Our best accounting software for small businesses

Track down accounting software for small businesses – both now and in the future

We look at how accounting software works and why it could be helpful for your business
Fact checker
Last updated
November 29th, 2023

What is accounting software? 

Whether you’re just starting out on your self-employed journey, or have an established small business, staying on top of your business finances (never mind tax payments) is a must. In either case, accounting software could be just the tool you need to bring things under control. 

Accounting software is designed to provide businesses with the tools needed to perform various bookkeeping and accounting duties. Core functions include:

Most providers offer a range of products to appeal to different business types, sizes and needs. The best bookkeeping software will also be able to:

  • Handle payroll duties

  • Create and sending invoices

  • Pay bills

  • Manage stock inventory and suppliers

  • Provide analysis and forecasts

At the top end of the spectrum lies enterprise-level accounting platforms that tie multiple financial products together for use across large corporations, incorporating tools that work across multiple departments, from HR to sales.

Accounting software is designed to provide businesses with the tools needed to perform various bookkeeping and accounting duties."

Do I need accounting software for my business? 

Accounting software can have multiple benefits for any business, large or small, which is why 89% of small business owners say it’s an essential component of their operation, according to Intuit. Benefits include:

  • The option to combine multiple business tools in a single platform for a single, holistic view

  • Save time and effort recording and viewing all income and expenses

  • Ensure tax returns are compliant and filed on time

  • Access tools to help forecast and plan for future growth

Number of small business owners that say accounting software is an essential component of their operation[1]
89%

How to choose accounting software for your small business

There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing accounting software, from well-known vendors to solutions targeting specific sectors and businesses. Here’s what you need to know to navigate to the best solution for your business…

Decide the type of software

This will be determined by your business size, needs, budget and possibly industry. If you’re a sole trader with basic accounting needs, then a simple open-source application or entry-level cloud package may be all you need. If your requirements are greater, then it’s a choice between on-premises or cloud-hosted solutions.

List feature wish list

Draw up two lists: one containing the essential features you need right now, and the other listing features it would be nice to have – if not now, then at some future date. This will steer you towards providers offering a more flexible range of subscriptions, with a tier to meet your immediate needs now, and others giving you room to add extra tools later.

Locate potential providers

Use the links on this page to examine some of the business accounting software available – see how their list of features measures up to your wish list, and whether their prices sit comfortably within your budget. Also, perform web searches for ‘accounting software’ - include your industry sector to locate potential specialists in your field.

Perform your evaluation

Once you have a list of potential providers, compare their features, pricing and support packages. Look for online reviews of the company (the more recent, the better), and ask the opinion of others too: friends, colleagues, your accountant, and others online. Before committing to any outlay, take out a free trial or request a demo.

Types of accounting software

Cloud-based accounting software

What is it? Software hosted on a remote server and accessed via the internet.

Main benefit: No need to invest in expensive infrastructure, reducing up-front costs.

Example packages: Sage One and Quickbooks.

On-premise accounting software

What is it? Traditional standalone software to be installed on your own hardware.

Main benefit: You retain full control of your data and don’t need an internet connection to access it.

Example packages: Sage 50 Accounting for Windows and Windows Server, and AccountEdge Pro for Macs.

Open source accounting software

What is it? Cloud or on-premises software developed under an open-source licence so the code can be freely examined, used and modified as required.

Main benefit: Costs nothing to install and use.

Example packages: GnuCash is a standalone program for Windows, Mac and Linux, while Akaunting offers both on-premises (completely free) or cloud-hosted (subscription) solutions.

Enterprise accounting software

What is it? Software targeting larger businesses and corporations looking to centralise all their financial and operational processes.

Main benefit: Designed to bring data from different sources and departments to improve interdepartmental communications and provide a central, consistent view of all financial data.

Example package: Acumatica, which counts KFC, Mitsubishi Electric and General Motors among its clients.

ERP accounting software

What is it? ERP ( Enterprise Resource Planning) software comprises multiple packages covering multiple financial and operational aspects.

Main benefit: Provides larger businesses with a choice of tools to help across multiple facets of their business. Some packages focus on specific sectors.

Example packages: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for general businesses, and Syspro, which is tailored to manufacturers and distributors.

Types of accounting software

Cloud-based accounting software

What is it? Software hosted on a remote server and accessed via the internet.

Main benefit: No need to invest in expensive infrastructure, reducing up-front costs.

Example packages: Sage One and Quickbooks.

On-premise accounting software

What is it? Traditional standalone software to be installed on your own hardware.

Main benefit: You retain full control of your data and don’t need an internet connection to access it.

Example packages: Sage 50 Accounting for Windows and Windows Server, and AccountEdge Pro for Macs.

Open source accounting software

What is it? Cloud or on-premises software developed under an open-source licence so the code can be freely examined, used and modified as required.

Main benefit: Costs nothing to install and use.

Example packages: GnuCash is a standalone program for Windows, Mac and Linux, while Akaunting offers both on-premises (completely free) or cloud-hosted (subscription) solutions.

Enterprise accounting software

What is it? Software targeting larger businesses and corporations looking to centralise all their financial and operational processes.

Main benefit: Designed to bring data from different sources and departments to improve interdepartmental communications and provide a central, consistent view of all financial data.

Example package: Acumatica, which counts KFC, Mitsubishi Electric and General Motors among its clients.

ERP accounting software

What is it? ERP ( Enterprise Resource Planning) software comprises multiple packages covering multiple financial and operational aspects.

Main benefit: Provides larger businesses with a choice of tools to help across multiple facets of their business. Some packages focus on specific sectors.

Example packages: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for general businesses, and Syspro, which is tailored to manufacturers and distributors.

What accounting software features should I look for?

Which online accounts software for your small business you choose ultimately depends on what you need from it. Look for the following key features...

Accounting

Look for packages that can link to your business bank account to automate transactional recordings, display your current cash flow and simplify statement reconciliation. They should also offer tools to help you prepare and file all tax returns.

Billing/invoicing

Good software can help balance both incomings and outgoings, from receipt management, invoice generation and automatic reminders to managing expenses and bills.

Payroll

If your business employs other people, check for packages that can help you manage them efficiently, from processing wages (including all deductions) to calculating benefits and generating payslips.

Stock management

If your business handles goods, examine options that can help track your inventory levels. A good package can monitor stock levels and provide alerts when stock runs low in real time, manage products more efficiently, and track their movements.

Reporting

A good package will offer a range of financial reports, from simple statements and key reports like cash flow and balance sheets to more complex tools handling budgeting and forecasting. The latter may require upgrading to a higher subscription tier.

CRM

If your business is customer-focussed, look for a package that helps you manage customer relationships, track down new leads and obtain payments from existing ones. If it isn’t directly supported, can the software be integrated with another CRM service, such as Method.

How much does accounting software cost?

The price of the accounting software itself can be as low as zero with some on-premises open-source accounting packages, while cloud subscriptions vary from provider to provider and depend on your business size and the package you choose. For example:

Typically, the entry-level package is squarely aimed at sole traders and freelancers, and may not include support for VAT-registered businesses. Which tier you choose depends on the features you need and the number of licences you require.

On-premises software can be offered completely for free (open-source) or occasionally purchased outright, but it’s increasingly likely you’ll be charged an ongoing fee, such as:

  • An annual service agreement such as that offered by AccountEdge (from £300 per year)

  • A monthly subscription like that from Sage 50 (from £92 per month)

Note, that while these costs are higher than cloud-based packages, they usually offer a wider range of features and – in the case of AccountEdge – have no restrictions on the number of licensed users.

Prices rise even higher for enterprise options – here, they can run into the many hundreds or even thousands of pounds per month per user for the likes of Microsoft Dynamics 365, reflecting the size of the target business and features on offer. Note: all quoted prices exclude VAT.

Beware of hidden costs

Remember, these costs merely cover the basic package itself. When budgeting, you should consider these extras:

  • Installation, deployment and ongoing maintenance of on-premises and open-source software

  • Cost of training to use the product

  • Add-ons: QuickBooks charges £2 per month for additional payroll features, for example.

  • Number of users

  • Support – lower packages may offer online support only; expect to pay more for phone support

Pros and cons

Pros

Saves time and money by automating data entry tasks like bookkeeping
Provides a single, holistic view of your business finances for greater accuracy
Offers real-time reporting, analysing and forecasting
Some packages help bring related tasks like payroll and inventory management together
Can usually be scaled up or down quickly and easily

Cons

Cloud-based software requires internet access
On-premises software can be costly to obtain and deploy on-site
Can come with a steep learning curve – particularly for non-accountants
Security of private and confidential data – whether in the cloud or on-premises
Pricing can be confusing, with costs easily inflated by add-ons

Do I need to hire an accountant?

Although accounting software may provide all you need to manage relatively simple business finances, the larger and more complex your business is, the more compelling the argument for investigating hiring a qualified accountant. Reasons to consider hiring one include:

  • Offloading time-consuming duties like bookkeeping, payroll and invoicing

  • Learning which accounting method is best for your small business

  • Ensuring accounts remain accurate and compliant

  • Timely filing of tax returns, avoiding potential fines

Today’s accountants do more than simply number-crunch too – according to Intuit, 83% of UK small business owners said their accountant or bookkeeper helped limit the impact of inflation in 2022 through expert advice and guidance, helping save those businesses an average of around £28,000 a year.

UK small business owners said their accountant helped limit the impact of inflation in 2022[2]
83%
Accounting software can be a great tool to help streamline accounting duties whilst also letting you see reports in real-time, helping with analysis and forecasting. Just be sure to shop around to ensure you're happy with the overall costs.

FAQs

What features should I prioritise when choosing accounting software?

The features you should prioritise when choosing accounting software are its core tools covering bookkeeping, billing and invoicing, and reporting. Once you’ve evaluated these, move on to other features your business might require, such as payroll or project management tools.

Can I use Excel for bookkeeping?

Yes, you can use Excel for bookkeeping. You’ll find many websites offering a selection of templates, but remember that the more complex your business needs, the less suitable Excel is as a substitute to a dedicated accounting software, which eliminates the need for multiple spreadsheets and minimises potential errors.

Does a sole trader need accounting software?

A sole trader needs accounting software only if they are registered for VAT to meet the UK’s MTD (Making Tax Digital) requirements for taxation. Those not registered will not be required to use accounting software until April 2026, according to the Gov.UK website.

About the author

Nick Peers
Nick Peers has been a professional writer for 30 years and has been published extensively both online and in print in the UK, US, Australia and Europe. He’s been a self-employed sole trader since 2003 and has written for several business-focused organisations, including Vodafone, Dell, Experian and Microsoft.

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References

1. Data from Intuit: As reported in Insider, accounting software can have multiple benefits for any business, large or small, which is why 89% of small business owners say it’s an essential component of their operation
2. Data from Intuit: 83% of UK small business owners said that their accountant or bookkeeper helped limit the impact of inflation in 2022 through expert advice and guidance, helping save those businesses an average of around £28,000 a year.