Best free/cheap small business software?

This has to be the best place to ask this question? I mean, look at all the remarkably smart people everywhere… (laying on flattery with a shovel. ) :wink:

We’re starting up our small business again for the year, and it IS small. Two co-owners and no employees. Nobody pays us by credit card; no e-commerce, no inventory; it’s all services. We need: customer tracking/database capabilities, billing, a way to keep track of estimates and their results, and payments received. That really is about it. Does anyone have opinions about the best cheap (or preferably FREE) small business software out there for these purposes? We just do not need Quickbooks or anything like it!

Many thanks in advance,


I have a small business with 2 co-owners and 1 employee, and we do everything you are wanting to do with Quickbooks, and nothing more. We do do e-com and accept CCs but they are not tied to Quickbooks at all.

Yeah QB does some things that I’ve never used in 10 years but it also does all the things I’ve needed it to do for 10 years. Especially payroll tax and direct deposit.

Do you have an accountant? Ask them what software they use. You really want to be able to send your whole company file over to them once a year or once a quarter. If you’re using FreeBiz2010 or something weird it won’t be as easy as just sending them a copy of your file to load into their app.

Have you looked at online services? I’ve used, it sounds like a pretty good match for what you need. There’s also, which is more of an accounting app.

Um… The cheapest legit version I’ve ever seen of Quickbooks was over a hundred dollars, and most were closer to eight or nine hundred. We can’t pay for anything remotely in the universe of that. I have to laugh just at the thought of our paying an accountant. I’m it… the accountant, customer service specialist, advertising department, webmistress, graphic design resource, recordkeeper, person who sends out the bills, etc etc etc etc etc… The work vehicle I use cost four hundred dollars originally. We just put a two hundred dollar transmission in the other one. I had to argue with my brother for about an hour to get him to rent a transmission jack. We are CHEAP!!!

I looked at Freshbooks, but the free version covers records for exactly three (!!) customers. I do appreciate the advice, but I was really hoping that someone would know about a one-time (not being obligated to pay service fees monthly) piece of software that would be free or extremely cheap. We just need to be able to keep track of various pieces of information about customers, do billing based on the information (the software does not need to do automatic billing), and keep track of info about estimates. That’s all. It could almost be done with Excel. I can’t believe there isn’t anything out there like this…

Been there, done that - I went through a progression of accounting/invoice applications, starting with a spreadsheet and then the the cheapest I could find. I wasted a bunch of money that way.

Spend the money and start out doing it right. Spend an hour or two with an accountant and a few hundred a year on software/services. It will be cheaper in the long run, and far less taxing on you, than to try and do it all yourself with sub-par tools and no professional advice.

there are several Open Source software products that are intended to be similar to Quicken (except free). Those might be sufficient for a small business. Grisbi, GNUcash and Turbocash are some of the ones I remember.

I haven’t used this software (so can’t actually recommend it - I just found it on, but PostBooks seems to be claiming to be a viable, free alternative to Quickbooks.

There is a fair bit of truth though, in the notion that it’s better to try to find the funds to use a piece of industry standard commercial software, if at all you can - personally, I’m a huge fan of free and open source software, and seek to use it whenever I can, but for business, it can make you very dependent on something not widely supported, it may not prove to be scalable, it may make future recruiting difficult, and may damage the future marketability of your staff’s skillsets.
None of those things are reasons never to do it - they’re just things to bear in mind when making the decision.

You can check out the suggestions here:

Because I do this for a living, let me just say: you can pay the accountant $1000 now and do everything right. If you wait to do it later, you’ll pay $2000 to the accountant and $10,000 to the government. You’ll also want to hire a lawyer and make sure that you have an operating agreement for your partnership.

If you cannot afford $300 for software (QuickBooks Pro is $150 per license if you look for discounts or buy from a warehouse store like Costco) and you cannot afford $1000 for an accountant, then you cannot afford to be in business.

I’m involved with a non-profit organization which publishes a monthly magazine. We use LedgerSMB to keep track of the customer accounts, including mailing lists, subscription expiries, invoices, and payments. It’s got a web interface so it’s easy to set it up on a server and access the database from multiple machines in the office.

Can’t beat Quick Books, or better yet, Quick Books Pro. Using a good accounting package has the additional value of insuring of solid business/record keeping disciplines.

Listen to dracoi and tellyworth. Most small businesses fail due to poor management and accounting practices.

Spend some money now to get things set up right and save yourselves trouble down the road.

Ever heard the phrase ‘penny wise, pound foolish’?

I disagree. The quality and usefulness of software is not a function of its price. Some of the best software out there is free (in terms of price, but also in terms of freedom). Investigate all software you can afford, including free software, and then make a decision based on what best meets your needs in terms of features, availability of support, and any other factors which may be relevant to you.

Quoted for truth.

$150 is a pittance for what you get. I am self employed, no employees, and I could not do it without QuickBooks. I can sync my customer records with my smartphone, so I have it whenever they call. I can download all my bank transactions into my check register. I can see charts and graphs of sales trends, and outstanding accounts payable, and a hundred other tools that keep me informed about my business.

I would not consider doing it any other way.

The problem with free software is that you pay for it with your time. Do you have time to analyze various free accounting programs to see if they meet your needs? What if you use it for a month and discover a bug or that you don’t like it? I don’t have any problem using free software for a lot of stuff, but I’d be very wary using free software to handle the accounting of my business.

I think you can get Quickbooks Pro 2012 as a download for $100. There’s also PeachTree Accounting. I see some of the older versions going for $25 on Amazon.

I wasn’t talking just about the software. If you’ve got the knowledge and time to investigate all the freeware and shareware out there, more power to you. I use a lot of it myself. I also know how to find it and how to evaluate it. Doesn’t sound like these folks do.

But mostly I was talking about the general concept of “oh, we’re too small and cheap to need an accountant and pay for software”. That way lies badness.

These arguments work just as well, if not better, against non-free software. I’m sure it takes just as long to analyze free accounting programs as it does to analyze non-free ones; at least with the free ones you don’t need to actually pay to try them out. And what if you discover a bug in a non-free program? What recourse do you have, except to report it to the authors and hope they fix it in the next release? You have this same recourse with free software, but you also have the options of fixing the bug yourself or of paying a third party to do it for you.

All accounting programs are worthless. You pay the money for (a) support and documentation; (b) support and regular updates for your local tax and finance laws; © the availability of third-party support, help and interfacing (ie your accountant knows how to work with it, and it produces reports and data compatible with your local tax requirements).

In short: go to a local accountant, and use what they recommend. If it’s open source, great. But the question of whether or not it’s open source is not significant factor (and I say that as an open source developer and advocate).

This certainly all gives me a lot to think about, and I appreciate all the advice. :slight_smile: I spent a lot of time this morning on the phone with a Quickbooks rep, and after a lot of questions from me, I kept hearing a.) lots of attempts to upsell me on more expensive versions of QB. Not the one on sale at OfficeMax for $49, which is what I found and was holding as I stood in OM at the time. and b.) finally, the admission that our data couldn’t really be saved in any version except what is proprietary to Quickbooks. I have to admit that I don’t really care for that. (Actually, I’ve spent the whole day in a search through accounting and CRM program options and a trek all over the place, too… QB isn’t as cheap at Costco as I thought it would be!! I liked MS Office Accounting a lot and even downloaded it. But MS discontinued it in 2009, so it is now an orphan.)

My brother’s been running this business for over twenty years. I used to work with him, and I used paper general ledgers and a pen at the time. (I think he’d be happy with that right now-- he’s been writing everything down on little pieces of paper. And he LIKES it that way!) The best suggestion I’ve heard so far is the one about finding old versions of Peachtree on Amazon. Now THAT, he might go for. :slight_smile:

Sorry, it’s not letting me edit the last reply…


BUT, here’s the question… why is the 2011 version of Peachtree so much cheaper than this year’s edition? Is it missing some fantastic upgrade? Will it only work for 15 minutes once installed? What? Does anyone know?