Free accounting software may seem like a great solution for start-up business owners who are looking to keep costs in check, but they should definitely be treated with caution.
We support thousands of owner-managed businesses across the East Midlands and we recommend that all of our clients, even small start-ups and micro businesses, invest in good accounting software from the start.
While you may not be too happy paying yet another monthly subscription for a service which doesn’t seem vital to the day to day running of your business, the cost of an appropriate platform is small and it will pay for itself in the long run.
The first problem is that free software may not always be free at all. Almost all mainstream programmes or apps are time-limited, meaning that after a number of days or weeks, you need to commit to buying the full version or stop using it before the time limit expires. This can lure you into paying for a service which may not be great value for money or it can mean you’ve wasted time in using a system, which you then decide to leave. You should only begin a free trial with a service when you’re confident that it’s right for you and if you’d be happy to pay the full price at the end of the trial.
Free software can also limit the number of features you can use. Some free software allows you to use it for basic functions free of charge, but they limit other services to paying subscribers. While you may not need some of these features immediately, it may be a matter of time before you do, meaning that once again you either pay what they ask for, or you spend more time switching to an alternative service.
Reliability is also a big question mark with free software. The last thing you want is a program that freezes or crashes every time you use it or one which locks you out of your account from time to time. Free software won’t come with the same level of customer support you’d expect from a subscription service, so you may not get much help if you encounter a problem.
To avoid this, you should make sure you only consider the highest rated software and read up about them in reviews from reputable sources, but beware of fake reviews which may give you a false impression.
Being careful in choosing your software will also help you to avoid falling victim to some of the more nefarious developers out there. While well-known brands are safe, there have been reported cases of free accounting software secretly installing spyware on phones or computers and harvesting user data to be sold or used elsewhere. Lesser known brands may also not have the same level of security and they may be vulnerable to cyber criminals and hackers.
Certainly, free software can work for some. For a new business with a very simple structure and few outgoings, free software may be used successfully and it may meet all of their needs for a short term period. Our advice however, would always be to choose a paid-for service from a reputable company you can trust and if you don’t know what’s right for you, ask a professional.
If you would like to discuss the accounting software options available for your business with a trusted professional adviser, contact our team.