If you think balancing a personal checkbook is tough, try keeping a small business ledger.
There's no shortage of small business accounting software offerings like Intuit's venerable QuickBooks line of products to help make the task easier, or at least manageable. But what if you want something a little cheaper, or perhaps even free?
How about a low-cost accounting suite that also doubles as a collaboration and project management platform? When it comes to keeping your financial house in order, you'll find that even the tightest of startup budgets can afford some big features if you know where to look.
Some Sage Advice for Low-Cost Accounting
Chances are that you're already an avid user of cloud services. If you suffer from elevated stress levels when Gmail takes a few seconds too long to refresh or when Twitter greets you by that nifty graphic of the "Fail Whale" being hoisted aloft by little birds, then you're downright addicted to the cloud.
Use that familiarity with online services to your advantage and consider a product like Sage One.
Sage One is tailored for SOHO and very small businesses with fewer than 10 employees -- give or take. Intended as an entry-level bookkeeping solution, Sage offers many of the features you would expect from small business accounting software, but with a twist.
As part of a broader cloud-friendly revamp of its line of accounting software offerings, the company has added business management features to keep projects on task and to promote collaboration. And since all of the underlying data is linked, time-consuming chores like reconciling time-tracking data for invoicing purposes becomes a straightforward process.
Sage One costs $29 per month for two administrator accounts, unlimited team members, and up to 5 GB of online storage.
Riding a (Free) Wave
When you're just starting out, there's little need to go out and buy a full-featured accounting software package. Or even pay for one, it turns out.
Wave Accounting is online accounting software that's 100 percent, completely free. Sure, right about now that old adage of getting what you pay for is setting off all sorts of alarms. Every once in a while, though, there is a rare exception to even the most reliable of truisms.
Established in 2010, Wave has already won the loyalty of thousands of small business users and a few awards -- not to mention a few rounds of funding. The cloud-based accounting and bookkeeping platform is packed with features -- more than this article can do justice to -- but highlights for budding entrepreneurs include unlimited invoicing, a balance sheet and bank and credit card account integration to minimize data entry and to reduce errors.
Visually, Wave sports a clean look with charts, graphs and a financial snapshot that provides an at-a-glance overview of your business' financial health. There is also the Wave Pro Network for referrals when only a real, live accountant will do.
You may be wondering, what's the catch?
So far, there isn't much of one. Wave's business plan appears to hinge on a paid payroll service, which is currently only available in Canada and will soon launch in the States. The company likely has other plans to monetize its technology, but for now, entrepreneurs get a free, simple and low-risk way of keeping an eye on every single penny that comes in to, and goes out of, the company account.
On the Hunt for Affordable SMB Accounting Services
Come tax time, no accounting software in the world can give the reassurances that a certified accountant can offer.
Much like finding a good, budget-friendly lawyer, it's time to press the flesh. Hit up friends and family for discount accounting services. Though, to stay on their good side, you may not want to approach them during tax time when they're swamped. And like everything in business, network like crazy.
If CPAs don't run in your family or your social network, shop around. But be upfront about your financial situation, which basically boils down to trying to establish one. An accountant may be enticed to take you on as a client for the possibility of more work down the line.
Look for references from local small business groups. And as always, the Small Business Administration is a good launching point for entrepreneurs, whether it's looking for an accountant or just plain getting started.