When you run your own business, there comes the moment where you have to decide who’s going to do the bookkeeping. There’s no choice about whether or not it needs to be done, only who is going to get it done.
For small shops and many freelancers, the choice they make is often to do it themselves. When keeping costs at a minimum is a necessity, hiring out even an inexpensive bookkeeper or accountant is simply often not an option. The good news is that with the rise in online banking, there are plenty of web-based options for business owners to choose from.
This is a need that hits close to home for me. With running a business with a partner, as well as my own business on the side and personal finances, it seems as if keeping everything straight has to be an enormous headache.
It doesn’t have to be this way — especially if you choose the right tools. And so, over the past months, I’ve been going through the exercise of identifying my own needs and exploring the various web applications in this genre. And the following list of tools should be an aid to others searching for the same.
Whether you simply want to get on top of your personal finances, account for your business expenses, or do a mixture of both, the following list should include an option that will work for you.
Services that are focused on accounting and the ‘official’ tracking of expenditures are aimed at the business owner.
With support to send invoices, calculate taxes, and import data from multiple bank accounts, LessAccounting is a business app. It’s there to make accounting simpler and less of a pain.
It also integrates nicely with other web apps your business could use, such as Highrise, Basecamp, PayPal and Shopify. If you’re looking for a solution for your business, this is a solid — and popular — option.
Outright is a tool focused on small businesses that promises more simplicity than Quickbooks and similar tools.
Track your income and expenses, calculate your tax payments and view reports of the state of your cash flow all within Outright’s web interface. It also offers integration with Freshbooks (invoices) and Shoeboxed (expense receipts), giving the ability to tie your various business needs into one tool.
Keep it Personal
On the opposite side of things, Mint is focused on the family and keeping track of your personal money. It’s a nice mix of easy to use features and solid financial advice (which is obviously a need in our culture of indebted borrowers).
It has some other great features aside from the usual aggregation of your various accounts. It has helpful alerts that let you know when your balances are low, you have overdue bills, unusual account activity or when you financial institution charged you a fee.
It’s a well designed tool aimed at the end user.
Similar to Mint, moneyStrands is aimed at helping you get a better picture of where your money is going. From there, solid financial advice can help you make better decisions for the future.
It’s feature set is similar to Mint, but it offers one difference: rather than bulk import your transactions from various accounts, moneyStrands allows you to enter them one at a time. This helpful for those special circumstances where you need more control.
Again, Buxfer is a personal finance tool with much in common with Mint and moneyStrands. There are two different features offered here though: 1) first is the ability to use existing logins or an openID and 2) the ability to use Google Gears for those who don’t feel comfortable with using a web application to access their sensitive financial information.
Overall, it’s another solid option for managing your personal income.
Another tool for the family or personal use, Wesabe is free and features a community aspect. The idea with this app is to learn from others, with review generated by other users. Aside from that, the feature set is not all that different from the tools above.
Rudder is definitely a different approach. It appears to be designed to manage everything from within your inbox and via widgets. Get automated bill reminders and account balances sent as emails to your inbox. Keep an eye on your remaining funds via the Rudder widget. And of course, there is still the web interface to do the rest.
This tool is a little on the simplistic side, but is still a good option for personal finances. But I wonder how many people want their financial details coming into their inbox. An interesting choice.
Geezeo is another tool aimed at the consumer or family. It offers similar functionality to Wesabe, Mint and Buxfer. And with the ability to tag your categories, calculate your net worth and manage your cash flow, it’s another good option for people looking to get a better handle on their personal finances.
The last entry in our personal list is one that recently came to my attention. It takes a different approach by incorporating all aspects of your financial life into a calendar view.
PocketSmith works like any web-based calendar, except the events are financial. Put in your scheduled salary, bill payments, rent, and grocery bills; you can also make them repeat weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
That sounds like an interesting approach — and you can view this financial calendar with your current calendar software like Outlook or iCal. Pocketsmith also focuses on budgeting and goal tracking.
Lastly, there are several apps that are aimed more at business or personal finances, but could easily be used for either. Their configurability is part of their attraction.
We’ve covered Pulse in this space, and I’m a big fan. Simple enough to be attractive, Pulse can also expand to meet more extensive needs. And while this app was created for businesses, it can easily be configured to track your personal expenses and incomes.
What it does not include is what a lot of financial apps offer these days — synchronization with your various accounts.
On the other hand, Green Sherpa will sync with your accounts. And even though it’s targeted at the personal market, you could easily use it to monitor the state of your cash for your business. With goal tracking, account synchronization and cash flow projections (similar to Pulse), this app could fit the needs of a simple business.
At this point, Xero is plainly targeted towards businesses. But a recent announcement stating that they plan to launch a Xero Personal service early 2010 landed them on the configurable portion of my list.
Xero is a robust looking accounting service, aimed to be exactly that. Account synchronization, invoicing, accounts payable and expense claims are just some of the features this app provides. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not extremely expensive.
At the decent monthly payments, this is a tool that mid-size companies with more complicated accounting needs could put to good use.
Whatever your financial needs, one of the tools above should fit your business or personal life. The biggest problem with finances is not knowing — make sure you are in control of every dollar (or euro, yen or peso) that goes through your account.