There are a lot of decisions to make when starting a company: Will you need office space, and if so how much? Have you lined up all your suppliers? Do you need to hire employees?
It's easy for accounting and finance software to get overlooked in the chaos of a new business venture, but it's just as important a piece as everything else. There are lots of accounting platforms to choose from—including the 15 options in this gallery—which can make selecting your SMB finance software one more overwhelming challenge to face.
Before you choose the wrong SMB accounting platform, it helps to consider these five essential factors. It may not seem like it now, but following these suggestions could save you a lot of time and money down the road.
SEE: Vendor comparison: Small business financial accounting software (Tech Pro Research)
1. Make a list of features you need
The very first thing you should do before considering an SMB accounting app is to think about the features you need. These can include:
- Automated bill payment
- Inventory management
- Customer relationship management (CRM) features
- Tax reporting
- Payment processing
It may also help to divide your features list into must-have and desired—if your choice comes down to budget, this can help you make a choice that protects your bottom line.
SEE: 10 books every small business entrepreneur should read (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
2. Avoid superfluous add-ons
Once you have an idea of what you need, you can start looking into SMB accounting software that meets your demands, but watch out: Like retail stores, software companies include a lot of additional features near checkout that can trigger an impulse buy.
It might sound like a good idea to add a feature for $5 or $10 a month in anticipation of needing it, but don't do it. Add-on features are a great thing to consider when thinking about the future, but your initial choice should be based solely on what you need now.
Even a small fee of $5/month can become a drag on your budget if you're not using it effectively.
3. Determine if the software must have scalability features
I own a business, and I don't plan on ever expanding beyond my current staffing levels: Me. Since I don't need an accounting platform that will grow with me, scalability is very low on my list of priorities. If you anticipate a lot of growth in your company, however, you should prioritize scalability.
If scalability is important to you, be sure to look for those features on the software company's website. Some apps simply don't make scaling with growth a priority, and if your business is going to get bigger, it's best to avoid those.
Most accounting platforms offer multiple pricing tiers designed for businesses of different sizes, so when considering which option to select don't exclude those other tiers from consideration—you might grow into one of them down the road.
SEE: Quick glossary: Accounting (Tech Pro Research)
4. Figure out your software budget and stick to it
You may be starting a business that will bring in thousands of dollars a month, or you might be planning to sell a few things on eBay and only make a few bucks here and there. Either way, you still need accounting software—the big difference is going to be your budget.
Some SMB accounting software is free (e.g., Wave), but that is not the best choice for larger companies that have a few employees and are doing lots of business. Other software, such as ScaleFactor, can run you nearly $300 a month, which might be overkill when you're starting off.
Once you know what features you need, how much growth you anticipate, and how much money you expect to bring in, you can think about the appropriate price for your accounting platform.
After setting a budget comes another important step: Sticking to it.
SEE: IT budgeting: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
5. Don't forget about your accountant
Even the best SMB finance software won't replace an accountant; in fact, it's a good idea to seek advice from an accountant before choosing your software for several reasons.
First off, a good accountant can help you make a software choice based on what that person knows about your company, your financial acumen, and your individual needs. Consult your accountant once you've narrowed your choices down so she can help you make a good decision.
Second, it's important to choose a platform that your accountant knows, especially if you plan to send that person electronic records or reports during tax season. If you end up with a platform your accountant doesn't have much knowledge of, or software their office doesn't support, you're creating more headaches for everyone.
If you're worried about setting up your accounting software, don't hesitate to ask your accountant for help—they've worked with lots of different platforms and should be able to make setting up your SMB finance software a snap.
The biggest takeaway
These five items are hardly an exhaustive list of what you need to consider when choosing an SMB accounting platform, but there is a common theme: Don't rush your decision.
Accounting software isn't permanent, but it's essential to make good decisions when starting a business. If you make a poor software choice, you could lose valuable resources: Money and time.
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.