The sight of a cash-flow statement or long-term budget can drain the blood from the face of even the toughest small-business owner. Managing business finances can get very complicated, especially if you have multiple credit cards, bank accounts and employees to track.
The solutions to the problem can likewise be vexing. Professional accountants are expensive, and it takes serious time and effort -- plus some do-it-yourself fortitude -- to master tricky accounting software such as QuickBooks.
This is the pain that inDinero, a cloud-based financial tracking service, is designed to relieve, as the San Francisco-based company behind it promises to "put your business finances on auto-pilot." We've been testing this tool here in my small digital-content company, and while the product isn't quite as simple as advertised, it does offer a reasonable -- and free -- entry-level service for small business owners.
The service is similar in style and substance to personal-finance tracker Mint.com. Here's what inDinero can and can't do for your small business:
What You Get
An Internet-based fiscal modeling tool, inDinero continuously pulls in information from various credit-card and bank accounts, along with electronic payment services such as PayPal. It generates a comprehensive view of your business finances, served up on attractive, easy-to-read Web browser dashboards. It has budgeting tools based on previous transactions, alert functions, fiscal targeting tools and stats such as cash flow, income and spending.
InDinero gets paid by the number transactions it tracks per month. A free account tracks just 50 every 30 days, which may not cover your business needs. For $29.95 per month, you can track 500 transactions, while $99.95 per month buys unlimited tracking. There are no contracts, and you can upgrade or cancel anytime.
What you might like: The budget tool does a good job of automatically categorizing your expenses, using information it pulls in from your accounts. For more complex tasks, inDinero data can be imported into other programs such as Quickbooks or Excel. You can share access to your account with as many employees as you wish, since there's no limit on the number of users.
The inDinero service gives small shops quick and useful financial intelligence. We set ours up in less than 30 minutes. Even if you're not planning to use the service long-term, a quick financial check-up using a free account might be worth a look.
What you might not like: The feature set of inDinero may be too limited for larger shops because it's an analytical tool, not a full-blown accounting program. It's useful for a basic understanding of a business's overall finances, and its predictive features can help you with broad planning, but detailed spending and budgeting control will need to be done elsewhere.
Related: Aaron Patzer: How I Started Mint.com
The software can import transactions from other services, but it needs user-defined labels to master some company transactions. To get a truly accurate picture, plan on confirming and adding some entries manually or uploading your own spreadsheets. For example, credit-card expenses that were entered in our accounting package needed to be manually compared to the card data imported with inDinero, to ensure that there was no double entry.
Pricing is also an issue. The 50 transactions that come with the free service won't be adequate for many small businesses. At the same time, $30 a month is a lot for a financial analysis tool.
Finally, there are nagging issues of security, as inDinero is yet another service that requires access to your most intimate financial details, passwords and accounts. So you need some sort of auditing system, and at least a basic password upgrade policy, to protect your data.
Bottom line: The inDinero service takes some of the fear out of business finances. Sole proprietors and very small shops may appreciate having an easy-to-learn service to get them up to speed on their books. The program takes lots of information from disparate sources and serves it up in a visually pleasing way.
But even a moderately-sized business may outgrow inDinero quickly. Most firms have access to many of the functions inDinero provides through tools they already use. And for an "automatic" service, the tool took a surprising amount of babysitting to work properly.