Choosing an Accounting System for Your Mac
So, you like Macs. You already have one or more, maybe even a network of them, in your business. And you really want to keep your company’s financial books on the Mac. After all, you chose Macs for a reason, right? In my experience, the vast majority of the time when you ask an accountant or bookkeeper for advice on the subject, the answer will be to buy Windows computers and use whatever accounting program they like on Windows, usually QuickBooks. Or they suggest installing virtualization software like Parallels or VMWare Fusion and then installing Windows to run on your Mac and install their favorite accounting program, again usually QuickBooks. Sometimes the latter of those two IS the best solution, but not very often. I don’t really blame them, because that is what they know, but I think a more appropriate response would be to refer you to a Bookkeeper or Accountant who knows and enthusiastically supports Macs. OK, time to get off my soapbox.
There are many different options for keeping the financial books for your small or medium-sized business on the Mac. If you are at the point of choosing a new one for your business, the first thing I would consider is do I need to have a program installed on my computer at all? Cloud computing is going to take over, and already is in many facets of society. When is the last time you used a music CD, for example? In a few years, and there are big arguments about how many years, most laptops and even desktop computers will not have any traditional programs installed on them at all. All programs will be accessed through web connections and will only be installed on web servers we access as needed. Accounting software is no exception.
Cloud Accounting on the Mac
Two companies are taking the lead in cloud accounting, and both work seamlessly on the Mac. This is because they are not dependent on the kind of computer, only the web browser. So you access them through your favorite browser, though sometimes they will work better with another free browser, but they do work on browsers available for the Mac. The two offerings that are worth your consideration on the Mac are QuickBooks Online and Xero. But first, lets talk about the advantages of doing your accounting this way. The biggest is that it is available anywhere, anytime, as long as you have an internet connection. No more having to go to the office on the weekend just to get some bookkeeping done, or finding a way to log in and control your office computer to do it remotely. Just open your web browser and there it is, always up to date, and other users can log on simultaneously if you need them to, no more need for networking the accounting program at the office and buying licenses for each computer, and then installing and updating them all regularly. Instead, you pay a monthly fee and all that is handled on their servers. And your bookkeeper and accountant can also access the account from anywhere. No more passing company files back and forth and wondering if you are using the latest version, or leaving computers on and available so that they can remote in to access your file. Are you sold yet on cloud accounting? I hope so, because that is the direction the world is going. If you are worried about security, they use the same security level that banks use to send information back and forth, which is very secure. The weakest link is usually your own password (I am going to address passwords in a future blog). So, lets look at the two online accounting offerings that I have chosen to consider. There are many others, but these are the biggest and the best, in my opinion.
The first real contender in this arena was QuickBooks Online. which has been around for more than 14 years now, but most would say it has only been a real alternative for the past three years or so, as it has made vast improvements. Intuit is aggressively seeking to attract new customers, as well as their own desktop customers. As a result they frequently give discounts to new customers, and there is always a free trial period to give it a try and see if it is for you. You can choose from three tiers of service, depending on what you need: Simple Start, Essentials, and Plus. The differences between the three tiers are complicated, so it is a good idea to look at the info carefully on the Intuit website or consult with a QuickBooks Online expert before you decide, but you can always change later. Important differences in the tiers are that with Simple Start. you can only have one user within your company, you cannot import data from another accounting program to get started, and you cannot track and pay bills owed to your vendors. Payroll can only be added to the Essentials and Plus tiers, and you can only track time and expenses and track inventory with the Plus tier. Though I would say that cost should be your last consideration when choosing a program, the Simple Start version costs about half per year what QuickBooks for Mac costs, Essentials costs about 30% more than a single QuickBooks for Mac license, and Plus costs about the same as two QuickBooks for Mac licenses, which you would need to install it on two different Macs simultaneously. The cost of the desktop version can really add up if you have multiple Macs needing to run it.
Xero is the new kid on the block in cloud accounting, at least in the United States. It was started in New Zealand and spread to Australia, Canada, and Great Britain, among others. Xero offers much the same capabilities as QuickBooks Online, with a few additions and exceptions. I find it to be the most user-friendly and pleasant to use for long periods. Again the details of features you need in your business that Xero offers and doesn’t is complicated and constantly changing, so look at the site and talk to them. One thing that both Xero and QuickBooks Online offer a LOT of partner companies with add-on apps that work with them. There are literally hundreds, so if the base software does not offer what you need, chances are very good that an add-on does. For example, Xero currently has a limited payroll offering that is not available for all states. However, there are three companies offering add-ons for payroll. Pricing for Xero starts currently at $9 per month for very small businesses who don’t need more than 5 invoices and 5 payments received per month, $30 per month for unlimited invoices and payments, and $70 per month to add multiple currencies capability. One important note, though, all tiers allow unlimited users to access the account. With QuickBooks Online, even at the top tier, only 5 users are allowed. Both offer a free trial for 30 days to try them out. Those are the cloud offerings I recommend. Both are great. One fits some businesses better than the other; it just depends on your needs.
QuickBooks for Mac
But what if neither fits your needs? Two desktop offerings for the Mac are also available and worthy of your consideration. Intuit offers QuickBooks for Mac and Acclivity offers AccountEdge, which hails from its roots as MYOB. I will start with QuickBooks for Mac. The first thing to understand is that it is NOT meant to be just like the Windows offerings. It is a different product, spawned from an entirely different origin, and will not transfer back and forth well with the Windows version. You can transfer your data one way between Windows and Mac. but trying to transfer files back and forth from one to the other is NOT recommended, though technically possible. There is too much data corruption and lost information doing that. That said, it offers roughly the same features as QuickBooks Pro for Windows. The one notable exception is lack of support for multiple currencies, as already noted. For the novice bookkeeper, QuickBooks for Mac is the better choice, as it does a better job of leading you through steps needed to accomplish your tasks. It allows up to 5 users, but if those users are going to access the company file from another Macintosh, then a separate license will need to be purchased for that Mac as well. The current list price for QuickBooks for Mac is $219.95, same as for QuickBooks Pro for Windows.
AccountEdge, formerly MYOB, is another great desktop accounting software offering for the Mac (also available for Windows, and files can be shared back and forth between the two, though not networked together to work on the same file at the same time). AccountEdge is not the most user friendly program to use, however. On the other hand, it is very powerful, providing many more features than QuickBooks for Mac, either natively or as an add-on. Three quick examples are progress billing, retainer and downpayment processing, and direct webstore integration with their own webstore product. Payroll is also integrated. It has more powerful inventory and time billing features. Finally, its reporting capability is more powerful because of its direct integration with Microsoft Word and Excel to further refine and rearrange reports. However, like I said, it is not for the novice bookkeeper or owner/bookkeeper without the guidance of an expert to help you learn how to use it properly and, at least for a while, watch over your shoulder to make sure you are doing things right.
QuickBooks for Windows
The final option for accounting on Macs is to use Windows versions of QuickBooks. There are two ways to do this. The first is to install Windows on your Mac and run it with a virtualization program like Parallels or VMWare fusion. See my blog on the subject for more information. The other option is to have your QuickBooks for Windows hosted in the cloud. This means that whichever hosting company you choose would set up a Windows computer for you with everything installed on it that you choose in the package, and then you connect to that Windows computer via the internet and take control of it and run QuickBooks and any other programs that you need in Windows, and then when you are done you disconnect. It is another always on option that you can access from anywhere. Multiple users can also access the file at once, if you pay for them. Both of these options are pricey, but still probably less than buying a separate Windows computer with good specs and run it just for accounting. However, sometimes this is the only solution for your business. More times than not, if QuickBooks for Mac will not do what you need, then AccountEdge will, but not always. And often looking again at Xero and QuickBooks Online forthird-party app solutions will work better for you. If your needs go beyond the basic, then I highly recommend you get someone who is well-versed on all the options to help you make an informed decision.