Finances are a tricky business. If not done properly, a business can seriously suffer. But matching the right application to handle a company finances is as challenging as balancing that budget. Is your company small enough that a simple ledger would work? Or is your company large or complex enough to require a full-blown accounting package?

With so many packages out there, finding the right one requires some careful evaluation. To get you started, I’ve narrowed the field to five finance packages that are suited for small and midsize companies.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: QuickBooks

QuickBooks (Figure A) is pretty much the small to midsize industry standard. And with good reason. It sets the bar for features and ease of use. With easy integration into Intuit tax solutions, QuickBooks makes many aspects of your company finances a snap. But all that power and ease of use comes with its own set of problems: cost and stability.

Figure A

QuickBooks not only has a steeper price than many solutions, it can wind up costing to keep it running. As anyone who has used QuickBooks enough knows, the software is prone to connection issues and data file problems. Getting those resolved will cost the company. But when QuickBooks works, it works wonders. When it doesn’t work? Hoo boy! For QuickBooks, you purchase a license for every concurrent user you need. So if you need five users working in the data file at one time, you purchase five licenses at roughly $183.95 per license.

2: GnuCash

GnuCash (Figure B) is my tool of choice to keep track of my books. Although it doesn’t offer the client/server setup that QuickBooks offers, it’s a powerful double-entry accounting program. It can handle multiple accounts, it produces amazing reports, and it does QIF/OFX/HBCI import and transaction matching, scheduled transactions, financial calculations, and much more. Best of all, GnuCash is free (as well as open source). It’s cross-platform (Linux, Windows, and OS X) and is one of the most reliable finance applications you will ever use.

Figure B

3: Bookkeeper

Bookkeeper (Figure C) is a low-cost solution for small businesses. But the features don’t take a hit, even with that low price. In fact, Bookkeeper stands up to the likes of QuickBooks at a fraction of the cost ($35.00 USD, as of this writing). Bookkeeper allows you to manage all your accounting tasks in a single window, write checks, collect payments, generate more than 125 kinds of reports, manage payroll, track jobs, schedule recurring payments, batch-pay bills, calculate earnings and deductions, and much more. And although Bookkeeper won’t integrate with tax solutions or do auto payroll (as does QuickBooks), this solution is ideal for any small business needing a QuickBooks-like solution without the QuickBooks-like price.
[Update: Following a report that the product has disappeared from the site, we checked with Avanquest to find out why. They said they pulled the current version because they’re just about to release Bookkeeper 2012.]

Figure C

Photo credit: Avanquest Software

4: Sage Peachtree

Sage Peachtree (Figure D) is considered on par with QuickBooks for SMBs. Its features are impressive. Depending upon the version you purchase, the features could include Progress Billing, Labor Burden Assessment, Retainage Management, Subcontractor Insurance Tracking, Quantity Price Breaks, Buy/Sell in Different Units, Enhanced Kitting and Assembly Capabilities, Enhanced Item Pricing, Creation and Tracking of Work Tickets, Expanded Assembly Capabilities, User-Level Security, and support for large databases. The pricing of Sage depends upon the number of users. It runs from $229.99 to $2,549.15 for five to 40 users.

Figure D

5: Sage Simply Accounting

Sage Simply Accounting (Figure E) is another “on par with QuickBooks” tool. It also allows companies to migrate their data from QuickBooks. With this software, you can do any accounting task you need — the features are in line with those of QuickBooks and Sage Peachtree. One of the more appealing aspects of Simply Accounting is the pricing. For a single user, purchase the Pro edition for $199.99. For two to four users, purchase the Premium edition for $399.99. For five or more users, you must invest in the Enterprise level, at which point you must call for a quote.

Figure E

Your pick?

The solutions listed here range from free to more than $2,500.00 USD. Each solution offers a different feature set (or different take on the feature set) but all do an outstanding job of helping SMBs stay on top of their books.

Do you use one of these solutions or have you found a different one that works best for you? Share your recommendations with other TechRepublic members.