Entrepreneurs keep their businesses in shape by watching their, um, figures--that's what running, crunching, and massaging the numbers is all about. When it comes to understanding the financials, most business owners rely on that old standby, the spreadsheet. Indeed, 25 percent of small companies still run primarily on spreadsheets, according to a survey by AMI Partners, a New York City research firm. But there are a number of interesting new financial software tools that can help boost your company's fiscal fitness. Here are six we like.
Best for… Easy accounting
What it is: QuickBooks, by far the dominant accounting package for small companies, needs little introduction. But its latest version adds some features.
What's cool: QuickBooks' 2007 version is easily customizable for a range of industries and also lets you create an accountant's copy, so your books won't be off-limits to everybody when your number cruncher is working on them. It also lets you use QuickBooks to manage Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) AdWord campaigns.
Drawbacks: Those who prefer to have their software hosted online will find that QuickBooks' Web-based version is not as robust or customizable as the licensed package.
Price: $200 per user; a three-user value pack runs $500. Support is free for the first 30 days.
Best for… Replacing QuickBooks
What it is: Accounting software aimed at companies that have outgrown Excel and QuickBooks. Intacct offers a hosted suite of applications to run all your financial operations.
What's cool: Automatically handles complex and specialized accounting tasks. An access-control feature lets you determine who can use what features and functions. The software is certified compliant with the SAS 70 Type II audit standard and is designed to keep your company GAAP compliant and Sarbanes-Oxley compliant.
Drawbacks: This is a specialized software product aimed at people who are trained in accounting. It will require help to set up and tailor to your business's needs.
Price: $125 per user per month. Basic support is included.
Best for… Upgrading your spreadsheet
What it is: Supercharged spreadsheet software that offers tools to handle budgeting, forecasting, and reporting, as well as features to track actual performance versus budgeted performance.
What's cool: Adaptive Planning's Corporate Edition makes it easy to check performance by department or across your organization, as well as play with different budgeting scenarios. The software's dashboard interface automatically updates everything in real time.
Drawbacks: Businesses with fewer than 100 employees might find the product to be overkill.
Price: $3,500 a year, plus $750 per user per year. There is a 30-day free trial. An open-source edition is available for free but requires technical skills to install and maintain.
Best for… Collaborating
What it is: A secure collaborative spreadsheet that allows multiple people to work on the same document at the same time.
What's cool: Because multiple people can work on the spreadsheet simultaneously, employees no longer will have to wait for others to finish their work before beginning their own--a common gripe about spreadsheet software. To avoid confusion, a locking feature prevents two people from working on the same part of the spreadsheet at the same time. The software also can pull live data from the Web.
Drawbacks: EditGrid does not offer all the features of Excel or other spreadsheets, especially customization. Also, you cannot transfer your old macros to it, so getting it up and running can take some work.
Price: The basic version is free. A subscription version costs $5 per user per month.
Best for… Managing payroll
What it is: An online payroll service that automates the payroll process.
What's cool: Payroll is typically a company's largest expense. PayCycle handles basic processing and its to-do list feature helps makes sure that all tax payments and form filings will be sent on time. Excel-compatible reporting tools let you analyze payroll outlays. And the software easily integrates with accounting programs like QuickBooks or Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Money, which makes it easier to account for taxes and payroll.
Drawbacks: The service is not meant for businesses with more than 20 employees. Customer service is somewhat limited; it's offered five days a week, 12 hours a day.
Price: $42.99 per month for five employees; additional employees cost another $1.50 a month.
Best for… Feedback on your finances
What it is: Financial analysis software. Enter your financials, and ProfitCents' Web-based software generates a detailed assessment of your business's strengths and weaknesses, delivered in plain English.
What's cool: ProfitCents looks at six different metrics (such as liquidity, asset management, sales performance) and gives you a report card on how you're doing on each, as well as overall.
Drawbacks: Currently, ProfitCents has about 6,000 subscribers, so its database may not have much data about companies in your particular industry.
Price: $789 a year for a single user (including free consulting and training). Larger companies are charged according to the number of users; a 10- to 15-person finance department would pay about $4,000 a year.