven online bookkeeping sites.
When I first did this exercise I focused on a couple of areas that severely test normal bookkeeping packages and therefore seemed an excellent place to start. These areas were the creation of a sales invoice and entering non-purchase ledger payments such as bank charges, wages, hire purchase instalments etc.
I have found over the years that the simple creation of a sales invoice seems to be a concept that the software designers just cannot seem to grasp. The only normal accounts package I have used that does allow you to create a professional looking sales invoice is VT Transaction Plus. If I could find an online service that emulated the ease of use of VT I would be really happy. However, there isn’t yet and the company has confirmed they have no plans to convert the software to work online. Shame.
Why are people looking to use these online services now?
There are many reasons why the popularity of the online sites has grown recently. The ability to access the business bookkeeping from any location globally, the automatic updating of the software, the ability for client and accountant to log in together to resolve issues and the lack of any more support contracts are just a few.
So then, how do the current sites deal with my two simple tests?
Not very well actually! Out of the eleven tried, only one met my criteria of creating a useable sales invoice which can include lines of text that don’t have a number of items and a price. The same one also realizes that not every payment a business makes is supported by a purchase invoice.
The reason I want to create a sales invoice like this is because it is how businesses do it in the real world. Very few businesses can work within a rigid structure of each line on a sales invoice having a short description, a quantity and a price. Online shops would be perfect but few others. Many want to have a number of standard descriptions of work done and then an all inclusive price at the bottom. At the moment, only one online system can handle this.
The system that comes out streets ahead of the other ten I looked at… is Clear Books (http://www.clearbooks.co.uk). And the product isn’t even launched yet; it is still in test mode. But that is exactly what gives this site a clear edge. They are listening to what users of other online systems are complaining about not having, and are listening to the people testing the site and tweaking things as they go. The support from the company is immediate, clear and professional. I am still waiting for some answers to questions emailed to one site over a week ago.
All the offerings I looked at are now professional quality sites and will no doubt suit a large number of businesses who are willing to adapt slightly the way they handle the bookkeeping to fit what the sites offer. Kashflow (http://www.kashflow.co.uk), for example have a site that looks impressive, is multi-user, multi-currency, connectable to paypal for automatic downloads and easy to navigate, but will not allow me to ring up with a support question. So if you do, as I did, need a quick answer, then tough. The others are all much the same except for WinWeb (http://www.winweb.com) which has expanded into a full online office – not just accounting, and linked into your website seamlessly.
It is now quite hard to select a truly good site as they are all good sites. It’s a good job therefore that each of the sites allow a free trial period because it really is the only way to see if you can work with the site and adapt your methods of bookkeeping to suit what’s available. There will be some lucky businesses that will be able to pick any of these sites and work away quite happily from the beginning. Others may not know quite how to test out a site within the free trial period and end up subscribing to one that is not best suited.
The sorts of things you need to try during your free trial are:-
- Can you easily put your opening position into the system. The people that currently owe you money and those you owe money to, and your current bank balance.
- Can you go in later and put in the rest of your opening balances such as fixed assets, capital account balances, PAYE due, things like that.
- Can you successfully produce a sales invoice that you will be proud to send to your customers?
- Can you automatically send statements to your customers to chase up outstanding money?
- Can you record easily all the payments you normally make from your business for suppliers, wages, VAT, bank charges etc.?
- Can you go back into an entry when you have finished it and realized you have got it wrong and change it?
- Can you integrate a payroll into the bookkeeping if you need to now or later?
- Can the site cope with your VAT if you are on one of the flat rate schemes (Watch this one closely before you start)?
- Can you import your bank statement from your online banking into your bookkeeping and easily tie it up?
- Can you integrate your website sales into the bookkeeping automatically?
- Can you regularly download a full backup of your data in a form that can be read into any other bookkeeping site, or programs such as Sage or excel?
- Try out the site support by ringing them, emailing them, live chatting with them during your trial. How do they react to you? Do you understand the answers they give and do they actually resolve your questions fully?
This is not an exhaustive list but if gives you an idea of the sorts of tests you need to try on any site you choose before you part with your credit card details and subscribe.
I am looking much more closely at Clear Books for my own clients as this site definitely has the edge at the moment. I could put my own bookkeeping on this site – that is how much I think of it. The only issue is pricing. As the site isn’t charging yet I would rather wait until I know what I am signing up for. Other than that, this site represents the very cutting edge of what online bookkeeping should offer, and its customer service is a shining light in the murk of the internet.
In conclusion then…
Just imagine this…no more expensive bookkeeping packages to buy and maintain…access to your business books from any corner of the globe with an internet connection…multi-user access to your books for people in your business and your accountant…downloading your online banking transactions into your records at the click of a mouse button…downloading your paypal sales into your bookkeeping at the click of a button…your bookkeeping actually becoming a real-time function in your business – not just an historic record of events…
I have seen the future of bookkeeping…and I like it!
If you are considering moving your bookkeeping onto an online service and would like some help or advice, please do not hesitate to ring me on 0800 047 0731, text me on 07878 831169 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org – I am only too happy to help.