It was once widely accepted that the choice of accounts software for a small business was simple: Sage or QuickBooks. But the hegemony of these leading desktop applications is now being challenged by a new generation of web-based software. We test three of the best offerings.
KashFlow’s Dashboard may not be as polished as Xero’s, but its information is presented clearly, with historical balance and sales charts as well as quick links to important sections of the business.
Online accounts shootout
There’s a huge list of reports and tools, some of which are displayed in the browser, while others open in a spreadsheet. There are some surprises hidden among them, including one that produces the figures needed to complete a self-assessment form, and another that generates a business “health check” score, with suggestions on how to improve.
As you’d expect, VAT is handled for both cash accounting and flat-rate schemes, but KashFlow’s selling point is direct VAT filing. You run the VAT report, enter your HMRC online filing credentials and submit. Given how much of a chore many small businesses find submitting returns, the ability to do so without leaving KashFlow is a major strength.
KashFlow is an impressive invoicing tool. You can quickly create quotes and turn them into invoices through a single button link. Invoices are delivered as HTML or plain text, with PDF attachments, to which you can add text tags to hold variable data.
For many users, KashFlow’s most tempting feature will be its unparalleled integration with a variety of payment card processors, including SagePay and Barclaycard. These allow you to update your accounts with payment information automatically. As with Xero you can set up automatic billing and payments, but you can also schedule reminders by email when an invoice or payment is overdue.
Another feature unique to KashFlow is stock management. It’s basic, but functional: you enter the number of items in stock, and that decreases when you issue an invoice containing that item. You can also set a value at which you’d like to be warned about low stock.
KashFlow doesn’t provide a payroll feature directly, but it can fall back on its well-used API for plugins to address such gaps, and it does work with several third-party payroll tools.
A real drawback for some, however, will be limited support for multiple users. While KashFlow allows for multiple concurrent users, you can’t allocate them different passwords or permission levels, as you can with Xero or FreeAgent.
For those worried about relying on a web-based accounting system, KashFlow – which claims its level of security is comparable to that of online banks – offers a range of import and export options. All reports can be exported to CSV format, and you can also set up a backup schedule that automatically emails all your data to you in spreadsheet format at defined intervals.
We like all three of the online services we’ve tested, and all appeal in different ways. It may not be as easy to use as FreeAgent, but KashFlow’s stock control features make it an attractive choice for stock-based businesses.