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If the most frustrating and time-consuming part of running your small business is keeping the books, it might be time for a software upgrade. The right financial and accounting programs are not only essential for keeping track of the basics of your company, like sales, expenses, invoices, payroll, and taxes, among them -- they can also help unlock information, trends, and hotspots that enable you to make better business decisions now and in the future. Top-tier financial software can also save you time, cut down on human error in calculations, and help you gain greater insight into quarterly projections, inventory positions, and which service or products are your most (or least) profitable.

Linda Pinson, author of Keeping the Books: Basic Recordkeeping and Accounting for the Successful Small Business, says having -- and using -- the right financial software is essential for growth and longevity. "In order to make decisions, implement changes, and make your business more profitable and effective, you need financial analysis and that starts with the right software," she says. "Without numbers, everything is subjective. With numbers, it's objective." For payroll, accounting, and invoices, many small businesses use QuickBooks by Intuit, but there are also quality products offered by Microsoft and Sage (among others). These software programs offer the ability to track income, expenses, and payroll, send invoices, and manage and pay bills. They also provide a current snapshot of the financial health of your firm. 

For example, Pinson says that small-business owners, to make projections about revenue and income, need to input expenses -- everything from marketing outlays and inventory to payroll and taxes. They also need to keep track of receivables, customer discounts offered, and payment terms. The right financial software will allow you to see if you've come under or over budget in any one of these areas -- and do it quickly and accurately. What's more, it will enable you to see what adjustments you need to make in the future to reach sales and profit goals.

"I always advise clients that they can tell themselves whatever stories they want about how their business is doing, but if they have the right financials in front of them they always see the truth," Pinson adds. Look too, experts say, for financial software programs that address the particular industry you're in, says Mike Budiac, president of SoftwareConnect, a website that helps businesses select the right financial software for their needs. A growing construction firm is likely going to need a software program that includes project management tools, while a small bakery will want software that can run reports on inventory and cost of goods sold. "Accounting software has increasingly become tailored for the specific needs of a particular niche or industry vertical," Budiac says. "It makes sense to look at these because they are going to provide a lot of the functionality that you can't get in the more generic software packages."

Beyond the bookkeeping basics, small-business owners might want to consider business-management software programs. These offer more robust, full-service features, including things like point-of-sale data, inventory control, customer relationship management tools, and purchasing functions. Both Budiac and Pinson encourage business owners to also take into account how many people are going to be using the financial software and how many invoices your business generates in a given month. "What you don't want is to select a software program you like, but later find out it can't keep up with the scope of your company," says Pinson. She recommends consulting with your accountant. "They understand the business you're in and can help you figure out what you need."



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