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2007 Review of SMB Accounting Systems

To many small business owners, accounting can seem like a foreign language and can be as hard to comprehend as the hypotheses of Dr. Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, some people just get it.

To many small business owners, accounting can seem like a foreign language and can be as hard to comprehend as the hypotheses of Dr. Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, some people just get it. Hopefully, most of you reading this are in this latter group since you are in the tax and accounting profession. You understand the science behind it, more than just the generally basic math.

You understand the necessity of properly maintained accounts and the methods by which to track and correct errors and imbalances. And, in some cases, you have the cunning ability to don the gumshoes of a sleuth to find the causes of more serious financial irregularities. It is the combination of these capabilities that brings the accounting profession near to being an art form. Well, sort of.

We are not, of course, espousing the use of creative license when it comes to your clients’ financial records, but rather pointing out that the broad scope of accounting functions requires both logic and the touch of a muse. Not all are gifted with these attributes, but small business owners still need to accurately maintain their business records on a day-to-day basis. This is the job of small business accounting software, for which small business owners have a wide variety of options.

In addition to keeping proper books, these programs can improve efficiency, help them better serve their customers, perform payroll tasks and related compliance issues, offer invoicing and correspondence functions, offer analysis and planning, and many other functions. But since your small business clients are not likely to be as knowledgeable and adept at accounting and business process functions, a small business accounting program’s ease-of-use is often paramount to whether it is properly employed.

And that is where the vendors and software programmers exercise their mix of science and creativity. Make no mistake, what they do certainly is art, for they are charged with taking the complex, interrelated scientific accounting principles and creating a system that makes it easy to do the right thing (posting transactions to proper accounts), and difficult or impossible to do the wrong thing (backing out of transactions without managerial approval).

Over the past 20 years or so, the small business accounting programs on the market have evolved tremendously, generally perfecting the basic accounting functions and moving from basic spreadsheet bookkeeping to advanced processing capabilities with deep database functionality. Over the past five years, these programs have seen the rise of Internet-based functions, from online remote access, to electronic banking and reconciliation, automatic tax and payroll updates, and even fully web-based accounting systems.

These systems now offer features that would have been available only in very high-end programs just a few years ago, including varying levels of inventory support, industry-specific templates and workflow processes, strong sales and invoicing, decent customer relationship management modules, highly customizable report options, integrated communications, analysis capabilities and scheduling functions. In short, these programs have essentially become enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs) for small businesses, integrating all core functions of the business.

Executive Summary

Key Small Business Accounting Features:

  • GAAP-Compliant Double-Entry Accounting w/GL, AP, AR
  • Inventory Management
  • Sales & Invoicing
  • Electronic Banking & Reconciliation
  • Integrated Sales Tax
  • Payroll Functions w/Tax Updates
  • Reporting Options
  • Audit Trail

Advanced Small Business Accounting Features:

  • Strong Customer Relationship Management
  • Remote Access/Fully Web-Based Systems
  • Schedule Management
  • Customizable Reporting
  • Robust Security Features

Of course, all of the capabilities of a small business program should be evaluated prior to making a selection, and, if your clients have asked for your assistance, they’ve exercised excellent judgment. But keep in mind that even if a program can do everything you want it to do for your client, your client is the one who will be interacting with it. So find a system that meets the science part of your client’s needs (proper accounting, payroll, invoicing, etc.), while also meeting the artistic side of the equation: user-friendliness. This review section should give you a good jumping off point, with all products scored based upon Ease of Use/Basic Functionality; Core Features/Expandability; Reporting & Management Functions; Audit Trail, Integrity & Accountant Control Tools; Import/Export/Integration; Help & Support Options; and Relative Value. 

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A-Systems Corporation — Visual Bookkeeper
Visual Bookkeeper from A-Systems provides an all-in-one accounting system for small businesses, with two versions available for various entity types and their accounting needs. A-Systems offers the Small Business Advantage System and the Preferred Edition, which is reviewed here, for small and midsize businesses with more complex requirements.
CheckMark Software — MultiLedger
Now in its 21st year, the MultiLedger system is one of the few small business accounting systems that offers support for both PC and Mac operating systems, with traditional GL, AR, AP and inventory functions, along with reconciliation, budgeting, planning and cash flow tools, job tracking functions, strong security features, MICR printing capabilities and an optional add-on payroll system
Hilbert Software — 21st Century Accounting
ProSystem fx21st Century Accounting initially started with some of the original BPI programmers, attracting users of that program and of the former ACCPAC DOS series. The program provided them with a more evolved accounting package that met their small market and mid-range needs, while still offering the price point and simplicity of a lower-tier package.
Intuit — QuickBooks Premier
Practically every professional accountant knows QuickBooks, whether from recent interactions with clients who use the system or through direct use within their own practice. From its earliest stages as a simple-to-use bookkeeping program for the common man or woman, to today’s more sophisticated system that offers industry-focused versions, the program has become the standard bearer for small business accounting applications.

Microsoft — Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2007
After some adjustments and name changes to its products since Microsoft debuted its accounting system last year, the company seems to be settling in for the long run with two primary packages. Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 is a free single-user system for very small businesses, providing users with GL, AP, AR, invoicing, online banking and integration with PayPal and eBay…
MYOB US — Premier Accounting Small Business Suite
MYOB’s line of small business accounting products includes basic and more advanced programs that are offered in both PC and Mac versions, providing an integrated suite of business management, accounting, communications, payroll and other tools. The top product offering is Premier Accounting Small Business Suite…
NetSuite — NetSuite Small Business
Based on the enterprise-level NetSuite 11.0, NetSuite Small Business provides a web-based accounting system for smaller and midsize enterprises, offering impressive functionality through various modules for general accounting, sales, inventory, shipping, e-commerce, HR and customer relationship management. The small business program uses role-based interfaces with the ability to handle any number of concurrent users, and supports multiple currencies and multiple languages…
Sage Software — Peachtree Premium Accounting 2008
Over the past few years, Sage has been revamping its popular line of small business accounting systems, with the latest generation, Peachtree by Sage Premium Accounting 2008 due out in June. The program, which is at the higher end of Sage’s small business accounting product line, includes traditional GL, AP, AR, inventory, payroll and contact management functions, along with additional features for job costing, data analysis, time & billing, and fixed asset management.