Clearbooks review: the best accounting software for small businesses?

Taking into account the huge market for accounting solutions and the number of years they have been around you might think that there were no major improvements left to make. However, you would be mistaken!

This review considers whether Clearbooks, the new entrant to the charity accounting software sector, successfully challenges the established players.

Clearbooks is an addictive productivity app!

Clearbooks review - clearbooks logo

I must admit to being slightly addicted to productivity apps. I hate spending ages battling with software that could have been designed better. I love it when people cut through the complexity and deliver a solution that just works.

Microsoft Accounting, Quickbooks 2010, then Clearbooks

Clearbooks review - ms accounting

After testing out the options thoroughly, White Fuse Media started life with Microsoft Accounting, which wasn’t terrible but was shelved by Microsoft in 2009. After reviewing the options thoroughly we then went for Quickbooks. It seemed the best out of a not very compelling bunch of options. We upgraded to Quickbooks 2010 when it was released, but never did figure out the difference between that and its predecessor.

In general it did the job but had some key failings:

Clearbooks accounting - quickbooks 2010

  • Adding transactions each month was cumbersome and time consuming.
  • The system was tied to one computer.
  • Passing data to our accountant never worked.
  • The payroll system was clumsy and very expensive relative to the small amount of functionality it gave.

Why Clearbooks is a winner

ClearBooks is far better. Here are a few reasons why:

Monthly transaction imports

Clearbooks review - screenshot - inside page

Every month you just import your monthly statement into Quickbooks and it creates a month’s worth of transactions for you to tick off. A clever system remembers regular transactions and transactions you have made in the past, making it a one-click process to assign the relevant information to most transactions. If you want to shell out for the additional service you can even set up a live link with your bank so that even this step is automated.

That’s it. Easy!

Dashboard

ClearBooks has a very customisable dashboard with a bunch of very useful widgets. This helps you keep an eye on sales and cashflow.

VAT

VAT is really a doddle. Unlike Quickbooks, ClearBooks can deal with the fixed rate VAT scheme. Just set it up with the regime you are currently under and it does the rest automatically.

HMRC

This is where ClearBooks really starts to shine. VAT reports can be automatically sent to HMRC and if you then setup a direct debit you never have to worry about it again. PAYE is similarly simple through the Payroll add-on. Corporation tax submissions are not currently supported by a running total is calculated and shown in all key reports so that you don’t forget about it.

Email integration

Cleverly, the system can be set-up to email invoices to clients and to send chasing emails if payment is not received. Similar functionality stretches to the payroll system so that all payslips are automatically generated and then emailed to staff on a monthly basis without you lifting a finger.

Users & permissions

You can have unlimited users and give them different permissions. This is great because you can get everyone involved who needs to be. Employees can do their own expenses; the accountant can see exactly what is going on; the accounts assistant can chase late payers.

Payroll

Two clicks per employee per month. That’s all that needs to be said.

Bonus features

Clearbooks review - dashboard

ClearBooks has a few features, that you possibly wouldn’t miss if they weren’t there, but are really nice touches:

Draft accounts – it can churn out draft abbreviated accounts in the required Companies House format.

Dividends – until ClearBooks I hadn’t found a system that dealt with dividends in a simple and easy to use manner.

Fixed asset register – this is the easiest solution I have yet seen to keeping tabs on your assets and depreciation expenses.

As you can tell, I haven’t found much to fault in ClearBooks. Sure, there is the rough edge here and there, but response rates from their customer service have been great. They also have had a few outage problems. For a web based system this can’t be repeated if they are going to build a solid reputation, but they are still a startup and were quick to explain the situation and how they are making improvements.

Clearbooks for charities

Perhaps you run a charity and are wondering whether it will do the job for you? Since (as you can tell) I was won over, I subsequently recommended it to one of the charities that I work with. They have also been extremely pleased and while you will need a bit of input at the end of the year to ensure full SORP compliance it will still make day to day bookkeeping and payroll a dream.

Also, when you consider the time saving, the costs look very reasonable.

Conclusion

In summary, ClearBooks is a testament to what innovation and technological change can do to a mix up a stagnant software sector.

Click here to go to the Clearbooks site and get a two month free trial.

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  • Acxpeter

    I am an accountant in practice and I think it looks great, but am wondering if the company will last. I would be a customer (along with putting my clients on it), if it wasn’t for the financial shockings shown on its abbreviated accounts at companies house. Its latest financial statements look like they were written by the captain of a sinking ship. I cannot put my clients bookkeeping in the hands of a company that looks like its about to go “belly up”. Don’t the directors know that by putting out really bad public information is bad for themselves? Many pages of the financial statements look like they were photocopied from a set of accounts from four years ago with items tippexed out and hand-written over. There are disclosure mistakes littering the accounts: the biggest whopper being the non-disclosure of why the director’s believe the company is a going concern despite having net liabilities and net current liabilities. The fact that the net current liabilities are at £230k would normally mean  that if it doesn’t get that amount of money in the next few months from a lender or investor (the company doesn’t make a profit, so profits cannot supply the money), the company would be closed. .I suspect that the reason it is continuing, is because one of the shareholders has lent money to the company on the long term, but the person who put the accounts together has it in short term creditors! this would remove the net liabilities position if moved to creditors due in more than one year. However, that is just a guess. After seeing how many people they employ at the office in London (as per their website) I guess the reason it is always making a loss is due to staff costs using up most of the profits. I don’t think this is something they  can reduce, considering their customer base is increasing. therefore, the only way it will survive is by increasing its prices. Therefore, I might as well join a SAAS book keeping system that already charges more money, but at least isn’t at serious risk of going down the gurgler. 

    • http://www.business-beginnings.com/ Andy Pearson

      Thanks for your comment Acxpeter. I have to admit that looking at their accounts was not one of my evaluation criteria!

      I have, however, jumped in with both feet and run the account of two businesses and a charity through the system. I wonder whether Tim Fouracre the CEO might care to respond. I will ping him on Twitter in case we can solicit a response.

      • http://www.business-beginnings.com/ Andy Pearson

        @8e8a12108dede0e143c25ad897028318:disqus Since your post is anonymous we are not going to get a response from Tim. I think if you made your identity known there would be more chance of your concerns being directly addressed.

        I’ve been with Clearbooks for over a year now and can certainly vouch for their excellent customer service and continued investment in their product.

  • Tim Fouracre

    Clear Books recently closed an investment round in which we raised £300k as reported by TechCrunch in this article:

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/04/get-off-of-my-cloud-accounting-software-clearbooks-raises-300k-to-battle-it-out-with-sage/

    Our prices went up to new customers at the beginning of September, the first price increase since we started four years ago.

    The company has been operating a small profit in H1 this year as mentioned in the TechCrunch article so both of these actions have been totally about growth. With the increased revenues and investment we plan to scale the team even quicker to provide a better service to our customers.

    So Acxpeter, not only does Clear Books look good, but we’re definitely here to stay. Drop us a line if you want to find out more.

    • Acxpeter

      That’s great to hear 🙂 I wish you and your company every success for the future. I’ve already signed up and am using Kashflow now, but if things don’t work out, I’ll give Clear Books another look.

      Peter

  • Micheal

    I am used Clearbooks accounting software and faced some problems in bookkeeping . Now I find Slickpie(http://www.slickpie.com) the best online bookkeeping software for my little business . Really easy to use . Plenty of functionality. I like it.