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Online Accounting and Bookkeeping Solutions Reviewed

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Most owner-managed businesses in the UK are concerned about keeping costs to a minimum, so shelling out hundreds or even thousands of pounds for bookkeeping or accountancy software that runs on a PC or Mac is not always desirable.

This is especially true, as any owner of Sage is aware, when there are constant updates and patches to download and install.

Over the last eighteen months or so, a number of online bookkeeping and accountancy services have come on the market, aimed mainly at the UK SME market and we've tried out a number of such solutions.

The Basics :

Essentially, all these services share some common features - the most important of which is all run online and can be accessed via your web browser. All are accessed securely using SSL, so all your data should be secure.

Because all the software runs on remote servers, patches, updates, additional features and so on are all automatically installed. Additionally, because the providers of such services have extremely high end servers and security systems, it is their responsibility to ensure that backups are made regularly, that the server is hacker proof and has good uptime and runs smoothly.

It is the removal of these chores that makes online bookkeeping services an attractive proposition to UK businesses.

Choosing The Right Service :

There are probably six or seven established online accountancy and bookkeeping services on the market right now: Kashflow and Marginz (aimed at the small business and sole trader market), WinWeb and Liberty Accountants (focused on the SME market), Twinfield and Sage's own Online 50 solution.

Obviously, many of the features offered by these services are similar, but here's my personal guide to selecting the right online bookkeeping or accountancy service for your company.

1) Is There A Free Trial

In order to find out whether the particular package offers the reports and functionality you need, it is essential to try before you buy. WinWeb and Kashflow both offer 60 day free trials, so you can log in and see what is - and more importantly - what isn't available to you.

I would suggest that you create a checklist of essential features before signing up - that way you can be sure the service offered covers all the needs of your business.

You should also check whether there are restrictions on the reports themselves - limits to date ranges, for example.

2) Are You Going To Be Able To Use The Data In The Future

The service you choose must allow you to export records and data in a format that can be used with more traditional desktop accountancy packages, thereby allowing you to swap providers in the future.

Further, you must be able provide the necessary reports to your accountants in a useable format. Excel or CSV export options are a must for all reports.

3) What Is The Service Level Agreement

With any web based service, the critical thing is uptime. You must be able to rely on the service to be live 24/7 and there must be a minimum level of acceptable uptime agreed in the contract. Don't be fooled by guarantees like '99% uptime guaranteed' - that is not sufficient for a business critical application.

4) How Established Are These Companies

Bookkeeping software as an online service is a relatively new concept, so many of these company are not well established. The obvious exception is Sage, who offer the SME favourite Sage Line 50 as an online service.

The more established small business solutions, like WinWeb and Kashflow have been running 3 years or more, but some of the other alternatives have been in existence only 2 years or so.

Obviously, you should choose a service that isn't likely to go out of business any time soon.

5) Testimonials from Other Users

Check the on-site testimonials by all means, but ask to speak directly to current users of the service. If, as some do, the service offers a forum, then this is another good way to find out what users really think of the service. Kashflow, for example, has a forum at UKSmallBusinessForums.co.uk.

6) Support Is Critical - Test It Out

When you start your free trial, test out the support. Look for both email and telephone support as well as online knowledgebases and user guides. With an online service, it is far from unreasonable to expect fast round the clock support. So, test it out. If you get good, accurate, useful answers quickly, then so much the better.

For businesses of all sizes, an online bookkeeping solution is one well worth looking into but it is very much something that will suit some companies (contractors working through limited companies, for example) more than others (large charities, for instance).

As with all things of this nature, it is worth testing out at least a couple of these services to get a feel for how they might benefit your business.


About the Author

Jim Haines works for Just Accountants, where UK businesses can compare bookkeepers and accountancy services. Companies can get quotes from a number of local accountants.


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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-03-24 22:51:25 in Business Articles

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