Reader Question: I am looking for an easy way to track small business (one person) income and expenses. – Kathy
I love this question for one reason – tracking your small business finances is crucial to understanding your business and succeeding. Without tracking your numbers there is no way to tell how good you are doing without this knowledge you cannot adapt and change your business to increase your success.
Luckily there are many options available; when I started working for myself there really were only two good accounting software options: Quickbooks and Peachtree (now Sage50). Here are some recommendations for small business accounting software that you have available to you today:
If you are set up as a sole proprietor and you already use Quicken for personal finances you can set up categories for your business within you existing software. Create a category in income & expense named after your business and then set up sub categories for the specifics under the broad categories. Then you can run reports on just those categories to see how you are doing. Caution: only do this if you are a sole proprietor AND you have separate bank accounts for your personal and business life. (If you don’t already use Quicken and are a sole proprietor they do have a version that lets you run your business and life without creating your own accounts.)
If you are anything but a sole proprietor or are not already using Quicken then I would recommend getting the basic version of QuickBooks. It is easy to use and almost every CPA will be able to use it for tax purposes. It is makes managing your small business finances easy, the software will grow with your business.
There are other downloadable options if you prefer not to use Quickbooks. If you plan on growing the business much bigger than just you or have larger amounts of inventory you will want to consider Sage 50. Simply search for “accounting software” and you will see other available choices.
Another option I would recommend is using excel, but only if your transaction volume is low. Another area that excel is good for if not the tracking of expenses is for cash flow and future planning purposes. It can be easier to use and adjust than the planning functions of some of the available accounting software options. I myself use excel for cash flow planning. If you don’t want to create an excel form from scratch, check out Vertex42, they have tons of templates that you can use for free.
Finally there are online programs that are now available if you don’t want the software on your computer. For example, QuickBooks and Sage50 both have online versions of their software. Plus there are newer companies such as Fresh books, Outright and Xero that also have online tools. My only caution in going the online way is that you don’t own that data, if the site goes down so does your data.
What you choose ultimately depends on you and your business. Keep in mind your available budget, what you need it to do right now and in the future (no sense in having to change software later), and how easy it is for you to use.
Once you select your expense and income tracking method the key is to actually use it! Set up a permanent time and put it on your calendar at least once a month, but weekly is better. Then not only do you know how your business is doing, but you will be ready for tax time come January!