The best way to select an accounting program is to match your company's needs against popular accounting programs. A typical program will contain modules, or sections of a program, that cover particular accounts, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, invoicing, inventory, payroll, banking and so on. The best software includes modules you can use to track your contacts and your schedule, to maintain a list of tasks and reminders and to perform mail-merges for form letters and labels.
Schnyder offers the following suggestions for choosing a suitable accounting software program:
Purchase an off-the-shelf commercial or shareware package rather than a custom program, because most of the bugs have already been removed. Most off-the-shelf programs also provide a good user's manual, a strong help system and support services.
Get a recommendation from your CPA. Also check with members of local business organizations and other small-business owners.
Look for software that's easy to set up. Some programs ask questions about your business and use the answers to create the first records and to enable features suitable for your business. A program should be easy to customize so you can select features appropriate for your business and remove features you don't need.
Consider software created specifically for your type of business. If you run a pet store, for example, look for a program that provides features for retailers or even specifically for pet stores. Shareware is the best source for business-specific accounting programs. For names and addresses of Web sites from which you can download share-ware programs, see the June 1997 "Computer Ease" column.
Schnyder also recommends asking yourself the following questions:
Does the software provide all the functions you need? For example, if your company maintains an inventory of supplies or goods produced, the program should include an adequate inventory-management system.
What monthly reports and journals does the program produce? Can you customize them for your business? Can you create new reports without too much effort?
As your business grows, can you easily move from your current software to a more advanced version?
You don't want to have to enter data more than once, so your accounting program should be able to share data with other programs on your computer. For example, look for a program that can import data from and export data to your spreadsheet program. Or if you want to insert financial reports into documents such as proposals or business plans, make sure your accounting program can export data to your word processor.
Can the accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, inventory and other modules communicate with each other and easily pass information back and forth?
"Accounting software should be completely integrated," Eason says. "Too many companies purchase an accounting package and try to 'marry it' to another program to make it complete. An accounting program should be true double-entry, interfaced with other modules (such as inventory, purchasing, sales order/invoicing and so on). A business needs to be able to keep track of all the operations it uses to perform its work as the work is being performed. I searched for an accounting package that contained most of the features and capabilities of the accounting systems I used when I worked for large companies."