Accounting in the cloud

Australia's small businesses are increasingly going online to deliver goods and services to consumers and have proven to be innovative in their use of social media, email and other digital technologies to promote and grow their business. They're also heading online for solutions designed to help run their businesses cost-effectively.

Consumers have long accepted web-based tools for everything from email to social media, music, shopping and entertainment. Small businesses are also looking online, adopting 'cloud' – or software as a service (SaaS) - technology to manage their businesses more cost-effectively.

Why go to the cloud?

Without the cost or the headaches of server-based software, hardware and maintenance, cloud environments are often much friendlier to the small business budget as they offer low-cost entry, upgrades, secure data management and subscription-based pricing that can scale to suit your business size or specific functionality needs.

While CRM systems, project management and document solutions have existed for some time in cloud environments, online accounting systems have lagged behind their more innovative counterparts in developing user-friendly tools.

That, however, is history. Accounting systems have smartened up. Vendors such as MYOB and Quicken have recognised the value of providing accounting software for small business, and new players such as Xero and Saasu have rolled out cloud services that are giving established vendors a run for their money.

So if you're a small business owner and you're thinking of a new accounting system, how do you decide which is the best one for your business?

Know your business

Knowing your business needs is vital for choosing the right accounting solution – be it online or offline.

Key things to consider include:

  • The size of your business and whether you employ staff
  • The level of integration into management and process systems within and outside the business 
  • Whether you need to manage stock and inventory
  • The complexity of your financial reporting needs
  • Having the capacity to upscale your accounting tools as your business grows
  • Most cloud accounting vendors offer a 'tiered' subscription, allowing you to choose a level of service and features to suit your needs.

There's little point in paying for more than you need, however if you're a growing business, then you'll want to choose a solution that is able to grow with you. Choosing the wrong system can have a devastating impact on your business.

The devil is in the detail, and knowing what features you need before you compare options will ensure you select the right package for your business.

We've reviewed the offerings from the established accounting giants Quicken and MYOB and two relatively new players, Xero and Saasu to help you determine the best fit for your business. 

Cloud accounting software comparison (summary)
Cloud accounting software feature list

Current at March 2011

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