Sage One - I've now been using it a couple of years, so thought it was a good point to revisit it and weigh up the pros and cons as a battle-hardened user. If you're wondering what accounting software has to do with the life of a science writer, one of the joys of being a freelance is you have keep your accounts in order to minimise payments to expensive professionals. There's no such thing as a free accountant.
This is online accounting software that keeps your books in order, does VAT invoices and other such goodies (in fact it even produces your VAT return and can submit it directly to HMRandC). If your accountant is into such things, they can get access to your accounts with extra accountant-flavour handles and help prepare you accounts more easily. My accountant has reduced my annual big bill for doing the year end accounts by around twice the £120+VAT a year I pay for using Sage.
Obviously that payment is the biggest downside. There are also one or two interface aspects that could be handled better. When you go into the site, which I probably do twice a day on average, you go to a screen where you can choose 'Accounts' or 'Collaborate'. I have never chosen 'Collaborate' so waste a few seconds every time clicking through to the obvious destination. Another oddity is that Sage's own invoices are accessed via the Settings menu, and don't automatically feed through to your accounts: you have to add them manually. (I've moaned about this and they've promised to look into it.)
But set against that, it is very easy to do all the basics like enter sales and purchases, enter payments, reconcile against bank accounts and so on. I check my business bank account every morning and simply add in any new transactions, so my accounts always match the bank figures. At the end of the month I do a formal reconcile, ticking off all the transactions against the bank statement and filing the associated paperwork. This is quick and easy. The result is, when I come to my quarterly VAT return literally all I do is a couple of clicks and my VAT return is done.
I wouldn't go so far as to say this makes accounting fun, though if you enjoy a good completed list of tick boxes, there is a type of pleasure in reconciliation. But it certainly makes this essential relatively painless. And because it's a web-based system, I can access it from any computer (or even my iPad) wherever I am.
We're all good at moaning about products that let us down, but I've genuinely been really pleased with Sage One. It's hugely more friendly and approachable than heavy duty accounts software, like the full blown Sage. If you have to do accounts, they have a free trial, so I'd recommend taking a look. (I use the basic Accounts, rather than Accounts Extra, which is for more complex businesses. They also have Payroll etc, but I've never tried that, so can't comment on how good it is.)