As a freelancer, it’s tempting to focus completely on the business of your chosen profession be it writing, taking photos, designing or developing. But the cold, hard reality is that there are a bunch of business administration tasks that need your attention. One of those tasks managing your accounts. Until just a few years ago, that meant purchasing and installing fairly expensive software that was difficult to use. It wasn’t that the functionality was lacking. It’s just that the software was complex and looked like it had been designed by accountants for accountants.
Modern accounting software has evolved and, like many other applications, has moved to the cloud. There are several advantages with a cloud solution. Firstly, rather than having to export and send data files to your accountant, you can simply give them direct access to your data. Also, a cloud based solution means that you can hop from one computer to another without the need to instal anything – very handy if you move between client sites and computers. The other benefit is that when the software is enhanced, you get the benefit of those improvements instantly without having to manually update your software.
Of course, there are some other things to consider. Backing up your data remains your problem. Although most cloud providers do look after things well, it is important to make your owen backups up accounts, invoices and other important data. Also, cloud services tend to work on a subscription model so there’s an annual fee – something that can be avoided if you only buy your accounting software once every few years and don’t upgrade as new versions are released. This software distribution model is often called SaaS – Software as a Service.
A couple of good options for online accounting software are Saasu and Xero.
Saasu has a simple user interface that makes it easy for business people to focus on their business, rather than admin, Saasu makes a tedious task less painful. Creating invoices, receiving payments, entering expenses and reconciling bank statements are all trivially easy. All of Saasu’s screens are clearly laid out. When you need to add a new piece of basic information, such as the contact details for client or a new expense category, you can do that while creating your transaction.
There are full payroll facilities that comply with Australian tax rules and Saasu is regularly updated. Completing a regular BAS becomes trivially easy as Saasu automatically creates a worksheet with all the data neatly presented.
Saasu can interface with banks so that transitional information can be downloaded directly from your accounts to Saasu. This makes statement reconciliation easy and reduces the potential for errors in your accounts.
We used Saasu from PCs and Macs using a variety of browsers without any problems. It works nicely on the iPad although the cash-flow graph doesn’t appear in Safari. There’s also an iPhone app that makes it easy to enter invoices, payments and expenses.
Saasu is free for up to 20 transactions per month. If you need more than that, there are monthly, quarterly and annual subscription options.
Xero provides a clear, one-screen snapshot of your business’s cash-flow and other activities.
Entering transactions is easy as all of the forms are neatly laid out and setting up recurring transactions is a snap. If you have clients that require regular statements, Xero makes it easy to create and send them with just a few clicks and there’s a simple pie chart that shows which clients owe the most money.
Regular tax reporting is very easy as Xero produces an activity statement report that lists the BAS form boxes and the amounts you need to fill in for the tax office. Other reports such as profit and loss and balance sheets are easy to produce.
Running a payroll is easy. You can create a pay run that completes payroll for all your staff in one go with customised payslips so that you maintain a totally professional appearance. All other forms and documents, such as statements and invoices, can be customised with your own logos.
One neat feature is that if your clients or suppliers use Xero, you can have statements automatically transferred from one Xero user to another, negating the need for sending separate email with attached invoices. Although its usefulness might be limited today, it’s smart way to get companies interested in Xero.
Xero offers an iPhone app as well as broad browser compatibility. There’s a free trial with paid options starting at $29 per month.