The inexorable slump in the number of desktop-based accounting applications in the past year has been mirrored by a boom in online alternatives. One such is Brightbook, a free, cross-platform web-based bookkeeping application that boasts a good chunk of what self-employed users need: invoicing, expense tracking and basic reports.
Its attempt to appeal to the less financially literate is clear from its bright home page, which comprises a well-organised overview of your business’ health. Expenses, payments and invoices are graphically compared in one module, while outstanding invoices and income types are displayed alongside current profit expectations. Below this, business-critical events – unpaid expenses, outstanding invoices and so on – are listed. As you mouse over buttons, pop-ups explain their function.
Client, banking and reporting functions are accessed through tabs at the top of this page. The clients section, where you manage relationships with customers and organise quotes, invoices and payments, is excellent. On its Overview page you can get a summary of client balances and quickly enter new client details; a separate Statements section shows selected client activity in greater detail. You can also invoice clients and quote for jobs in this section, with clients selected from a pull-down menu. Quotes can be easily converted into invoices through a button and invoices can be set to recur just by checking a box. Both VAT and discounts can be applied to transactions and you can email invoices with covering messages from within the web interface.
The program’s banking functions didn’t work well. Security seems robust: transactions are protected with SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption. But while Brightbook offers links to imported bank statements, it’s only in CSV format. Even then it’s sniffy about them; first rejecting ours because the extension of the file we were trying to import was in upper case, and it generated errors on the imported file when we corrected this.
Reports are limited. The most useful is the VAT summary, which gathers quarterly data in the form required by HM Revenue and Customs. Annoyingly, you can’t submit a return directly, so you’ll have to copy this information elsewhere. Finally, there’s no detailed profit and loss report, only basic income and expense reports in Excel format.
That doesn’t mean Brightbook is a dead loss. It isn’t perfect, and doesn’t offer everything a small business could want. But for those who simply want to track their cash and invoicing it’s an excellent option. And it seems churlish to complain too hard when it doesn’t cost a penny.