Small business owners wear a wide variety of hats, many of which are ill-fitting for their skillsets. One of those often ugly and unwanted hats is bookkeeping.
In an attempt to make this hat less overwhelming, I set out to find an easier and cheaper accounting software program that could rival QuickBooks. I found a lot more options than I expected, so I took some time to try each on for size.
I looked at three options that are extremely simple to use and are barely intended for business usage, but if your business is very small, they might be worth considering.
I then looked at four options that were more comparable to QuickBooks capabilities. For these four, I considered the features as well as the price when determining their merit.
I will discuss the pros and cons of each of these, but for those of you who like spoilers, here is my conclusion for the best, albeit not perfect, option: Wave Apps.
Easy, Breezy… but Probably Not Beautiful
Let’s look briefly at the three options that are available if your business is small and simple:
Big E-Z Bookkeeping
None of these programs are capable of sending invoices, accepting payments, or doing inventory or payroll. They all can connect to your bank account and import transactions, as well as create basic reports to help you track your income and expenses.
Big E-Z Bookkeeping got me excited because it is basically like a big Excel workbook on steroids! But I found it a little cumbersome and non-Excel nerds would probably find it more overwhelming than helpful. With Mint.com and Quicken Starter, if you can get your bank account connected, then you just need to be vigilant about categorizing your expenses.
Despite a few drawbacks, Mint.com is free. I don’t like that you can’t import transactions from an Excel spreadsheet, which means you can only get transactions 90 days back from your bank account. But if you’re looking for something cheap and simple to get you started on tracking income and expenses, it’s not a bad hat to try out.
Overview of QuickBooks Plans
The one perk that all five QuickBooks versions have over any other accounting software is much lower fees on receipt of payments. You can receive ACH (transfers from bank accounts) for FREE and credit card payments for 2.4% plus $0.25 per transaction. I have not found any other product out there that allows free ACH payments and 2.4% is the lowest credit card rate that I could find.
As I have made apparent, I am not a fan of QuickBooks. However, amazingly, they offer QuickBooks Accountant Online for free. I can send invoices, estimates, receive ACH payments and get the lower credit card rate. No charge. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I use it. Hello, it’s free, I can get paid for free, and I do have clients using it. My opposition to QuickBooks is that the products are overly burdensome to their target market of small business owners. No one wants to wear that huge, impractical hat if they don’t have to. I want more people to be aware of competing products so that QuickBooks does not have such a monopoly. And then perhaps QuickBooks will wake up and realize they have gotten lazy and could be doing more to actually serve small business owners.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. To sign up and use QuickBooks Accountant, there are no requirements to verify that you are an accountant. I could not find a single article stating that non-accountants can’t use it. I even set up a new test account and nothing made me prove that I was an accountant. There are a few features in this version that could be a little confusing to a non-accountant, but for the most part it is exactly the same as other versions. The only downside I can see to a non-accountant using it is that you can’t invite your actual accountant to see it. However, you could just add your accountant as a user to your account, and it would be pretty much the same thing.
Might Be Easier, Definitely Not Cheaper
I know the suspense for more information about Wave is killing you, but I want to review three other alternatives:
I did not spend a ton of time in any of these programs because I disliked all of their pricing structures.
The entry-level versions of both Freshbooks and Xero only allow you to bill five clients per month. If their entry-level versions were free, then I could understand the requirement to upgrade to bill additional clients. But if you’re going to pay for accounting software, at least QuickBooks isn’t going to limit how many people you can bill.
Zipbooks actually does have a free entry-level version, but I did not find it user-friendly. The free version was very limited and every time I tried to perform a task, it prompted me to upgrade to a pay version. No thanks.
I read some rave reviews of Xero and the trial version did look pretty easy to use. However, to bill more than five clients per month, you have to spend $360! Whereas, the QuickBooks Simple Start is only $180 and can do almost everything Xero Standard can do. They do offer free conversions from QuickBooks, which is probably why a lot of people like it. I read one article about a small business switching from Wave to Xero because the company outgrew Wave. I think that is a viable reason to use Xero instead of Wave and if you need more than QuickBooks Simple Start can offer. I also read that Xero’s customer support and online forums are wonderful, whereas I have found QuickBooks online forums to be horrific and unhelpful.
The Best Solution?
It’s the moment you have been waiting for! Why is Wave the program to rival QuickBooks? For seven simple reasons:
As I mentioned earlier, it is not absolutely perfect. And since it’s free, I’m not totally surprised that it has a few kinks that still need worked out:
When importing transactions from QuickBooks, it will not import the categories. You have to re-categorize every transaction. However, per customer support, this is something they are actively working on fixing.
It was a little glitchy when uploading bank transactions from an Excel spreadsheet.
You can’t accept ACH payments, except through third party apps.
You can’t re-categorize a category. For example, if you accidentally put your Travel category as a sub-category of Payroll, the only way to fix it is to delete the Travel category and create it anew. And then re-categorize any transactions affected by this.
There are a few categories you can’t delete, like Unrealized Gain on Foreign Currency. I think hardly any small business owners would ever need this category.
You can’t re-organize any of the reports. The list of items is listed totally randomly—not alphabetically or biggest to smallest, or anything logical, from what I can tell. You can export reports to Excel, though, so you could work around this issue until they find a way to fix it.
Overall, the above issues are relatively minor when you consider the other great things that this program offers—and that it's completely free! I’ve had the feeling of “this seems too good to be true” many times while using Wave, but so far, I haven’t seen any major issues.
The Right Fit for You
At the end of the day, you have to pick the product that is the best fit for you. For some people, QuickBooks is the best solution, and that’s ok! I have found that too many people have picked QuickBooks because they think it’s the only option out there, so I hope this post has allowed you to consider alternatives.
Contact WellRun Results if you need help deciding which product will be the easiest and cheapest solution to ensure your business runs—and grows—well!