In a galaxy far-far away (the late 1970s to be exact), there were only a few choices of accounting programs available to small and midsized business (SMB) owners. Besides the shoebox, there was always the reliable One-Write System. Of course, with One-Write you needed several different systems (cash disbursements, cash receipts, payroll disbursements, etc.) where you totaled and transferred everything to the reliable 3-column notebook that acted as your general ledger. If you did your math correctly, you would then be able to produce an income statement and a balance sheet…of course, that’s AFTER you made sure your subsidiary ledgers tied out.

With the dawn of a new decade came the IBM-PC and programs like Peachtree Accounting and spreadsheet software like Visicalc, followed by Lotus 1-2-3 a few years later. Oh, the rejoicing in accounting departments everywhere!

And then, just as we were becoming comfortable…a little operating system changed our world upside down in the early 1990s. As we migrated to Windows and gave up our monochrome monitors, we discovered the mouse was a very good thing indeed. And though some may have held out for a while, most made the leap to Excel and said goodbye to Lotus in the decade as well.

Although QuickBooks entered the market in the 1990s, it really didn’t become the dominant system it is today in the SMB market until early 2000. During these two decades, we also saw other players like Great Plains, MAS-90, Platinum, Solomon, and others, enter the space as well. As our choices in software increased, along came acquisitions.  Microsoft swallowed up Great Plains and a few others and their product line became Microsoft Dynamic GP, while Sage picked up Peachtree and MAS-90.

Recommendations for New Businesses

For businesses just starting out, there are a multitude of choices. However, the two I would recommend are QuickBooks and Peachtree. A few things to keep in mind before you make the purchase: first up, decide what operating system on which you’ll host the product. QuickBooks has a MAC version, while Peachtree does not. Additionally, if I’m not mistaken, Peachtree also doesn’t have an online version of its program. My own preference is QuickBooks Premier because, while you may not initially use every feature in the beginning, everything is already there as you grow your business. I also think that QuickBooks is much easier to use than Peachtree and business owners will find plenty of job candidates that have used the program.

There will come a time when you will have to decide whether to upgrade or change to a different software program. Both Peachtree and QuickBooks offer an enterprise edition. That’s as far as QuickBooks can take you.  If you need a robust inventory module, then Peachtree is a better fit.  The Sage family of products offers even more options, including transitioning to MAS-90, adding a CRM module, etc. If, on the other hand, you are absolutely certain you want a SaaS version of accounting, then I have two other recommendations for you.

SaaS Accounting Systems

Intacct and NetSuite are the two dominant players in this space. As a side note…for businesses that are currently using Salesforce as their CRM, then hands down, I would go with Intacct. Axcient went live with Intacct in January of last year and integrated Salesforce a few months later. The customization features in Intacct and Salesforce continue to offer additional tools to operate and grow your business. Another thing to keep in mind as you make your selection is how the service is hosted. A high-security data center is critical along with redundancy. In the time we have used Intacct we have never had our service go down or had an issue that customer support wasn’t able to handle promptly.  Having the best of both, Salesforce for CRM and Intacct for accounting, was the best choice for us.

For those out there not tied to Salesforce or a particular accounting system, then NetSuite is a nice alternative. NetSuite has its own CRM that flows right into their accounting program. I have used NetSuite a long time ago without their CRM module, so I really can’t comment on how well they work together. However, I have attended webinars, and talked to existing customers and employees to know that it wasn’t the system for us.

I have to insert a few words here about Great Plains, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2000. Up until that time I considered it to be one of the best accounting programs out there.  Although I have not used it since the acquisition, I have friends who are very happy with how well the product has progressed over time under the Microsoft Dynamics GP name.  So, for those that want a system on servers in-house that has the power of Microsoft behind it, this system should be considered too. I believe this product offering is targeted toward medium-sized businesses.

Two other items you should keep in mind before making a decision on what accounting software to purchase or subscribe to is to — make sure you get a product demonstration, and know what customer support packages are offered. Most of the programs I have listed here will offer customer references, and you would be wise to call them. All of these products will do a fine job of presenting financials to help a business owner make the decisions needed to grow their business.

View all of Kelly Dugan’s blogs for more accounting tips, like “Choosing a Payroll Service.”

kdugan