**Our content is intended to be used and must be used for informational purposes only. Every business has different needs, and none of the information provided in this article is intended as financial advice. Please do your own research and speak with your accountant or financial advisor for specific financial recommendations.**
The number of free and low cost accounting software options available has exploded in the last 10 years, and while most have a range of basic features to run your farm business, There are some things to consider that might help you choose a platform that most suits your needs. Below we will look at some of the features to consider before deciding on the accounting software that is best for your business.
Most free or low-cost accounting software will offer online access, and some will even offer a mobile app. Will most of your accounting be done in front of a computer, or does having 24/7 access via a mobile device seem necessary for your operations?
Another accessibility issue that can be important to farmers is the ability to work offline and without an internet or phone connection. This will be particularly important for any farms in rural areas that might have internet accessibility issues. If your business includes a farm stand or U-pick opportunities having the ability to record transactions that will update later, when cell or internet service is available, can help keep accounting records up to date without the need for too much data re-entry.
Not all software plays well with others, so if you have already invested time and money in choosing other software tools for your business (ecommerce/shopping cart platforms, payroll, inventory, crop planning, etc), finding an accounting software that will integrate with existing tools can help save you a lot of headaches later on.
If you already have an accountant or a third-party bookkeeper, finding out which software they use is an important step in choosing your in-house accounting software. While the product you choose doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as your accountant, you need to make sure that there will be an easy way to save and export data from one software to another.
Most farmers I know didn’t get into the business of growing food because they love sitting in front of a computer and crunching numbers. And if this is your first time using an accounting software then having reliable and responsive customer service can make a huge difference in how easily you adopt and use the software. There is going to be a learning curve for any software that you choose, but having knowledgeable support staff to reach out to can definitely help ease the growing pains. Direct, person-to-person customer service is usually managed in one of three ways: Email, live chat options (usually through the company website), or phone support. Make sure to choose a software that offers a support option that you are comfortable with.
Another tool many software providers are using to help train their customers are video tutorials. Most accounting software will have a designated YouTube channel with a ton of training resources, FAQs and walkthrough videos to help you with initial software set-up as well as more specific or nuanced questions. If you can’t find what you are looking for on the official product channels, many YouTubers have built entire channels on software reviews and walkthroughs and can also be an excellent resource. However, these folks are not vetted or approved by the software developers, so we recommend trying the official channels first.
While your farm business might currently be small, most businesses hope to grow in one way or another. This is why it is important to factor in the ability of your chosen software to grow alongside your business, and choosing wisely often means looking at your business forecast for the next 5 years. Whether that means more acreage, more sales locations, or more employees, finding a software that will be able to handle that growth will save you from having to adopt a new system down the road. Features to look for that will provide scalability include:Payroll/HR support, inventory management, tax reporting, business forecasting, invoicing, multiple user profiles and order tracking (if you do any delivery or shipping).
Free Trials and Demos
Most of the accounting software we reviewed either offer a package that is free, with limited features. Those that do not will often have a free or discounted trial period, which is usually one month but occasionally as much as 90 days. Taking advantage of these trial periods to try out a few different programs to see which one you are most comfortable with is highly recommended. While many of them are similar in functionality and appearance, every user is going to find a program that works for them just a little bit better. In this way it is a lot like the Coke vs. Pepsi debate: while both are basically fizzy caffeinated brown sugar water, fans of either will tell you how different one is from the other. Sometimes there is no “accounting” for personal preferences.