Searching for a decent small business accounting solution

My wife and I are both self-employed consultants, we have several investment properties, and we each have entrepreneurial pursuits on the side. All of these endeavors have income and expenses that need to be tracked, not to mention our personal finances, which are currently being tracked with Mvelopes and Mint. I took a bunch of accounting and finance classes while I was in college, so I understand accounting quite well, and I understand how important it is. I want a system that gives me a real visibility into my businesses and how they’re performing. However, no matter how hard I search, I can’t seem to find a decent small-business accounting solution out there. What I’m asking for isn’t THAT difficult:

  • Basic features, without all the feature-bloat that is so common these days
  • Track income, expenses, account balances, etc.
  • Dashboard view with charting and recent / upcoming income / expenses
  • Preferably web-based, but if not, with a solid OS X version
  • Ability to import and export in a variety of formats, including xml, xls, pdf, and csv
  • Available in U.S. with US currency and tax info
  • Inexpensive or free

Yesterday, I spent most of my afternoon and evening surveying the available options and guess what I found: they all still suck.

Installed Options

Intuit’s Quickbooks is the de-facto standard in small business accounting, but there are a few problems, the main one being that QB is the most bloated piece of crapware I’ve had the misfortune of using in a long time. The Mac version is even worse. At $200, it’s expensive, and they frequently change the way updates work so you have to upgrade to the newest version. It’s a classic example of a monopoly stifling innovation. There is an online version, which I’ll cover in a bit.

MYOB FirstEdge
MYOB makes a $99 package called FirstEdge that isn’t web-based, but I was still excited to check it out. However, the interface is downright awful. It looks like something from one of those “1000 programs for $10” CD-ROMs you could get at Wal-Mart back in 1998. On top of that, it’s a heavy, double-entry accounting system, way more than what I need. It apparently doesn’t sync with your bank account either.

Web-based Options
Xero is a great looking solution that’s based in New Zealand and appears to offer everything I want without much that I don’t. However, there are a few issues, the main one being that it’s not available to customers in the US yet, which makes this option one to watch in the future, but not of much value now. It’s also very pricey (to me) at $50 NZD / month, which is about $38 USD / month.
After I complained on twitter about the relative dearth of options out there, one of the guys from LessAccounting actually messaged me and suggested I take a look at LA. I really really wanted to like it, as it’s simple, has a clean interface, and just feels right. However, there are a few issues with it that keep me from being happy. First of all, it’s slow. Really slow. That alone makes it not worth using, but on top of that, it suffers from the same problem that I have with a lot of Ruby on Rails apps: it’s too simple to be really useful. It also feels fairly clunky, and at $20 / month, is way too expensive for what it is. Finally, there are some things about it that bug me in terms of the way things are named, laid out, etc. It just feels unnatural. YMMV.
FreshBooks started out as an invoicing tool, and then they added expense tracking later. I actually really like FreshBooks and it’s got 80% of what I want, with the exception of a solid dashboard view with charts and account import / tracking. However, the income / expense tracking is nice, and the reporting isn’t too bad either. However, their lowest paid plan costs $14 / month and limits the number of clients to 25, which means that after about six months, I’d have to upgrade to the next plan, which is $27 / month. For the features that they’re offering, I’m not about to pay $324 / yr.
This last one is a new solution to me, and it looks like what I wanted to be, and at $14 / month, it’s $72 / year cheaper as well. However, they’re in private beta and aren’t allowing new registrations. Additionally, I can’t find *anything* about it online, which makes me nervous. They don’t have any info about the people behind it or anything, so I’m a bit reluctant to post a lot of data there until I can find out more. Worth watching though…
The online version of QuickBooks might be worth going with despite the my hatred for the installed version, just because it’s the industry standard and would presumably make it easier to work with my accountant come tax time. However, this minor advantage is outweighed by the offering’s main colossal blunder: it’s for Internet Explorer users only. Judging from the screenshots they offer on their site, the interface looks as dated and bloated as the installed version. Next!

My Solution

This is absolutely ludicrous, but I ended up going with Zoho DB and Reports (for now), which basically lets me setup a table of income, a table of expenses, and some basic charted views of each of those. It’s essentially just a spreadsheet solution, with the exception that I can do categories in a drop-down, and it’s online so I can share it with my wife so she can enter her income and expenses as well. And it’s free. It’s not a great solution, but I’m starting to think that there truly isn’t a great solution out there yet. Perhaps I should raise a few million in VC and build the Mint of small business accounting. If I don’t, I sure hope someone does…the world would be a much better place for it.

If you know of a better solution, PLEASE post in the comments. I’m desperate 🙂