Less Accounting is one of the best Web-based business accounting packages that I’ve had the pleasure to use, and the first and only Web-based accounting and invoicing application that I’d consider as an alternative to the desktop accounting app I’ve used for the past five years. Why? Less Accounting is the only Web-based application that offers a complete set of accounting tools and the basic set of features necessary to run a small business.
Less Accounting offers five package options that run from a basic free account to a $3600 per year account that includes a real human bookkeeper to manage your business finances. The Free Limited account is designed for freelancers and moonlighters who aren’t likely to create more than five invoices per month, but offers features such as automatic bank account updates and mileage logging that aren’t available in the least expensive paid account. While that may seem odd, it seems to me to be designed to help freelancers who need an accounting and invoicing package but aren’t yet making enough money to justify paying for one of the more feature-rich options.
I was able to easily add all my bank and credit card accounts to Less Accounting and the application imported all my banking data without a hassle. You can manually import QIF and QFX files, QuickBooks data, or automatically link to your Wesabe, Basecamp, Highrise, and Shopify accounts. I was also able to import select contacts from my Gmail account. Every option I tested was easy to use and trouble free.
Once your banking is imported you can assign categories to each transaction. Less Accounting uses a default set of IRS-approved expense categories, but you can also add your own. As you make changes to each transaction’s category the application asks how you want to handle similar transactions in the future, and once your transactions are categorized Less Accounting offers several options for reporting on the collected data. None of these reports contains a graph or pie chart, which is surprising since that seems to be the stock in trade of most Web-based accounting applications, but it’s not something I missed using Less Accounting or, frankly, care if I have in a business accounting application. And Less Accounting makes it easy to export your data so if you really need a chart you can use Numbers or Excel to create one.
When it comes time to start doing business with your clients, Less Accounting allows you to create and then e-mail or print proposals. Any proposals you create can be converted to invoices or you can choose to create invoices
While Less Accounting has many great features, it does lacks integrated tools for tracking and billing for time, but you do have the option of using LessTimeSpent, which integrates well with Less Accounting and is free for paid users of Less Accounting. Unfortunately Less Accounting does not currently offer any way for you to manage or sell inventory items, although Less Everything states that inventory tracking will be implemented sometime in the future. So if inventory tracking is an integral part of your business you’ll find that Less Accounting simply doesn’t fit.
If you need a little more mobility you can use the Less Accounting iPhone app for tracking expenses and keeping track of your account balances. Better yet, I tested Less Accounting using Safari on an iPad and found that it worked just as well as it did on my desktop Mac.
Macworld buying advice
Less Accounting offers a wide range of accounting options for an even wider range of business needs and features that parallel many desktop-based business accounting packages. Unlike many similar web-based apps, Less Accounting’s free entry-level package offers a surprisingly versatile set of features that don’t feel stripped down or limited in any significant way and each paid package offers enough value to justify the additional expense. The program’s lack of inventory options limits Less Accounting’s value, putting it on the same level as applications like MYOB FirstEdge and businesses may find the monthly fees significantly more expensive than the one time price of a desktop based application.
[Jeffery Battersby is an IT Consultant, (very) smalltime actor, and regular contributor to Macworld. He writes about Macs and more at his blog.]
Updated 4/28/2010 at 12:20PM PT with information about LessTimeSpent.