Sometimes it is useful or necessary to provide a long explanation to a simple answer. I find that is often the case when recommending an accounting system to a small business owner. The best answer for most small businesses is simple and clear. The explanation is often far more complicated.
The takeaway: Most small businesses should allocate $50 per month for the best available bookkeeping system that allows coordination of efforts with your accountant and other service providers. This choice typically saves substantially more time and money over the long term.
It is no coincidence that QuickBooks is the world’s most popular small business accounting platform. The range of features available in the four basic versions plus the dozens of customization options available make this the choice for 8 out of 10 small firms today. We could endlessly debate the pros and cons of alternate systems, but it makes more sense to me to look for strength in numbers. Like most of today’s most popular software platforms, QuickBooks started as a desktop system and is migrating to more secure and dependable hosted systems. Millions of firms are moving from an older desktop version to a hosted online accounting system. Again, it makes sense to go with the trend rather than get stuck in the pros and cons of the evolving software industry standards. Users simply need to choose among the four starting point versions listed below based on their needs.
This post describes the differences in features. The features highlighted in red are those that most often dictates that a business needs the system indicated.
Please note that the pricing listed below is Intuit current retail pricing and not my client offering price that may be more or less because of the unique wholesale and combined service billing options that may be available. For more detail on my own combined service pricing on QuickBooks, please see this separate blog post. Please note that these are not ‘apples to apples’ comparisons as explained in the pricing article.
|Important to your business?||Features||Self-Employed at $10 per month||Simple Start at $20 per month||Essentials at $35 per month||Online Plus at $50 per month|
|Estimated Taxes (See note 1 below)||x|
|Mileage Tracking (See note 2 below)||x|
|Product & Service Items||x||x||x|
|Convert from QuickBooks Desktop||x||x||x|
|Import lists from Excel||x||x||x|
|Integrate Apps (See note 3 below)||x||x||x|
|Payroll (See note 4 below)||x||x||x|
|Expenses by Customer||x|
|Class Tracking (See note 5 below)||x|
|1099-Misc (See note 6 below)||x|
Note 1 – My tax clients use a separate estimated tax service prepared outside of QuickBooks and offered at no additional cost.
Note 2 – I endorse a mileage tracking service other than QuickBooks.
Note 3 – Application integrations should be individually discussed since these are key to the success of many small business management plans.
Note 4 – I frequently endorse a payroll service other than QuickBooks to save both time and money.
Note 5 – Class tracking may be used to handle several different lines of small business activities operated by the same user. It is not always necessary, for example, to have a separate QuickBooks account for each different EIN. This can save a significant amount of time and money.
Note 6 – This has become a ‘big deal’ for small businesses that do not have the built-in ability to easily and efficiently handle this task that, if mishandled, can lead to significant tax penalties. If not already included in the accounting service, the time and cost of 1099 preparation by an outside service provider can be significant. In many cases the ability to avoid one of these tax penalties justifies the cost of the entire QuickBooks accounting system. For this reason, this one factor influences the choice of accounting platforms more than any other.
I offer a free initial consult to discuss upgrading your business accounting platform. However in many cases it is appropriate to budget some time and money to fully consider all the aspects to maximize the benefits of this important management decision that cannot be accomplished in a short informal session. In this case, a QuickBooks ProAdvisor like myself is most uniquely trained to offer this evaluation and business planning service.