Which small business accounting software?

I have to set up a system for a startup company, and I’m having a hard time choosing software. Here are my parameters:

They will have a single office at first with 3 stations, with possible expansion up to 20 offices with up to 10 stations each.
Data should be centralized and read/write accessible from any of the workstations.
The software should do the following:
[list][li]Employee tracking[/li][li]Job tracking[/li][li]Customer tracking[/li][li]Payroll, including overtime and holiday pay[/li][li]Invoicing[/li][li]Accounts payable and receivable[/li][li]Be network-aware[/li][li]Multi-user, with per-user, per-function permissions [/li]They would like to spend less than $5000 total to start out, including hardware, and hardware cost comes to about $3500 including operating systems.

My first thought was “maybe you should try fantasy land”.

My first productive thought was Quickbooks, but even the enterprise version ($2500-$3000, not even out yet) only allows up to 10 simultaneous connections (is this enough for the anticipated expansion? I wouldn’t think so, but who knows?). I considered loading up all the computers with some free Unix (BSD or Linux), then writing the app in SQL with a PHP/HTML front-end, but it’s a lot more complex than I can write. I don’t think I can make it do everything they need AND be reliable enough for day-to-day operations. They don’t want to spend the money on a big program like quickbooks, and they don’t want to wait (or pay) for a big custom-written app.

There’s one thing on the horizon that I’ve been able to find: KBooks, which is supposed to be a full replacement and, eventually, even better than QuickBooks, but it’s only in pre-alpha now.

So am I wasting my time? It looks like I’m going to have to tell them to just bite the bullet and cough up some medium-sized money, but is anybody aware of a free package that will fit? Or even a combination of free or inexpensive progs that will interoperate?

Anybody willing to do some cheap contract SQL+Frontend programming? :smiley:


Have you tried Peachtree? I’ve heard of it, never used it.

I’ve used QuickBooks for several years and it will do all that you ask. I don’t remember what it cost, but I believe it’s well within your range.

How many concurrent users are you able to have? What version are you using? According to Intuit’s website, QB Pro and Premier support up to 5 connections and Enterprise up to 10. I assume that means actual writing to the file at once, but I’m not sure. That and cost are the primary limiting factors in the decision, but if that’s not really a problem, we can probably swallow the cost.

I do consulting/installations like you describe and it sounds like they don’t undertstand/are to stupid to understand that this is part of the business startup process just like any other and cannot be just glossed over. It makes me mad just to think about it because I really believe in keeping costs as low as possible. $5,000 is impossibly low and they should be told to go to hell, IMHO. There is no good solution for both hardware and software that could meet their needs now and be able to expand for the future. For $10,000 you might be able to turn some nice whore tricks, $15,000 would be cutting it close for what they really need, and $30,000 - the sky is what they really need to do it properly.

So, your answer is yes; they are way off base and need to need someone to guide them to a realistic plan.


You should take a look at MYOB. It is a “real” accounting package, QuickBooks always felt like toy. To my mind, of the low end accounting packages, MYOB sucks the least. It’s worst offence is it’s lack of scripting ability, if you want to truly automate anything, you’re better off manipulating the data in a scriptable spreadsheet or database and then importing into MYOB. A single license is maybe $250.00, and then about a hundred bucks per seat, with no limitation to the number of users in the program at one time. It is available for IBM compatable, Mac and Mac OS-X (if you haven’t played with OS-X, I heartily recommend you do–pretty GUI on top, and easily accessable BSD underneath).

My mother is a system admin in accounting and for many years has worked for small-ish companies. One of her complaints is that companies will choose horrible accounting software. The people who work in accounting (in other words, the people whom the decision will affect the most) never have a say in what is chosen, and the software that gets picked is ill-suited to the department’s needs, and, surprise surprise, is usually the cheapest. Often, the programs are better suited to an individual’s accounting needs, or a really small business (say, under 10 employees).

I agree that this company is needs to put a little more care into this decision. You can’t reduce this to a matter of cost. Take a look at what the software is going to handle-- employee information and money. Keeping in mind that with software, you generally do get what you pay for, why entrust that kind of data to something inexpensive or free?

In a perfect world, I would say you should go to the actual accounting people and ask them what software they think would work best for their needs. If any of them has experience with other programs, they should know right away what will work and what won’t. But this isn’t that world, and you can’t go over bosses like that.

I wish you luck, and hope you can find something that leaves everyone satisfied.

If you have some sort of accounting background (OR are willing to put in the time to learn it) Simply Accounting will do pretty much anything you need. Its compatible with Microsoft products, and does everything you asked for.
But like I said, it has a pretty steep learning curve.

Sounds a bit nebulous - we don’t really know what sort of enterprise we’re dealing with hear. $5K for three entry stations sounds just barely doable.

QuickBooks worked fine for us, but we were never of a size to actually have an accountant on staff. If they’re seriously looking at 200 stations in the near future something more sophisticated may well be in order.

I think AudreyK is on to the thought. If there are any experienced bookkeeping/accounting people about, quiz them on what they’ve used.

hear? ACK!!

You’re dealing with ignorant cheapskates who apparently think that enterprise software is what they use on Star Trek. If they think they’re going to get a competent accounting solution for up to 200 interactive users with a 1000- 1500 budget I want some of what they’re smoking. Bail now or you will be sorry. This is lunch money stupidity. Don’t waste your life and your time like this. A good package to do this properly is going to cost $10,000 + at a minimum.

In my first post, I meant to add that the right software can make a huge difference in the quality of work that comes out of an accounting department. Assuming that all the employees are honest, dedicated, and efficient, the right software package can save countless amounts of time, frustration, and money. It’s yet another reason why reducing the decision to a matter of cost is a very big mistake.

I won’t want to name the specific software program that my mom uses, but let’s just say that it’s not sold at PC Mall or downloadable off any shareware site. It’s not a single program, but a set of modules. Each module’s price varies, but a package’s price can range from $30,000 to well over $200,000.

:waits for the heart attack to pass:

I had to find a third party page to find out the costs. I couldn’t find the info on the company’s website. And don’t think this software is in a price class by itself; the site I found the prices on listed a dozen other companies’ software, each boasting a similar price tag. Software at this level is excellent, but it definitely comes at a price.

Is it worth it? Like all other software, it’s only as good as the person using it. But again, with competent employees, good software will be worth the investment.

Given the size (and potential size) of the company in question, I’d have to agree with others and say that if they’re saying “Keep it under $X” and X is a four-digit number, frankly, they’re sadistic cheapskates who have NO idea what their accounting people do. It seems few company bosses do, and even fewer make the effort find out.

Now, I realize that money is tight for pretty much everybody right now. But perhaps short of the guys you depend on for your business to run (such as the architechts in your architectural firm, or the photographer in your photography studio), your accounting people are the most important members of your staff. You don’t want them pissed at you. You don’t want them to be convicted felons. And you don’t want them using cheap, crappy software (unless they’re actually happy with and effective using cheap, crappy software).

I’m not saying every accounting department should get the finest software, desks, chairs, computers, cappucinos, and Swedish masseurs money can buy. I’m not saying you have to buy software worth tens of thousands of dollars, much less hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nor am I saying you have to spend that kind of money and not bat an eye. What I am saying is that sometimes the most economical approach isn’t the smartest.

I don’t envy the position you’re in, Joe_Cool. This isn’t a please-everybody situation. All I can suggest is that you get feedback from the accounting folks or encourage the bosses to get feedback from them, and then try to get everybody to work together from there. That approach should net the best results.

Good luck with you.

I have to agree that $5,000 for a system that does what they want . . . well, they are seriously delusional. They “don’t want to spend the money on a big program like quickbooks” - well, what DO they want to spend their money on? If they haven’t got enough financing to pay for the appropriate systems, they need to delay their startup or rethink their priorities.

I wonder what they plan to spend on furniture. I’d bet it’s a lot more than $5,000.

When I owned my company we used a system called Profit, which did everything you asked for. However, the program wasn’t cheap, expect to spend $5,000 on a good software package alone, then more on the hardware to run it. If you’re talking multi-office LAN/WAN links then the company should expect to spend in the neighborhood to $18-20,000 to get it done RIGHT and to have the flexibility for future expansion. Don’t, under any circumstances forget the simple things like system and connection redundancy and backups for all sites. Otherwise anything they spend will be a waste of money.

Seems the consensus is that I’m going to do some work for morons. :slight_smile:

Minor correction, though: They don’t want total cost to be < $5000, only the total cost for the first 3 stations with software. Later on, they’re going to pay for what they need as they go. I was planning the future expansion in from the beginning, since it would suck to buy a cheapo package that will work great for 5 users, then have to migrate the data to a big package when they eventually have the fabled 200 users.

The one thing I’ve found that looks promising is SQL-Ledger. It does everything I need except for payroll, but that is slated for a later release. It’s free (as in both beer and speech), and runs on any platform with PERL and either PostgreSQL or Oracle (meaning that Linux or BSD is where I’ll look).

I agree that the best thing, though, may be just to bail. They called me up and said they decided to keep the books by hand until after startup when they’re ready to buy the computers.

I don’t think I’ll hold my breath, and even if they do call, I decided not to take the job unless they want to talk about reality.

OH, I forgot to mention this:

Talk about cheap & not-so-bright, they actually specified NO BACKUP OR RAID, because they don’t want to spend the extra couple of hundred on hardware.


3 stations can be built at dirt cheap costs. You are looking at really weak PC boxen with no frills. But you also need a forth one as a server, but you can put together 4 machines that do the job at under $3000 fairly comfortably. Of course, they will have to sacrifice little things such as services and technical support. But we can’t have everything can we :slight_smile:

Now the program looks rather simple to do as a database application except for the last part, which IIRC can’t be handled by mySQL or postgres. Other than that, that should be no more than at most 80 hours of coding and testing, at most.

No backup? Flee man, flee.

You can make informal backups by replicating the databases on all the computers. That will not prevent any major nastinesses such as fires, but at least you can deal with the minor things.

Glad to hear you escaped these bozos.

I was hoping they’d turn out to be open and reasonable. But the “they’re doing the books by hand until they’re ready to buy the computers” part scared me-- I wouldn’t dream of undertaking any business accounting without my computers on my desk and ready for work. And their willingness to sacrifice a backup system just to save a couple hundred dollars is truly disgusting.