Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Getting accounting right

Like a lot of people running small businesses or who are self employed, I've always struggled with accounting software. Frankly it's too complicated. By far. It's designed for accountants, not human beings.

When I first set up my own business I did look at the accounting software on offer, but it had two big problems. Not only would I have to get a finance degree to understand it, frankly it was from the dark ages. I have always provided invoices electronically, first to computing magazines, who not surprisingly were early adopters, and more recently to pretty well everyone. Yet the accounting packages I looked at insisted on working on paper. Groan.

So I wrote my own system in Microsoft's Access database. It did the job, and was very much tailored to my business, but it got creaky over the years, not helped by the fact that I never successfully managed to update it for more recent versions of Access, so I had to keep a copy of a circa 1997 version around to make my accounts work.

Somewhat over a year ago I decided enough was enough and hoped against hope that accounting software had moved on. The good news was all the packages now handled electronic invoices... but all the computer-based packages still required membership of the Freemasons and a certificate in accounting terminology to be able to use them. To make matters worse, I knew I was going to cut my main computer over to a Mac fairly soon, and not all the packages ran on that.

My saviour, bizarrely, was one of the crustiest of the old guard, Sage. I did take a look at their PC-based software, but it is still a mega dinosaur. However they had just brought out Sage One, which is a web-based package, and I confess I love it. I've been using it about 18 months. It does all I need, but in an accessible way (if your accounts are even simpler than mine, they have a really basic 'cashbook' version too). I can access it wherever I am - and my accountant can dig into it direct and furkle around with all those accountanty things they do with one trouser leg rolled up. It even does VAT returns if you suffer those.

Like anything doing a biggish job it takes a little while to get into, but I am now on top of my accounts in a way I never was before and it takes very little time. I pay £10+VAT a month for it, but the accountant assures me that their bill for doing my annual return will drop by more than £120 as a result of them having access to it - so it pays for itself.

It's not perfect. There could be a much wider range of reports, for instance, and as yet the VAT side needs a bit of manual assistance of you do anything complicated like buy something from outside the UK. But it really has made doing the accounts, dare I say it, almost fun. Now that is worrying.

You can find out more about Sage One at this website - and there's a month's free trial, which is what I did, to see if it works for you...


  1. Thanks for sharing this! This would really be helpful for small businesses that don’t have the resources to get a full-time accountant at their disposal. It looks easy enough to understand, once you’ve tinkered with it for a while. The fact that it’s web-based means that I can use it across platforms, so I can access it through the office PC, or even on my Tablet when I am at home.

    Sansone Conti

  2. Indeed - I quite often access it from my iPad.