Tracking money, managing payroll and tracking stocks are just some of the financial tasks small business owners need to handle. And although one size doesn’t fit all, open source software offers a great range of financial software to suite just about any small business. Here are five of my favorite packages.
Simple Finance Managers
Not every business needs a full-blown accounting program. Sometimes all you need is something that's simple and easy for tracking income and expenses.
Personal Finance Manager
A free, slick little program designed for small businesses with very simple finances (no invoicing or payroll), and for keeping track of expenses as you go. Track expenses, income, budgeting, cash flow and bank accounts.
You can install it on multiple devices such as a Linux, Mac, or Windows PC, and any Android phone or tablet. Record transactions on your Android smartphone as you go, and then sync with your other devices. It has good reporting and analysis, including spreadsheet export. It also includes an option to back up your data to Google Drive or SD cards.
This is another excellent option for the small business person who needs to track income, expenses, and cash flow, but doesn't have a payroll, inventory or do invoicing. Buddi tracks prepaid accounts, transactions and budgets. It offers flexible accounts and categories, and provides very good reporting using both graphs and charts. Buddi is free, although donations are welcome, and it runs on Mac, Linux and Windows.
Stock Market Analysis and Portfolio Management
Tracking and analyzing stocks is a perfect task for a computer. Start crunching.
This program includes a stock watch-list, portfolio management, alerting and charting. It also supports multiple currencies and offers optional Google Drive integration so you can access your data from anywhere.
JStock supports 26 world stock markets, including Hong Kong, London, Singapore, China, Switzerland and the U.S. You can create an unlimited number of watch lists, and you have the option to grab intraday stock prices, with 10-second refresh intervals. The Indicator Filter sets up alerting based on criteria such as upward and downward trends, money volume, and various indexes.
Your alerts can be text messages, email, systray, or sound alerts. The charting is pretty nice, and you can track up to 10 years of a stock's history, 10 years of stock exchange index history, nice colorful charts summarizing your portfolio, and dividend summaries.
Small Business Accounting and ERP
Need full-fledged accounting and planning features? These apps can get the job done.
A good, all-purpose accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) package, FrontAccounting includes sales orders, point-of-sale, invoicing, inventory, general ledger, accounts payable, purchase orders, manufacturing, multiple currency and multiple business support.
It's 100 percent open source and free of cost, though cash donations are welcome. It's worth paying, for because it's sophisticated and well-maintained, which is not always the case with free finance software. FrontAccounting requires a Web server, such as Apache on Linux or IIS on Windows, MySQL, and PHP.
However, I'd go for a secure, reliable Linux server, because Windows is too insecure to trust with your finances. Then you can access FrontAccounting from any client PC with a Web browser—Mac, Linux, Windows, or something exotic if you have it, without needing special software.
A quick note on applications that run on Web servers: This doesn't necessarily require a separate, standalone server; it can be your own PC. Linux, Mac, and Windows all include all the software you need to run a Web server. (See the Wikipedia article on LAMP or WAMP server software stacks to learn more.)
FrontAccounting also gives you the power to organize your data in flexible ways, and to analyze and drill down to view of your operations the way you want, including nice reports and graphs. You'll need some tech talent to install it and set it up, and then some accounting talent to configure it for your particular business.
Computers are sophisticated tools, but they are not magic, and simply having an accounting program won't turn a person into an accountant. FrontAccounting doesn't offer paid support, but the documentation and community support are pretty good. I prefer keeping sensitive data in-house, but if you don't want to hassle with running your own server, the good people at FrontAccount now offer a hosted version. Currently it's free, and eventually they plan to move to a monthly subscription model.
Another good general accounting and ERP program, LedgerSMB is fully-featured, well-maintained with strong security and stability, good Windows support, and strong data integrity controls. The software is free, and there are both free community and commercial support options.
The superb documentation makes it a great choice for do-it-yourselfers. Features include general-ledger double-entry accounting, billing, ERP, point-of-sale, time tracking, cash management, inventory, sales orders and quotations, budgeting, great reporting and item tracking, and purchase orders and invoices. It supports multi-user and multi-company, and multiple languages. It does not yet include a payroll module, though it will in the future.
You must install LedgerSMB on your own local Web server and, as always, I recommend a good stout Linux server, though it also works on Mac and Windows.
Small Business Payroll
Managing a payroll is always fun: if your definition of "fun" is complex and tedious. No? Then read on.
This program incorporates employee payroll, scheduling, and time and attendance. You can download and install it on your own Linux, Mac, or Windows server, or choose a hosted option for a monthly per-employee subscription fee.
The basic free edition includes scheduling, attendance, payroll, and community support. The business and pro editions come with a lot more features and paid support. You can try all the features in the live demo.
Some of the extra features in the business and pro versions include: invoicing and accounts receivable, job costing, Web and desktop QuickPunch (a software time clock), touch-tone phone punch in/out, a standalone hardware time clock that supports a fingerprint scanner and proximity cards, and smartphone apps for tracking employee time and location.
More Open Source Software for Small Business
You might enjoy these other Small Business Computing articles on open source software for small business: