Small Business Accounting Software Woes

I'm so disappointed with the online accounting software options available to me; and I've spent far far too much time in the past couple of days looking for an accounting solution for my new business. The current state of affairs makes me wonder if just using a spreadsheet might be as easy.

I am posting my experiences here for two reasons.
  1. To inform others who might have similar needs, and
  2. To inform the hopefully smart people at these companies, so maybe they will improve their products.
Let me start with a brief summary of my needs:

  • Track time (esp. billable hours)
  • Tracked time should include date, and project/client, and some description of work performed.
  • Multiple currency support. I have international clients that I need to bill in their preferred currency.
  • Invoicing and payment tracking for above.
  • Payroll -- preferably integrated with someone like Gusto.
  • Support for two employees with plans to grow. 
  • Double-entry accounting (including bank reconciliation) for my accountant.
  • Affordable -- I'm a small business owner.
That's it. Nothing super difficult, right?  You'd think there would be dozens of contenders who could help me.

You'd be wrong.

Here's what I looked at, and their deficiencies:


I really like most of what Freshbooks has to offer, and this was my starting point. Super easy to use, an integration with Gusto, and their invoicing solution is super elegant. Unfortunately, their lack of reconciliation and double-entry accounting (or any of the other "real" accounting stuff) disqualifies them. Adding to the problem, I already use them for my personal consulting business (where I've been a happy user), and they don't have support for multiple business on their "Classic Edition".

Then there is the whole confusion between "New Freshbooks" and "Classic Freshbooks".

This is a company that states they intend to continue to keep two separate software stacks, with about 90% functionality overlap, running ~forever. Why? Because they have some features (and some integrations) that they lack in the new one. (I've been informed that my use patterns indicate that I should stay on the "Classic" edition forever because of my heavy use of Time Tracking.) Some of us with real world software engineering experience know how costly and hateful it is to have multiple simultaneous versions of a product in production. Freshbook's approach here, with no plans to merge the functionality, is about the most boneheaded decision I've seen engineering management take.

Being stuck on the "Classic Edition" makes me feel like a loser, but really it's a sign that their own product is the loser.  I have to believe at some point one product or the other is going to be a dead end.

Quickbooks Online

This is a product that is well recommended, and probably one of the most widely used. It has so much capability. It also lacks the "hacked together by a bunch of different engineering teams that didn't talk to each other" feeling that their desktop product has. (Yes, I have experience with Quickbooks Pro, too. Sad to say.)  It's probably a good thing I can't look at their code behind the curtain.

The biggest, maybe even only, failing they have for my use case is their inability to bill against clients that are in a different currency. Wait, they are multicurrency capable, right?  Uh, no they aren't. If I can't record my billable hours against a client in another country in their preferred currency, then whatever you think your "multicurrency" support is doesn't count. I have international clients that demand billing in their local currency.  So this is a non-starter for me. This feature has been asked for before from them, and they have ignored it. Major, and honestly unexpected, fail.

Cost wise they aren't the cheapest, but this one feature absence is a show stopper for me, otherwise I'd probably have settled here.


Xero is another of the main companies, and in Gartner's magic quadrant as their leader in the sector. I didn't actually try them out -- though I did research. Their shortcomings for me were: price (multi-currency support requires me to pay $70 / month, which is about 2x all the others), and lack of time tracking. Sure, I can add an integration from some other company like Tsheets, for another $20 / month. But now this solution is like 3x the cost of everyone else.

One feature that Xero includes for that $70 is payroll processing -- but only for a handful of states (California is one), and I can't seem to find any reviews for folks who have used them.   If I want to use an outside company with a longer track record and broader coverage across states, like SurePayroll or Gusto or ADP, I will wind up paying double.

If Xero would change their menu somewhat (make it ala carte), we'd be able to work together. Let me integrate with Gusto, and not have to pay exorbitant fees for multi-currency support. Add time tracking and it would be even better.

Arguably I could stop being such a penny pincher, and just go with Xero + Tsheets or somesuch. Outside of the crazy expensive options for companies that can afford a full time accountant (Sage, NetSuite, looking at you!), this was the most expensive option.  I'd also have to use Xero's payroll service, and I'm not sure


At first blush, ZipBooks looked like a great option. On paper they have everything I need -- they even partnered with Gusto, and claim to have multicurrency support.  Amazingly, they are even freeOf course if you elect to use some of their add-ons, you pay a modest fee, but from a pure price perspective, this looks like the cheapest.

Unfortunately, as I played with their system, I found a few major issues. Their multi-currency support is a bit of an inconvenient joke. They don't let you set a per-client currency. Instead you change the currency for the entire account, then generate invoices in that currency (or accept payments), then have to switch back to the home currency. This is account wide, so you better not have more than one person access the account at a time. The whole setup feels really hinky, and to be honest I just don't trust it.

Second, their bank integration is (as of today) broken -- meaning the website gives me conflict errors before I even can select a bank (I wanted to see if my business bank -- a regional smaller bank -- is on their list). So, not very reliable.

Finally, their support is nearly non-existent. I sent several questions to them through their on-line support channel, and got back a message "ZipBooks usually responds in a day". A day. Other companies I looked at took maybe 10-20 minutes to respond -- I still have not received a response from ZipBooks.

I need a service that supports real multicurrency invoicing, is reliable, and with reachable support. Three strikes for ZipBooks.  Damn, I really wanted to like these guys.


Kashoo was well reviewed, but I had some problems with them. First their only payroll integration is with SurePayroll. I hate being locked in, although I could probably overlook this. Second, they don't have any time tracking support. Instead they partner with Freshbooks, but only the "Classic Edition" (and apparently no plans to support the "New Freshbooks".)  A red flag.

And, that brings in the Freshbooks liability (only one company, so I can't have both my old consulting business and this new one on the same iOS device for example), and I'd have to pay for Freshbooks service too.

On the plus side, the Kashoo tech support (or pre-sales support?) was quite responsive.  I don't think they are far off the mark.

Wave Accounting 

Wave is another free option, but they offer payroll (although full service only in five states) as an add-on.  (They also make money on payment processing, if you use that.)  Unfortunately, they lacked support for integrations, time tracking, or multi-currency support.  I'd like to say close but no cigar, but really in this case, it's just "no cigar".  (I guess you get what you pay for...)

Zoho Books

Zoho Books is another strong option, well regarded.  So far, it seems to have everything I need except any kind of payroll support.  I'd really love it if they would integrate with Gusto.  I was afraid that I would need to set up with Zoho Project and pay another service fee, but it looks -- at least so far from my trial, like this won't be necessary.

So my feature request is for integration with Gusto.  In the meantime, I'll probably just handle payroll expenses by manually copying the data from Gusto.


So many, so close, and yet nothing actually hits the mark.   (These aren't all the options I looked at, but they are the main contenders.  Some weren't offered in the US, or were too expensive, or self-hosted.  For now I'm going to try Zoho.  I will try to update this in a few months when I have more experience.

Updates: (As of Nov. 30, 2017) 

  1. Zoho has since introduced Zoho Payroll, and they contacted me about it.  It's only available for California at this time, and has some restrictions.  I personally don't want to be an early adopter for my payroll processing service, so I'm going to stick with Gusto for now.   Zoho's representative did tell me that they welcome other payroll processing companies to develop integrations for Zoho Books.   I hope Gusto will take notice.
  2. ZipBooks also contacted me.  They apologized for the delays in getting back to me -- apparently their staff left early for Thanksgiving weekend.  They indicated that they have fixed whatever bug caused me to be unable to link my bank account.  Their COO also contacted me, and we had a long phone call, mostly to discuss my thoughts and needs around multi-currency support.  I'm not quite ready to switch to them, but I'd keep a close eye on them.  They do need to work to improve their initial customer service experience, in my opinion.
  3. It looks like my own multi-currency needs may be vanishing, as my primary external customer has agreed to be billed in USD and to pay me in USD.  That said, I want to keep the option open for the future, as I may have other international customers in the future.
  4. None of the other vendors reached out to me, even though I linked to them on Twitter.  The lack of response itself is "significant" in terms of customer service, IMO. 


hyph3n said…
Check out FreeAgent ;-)

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