I have long been a supporter of Quickbooks and have always found it simple and effective. The little I know about accounting is dangerous to say the least. I recently decided that it was high time to find a replacement for my trusty Quickbooks Pro 2008 edition, already 6 years old. I set out for an online replacement as I felt that it would be well suited to an online services company for the following reasons:
 
Backup
I have always been paranoid about backing up my accounting data and ended up with hard drives hidden all over the place, most hidden so well as to never be found again. The online services all offer redundant, safe and secure backup. Assuming that you trust in the company’s ability to stay in business, your data should be safe and secure. I would suggest only looking at the well-established, big incumbents for this reason.
 
Scalability
The online solutions provide the easy option of adding multiple users as you go along without the need for complicated network set ups, VPNs and the like. You can also easily add additional modules and functionality when needed, without the pain of reconfiguring an entirely new system.
 
Easy Access
One of the most daunting tasks when setting up a new computer is activating your accounting software and importing and setting everything up all over again. With the online products you aren’t tied to a specific device or computer and can easily access everything from anywhere in the world. All of the options I looked at include iPhone/Android apps too, for quick access to reports and instant updates on your accounts or customers.
 
Upgrades
The online route also takes the pain and suffering of upgrading out of your hands. You do not need to budget for expensive and time consuming upgrades, or get left behind using 6 year old software like I did. Your product gets updated regularly and quietly behind the scenes.
 
The 3 online accounting products that I looked at were Pastel My Business, Quickbooks Online and Freshbooks. All of them offer free trials which is a really nice way to ensure a good fit. Here is a brief outline of what they offer:
 
Pastel My Business Pros
  • Excellent reporting features and reports are easily customised and viewed on the dashboard
  • Sage Pay offers integrated debit orders and credit card payments at a competitive rate
  • It links directly into the internet banking profiles of most South African banks and allows the creation of rules to automatically import transactions as they occur
  • The recurring invoice options are extensive and easy to set up and monitor
  • Easy to customise invoices, statements, e-mail signatures, etc.
  • Easy management and importing of customers, suppliers, items, etc.
  • Customer zone that lets customers log in to view all invoices, etc
  • Easy access for your accountant can be granted at year end
  • Windows 8/Android/iOS apps are all available
  • Integrated Pastel Payroll options are also available
 
Cons
  • Pastel leaves a footer with a link back to them at the bottom of all e-mails sent out to customers
 
Costs
  • There is a monthly subscription fee of R165
  • Additional users cost an additional R25
  • If you require more storage space for documents it is charged at R10 per GB
 
Quickbooks Online Pros 
  • It can accept online payments
  • It offers payroll support – although I am not sure of availability in SA
  • Easy access for accountants
  • Easy reporting
  • Android/iOS apps are all available
  • Supports recurring invoices
 
Cons 
  • While supporting our currency and country specific set up, a few features aren’t supported outside of the US
  • It doesn’t connect to your bank account
  • It doesn’t support setting up debit orders
  • The customisation on invoices is limited
  • A lot more expensive for what you are getting
 
Costs
  • There are 3 tiers of pricing:
  • Simple Start - $12,95 per month – Basic invoicing and accounting functions
  • Essentials - $26.95 per month – includes recurring invoices, and creditor management
  • Plus - $39.95 – Additional reports and users, billable hour tracking
 
Freshbooks Pros 
  • It has been around for a long time and has 5 million users
  • A clean, simple and user friendly interface
  • It is the easiest to use and an excellent option for very small businesses
  • You can easily hide the Freshbooks branding when on any of the paid plans
  • Time tracking included in all plans
  • Easy and effective reports
  • Easy import and export of data
 
Cons
  • Can’t customise invoices outside of adding a logo and choosing between two basic layouts
  • While supporting our currency and country specific set up, a few features aren’t supported outside of the US
  • Not as feature rich as the other two
 
Costs
  • Free – Limited to 1 client
  • Seedling - $19.95 – maximum of 25 clients
  • Evergreen - $29.95 – Unlimited clients and includes all features – 1 additional staff member access
  • Mighty Oak - $39.95 – The same as Evergreen but allows 5 additional staff members access
 
Conclusion
I ended up settling on Pastel My Business. The automation options provided more functionality, and ease of use. The customisation options in designing invoices and setting up e-mail templates are far superior to the rest. Their Sage Pay offering is also a huge bonus. I managed to move everything over in a matter of days and have found that it is already improving my quality of life immensely.