Online Accounts Software Compared

Online accounting software can make the freelancer’s life much simpler. We look at Saasu and Xero

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

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

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.

Saasu – cloud-based accounting

A few years ago, when I first started freelancing, I needed to get some basic accounting software so that could raise invoices and track payments. My needs were modest as freelancing was a sideline to a fulltime job. But when I decided to become 100% self employed earlier this year, it was time to look at a more comprehensive solution. That’s why I went to Saasu.

Saasu is a cloud-based accounting solution that works on any platform including the iPad. Although I’m predominantly a Mac user, I need to be able access my accounts from several systems. Traditional, locally installed accounting systems rely on me having the computer with my accounts with me all the time. This just isn’t practical for me. Although I typically carry a laptop, I don’t like the idea of having my accounts on a computer than can be stolen, lost or damaged. I could keep the software on a computer in the office and remote into it but that’s a pain. While remote access software is pretty good these days it’s still not perfect.

Also, when I travel for just a couple days I travel with just my iPad. I needed a solution that was multiplatform. That meant a cloud-based solution was likely to be the best way to meet my requirements.

My shopping list of functions is fairly basic but I think typical of small businesses or sole traders.

  • creating and sending invoices
  • entering expenses
  • creating my Business Activity Statement for the tax department
  • running payroll
  • bank reconciliation
  • basic reporting

What I’ve found over the last few months is that Saasu can do all of this.

The first step in using Saasu is to go to the home page and create a user account. That gives you access to a test account so you can try things out as well as the opportunity to create your own business entity.

Once the account is set up, you are confronted with Saasu’s Dashboard. This is a snapshot of your cashflow, profit and loss, outstanding invoices and upcoming payments. You can see each of the main elements of the screen by clicking on each of the images in the gallery below.

Entering invoices and expenses is very straightforward. All of the onscreen forms are nicely laid out. When entering data, fields are automatically populated where it makes sense. For example. when entering a sale, if you need to enter the payment at the same time, simply clicking in the payment date field will result in the date being instantly populated from the invoice date. Similarly, the payment amount is automatically filled in with the invoice amount.

If you need to run payroll, Saasu is already set up with Australian tax tables. Once an employee is set up in the system, all you need to do is enter the salary amount and all the tax, superannuation, Medicare levies, Fee-Help and other deductions are automatically calculated.

Reporting is well executed. For those who need to complete a Business Activity Statement for the tax department, Saasu generates the worksheet with just a couple of clicks, making it easy to complete the monthly or quarterly statement.

Now, I’m aware that many people are skeptical of cloud services. There are concerns around security and backup. Saasu provides information on how they backup data and how you can do your own backups. Saasu has 7 backup processes across 4 locations and it’s possible, using the Saasu API to have your own bespoke solution developed.

Saasu certainly isn’t the only cloud-based accounting solution. Xero is another, popular option. However, over the last six months I’ve come to rely on Saasu as an integral part of my business.