With a proper accounting setup, you can track the money entering and leaving your business. That makes it easier to make smart business moves and file your taxes.
Here are some of the most popular accounting solutions for small businesses, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
There’s a good chance you already have Excel installed. If you’re already handy with the software, you may be able to quickly customize a template—like Bench’s income statement template—to suit your needs.
That being said, while accounting with spreadsheets does cost zero dollars, it can be demanding on your time.
Low cost. If you already have Excel, it costs nothing to start using it to manage your accounting.
Flexibility. Your only limits are time and energy. By customizing accounting templates, or starting from scratch, you can use Excel to do accounting for almost any type of business.
- Time cost to get started. Setting up Excel accounting for your business is guaranteed to eat up time you could spend handling other tasks.
- Time cost to keep going. You’ll have to enter all transactions into your spreadsheets manually. Be prepared to set aside time every week—or even every day—to do this.
- Lack of professional help. There’s no professional oversight when you use Excel. That means no-one to double check for errors, and no-one to turn to when you have questions.
Excel may already come installed on your computer. If not, to download it costs $129.99.
If you don’t have Excel, Google Sheets is a popular free spreadsheet option—it comes as part of any Google account.
Google Sheets comes with all the same pros and cons as Excel, plus a few extra.
- Constant backups. Any changes to your spreadsheets are automatically saved to the cloud.
- Easy sharing. Google makes it easy to share your spreadsheets with anyone, regardless of whether they have a Google account. This can be helpful if you have business partners who will also be handling accounting tasks.
- Access from anywhere. Google Sheets runs in your browser. Meaning you can access your accounting anywhere, from just about any device.
- Template compatibility. If you’re looking for an accounting template, you may run into trouble. A lot of free, online templates only come as .xls files. Excel and Sheets templates aren’t always cross compatible.
Google Sheets comes free with every Google account.
A lot of new business owners turn to QuickBooks as an accounting solution for their business. It’s relatively inexpensive, and adaptable—QuickBooks can be customized for just about any type of business. But like any accounting solution, it comes with both benefits and drawbacks.
- Automatically imported transactions. QuickBooks can sync with your bank and online payment accounts to automatically import all transactions—no entering them by hand.
- Custom transaction categories. You can set up a chart of accounts for your business in QuickBooks. However, this may take time—and it’s best to do with help from an accountant.
- Automatic financial reporting. QuickBooks can automatically generate monthly or quarterly financial statements from your transactions.
- Time cost. Even if QuickBooks automatically imports your transactions, it’s still up to you to set up your account, categorize transactions properly, check for errors like duplicate entries, and reconcile your books with your bank account. Be prepared to devote a few hours a week to bookkeeping in QuickBooks.
- Learning curve. If you’ve never used QuickBooks before, get ready to spend time learning how—through online tutorials and trial and error. It takes longer to learn QuickBooks the less tech-savvy you are, and the less experience you have with bookkeeping. And if you run in a dead end and need to call QuickBooks’ support line, you could find yourself on call waiting.
- Errors. If you make an error categorizing a transaction, QuickBooks won’t catch it. That mistake will be passed on, in the form of inaccurate financial statements. And when your financial statements don’t add up, it can take hours hunting through past transactions to find the reason why.
- No professional support. Unless you have an accountant working for you, the responsibility of categorizing transactions and keeping your books up to date rests entirely on your shoulders.
- Price of extra help. Making a mistake when you set up your chart of accounts, or habitually miscategorizing transactions, can turn your bookkeeping into a tangle of useless numbers. Hiring a CPA or bookkeeper to sort it out will take away from the cash you initially saved by doing your own bookkeeping.
QuickBooks Online ranges from $10 per month (the “Self-Employed” package) to $150 (“Advanced”).
Xero is very similar to QuickBooks—broadly speaking, they have most of the same features, and similar price points. Xero comes with similar pros and cons as QuickBooks, but with a couple extra that are worth mentioning.
- Ease of use. Professional reviewers generally agree that Xero is simpler to learn than QuickBooks, meaning it will take you less time to get your accounting up and running.
- Fewer features. Xero lacks some features included with QuickBooks, including built in payroll processing.
Xero starts at $9 per month for their “Early” package, ranging up to $60 for “Advanced.” Adding full service payroll costs extra.
Bench is an online bookkeeping service for small businesses; we take bookkeeping off your hands for good. With Bench, you get a team of bookkeepers who handle your accounting for you. Bench’s intuitive app gives you a simple financial dashboard to understand the numbers better, message your team, and upload documents.
At the end of the year, your team prepares a Year End Financial Package for you. Your accountant can use this package to file your taxes. Or, you can opt to use BenchTax, and have Bench file taxes for you.
- Automatically imported transactions. Bench automatically imports all your bank and payment service transactions for you. You can submit cash transactions by taking a photo of the receipt with your phone.
- Transactions categorized by your team. Your Bench team takes care of the job you’d normally handle yourself if you used software—categorizing all expenses and income.
- Quick communications. Quickly message your team any time using the Bench app. You’re guaranteed to get a response in 24 hours or less.
- All the financial statements you need. Your Bench team delivers your monthly financial statements, including your income statement, balance sheet, and top 10 expenses report. You can also track your cash flow in real time using Bench Pulse.
- Catch-up bookkeeping. If you’ve been falling behind on your bookkeeping, Bench can get you caught up. No matter how far behind you are, for a flat fee, Bench can bring your books up to date—fast.
- Tax filing. When you sign up for BenchTax, we work with tax pros to file your taxes for you. No sending financial statements to an accountant, no filling out tax forms yourself—we handle it all for you.
- We help you get a loan. Looking to finance your business? Your Bench team can connect you with one of the approved loan providers in our network.
- Not good for larger businesses. If you’re a fast-growing C corporation with a dozen or more employees, you’re probably better off hiring an in-house accountant or bookkeeper.
- Bench is an online experience. If you don’t like working over the internet, and prefer to see your bookkeeper face to face, you won’t like Bench. We do everything through our online platform and over the phone.
Packages start at $149 per month for “Starter” (businesses with monthly expenses under $1,000), ranging up to $299 per month for the largest “Corporate” businesses with monthly expenses of $1 million.
If you have a small business, you probably only need an accountant for certain things: tax advice, tax filing, special financial analysis, and other financial advice.
But if you’re looking for help with the daily and weekly financial tasks of recordkeeping, bookkeeping, and regular financial statements, you’re probably better off hiring a bookkeeper. Reason being: accountants are overqualified and too expensive for most administrative tasks.
A professional bookkeeper can hand off all of that information at year end, so your accountant can file taxes for you.
Here are the pros and cons to using an accountant as your “accounting solution.”
- You’re getting expert advice. Accountants are certified to give financial advice. If you’re working with a CPA, you know you can trust what they’re saying. They can help you interpret financial statements, give you advice on whether a loan is a good idea, how to consolidate debt, and more.
- You won’t miss out on deductions. Provided you’ve accurately recorded all your expenses, an accountant can make sure you take advantage of every tax deduction available to you.
- You can get some bookkeeping guidance. If you’re doing your own bookkeeping, an accountant can help you get set up the right way, and offer any guidance for where you might be going off track. For instance, they might offer advice on how to better categorize your expenses so you can keep track of what’s deductible or not.
- The cost of catch-up. If your books are disorganized or out of date, your accountant may need to spend time getting your books corrected and updated. They’ll be doing that work on the clock, and accountants aren’t cheap.
- More expensive than a bookkeeper. Accountants typically charge more per hour than bookkeepers. So, if you accountant ends up handling bookkeeping tasks for you—like recategorizing transactions you’ve miscategorized, or bringing your bookkeeping up to date—you could end up paying more than if you’d hired a bookkeeper in the first place.
- Lack of up to date insights. Your insight into day-to-day business finances is only as good as your bookkeeping. If you’re getting an accountant to do your books once or twice a year, you’re missing out on the monthly insights you need to run your business and make changes as needed. Accounting is a job that needs doing all year—not just at tax time.
Professional tax preparation costs between $220 and $800, depending how organized your books are and how complex your accounting is.
Further reading: Learn more about the difference between bookkeepers and accountants.
When you hire a traditional bookkeeper, they do all your day-to-day accounting tasks for you.
It’s still up to you to get financial records to your bookkeeper, though—they need to see all of your business transactions. That could mean emailing them bank statements on a monthly basis, sharing access to online financial accounts, or even driving to their office to drop off receipts.
- Error-free accounting. With a pro handling it for you, you can rest easy knowing your accounting is always accurate and up to date.
- Financial statements. Your bookkeeper uses your transactions—once they’ve been recorded and categorized—to generate financial statements. You can use these to see how money enters and leaves your business.
- Recordkeeping. Business records are essential for a number of reasons—from protecting yourself in case of an IRS audit, to preparing to sell your business, to applying for a loan. Your bookkeeper will store and organize all your business records.
- Professional support. Any qualified bookkeeper should be prepared to answer questions you have about accounting.
- Easy tax filing. Around the end of the year, your bookkeeper should be able to send you an info package summarizing all your financial activity for the year. You can share this with an accountant, and they’ll use it to file your taxes.
- Availability. Every bookkeeper has a different schedule, and works at a different pace. Their work schedules may be affected by holidays, weekends, and vacation time.
- Price. Broadly speaking, a bookkeeper will cost you more per month than doing your own bookkeeping, or using a service like Bench.
- Inbox clutter. If your bookkeeper’s favorite method of communication is email, be prepared for a cluttered inbox—complete with attachments (like financial statements) you need to download and keep track of.
Expect to pay $30–$50 per hour to work with a trained, professional bookkeeper on a contractual basis. Most bookkeepers also charge a minimum fee per month; this varies from bookkeeper to bookkeeper.
Think Bench may be the right accounting solution for your business? Get an inside look at how Bench does your bookkeeping.