Different Types of Accounting Software Exposed (from Excel to Enterprise Solutions)

We created this resource because we couldn’t find anything else like it. For small business owners, navigating the different types of computerized accounting software can seem daunting (and it is, believe me). This article aims to make it less so. We’ll explain “what are the different types of accounting software,” from spreadsheets, like excel to enterprise solutions, like quickbooks. We’ll also take a look at their sub-types (invoicing, payroll, tax, inventory, etc.), by defining each, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages, and explaining their importance. We aim to provide insights to help small business owners make informed decisions when selecting an accounting software solution.

A graphic depicting colorful ice cream flavors. These flavors represent the different types of accounting software available to small business owners.

Table of Contents (types of accounting software)

  1. Spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel + Google Sheets)
  2. General/Commercial Accounting Software
  3. Cloud Accounting Software
  4. Enterprise Resource Planning Software (ERP)
  5. Custom Accounting Software
  6. Invoicing Accounting Software
  7. Payroll Accounting Software
  8. Tax Preparation Accounting Software
  9. Inventory Management Accounting Software
  10. Job Costing Accounting Software
  11. Compliance Accounting Software

1. Spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel + Google Sheets)

Spreadsheets are basic yet powerful tools for organizing data, performing calculations, and analyzing information. They are highly versatile, making them suitable for a range of accounting tasks.


  • Flexibility: They can be customized extensively to meet the specific needs of a business.
  • Low Cost: Most spreadsheets are part of office software packages, making them affordable.
  • Ease of Use: Many users are familiar with spreadsheet interfaces, reducing the learning curve.


  • Error-Prone: Manual data entry is susceptible to errors, which can impact financial analysis and reporting.
  • Scalability Issues: Spreadsheets could be better for managing large volumes of data or complex accounting operations. If you manage large volumes of financial information, consider switching from spreadsheets to accounting software.
  • Lack of Advanced Features: They do not offer automatic updates, integration with banking systems, or real-time financial reporting.

Are Spreadsheets Right for You:

  • Business Type: Solo Entrepreneurs / Home-based Businesses
  • Business Example: Sarah has just launched her handmade jewelry business from her studio apartment.

2. General/Commercial Accounting Software

This software is subscription-based and designed to cater to the broad needs of small to medium-sized businesses, offering a range of accounting functionalities.


  • Comprehensive Features: Includes invoicing, expense tracking, payroll, and financial reporting.
  • User-Friendly: Balances robust functionality with ease of use for non-specialists.
  • Efficiency: Streamlines accounting processes, saving time and reducing errors.


  • Cost: Ongoing subscription fees can add up.
  • Generalist: This may only meet the specific needs of some industries.
  • Learning Curve: Some features may require training to be used effectively.

Is General/Commercial Accounting Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
  • Business Example: Mike and Alex are co-founders of a rapidly growing artisan coffee shop.

3. Cloud Accounting Software

A subset of general/commercial accounting software, cloud-based solutions offer real-time access to financial data over the Internet, enhancing mobility and collaboration. Many general/commercial products, including QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks, etc., fall into this category.


  • Accessibility: Financial data can be accessed from anywhere, at any time.
  • Data Security: Enhanced security measures protect sensitive financial information.
  • Integration: Easily integrates with other web-based services for a streamlined workflow.


  • Dependency on the Internet: Requires a stable Internet connection for access.
  • Subscription Costs: Recurring payments can be a financial burden for small businesses.
  • Privacy Concerns: Storing financial data off-site may raise security and privacy concerns. This is a lesser concern among most small and medium-sized businesses.

Is Cloud Accounting Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Freelancers / Digital Nomads
  • Business Example: Zoe, a freelance graphic designer who travels the world while working with international clients. Please note you don’t need to be mobile to use a cloud-based solution.

4. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are large-scale software solutions that integrate all facets of an organization’s operations, including accounting, into a single framework.


  • Centralized Data Management: Facilitates the unified management of business operations.
  • Operational Efficiency: Streamlines processes, improving productivity and efficiency.
  • Scalability: Can be customized and scaled to fit the growth of a business.


  • High Cost: Significant investment is required for implementation and maintenance.
  • Complexity: This may require specialized staff to manage and operate effectively.
  • Implementation Time: Deployment can be time-consuming and disruptive to business operations.

Is ERP Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Large Enterprises / Multinational Corporations
  • Business Example: Mary CEO of a tech startup with global operations.

5. Custom Accounting Software

Tailored software developed to meet the unique requirements of a business, accommodating specific processes and workflows.


  • Custom Fit: Perfectly aligns with the business’s specific needs.
  • Competitive Edge: Offers unique features not available in off-the-shelf software.
  • Flexibility: Can be adapted as the business evolves.


  • High Development Cost: Custom development is expensive and time-consuming.
  • Maintenance: Requires ongoing support and updates.
  • Resource Intensive: Involves significant investment in time and resources for development and deployment.

Is Custom Accounting Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Specialized Businesses with Unique Requirements
  • Business Example: Elena who runs a bespoke furniture manufacturing company.

6. Invoicing Accounting Software

Specialized software designed to streamline the creation, dispatch, and management of invoices, enhancing the billing and payment process.


  • Efficiency: Automates billing processes, reducing manual work and errors.
  • Improved Cash Flow: Facilitates faster payment through efficient invoicing and payment tracking.
  • Professionalism: Offers customizable invoice templates for a professional appearance.


  • Cost: This may incur additional costs for subscription or purchase.
  • Complexity: Features beyond invoicing may require a learning curve.
  • Integration Issues: You may need to integrate with existing accounting systems, which can be complex.

Is Invoicing Accounting Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Freelancers / Service Providers
  • Business Example: Tom is a seasoned freelance photographer.

7. Payroll Accounting Software

Payroll accounting software automates managing employee compensation, taxes, and benefits, ensuring accurate and timely payments.


  • Accuracy: Reduces errors in calculating pay and deductions, ensuring employees are paid correctly.
  • Time-Saving: Automates routine tasks, freeing up time for more strategic activities.
  • Compliance: Helps businesses stay compliant with tax laws and reporting requirements, reducing the risk of penalties.


  • Cost: Involves subscription or purchase costs, which can be significant for small businesses.
  • Complexity: This may require an understanding of payroll regulations and software functionality.
  • Integration: Needs to integrate seamlessly with other accounting or HR systems, which can be challenging.

Is Payroll Accounting Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Businesses with Employees
  • Business Example: Lisa runs a mid-sized marketing agency with three or more employees.

8. Tax Preparation Accounting Software

Some accounting software solutions place an emphasis on tax prep. This aspect of the accounting software simplifies preparing and filing taxes, ensuring businesses comply with tax laws and regulations.


  • Efficiency: Streamlines tax preparation, saving businesses time during tax season.
  • Accuracy: Reduces the risk of errors in tax calculations and submissions.
  • Savings: Helps identify potential tax deductions and credits, potentially saving money.


  • Learning Curve: Requires understanding of tax codes and software functionality.
  • Cost: This can be expensive, especially for more advanced software that offers in-depth analysis and reporting.
  • Dependence: Reliance on software updates for the latest tax laws, which may not be timely.

Is Tax Preparation a Priority for You:

  • Business Type: Investors / Business Owners with Complex Tax Situations
  • Business Example: Victor a real estate investor with properties across several states.

9. Inventory Management Accounting Software

Software that helps businesses track inventory/stock levels, orders, sales, and deliveries, optimizing inventory management and control.


  • Efficiency: Automates inventory tracking, saving time and reducing errors.
  • Optimization: Helps maintain optimal inventory levels, reduce carrying costs, and avoid stockouts or overstock situations.
  • Insights: Provides valuable insights into inventory trends, helping with forecasting and planning.


  • Complexity: It can be complex to set up and integrate with existing systems.
  • Cost: Implementation and subscription costs can be high, especially for small businesses.
  • Maintenance: Requires regular updates and maintenance to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Is Inventory Management Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Retail and E-commerce
  • Business Example: Carlos the owner of a burgeoning online fashion retail empire.

10. Job Costing Accounting Software

This type of software is designed for businesses that need to allocate costs to specific projects or jobs, helping in tracking profitability and budget adherence on a project-by-project basis.


  • Accuracy: Provides precise tracking of expenses and revenues for individual jobs or projects.
  • Profitability Analysis: Helps determine the profitability of specific jobs, guiding business decisions.
  • Budget Management: Assists in managing project budgets and monitoring financial performance.


  • Complexity: Setting up job costing systems can be complex and time-consuming.
  • Cost: This may involve significant investment in software and training.
  • Specificity: Primarily suited for project-based businesses, limiting its applicability to other types of businesses.

Is Job Costing Accounting Software Right for You:

  • Business Type: Project-Based Businesses (Construction, Architecture, Consulting)
  • Business Example: Naomi is an architect who manages multiple construction projects.

11. Compliance as a Top Accounting Software Priority

Compliance features in accounting software help businesses adhere to financial regulations and tax laws, ensuring accurate reporting and risk reduction.


  • Risk Reduction: Minimizes the risk of financial penalties and legal issues related to non-compliance.
  • Time-Saving: Automates compliance processes, reducing the time spent on manual compliance tasks.
  • Peace of Mind: Provides confidence that the business meets its regulatory obligations.


  • Complexity: Keeping up with changing laws and regulations can be complex and require regular software updates.
  • Cost: Advanced compliance features may come at an additional cost.
  • Over-reliance: Sole reliance on software for compliance can be risky if not supplemented with professional advice.

Is Financial Compliance a Top Priority for You:

  • Business Type: Businesses in Highly Regulated Industries
  • Business Example: Sophia who operates a medical device company.

Each business type and persona highlights the diverse needs and challenges faced by small business owners across various sectors. From the solo entrepreneur crafting jewelry at home to the CEO navigating global markets, the right accounting software is critical for managing their unique financial landscapes, ensuring they can focus on what they do best: growing their business.

Now, It’s Your Turn

Different types of accounting software offer unique advantages and disadvantages, catering to different business needs, sizes, and industries. The right software can significantly impact a business’s success, from simplifying invoicing and payroll processes to ensuring compliance with tax laws and managing inventory.

When choosing accounting software, it’s essential to carefully consider your business’s specific needs, budget constraints, and long-term goals. Doing so can ensure that your financial management tools meet your current requirements and are scalable to support your business’s future growth.

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