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The ongoing cost of living crisis has made finances for small business owners extremely challenging recently. One thing that can significantly ease at least one burden, however, is choosing the right accounting software before the next tax year starts in April 2024. Because, on top of everything else, who wants to be worried about tax compliance and transferring records midway through the year?
Using our 20 years of small business experience, our expert researchers have deemed that QuickBooks is the best overall accounting software for 2024 – for its intuitive, modern platform, regular deals and discounts and first-class tax planning features.
But it’s a competitive market, so QuickBooks may not be the top choice for ALL businesses – rival brand FreshBooks may have more of the features you need, for example, and you can currently claim 75% off for three months as a new user until January 16th. Xero, Clear Books and Zoho have plenty of merit for small business owners too. So what will it be? Read on to find out.
Best accounting software at a glance
A report by Intuit found that 89% of small businesses say that accounting software is essential for their business, while 63% say it has helped them save time and be more productive.
To learn more about how the top contenders stack up in terms of cost, features, ease of use and customer support, use our handy 🔍free cost comparison tool for the hard figures.
What is accounting software?
Accounting software is a type of online program or application used all around the world, designed to manage and streamline financial processes within a business. It is used by companies of all sizes to record, process, and track financial transactions, generate financial statements, and perform other accounting-related tasks.
Accounting software automates many of the manual and time-consuming tasks involved in financial management, such as recording sales and purchases, managing accounts payable and receivable, payroll processing, inventory management, budgeting, and generating financial reports.
All in all, it helps you maintain accurate and up-to-date financial records, improve efficiency, reduce errors, and obtain valuable insights into the financial health of your business.
1. QuickBooks – Best overall🥇
out of 5
Why we chose QuickBooks for best overall accounting software
We chose QuickBooks as the best choice for UK small businesses overall as mentioned above for its intuitive, modern platform, great value plans, regular deals and discounts, and first-class tax planning features. Plus, you can currently use this front-runner completely free for 3 months thanks to their latest deal; this is much longer than their standard free trial (but will only be available for a limited time).
With over 4.5 million businesses around the world relying on its services, this accounting software powerhouse is leading the industry – our expert researchers gave the software a score of 4.7 out of 5 because of its great features and some of the most transparent, affordable pricing around.
All plans come with award-winning support, an intuitive mobile app, over 700 app integrations, and there isn’t a contract in sight.
QuickBooks caters to a broader range of businesses with robust features (as you can learn more about in our full QuickBooks review), but if you’re in a specialised industry you might still want to read on for other alternatives such as FreshBooks, which specialises in invoicing and time tracking, making it ideal for service-based industries.
QuickBooks are one of the few providers to offer a dedicated Self Employed plan, full of all the simple but necessary functions for an individual just starting out.
Small businesses will want to go for Simple Start – which adds income tax estimates, phone support, and pay-enabled invoices. Essentials adds multi-currency support, bill and payment management, and increases the cap to three users.
Plus offers more control over your budget, employee time, stock management, and project productivity, and has a five user limit. And finally, they have Advanced, and up to 25 users can use this corporate plan – and it works well for businesses who need in-depth reporting, user permissions and batch actions.
For the full overview, check out our full guide to QuickBooks’ pricing.
- Compliant with Making Tax Digital for VAT
- An intuitive and easy-to-navigate interface, making it accessible for users with varying levels of accounting knowledge
- Seamlessly integrates with a wide range of third-party apps and financial institutions, streamlining data import and export
- Provides a robust set of financial reporting tools, allowing users to generate detailed financial statements and custom reports
- QuickBooks may become less efficient for larger enterprises with complex accounting needs
- Some users have reported challenges with QuickBooks’ customer support, including long response times and difficulty in reaching knowledgeable representatives
- QuickBooks higher-tiered pricing can be relatively expensive for small businesses or startups on tight budgets.
Did you know?
QuickBooks are also the only accounting software company that enable users to file CIS returns on their lowest tier plan.
2. Xero – Best for user interface and layout
out of 5
Why we chose Xero for best user interface and layout
Accounting should ultimately make your bookkeeping (the actual recording of your cash flow figures and stats, etc) visually appealing, easily readable and accessible. And so for sleek, stylish self-employed accounting software, Xero was our choice. Our experts found that it also has an impressive range of features, including being able to integrate easily with things like merchant account services – making this software perfect for any small-scale sole traders that need to work out VAT or CIS deductions.
Xero’s comprehensive accounting solution offers multi-currency support, while FreshBooks excels in invoicing and time tracking, so both of these accounting software cater to slightly different business priorities.
One feature Xero offers is 24/7 support, although through our research of the software we discovered that it’s unclear what Xero’s promise of “24/7 support” actually means. Its website is full of helpful guides and instructional videos, but things are much less clear-cut when it comes to getting help from an actual human.
Xero has no support number you can call, and no live chat option either, leaving our expert researchers no choice but to give it an underwhelming 2.3 out of 5 in this area. Instead, you send a message, and then wait for them to get back to you. It’s hard to tell how long this takes, and there’s at least one disgruntled customer on the Xero forums complaining about waiting several hours for a response to their query.
£15 per month (plus VAT)
£30 per month (plus VAT)
£42 per month (plus VAT)
£55 per month (plus VAT)
The Basic starter plan offers you some good features, for example you can create invoices and quotes, enter bills, reconcile bank transactions and submit VAT returns to HMRC. However, this plan does also come with some strict usage limits – you can only send 20 invoices and quotes and enter five bills per month. Go above this, and you’ll need to start paying for the Standard plan. It’s a steep increase, especially given that the Standard plan offers no other extra features.
- Compliant with Making Tax Digital for VAT
- Excellent multi-currency support, making it a great choice for businesses with international operations
- A range of powerful reporting tools, including budgeting, forecasting, and cash flow analysis
- A vast marketplace of third-party integrations, allowing businesses to customize and extend its functionality
- Xero’s pricing can be higher than some of its competitors, which may be a drawback for smaller businesses
- While user-friendly, it may take some time for new users to become familiar with its extensive features and settings
- Some users have reported mixed experiences with Xero’s customer support, with occasional delays in response
Did you know?
If you are self-employed in the building or construction trade, then you pay tax or around 20-30% under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS).
3. Clear Books – Best for bookkeeping
out of 5
Why we chose Clear Books for best bookkeeping
Clear Books aim is to provide an easier way for you to manage your business finances. It’s easy-to-use online accounting software is designed for UK-based sole traders, partnerships and small businesses.
One common criticism some customers have of Clear Books, and what our expert researchers found themselves while testing the software – is that it tends to have a steeper learning curve compared to some other accounting software – for example, some on our best self employed accounting software line-up. Some users have reported that it can take some time to get used to the software’s interface and functionality, which is said to be a little more complex than other options on the market. However, once users are more familiar with Clear Books, they often report it to be a robust and effective accounting solution.
Clear Books is budget-friendly but may lack some advanced features, while Xero is robust and scalable, making it a viable alternative for growing businesses at that slightly higher price point.
Clear Book’s range is also still quite limited when it comes to third-party integrations currently, and they do not provide any budgeting or cash-flow projection tools, but as an overall accounting software that can provide you with all the basics you need, its score of 4.2 out of 5 overall from our researchers is well earned.
Clear Book’s pricing
£12 per month (excl. VAT)
£28 per month (excl. VAT)
£34 per month (excl. VAT)
The great thing about Clear Books and even their smallest plan is that it provides some of the most important features for any accounting provider at such an affordable price – not keeping them gate-kept behind any unreasonably higher-priced plans. For instance, they provide an accounts payable functionality on their lowest tier w/ no restrictions, as well as a project accounting functionality. It also includes many other useful accounting features, including enabling users (on all tiers) to track their billable hours and add them to invoices.
One thing that is only available to their higher-priced plan however is their MTD VAT return reporting, which was brought into UK legislation on the 1 April 2022 and now requires all businesses to have their VAT returns documented digitally. This is not a huge issue for smaller businesses however, who don’t really need it officially until they reach a certain level of profit.
- Compliant with Making Tax Digital for VAT
- Clear Books is known for its cost-effectiveness, making it a suitable choice for small businesses and freelancers
- It offers robust VAT management tools, helping businesses handle Value Added Tax requirements efficiently
- Allows businesses to assign different access levels and permissions to users, enhancing security and control
- Compared to some other accounting software options, Clear Books may lack certain advanced features required by larger or more complex businesses
- While it’s generally user-friendly, new users might find it takes some time to get accustomed to the interface and functionality
- Customer support options for Clear Books may not be as comprehensive or readily available as those of larger competitors
Did you know?
When a company purchases goods on credit or takes out a business loan from personal lenders or banks which needs to be paid back in a short period of time, are known as accounts payable.
4. Zoho Books – Best for project tracking
out of 5
Why we chose Zoho Books for best project tracking
Zoho Books has built a reputation of being one of the simpler, user-friendly project management solutions for businesses – with a CRM (customer relationship management) tool, email hosting, and project management solutions — its accounting software doesn’t disappoint.
Our expert researchers found that this accounting software makes it possible for you to control and manage multiple projects, including the ability to assign specific tasks to your employees. This is great for people like construction workers or agencies who bring multiple people together to fulfil one project goal.
Another key feature is that you are able to manage expenses for different projects. With Zoho Books, you can associate all expenses relating to a project at the time of billing, easily, which saves you the time of billing expenses one by one.
There’s even a high-quality free Zoho Books plan that’s perfectly respectable for small teams or single-person setups – though we’d recommend investing just a little to upgrade to one of the good value paid tiers. It was our number one overall pick for the best free accounting software.
Zoho Books integrates well with the Zoho ecosystem and offers expense tracking, but if you’re a business with international aspirations, Xero shines with its multi-currency support and wide array of third-party integrations that may fare better for your business.
Zoho’s free plan is only suitable for very small businesses as it doesn’t offer important features like bank feeds, and only includes email support.
Zoho Standard allows up to three users to track, reconcile, and budget with ease, from your smartphone or computer. You can stay on top of your projects and timesheets, and manage up to 5,000 invoices. Professional is for five users – and adds bills, multi-currency handling, reporting tags, purchase approval, and up to 10 workflow rules to its list of accessible features. For more established businesses there is Premium (for ten users). For the money, you’ll be able to track activity across multiple branches, create custom reports – and get a snazzy custom domain, too.
Adding extra users will set you back £2.50 per user, per month. Auto-scans also need to be purchased in bulk – 50 monthly scans costs £8 per month.
Did you know?
Billable hours are an agreed amount of time spent working on a business project that can be charged to a client if accurately measured and tracked.
- Compliant with Making Tax Digital for VAT
- If you use other Zoho applications, Zoho Books seamlessly integrates with them, providing a unified ecosystem for your business
- Zoho Books offers robust expense tracking features, making it easier to manage and categorise expenses.
- It provides a client portal for customers to view invoices, make payments, and communicate with your business
- Some users may find Zoho Books to have a steeper learning curve, especially if they are new to the Zoho ecosystem
- While it integrates well with other Zoho apps, its compatibility with third-party apps may be more limited compared to some other software
- Customer support quality can vary, and some users have reported issues with response times and problem resolution
5. FreshBooks – Best for ease of use
out of 5
Why we chose FreshBooks as best for ease of use
You want to make sure the accounting software you choose is efficient and compliant – software that has taken into account what you will need, particularly at legally-required phases in your businesses lifecycle, such as tax season.
This also includes ensuring that the software you choose are HMRC recognised to comply with the new MTD laws – as all the ones on this list are – and integrate seamlessly with other softwares your small business might need to increase ease and convenience for you in your day-to-day life.
While testing the software, our experts found that FreshBooks is one of the better options for all of these things – boasting its own range of feature-rich plans and a beginner-friendly interface that makes it easy to get everything you need done, such as attention-grabbing invoices and estimates.
This contrasts slightly to QuickBooks. While QuickBooks focuses on a comprehensive interface with robust features for their first impression to new customers, FreshBooks prioritises a clean and intuitive design, making it easier for users to get started. You can find a full breakdown of the comparisons between QuickBooks vs FreshBooks here.
FreshBooks’ basic plan, Lite, with its unlimited invoices, expense entries, time tracking, and estimates, was one of the most generous we’d come across… however, you’re limited to five billable clients only. Upgrading to Plus adds unlimited proposals, and allows you to automate recurring invoices and late payment reminders. It also extends your client limit to 50. Larger businesses will want to look at a Premium plan which has a capacity of 500 billable clients. If you’re a sole trader, then FreshBooks is one of the cheaper options out there. However, you will also need to remember to keep an eye on any costs lurking below the surface.
Adding additional team members costs £7 per person, per month – so we don’t recommend it for larger teams. FreshBooks’ more advanced payment features will also incur a fee of £15 per month.
You can find a further breakdown of FreshBooks’ pricing here.
- Compliant with Making Tax Digital for VAT
- FreshBooks excels in invoicing and billing, offering features like automated invoicing, late payment reminders, and online payment options
- It includes a built-in time tracking feature, making it an excellent choice for service-based businesses that bill by the hour
- FreshBooks offers a mobile app, allowing users to manage their finances on the go
- It may lack some of the advanced accounting features required by larger or more complex businesses
- FreshBooks may not be the best choice for rapidly growing companies with evolving accounting needs
- While it offers basic customization options, some users may find it lacks the level of customisation available in other software
Did you know?
The Making Tax Digital (MTD) legislation came into effect on April 1 2022. It was a move from the UK government to make it easier for individuals and businesses to get their taxes digitalised, and help the environment by going paper-free.
How does accounting software work?
Accounting software is designed to be user-friendly, with intuitive interfaces and navigation. This makes it accessible to users with varying levels of accounting knowledge.
It simplifies financial tasks, automates calculations, improves reporting accuracy, facilitates integration with other systems, enhances security, and offers user-friendly interfaces, enabling businesses to efficiently manage their finances and make better-informed decisions.
Many software providers offer customer support and training resources to assist users in getting the most out of their accounting software.
You can also rest assured that while managing all these large financial processes, accounting software also offers features like user access controls, data encryption, and regular backups to safeguard sensitive financial data.
What types of businesses is accounting software suitable for?
Accounting software is suitable for a wide range of businesses, regardless of their size or industry. It can be utilised by small startups, freelancers, sole proprietors, mid-sized companies, and large enterprises.
The software’s flexibility allows it to adapt to various business models and structures. It can handle different types of transactions, such as sales, purchases, expenses, payroll, and inventory management. This makes it applicable to businesses involved in retail, e-commerce, professional services, consulting, hospitality, construction, and many other sectors.
Accounting software provides benefits to businesses with different levels of financial expertise. The software’s user-friendly interfaces and customisable features make it accessible to users with varying levels of accounting knowledge, and tailored to meet the specific needs of many different industries.
How do you set up accounting software?
If you’ve never set up accounting software before or are unfamiliar with switching, fear not – the process is more straightforward than you might think. Here’s a quick and easy guide:
- Assess your needs: begin by identifying the specific requirements of your business. Consider factors like the number of transactions you process per month, your invoicing needs, and the level of financial detail you want to track.
- Choose the right software: select accounting software that aligns with your business size, industry, and preferences (which you should be able to ascertain through this guide).
- Data migration: if you’re switching software, you can typically use a file such as a .csv, .xls, or a Google Sheets export to transfer everything you need to the new software: from your essential financial data such as income and expenses, to all your client information.
- Customise your settings: tailor the software settings to suit your business. Within the software, you should be able to set up tax rates, payment terms, and other parameters to align with your financial processes.
- Chart of accounts: if you’re completely new to the process, you’ll want to create a comprehensive “chart of accounts” to keep your finances organised, so that you’ll always be able to update and look back on them when you need to. What this means is a folder of categorised accounts, including asset accounts, equity accounts, liability accounts, and so on.
- Link to your bank if possible: syncing up your business bank accounts and other financial sources with your software enables seamless transaction imports.
- User training: invest time in understanding the software functionalities. Many providers offer tutorials, webinars, or customer support to help you make the most of the features on offer.
- Sign up for regular updates: you may want to sign up to the provider’s newsletter to stay informed about software updates, and access product waitlists, new features, and security enhancements.
Buying guide: How to choose the right small business accounting software
Here’s an in-depth look at the key factors and features small businesses should consider when choosing accounting software.
When assessing accounting software, start by examining the pricing structure. Consider your budget and the scalability of the software as your business grows. Some software offers tiered plans based on the size of your business or the number of users. Take time to understand the cost implications and ensure the chosen plan aligns with your financial goals.
2. Bookkeeping capability
The core function of any accounting software is efficient bookkeeping. Look for software that simplifies the recording and categorisation of transactions. User-friendly interfaces and intuitive navigation can significantly reduce the learning curve, allowing you to focus on running your business rather than grappling with complex accounting procedures.
3. Accounts payable
Managing outgoing payments is crucial for small businesses. The ability to easily track and manage accounts payable ensures that you stay on top of your financial commitments. Look for features that streamline invoice processing, support timely payments, and provide insights into your cash flow.
4. Accounts receivable
Equally important is the management of incoming payments. Opt for accounting software that facilitates smooth invoicing, helps track customer payments, and provides reminders for overdue invoices. Timely receivables management enhances cash flow and contributes to overall financial stability.
5. Financial reporting
Comprehensive financial reporting is a game-changer for small businesses. Choose software that offers a range of customisable reports, including profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Access to real-time insights empowers informed decision-making and strategic financial planning.
6. Advanced features
Advanced features in accounting software like multi-currency support, customisable reporting, and automated workflows take your financial management to the next level. These functionalities go beyond the basics of bookkeeping and offer specialised tools tailored to specific business needs.
If your business deals with international clients or suppliers, having multi-currency support is crucial. It simplifies transactions in different currencies, automatically converting amounts and providing accurate financial records in your base currency.
Advanced reporting enables you to create custom reports for specific metrics or segments, providing deeper insights into different aspects of your finances and aiding in decision-making.
Setting up your own automated workflows can help you streamline tasks like invoice generation, payment reminders, and expense approvals, saving time and reducing errors, allowing you to focus on more strategic aspects of your business.
7. Software integrations
Consider how well the accounting software integrates with other tools and applications your business uses. Seamless integration with banking, payment gateways, and CRM systems can enhance overall efficiency as they’re great for cross-referencing and relaying important information between each other.
8. Mobile capabilities
In an era of on the go business management, mobile capability is non-negotiable. Choose software that offers a user-friendly mobile app, allowing you to access key financial information and perform essential tasks from anywhere. This flexibility is particularly valuable for small business owners who are constantly on the move.
9. Help and support
Last but not least, evaluate the support services provided by the software provider. Customer support channels including live chat, phone support, and comprehensive online resources ensure that you can quickly address any issues or queries that may arise during your usage of the software.
How we test accounting software for UK small businesses
At Startups, it’s important to us that the product recommendations we make to small UK businesses are useful, accurate, and based on thorough product testing.
We tested ten market-leading accounting software platforms across four main categories of investigation and 24 subcategories – all in all, we covered 111 areas of investigation. Next, we gave a ‘relevance weighting’ to the final product category scores – this ensures the products’ final ratings perfectly reflect the specific needs and requirements of Startups readers.
Our main testing categories for accounting software are:
Help and Support: Help and support refer to the assistance and resources available to users when they encounter issues or need guidance while using the accounting software.
Pricing: Pricing refers to the cost associated with using the accounting software. It includes factors such as licensing fees and subscription plans.
Main functions: This represents the key areas of accounting that the software focuses on. This includes functionalities such as financial statement preparation, income and expense tracking, and managing vendor and customer accounts.
Software Functionality: Refers to the software capabilities such as integrations, mobile capability, and confirming any additional features outside of accounting.
The Startups product testing process
QuickBooks currently remains on top as our number one rated accounting software for 2024.
As we approach the turn of the financial year in April 2024, now is the time to set up, or switch, accounting software. To learn more about how the top contenders stack up in terms of cost, features, ease of use and customer support, you can use our handy, 🔍free cost comparison tool, which will give you a personalised quote for your small business in minutes.
- What is the easiest accounting software to use?
FreshBooks is the easiest accounting software to use, thanks to its simple interface and smooth user experience. However, we’d also recommend QuickBooks, which combines user-friendliness, powerful features and transparent, affordable pricing.
- What’s the difference between accounting and bookkeeping?
Think of bookkeeping as the groundwork and accounting as the bigger picture. Bookkeeping focuses on recording financial transactions – it’s like the meticulous note-taking. Accounting goes beyond that, using those records to analyse, interpret, and make big financial decisions.
- Why should I choose accounting software in time for the new financial year?
Getting accounting software before the new financial year starts means you’re all set to track transactions, plan budgets, and sail smoothly through tax time, without having to disrupt your processes or transfer records partway through the financial year. It’s like having a trusty co-pilot navigating your financial journey.
- What software do most accountants use?
The majority of accountants and other small business accounting professionals currently use QuickBooks as their main choice of accounting software.
- Is there free accounting software?
You can get accounting software for free, however, free accounting software tends to impose hefty limits on features and functionality, and is rarely (if ever) a good solution for businesses looking to scale. We don’t recommend it overall, even for those just starting out.
- What does ‘cloud-based’ software mean?
Almost all accounting software is cloud-based these days. What this means is that. instead of downloading and installing software, you’ll access your it through your web browser or mobile app and your data will be stored by your accounting software provider ‘in the cloud’. For a monthly fee, you can easily access your files on multiple devices and keep on top of your finances from anywhere with an internet connection.
- What is Making Tax Digital?
Making Tax Digital (MTD) is like the UK taxman’s initiative to make tax reporting and payment more efficient. The idea is to move away from paper-based systems and shift towards digital record-keeping. It’s all about staying organised and sending digital summaries of your income and expenses to HMRC using compatible accounting software. Making Tax Digital for VAT has been in place since April 2022, while Making Tax Digital for Income Tax comes into effect in April 2026.
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