What’s the only thing worse than feeling overwhelmed by the task of bookkeeping? Feeling overwhelmed by the bookkeeping software that’s supposed to make that overwhelmed feeling go away.
And to think software was supposed to be the simpler, more user-friendly alternative to spreadsheets. You first chose a program to eliminate confusion, not add more.
Sadly though, today’s small business bookkeeping software solutions offer so many features that users feel inundated with too many options. The resulting sentiment is that bookkeeping is the “worst” part of running a business.
At Neat, we believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how small business bookkeeping software companies lost their way, and how you can escape the tangle.
The problem with a lot of small business bookkeeping software
The problem with many small business bookkeeping software programs is that they’re often too complex. But complex software isn’t just an annoyance; it also has consequences for your business.
It sows mistrust in the data. How? By displaying figures based on the faulty input of inexperienced users. That makes business leaders accustomed to mismatched and incorrect totals. Eventually, many company owners assume even their main dashboard snapshot is inaccurate.
It’s also costly. Plans vary, but with your QuickBooks subscription, for example, if you want more than five users, 250 chart of accounts, or 40 locations or classes, you’ll be forking over $1,200 a year. Bear in mind, that’s still the small business version.
If those drawbacks weren’t enough, the complexity of today’s bookkeeping software also obscures your mistakes from your own eyes. By empowering business owners to “do it themselves,” leaders who lack accounting expertise are able to record transactions incorrectly without an alert that warns them their habitual entries are tangling totals. Usually, the ongoing errors are uncovered at a high-stress time, like during a loan approval process or while preparing to file taxes.
Consumers and competitors pressure software publishers to enhance and expand basic functionalities. The result? The original product becomes convoluted.
What makes small business bookkeeping software complex?
Here are some things that make today’s small business software solutions far too complex:
Too many (or irrelevant) features: “QuickBooks revolutionized the small business accounting industry,” recalls Dallon Christensen, a certified management accountant (CMA) and a certified financial manager (CFM). “It gave a lot of power to owners to understand their finances. Unfortunately, they went for too many features. Many of the new competitors may not have the features that QuickBooks has, but they are simple to use.”
A/B testing experts at Apptimize study the behavior of software users. They say that too many options overload users mentally, burdening people with the stress of excessive options. The result is decision fatigue and, eventually, paralysis. When you’re administering your books online and confused about how to complete a task, searching for answers can feel futile, but giving up could be detrimental.
Poor user experience: Simply put, some bookkeeping software just isn’t easy to use. When you need to find a menu or option, it should be obvious where to go. But when your choice is buried among other unneeded or redundant options, it takes you precious time and mental calories to complete your task.
Resource-hungry computing needs: Complex bookkeeping applications (even cloud-based ones) require that your computer possess sizable processing power, random-access memory (RAM), and robust internet bandwidth to operate. The more complicated the program, the more resources it sucks up.
A steep learning curve: “If you are willing to put in about 6 months,” writes Amanda Salmon for AccountingHub, “you should be able to learn QuickBooks and apply it in your daily functions.” This isn’t an exaggeration. The time it takes to learn a small business bookkeeping software tool like QuickBooks may negate the purpose of employing the tool in the first place — namely, to save you time.
Surprising usage limits and upcharges: Today’s most complex bookkeeping programs have almost unlimited upgrade options, which at first seem like an advantage. The trouble starts when a software provider limits your usage and then interrupts your work again and again with advertisements for upgrades you’ve already declined.
Another scenario is the unexpected price bumps we’ve seen larger program publishers force onto customers who are already paying. “I understand price increases are a part of business,” one user tweeted last year. “But an instant 375% increase in my monthly cost to keep the same functionality is abusive. My monthly will go from $40 to $150 in April. Not cool.”
What to look for in a simplified business bookkeeping software program
Today’s complex bookkeeping systems are touted as perfect for small businesses. But, really, they’re for the accountants of small businesses. Here’s what entrepreneurs and small business leaders need to look for when choosing a bookkeeping program.
One core offering: Bookkeeping applications should be exactly that. Programs that try to cater to commercial or enterprise-level organizations have features that not all small business owners need, like payroll, forecasting, contractor management, and the like.
A good bookkeeping software offers the following:
- Automated entries: Capturing and entering data from receipts can and should be done without a human. Don’t settle for a solution that makes you (or a helper) spend precious hours keying in entries. Ironically, some of the largest, most complicated programs still don’t offer this all-important core characteristic.
- Line-item organization: Split, edit, and categorize one item amid many in a receipt.
- Keyword search and filtering: You should be able to find transactions easily and filter results based on conditions you choose.
- Secure, accessible-to-you storage: Once those receipts, invoices, bills, and statements are in your system, you should be free to throw away the hard copies immediately without worrying about keeping them on hand “just in case.”
- Downloadable reports. You should always have an idea of your general business expenses and tax picture. Plus, it should be easy to save those for future reference or email them ahead of an upcoming business meeting. Go for a business bookkeeping software tool that provides downloadable reports at the most basic subscription level.
Clean and easy navigation: Look for a bookkeeping system that doesn’t fatigue your brain with a noisy interface. The mind is capable of a finite number of decisions each day. When your bookkeeping tool presents too many options every time you log in, decision fatigue sets in. Experts say that having too many choices depletes limited mental resources, leading to avoidance of the task, impaired deliberations, and even an inability to self-regulate. Your software should make it clear how to complete basic bookkeeping tasks.
Zero to no ramp-up requirement: There shouldn’t be dozens of full-length books published on how to learn and use your small business bookkeeping application. If there are, then you might be looking at a solution for accountants or large companies. Choose a tool with simple, enjoyable training resources that make sense and don’t overwhelm new users.
The option to upgrade for more functionality — on your time: When you’re ready for more features like access for team members, increased storage, bank and credit account streaming, reconciliation, and business-health insights, your software plan should let you upgrade to opt in. Functionalities shouldn’t be pushed onto you until you’re ready.
Another way to incorporate functionality is to integrate your simple tool with your accountant’s more robust program. They may use QuickBooks or another application. Choose a tool that integrates with their digital environment.
Outstanding customer service: Among the most common complaints of today’s small business bookkeeping software publishers is that when something goes wrong, their support is lax at best and infuriating at worst. Many solutions offer live set-up help but leave customers hanging when something goes wrong. Find a solution that has a reputation for caring for customers.
Keep SMB bookkeeping software simple
Don’t spend another day drowning in the excessive features of a tool that’s supposed to rescue you from feeling overwhelmed by bookkeeping. Neat offers automated entry of transactions, which slashes time spent on tedious, error-prone manual input. Try it for free for 15 days to see how helpful a streamlined, simple bookkeeping tool can (and should) be.