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a Run Through the Jungle of Software Development and Unrelated Sagas

What I Want From Accounting Software

with 15 comments

Regular readers (both of you: Hi Mum!) will know I have already ranted about this before, and again about the basket-case that is QuickBooks, weaved by two packs (wipe that smile of your smug dial MYOB) of narrow-minded window-licking codetards and email-pushing middle-managers at great expense to both themselves and us to prop up a regime of beancounting droids who couldn’t get a date at tax-time. I hope that was diplomatic enough. If you’re one of that crowd well sorry but you knew what you were getting yourselves into. Shut up.

Well, it’s time for another rant because it’s tax time. I’ll try to make this one somewhat more constructive.

There is hope on the horizon in the form of Software As A Service (SAAS) providers like Saasu, Xero and a Clarity. There are surely others worthy of consideration. If you know of one you like (or at least don’t despise) then please add your thoughts via a comment.

My initial thoughts on these are that the developers of all 3 are very keen on hearing feedback and engaging with their users. This alone puts them leagues ahead of QuickBooks & MYOB. Leagues. Miles. Light years. You get the picture.

  • Saasu – If you’re familiar with QB/MYOB then the Saasu interface won’t confuse you. It’s more straightforward to use than the :evil: Ones. For me it is a bit too much like them to warrant the leap of faith. Not yet, at least. The dashboard in the demo just shows news items – it should show what I would expect to see if I set my own company up and ran it there. I can see where to manage it and add stuff but you can’t edit the demo. You can in Xero. I haven’t bothered setting up my own accounts in there (why would I if I was just testing it?) but the empty dashboard for my company file shows more promise. I still don’t know what would be clickable there though.
  • Xero – is the pretty one. It has a really nice interface and User eXperience (UX). It does automatic bank statement imports for a lot of NZ banks and some Australian banks which is full of WIN for me because I’m lazy and disorganised, just like you. The UX is my favourite of these by quite a margin. The dashboard is nice (ooh, graphs) and you can click through items in the Aged Receivables report to drill down to details, something I couldn’t do in the Saasu demo without going into edit mode. I just wanted to look at it! I could in Clarity too. Xero’s documentation is well done and comprehensive too.
  • Clarity – is similar to Saasu. Without spending a mega-hours poking around I think Saasu may be more a little more evolved in some places but less in others. For example-instance, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me how to add an item to an invoice in the demo in Clarity. Perhaps the demo needs a few items in it. I had to manually type in the description, price etc each time. If that’s the way it works then I’d get bored with it rather quickly. I suspect that ultimately you can add items to an invoice but I didn’t figure it out. You can edit the demo in Clarity too.

:( None of them warned me when I was navigating away from an incomplete invoice (in the demo). That sucks. The reason I dropped MYOB like a hot potato is because it was (and apparently still is – let me know) all-too easy to lose all your work on an invoice by simply hitting the escape key too many times. There was (is?) no warning dialogue about losing your unsaved work. Suckage. :(

:) All of them allow you to access your accounts from anywhere in the internet, naturally. Xero has an iPhone version which I must says is bloody noice. That might have something to do with my having just crossed to the Dark Side. Here’s a video of Xero on the iPhone in action, complete with now-fashionable (thanks to The Flight of the Conchords) Kiwi narration. The mobile site should work on most mobile devices. ANZ Australia bank’s site worked on my old Nokia. I’m sure the Commonwealth Bank etc should too.

:( None of them directly do timesheet invoices or project tracking. I’m sure I am not the only person who bills their time by the hour. All of them advise you to create an item that represents an hour of work. Saasu has timesheets but they don’t allow for meal breaks. Xero interfaces with WorkflowMax (so does Saasu) but I’d like to keep both the portals and the costs (an extra $25/month) contained. Bonus – WorkflowMax too have an iPhone interface.

:cry: Depreciation is a pain in the bum. Xero wins here, hands-down. The others need you to set up accounts, workarounds and all that rot. bah. Actually, I don’t think Clarity even has an asset register.

:( None of the 3 have particularly customisable invoice layouts. My timesheet invoices include a field at the top for an overall project name (which is tracked) and each lines has fields for Date, Project-Item-Name (which doesn’t get printed), Project-Name (also doesn’t get printed), Description of the work, Start time, Finish time, Break duration (lunch), sub-total hours for the day, hourly rate, Tax type (not printed), line total & GST. Then there are totals at the bottom for before GST, the GST amounts and the total to pay. I suggest they take a look at the level to which you can customise QuickBooks invoices and save different layouts. Then forget what you saw because the way you customise invoices in QuickBooks 2007/08 sucks. You can do better. C’mon , AJAX draggy-droppy is all the rage – show me the money! Also, I want to change fonts here and there. Poor ol’ Comic Sans doesn’t get out much these days

:) All three of them have an API so they are extensible. The API is free, unlike the :evil: Others… unless that changed recently. Like I could be bothered checking.

:) Xero have a UserVoice forum for their API and also take suggestions via a pop-up within their site. Clarity also has a UserVoice forum. Saasu take feedback via support tickets on their site. I’m a big fan of UserVoice and I’d like to see more of it, or at least of its ilk. I like seeing feedback in a public(more-or-less) forum where you can see what’s going on. For one, it saves you from a flood of duplicate requests. I think it also builds communities. My love of UserVoice is a another topic altogether that I probably won’t get around to blogging about. Hell, I’m only writing this because I hate QuickBooks and this is far more interesting than actually doing my tax.

:) oh, look – another reason to like Xero. Also  Xero’s blog is a lot more active than Saasu’s. Clarity’s blog is definitively worth a read too.

:? I don’t care about payrolls (because employing someone these days is too damn hard) but Xero (via an integrated 3rd party) & Saasu handle them.

:?: Halp! I have already mentioned Xero’s documentation. It is dead-easy to get to from the middle of what you’re doing at the time and it’s context-sensitive. Yay!. Saasu has a help link that leads to to their documentation. It’s not as pretty or as intuitive as Xero’s. Clarity also has a link to help from their dashboard. Xero is the clear winner here, taking a leaf from QuickBooks and wiping their … moving right along …

:idea: Here’s what I really want, specifically for depreciation in this instance: I am on the “simplified” tax / Small Business Entities oh there’s too many words … System. When I buy a laptop I’d love to be able to click the big green “I bought something” button, tell it how much I paid, what it is (shiny!), tell it what percentage is for business use (100%, of course!) and forget all about it. The software should be smart enough to know if I paid less than $1000 (excl GST) then it is a 100% deduction and if I paid more then it is 15% for the 1st year then 30% for every year after that until the asset pool falls below $1000 then that pool is a 100% deduction. Does your head hurt yet? Here it is explained in a far more complicated manner. There would be another button (perhaps red?) for when I sell or dispose of it that does all the depreciation stuff in the background, generates a tax invoice for the sale, tells me how much I lost made on the sale versus depreciation deal and tells me to go buy one even shinier. This is all stuff that QB & MYOB would insist you pay a bean counter to tell you. I’m calling bullshit on that one. It’s just sums and a logical sequence, the sort of thing you’d get a computer to do.

There are a number of other things I want along these lines and timesheet invoicing is one of them. All the timesheet / invoice really needs to know is ….

  1. Who is the client?
  2. What are you working on?
  3. What day did you work?
  4. What time did you start?
  5. What time did you finish
  6. How long did you take for lunch? Times are optional but that’s a bit nit-picky for me
  7. How much is the hourly rate for this task?
  8. [optional] How does this compare with a quote / estimate you gave earlier for this job?
  9. How much allocated time is left?

The trick is this needs to be simple to manage. You also need to be able to leave stuff out til later if you’re in a rush. If you just need to write some times down with a short note about what it was so you can be reminded to finish the details later then let me do that – and then remind me. You need to be able to add new projects and project items while you’re in the middle of filling out a time sheet or invoice. I am more than happy to wade though documentation and concentrate for a while to set up invoice templates and some workflows. After that I just want it to work. Don’t make me think! I want the computer to do as I say & think, not the other way around. <—Important point, read again.

:) Saasu, Xero and Clarity are all on Twitter and all seem more than happy to chat. I’m on Twitter too.

:( Xero is a tad expensive for a lone freelancer at $50/month. I think it needs a tiered pricing scheme so I’m not potentially paying the same book-keeping fees as BHP. Saasu is half the price or even free if I only do 15 transactions per month. Hey, I’m not a marketer so who am I to dictate pricing? Clarity is even cheaper but has no free option. Given the nice UX and abundance of conveniences, Xero might just get away with their premium pricing. Well, they haven’t gone backwards, that’s for sure. QB & MYOB will rob you of at least $250 / year for a version “that works”. I think most of that money goes into printing all the :x brochures they keep sending me to recycle. Shiz, what do I know about pricing?

8O I missed 88 Miles from this post initially. Thanks Corneliu for reminding me. I found it very straightforward to use. It is simple but effective in managing time worked on projects. It doesn’t do quote etc but for timesheets, it’s a win. You can even clock in and out on the web page. The only thing I didn’t like was, as I mentioned in the comment below, when you enter a shift manually you can’t account for meal breaks. You’d have to fudge either the start or finish time to get the correct hours worked. The pricing is good though and it interfaces with Saasu.

8) My Verdict? Well, Xero is coated with sugary WIN, as far as I am concerned. It has the UX win and that’s what I was looking for. QB can count beans but it alienates me, leading to anger, which leads to the Dark Side, which leads to blogs like this. This must be stopped! No, wait.

Alas, Xero + WorkflowMax they are a tad too expensive for me at the moment at around $75/month for the pair. My invoicing and accounting needs are not so complex at this moment in time to require such expense in managing them. Having said that I found WorkflowMax a bit clunky. Also, there didn’t seem to be a way to put either your or the supplier ABN on a Tax Invoice in WorkflowMax. It is actually illegal in Australia to omit your ABN if the invoice is over $1000 and also to omit the supplier ABN at any time (possible exception: if you withhold the GST). I think Saasu might be guilty here too, if memory serves me right [edit: it didn’t – see Marc Lehmann’s comment below. Saasu does cater for this], which it often doesn’t. [obviously!] I think there are easier and/or more comprehensive ways to track time & projects. Maybe I didn’t take a good look at it but it wasn’t better than the way QuickBooks does it.

Either of the others is, at this stage, a bit more-of-the-same as QuickBooks so I’m sitting tight with QuickBooks for now, despite the fact that I hate its guts. Basically I am just using it as an invoicing tool and doing the sums in Excel. That will surely change sooner or later but not just yet. The temptation is not quite strong enough. Yet :)

To the vendors – Take a look at the stalwarts (QB & MYOB). You want their functionality (well, some of it) but for Gawdsakes don’t let Bookworms and Beancounters determine your User eXperience. Go ask a plumber or a sparky. Don’t take my word as Gospel. That would be :lol:. They’re your customers and they will tell you what you need to know about UX. UX is the path to WIN. Oh, read this about UX too. You’ll find it handy. or not.

Right – your turn – what do you think:?: What do you know:?: What do you want:?:

Vendors – I’d especially like to hear your feedback and corrections. If I got something wrong, let me know & I’ll update the post.

————

Stop the Presses – update (July 6, 09)

:idea: Apportionment. I’d love to be able to apportion what percentage of an expense is tax-deductible. I operate as a sole-trader, as I am sure many do, so my business accounts are reasonably-closely tied to my personal tax return. Items like motor vehicle expenses are deductible at a rate set by me according to a log book. So, when I enter a fuel expense I’d like the software to apportion the business and personal percentages to separate accounts so I don’t have to do it later to work out my personal tax return. As a bonus, I’d like to be able to update this percentage and apply it to a range of transactions retrospectively. Yeah, have that spanner in your works! :?

This would be especially handy for a method like Xero’s that automatically guesstimates what a transaction  may be, based on past entries. I really like that feature. Coupled with automatic bank statement imports, I can see that really taking the tedium out of counting my beans. It’s all about getting the computer to do the boring stuff. Having spent the entire weekend cooped up inside, in my pajamas, counting beans – it gets boring.

Update March 2014

I have been using Xero for a few years now and I would never go back.  My annual (personal – I am a sole trader, not a Pty Ltd) tax return process has gone from a profanity-ridden 4 day antisocial lockdown to about 2 minutes copying Xero reports totals into a simple Google docs spreadsheet. BX (Before Xero) I literally had no idea how my business was doing until the EOY return because it was just too hard to figure out. Xero may even have saved my marriage, such was the angst.

A lot of the nitty-gritty in this post is well out of date, you really should check them out for yourself to see what each currency have on offer – they have evolved a long way from when I first wrote this post.

Written by CADbloke

July 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

Posted in Rants, Wot I use

Tagged with , ,

15 Responses

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  1. Why don’t you use http://www.88miles.net for the detailed work log and just use Saasu for the invoices.
    That works quite nicely.
    Regarding depreciation it would be great if Saasu would support it.
    Corneliu

    Corneliu

    July 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    • Doh! I actually looked at 88 Miles and forgot all about it. I’ll hadd it to the post. Yes, it’s quite nice and straightforward. Good pricing too. The only thing I could fault it on was that you could enter a shift manually (good – yay!) but you could not deduct time in the shift for a break. I wonder if they will interface with Xero anytime soon?

      Corneliu – did you take a look at Xero? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it

      cadbloke

      July 4, 2009 at 6:30 pm

  2. @cadbloke it’s great to see this level of detailed analysis. Thanks for putting it out there. We consider this extremely useful feedback.

    Pretty much everything you want is already on our to-do list. Some things will be coming sooner than others.

    Cheers.
    Philip

    Head of Design, Xero

    Philip Fierlinger

    July 6, 2009 at 7:31 am

    • Cheers, Philip. I figure of I don’t let you know what I want then I’ve no right to expect you to deliver it. Thanks for taking an interest. Let me know if you’d like me to clarify anything.

      cheers
      Ewen

      cadbloke

      July 6, 2009 at 7:37 am

  3. Updated: I’d really love to be able to set apportionment rates for expenses to make life a lot easier at tax-time. I updated the post with details. If you’d like to follow the discussion here (mostly consisting of me talking to myself) then subscribe to the comments (top-left).

    Please let me know whether you’d rather see updates in the post or should I post updates as a comment here.

    cadbloke

    July 6, 2009 at 7:34 am

  4. Thanks Cadbloke for the compare.

    Yes you won’t see much on the dashboard without having any data. You can have a sample file, new customers get them fyi in AUS but not yet in NZ. Also Saasu has merge field to display customer ABN on tax invoices so we do cover that. I don’t agree with your tax view but I can’t correct you (not being a tax advisor). I will say this. When I personally buy something for more than $1,000 from Target or Kmart they won’t make me give them an ABN but as a business owner I can ask them to put my ABN on their tax Invoice.

    Lastly we are about transaction automation, inventory, payroll predominantly so we tend to get more attention as business get larger or have multiple sales channels and outlets to deal with. So its a bit like comparing an Apple to two Oranges. But as a customer that’s not relevant to you specifically so I totally appreciate your view.

    Great reading :)

    Marc Lehmann

    July 6, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    • Hi Marc

      Thanks for reading and for your comments.

      Firstly, my notion of the recipient’s ABN being required on a valid tax invoice over $1000 is not correct. If you look at http://www.ato.gov.au/businesses/content.asp?doc=/content/50913.htm&page=1#P47_2884 (the “tax invoice” link in the post) it says

      “A valid tax invoice for taxable sales that total $1,000 or more must contain: …
      # the ABN of the supplier
      # the name of the recipient
      # the address or ABN of the recipient”

      I’m surely not going to argue the point and your example of a retail purchase is a very good one. I’d be tempted to argue that the hypothetical retailers haven’t issued a Tax Invoice that complies. Anyway, that’s trivial. It is, however, important for me that you can at least optionally add the recipient’s ABN to the Invoice.

      I’d like to see more sample data in the sample file. It would make it easier for newcomers to see what a work-in-progress looks like, particularly what you’d see on the dashboard as far as aging receivables and suppliers goes.

      You do make a valid point about Saasu being for perhaps larger businesses. I think I do need to be aware that the bulk of the market seeking out accounting solutions are generally as you describe, with inventories, payrolls and CRM issues to deal with. In that light my needs are more a blend of business and personal accounting in the rather unique manner of being a sole-trader, with no employees and no inventory.

      I’d be really interested to know if my particular needs are indeed and edge case or if there is a “silent majority” out there who want this. It could also be that I need to adopt a more accountantly (your new word for the day) approach to my book keeping and accounting. I’m certainly no Bean-Counting Messiah. oh, no. Not by a long-shot.

      cheers
      Ewen

      cadbloke

      July 6, 2009 at 9:49 pm

  5. There’s a big market of sole traders out there not using accounting systems that we see. Rough rule of thumb is that 1 in 2 people who are sole traders dont use an accounting system. We don’t specifically target that sector as we tend to take customers from other older style software products but we have many on our system now because they expect to “grow into our product” if you like. The price is small business friendly also which attracts them. They also trade widgets of some kind so we fit well on that front. When it comes to competing for sole traders who sell services it isn’t as easy because we are up against a dozen other invoice SaaS products who each tend to have their own unique mix of features.

    Re the ABN info, I see a lot of uncertainty in this area all the time amongst customers and I think it’s because their foreign buyers and local retail buyers often don’t have ABN’s that they may trick themselves into thinking they don’t need to collect any info. That’s why the ATO has the fallback address/contact info option to my understanding. The link you pointed out says that I just noticed “Address or ABN”. That said we go to Legislation or ATO specs for certainty in our approach with the design and development of Saasu.

    Thanks for the followup :)

    Marc Lehmann

    July 6, 2009 at 11:11 pm

  6. Very detailed analysis and we appreciate the mention. Just a couple of points you may not have been aware of:
    - For your ABN/GST number to display on the invoice you need to enter this in the information field in preferences
    - As a lot of our clients come from the design/creative industry we provide a customisable invoice service to ensure that our clients get the look and feel on their outbound communications that reflects their brand.

    Cheers
    Gavin

    BDM WorkflowMax

    Gavin George

    July 14, 2009 at 7:56 pm

  7. Sage ACCPAC’s next Saas release is going to be fantastic. Wait for it!!!!

    Glen Mund

    September 10, 2009 at 7:15 am

  8. What a detailed review of accounting software!

    Thanks for taking the time to look at all of these packages.

    Laura Spencer

    October 4, 2009 at 1:43 am

  9. This http://blog.xero.com/2009/11/xero-personal/ looks very interesting for someone like me – sole trader whose business and real life are tightly coupled.

    Ewen

    November 7, 2009 at 7:53 pm

  10. Curious if there are any new updates here. I am deciding between Xero and Clarity…still on the fence.

    tarch

    November 20, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    • I’d say trial them both and see how you go. It really is horses for courses. I think both Xero & Clarity are totally worthy of consideration. So is Saasu. They are all active on developer and in their blogs & community efforts. For me, that is a good sign. Ask them questions & see whose answers you like.

      Ewen

      November 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

  11. We are running our engineering business from three physical locations and are using cloud apps wherever possible – so we ended up settling on Saasu. This is a great app, at a great price, with good support.

    The only thing that sucks hard is the ability to customise invoice layouts, similar to your complaints in your blog. You need to be able to code HTML and CSS to edit the underlying theme that is applied to the template. I’m sure many would say “big deal” but I not interested in learning HTML just to modify an invoice layout. I guess its back to Google to find a developer who has experience with Saasu themes.

    Matt McLeod

    April 5, 2010 at 6:42 am


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