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Choose your accountant before you pick your software

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Entrepreneurs always are asking about accounting packages or software.

The good news is – borrowing a catchphrase from the ’80s – “there are no bad dogs.”

Accounting can be done by just using your phone. Along with convenient mobility, the new software is simpler, loaded with features and relatively cheap or even free.

So why are thousands of businesses trapped into using spiral notebooks, manila envelopes or bank statements as their accounting records?

The second part of the late Barbara Woodhouse’s quote on dog training hits the nail on the head: “There are no bad dogs, just inexperienced trainers.”

Most entrepreneurs have experience in crucial aspects of their new ventures, whether it’s cutting hair or chopping wood. But choosing the right accounting product is a little daunting without guidance from an experienced professional.

So, choose your accountant before you choose your software.

SIZE WILL BE A FACTOR

Rosemary Lamaestra, a Certified Public Accountant and manager at RLB Accountants PC, a firm with several locations in the Greater Lehigh Valley, offers advice on a couple of common questions for business owners.

First, how big must your business be to need software, and, secondly, what’s the initial step to identifying the right solution?

If your business has 10 transactions, billings or payments per month, consider using an accounting package. At minimum, you’ll need spreadsheets to track even that minimal number of transactions, so with all of the good options on the market, why waste time building a record-keeping Frankenstein?

A significant feature, too, of most packages is an ability to integrate your records with your bank, billing sources, vendors, payroll and tax forms. That’s a huge advantage for keeping track of your finances that can’t be matched by paper or electronic spreadsheets.

LET THE PRO HELP YOU CHOOSE

Lamaestra’s advice on the first software selection step: “Choose the accountant, then the software.”

Why? Because the accountant can help you navigate the options, cost and be instrumental in the setup.

The biggest risk digitizing your accounting with any package, though, is to set it up incorrectly. Setting up your books is not neurosurgery, but it’s helpful to have some guidance about what is an asset or liability, for example, since setup mistakes are like zombies, haunting your books forever.

The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants has a useful link on its website to help you choose an accountant.

PICKING THE SOFTWARE

Making the right choice of software package, like the right accountant, depends upon business needs.

If you have inventory, such as a store or manufacturer, you fall into a category of SMB or small-to-medium business packages. Sage, QuickBooks, AccountEdge Pro, Xero or Zoho appeal to these business owners.

If you don’t track inventory, the field opens up to free cloud services such as Wave. Wave links into banks and payment services and offers a variety of simple mobile apps, too, including the ability to link your expenses to receipt photos using your phone.

Payroll and card processing fees are extra with Wave, but for a freelancer or small entrepreneur, Wave is a pretty good deal.

SIMPLER THE INTERFACE, THE BETTER

The standard for many small businesses is QuickBooks. It is a little pricier for all the features than some competitors, and maybe a little complex for novices, but you can get started for $10 a month or less.

QuickBooks integrates with a number of e-commerce sites and financial institutions and, of course, companion tax services such as Turbo Tax, giving it the ability to grow with your business.

Finally, Lamaestra stressed ease of use when selecting a package. After setup, you have to commit to maintenance, so the simpler or more enticing the interface, the better.

Like diet and exercise, routine accounting gets easier over time but it helps to start with something you can maintain with minimal stress.

CLOUD SECURITY

Almost all the new software can be delivered in the cloud. In other words, your data are on someone else’s server.

Spooky, right?

Some SMB packages such as QuickBooks have desktop versions, and all cloud versions have the ability to download transactions.

But, there are advantages to the cloud over the desktop, beyond mobility. Security is one of them.

All of these cloud services use sophisticated encryption, intrusion detection and backup capabilities. They also don’t open emails from penurious princes that are loaded with viruses or leave passwords on sticky notes.

REGULAR BACKUP REQUIRED

But cloud or not, periodic backup of your data into an offline storage device (e.g., thumb drive, disc) is recommended at least monthly.

Lamaestra even has clients send her the backups.

Like a financial personal trainer, she checks them to see how the business is going and let’s owners know if they are on the right track.

Hugh Kelly has held a variety of senior executive positions for publicly held and privately owned companies in financial services, direct marketing and the not-for-profit consulting fields. Formerly a Certified Public Accountant, he is a certified mentor for Lehigh Valley SCORE and can be reached at hughk72@gmail.com. For more information or free help in building and reviewing a break-even strategy, contact Lehigh Valley SCORE (www.lehighvalley.score.org).

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