Choosing an accounting software provider is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a business owner.
The right solution will help you manage financials and maintain accurate cash flow visibility at all times. Whether you manage your own books or outsource to an accountant, good accounting requires collaboration from all parties. That’s why it’s a near-necessity for businesses to use an accounting platform that lives in the cloud.
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But cloud deployment is far from being the only consideration. Do your research before making a selection and decide which features and capabilities matter to your business. Don’t make an investment in a platform you might outgrow or stop using this time next year.
There are number of factors you should consider:
If you’re putting sensitive financial data in someone else’s hands (i.e. the vendor who manages your cloud server), you need to make sure they can be trusted to handle it with care. That’s why a suitable accounting platform should have multiple failsafes in place to ensure your data is secure — data encryption being the least of them. Find out whether the provider you’re considering has a security response team that tracks suspicious activity and when that team is active.
You should also ask what kind of backup systems the vendor has in place. In the case of a hardware failure or a natural disaster, can your business continue to operate with minimal impact? Don’t settle for a platform that doesn’t offer two-factor authentication. Protecting the security of your business is all about choosing technology and providers that put customer security at front-and-center. That said, don’t neglect your own computer hygiene: keep anti-virus software installed and up-to-date, and use a password manager to encrypt and randomize passwords across all of your applications.
2. Anywhere, Anytime Access
Thanks to the proliferation of cloud software providers, it’s easy to take ubiquitous access for granted. You wake up and check email on your phone. You deposit checks without going to the bank. You shop online while you’re waiting for an Uber. Cloud accounting software should provide the same kind of accessibility for you business’ books. The ideal platform will provide access to their application through multiple devices and operating systems. Apple iOS, Android, Windows PCs, and Mac computers should all be supported — either through native apps or a web interface that adjusts to screen size.
A cloud-based platform can also help you stay in touch and collaborate with your accountant or financial advisor. If you have a question, they can dive into your books right away — maybe run a quick report and share it with you — without making a special trip to the office.
3. Customer Support
Even business owners (especially business owners) need a helping hand sometimes. If you come across a problem with your accounting software, it’s important to know that your vendor will provide free, unlimited, 24/7 customer support, and that they treat their customers well.
These days, it’s hard for a company to hide bad customer service. Thanks to the prevalence of social media, companies and their service records are more transparent than ever. The majority of cloud accounting providers offer an online community of support forums. You can check these out in advance to get an idea of how a company answers questions and responds to complaints.
4. Integrations and Add-Ons
Your accounting platform should go far beyond a simple ledger, at least if you’re paying for it. Ideally, it will integrate with the other tools and systems you use to run your business. Having a comprehensive ecosystem is part of what makes an accounting platform sustainable and capable of delivering ROI. For example: accounting software integrated with payroll and human resource management means you can export hours worked and order checks without bouncing around between several different workflows.
As your business grows, you’ll be able to pick and choose the right technology based on your goals, rather than being locked into a system that doesn’t account for your needs. Vendors that offer native add-ons and extensions and the ability to easily upgrade product tiers will better support that growth.
You can significantly improve your business’ profitability and efficiency by choosing a modern accounting solution with the right features, the right price, reliable security, and room to grow. The key is to know your needs, do your research, and get a second opinion.
Amy Vetter, CPA, is the global vice president of education and head of accounting at Xero, a leading provider of cloud-based accounting and payroll software. She has also been a contributor to Fast Company, The Business Journals, CPA Practice Advisor and Accounting Today.