A friend suggests Pastel, your accountant uses QuickBooks, but you’ve just seen a great ad for Softline. Your computer guy adds to the confusion by recommending a local solution you’ve never heard of. How on earth do you choose the accounting package that’s right for your business?
Happily, the majority of off-the-shelf packages available today come with most of the basic requirements built in. Where specific needs arise, it’s useful to ask the following questions:
- What size is your business, and what growth is forecast?
A R500 000 a year business has very different needs from a multimillion rand organisation. Don’t overbuy when it comes to your accounting package because you’ll pay more for something that is more complicated than you need. If, however, your business is set for major growth in the medium term, ensure that you buy software that is scalable. As your business grows in size and complexity, you will probably need more functions and more performance. True scalability means that the user interface stays the same, as do the processes required to complete transactions. Make sure that if you need to migrate your data you will not have to fork out a hefty amount of cash.
- What industry are you in?
Some vendors have developed specialised software for certain industries which, although more expensive, may offer you the functionality you need.
- What support is available and at what cost?
Buying the software is the first step, but it’s important to ensure that local support is available in the form of consultants, internet support, phone support, training options and more. A large user base is a good indication of a bigger support structure.
- What systems will you need to run the software?
You need to make sure that your computer systems are up to date in terms of both hardware and operating system.
- What components will you use?
If you employ an accountant or bookkeeper, chances are you will really be able to maximise the functionalities of any given package, from creating invoices to producing management reports. If you’re only going to use it for invoicing, however, then choose your package accordingly.
- What is your budget?
How much money do you have to invest in the software? When researching the software options available to you, consider which one offers the best fit for your needs with the best value.
- Is the package easy to use?
If the package you choose is too complex and difficult to learn, it will be of no use to the business. Don’t be tempted to purchase one with extra functions that you do not need. Again, it’s all about the right fit based upon the needs of the business and ease of use.
Options on Offer
Here are some examples of the most popular accounting solutions in use today (note: prices as per 2009 rates):
- Softline Pastel Payroll has solutions for businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to medium and large companies.
- Pastel Micropay, a fairly new product on the market, is suited to an uncomplicated payroll environment. It will get your business up and running almost immediately and caters for up to five employees. The upgrade from Pastel MicrOpay to Pastel Partner Payroll is simple, and will give you the added functionality your growing business needs including customisation.
- Pastel Invoicing (about R500) is an invoicing package designed for start-up businesses, while Pastel My Business (about R700) is a simple and easy to use business software solution designed for start-up businesses that require the ability to track item quantities, costs and purchases. It also enables you to manage your bank accounts, credit cards and general company expenses.
- Pastel Xpress (about R3 000) is an affordable accounting solution for smaller businesses, or for larger businesses with basic accounting needs. It’s an intuitive and user friendly accounting solution that will enable you to manage numbers with confidence.
- Pastel Partner Payroll is a simple and secure payroll solution that has a good range of features. It integrates seamlessly with the Pastel Accounting software suite and most other accounting software packages. It’s available in a single-user version for the smaller company or for up to 10 users for a larger company. It can grow with your business and it caters for the full spectrum of requirements, from pre-defined, standard sets of transactions for less complicated payrolls, to more powerful and customisable features and functions for more sophisticated payrolls.
- Pastel Evolution is suited to larger businesses with multiple users. Its advanced operating environment helps organisations take control of their business as well as their finances. The package provides combined accounting and CRM functionality and allows businesses to not only capture numbers, but also business activities relating to its customers, suppliers and employees. The non-financial data is integrated and presented together with the numbers, providing a holistic view of the business. Drill-down functionality allows instant, easy access, from any point in the software, to the data that underlies the reports, and realtime integration of data that makes it possible to spot trends and make proactive decisions. It can handle up to 1 000 users, can be applied across different branches and multiple companies, and is powered by one central, SQL database. Evolution is developed for the South African business environment and incorporates local legislation requirements.
- Softline VIP products include Premier Payroll for medium to large companies, Classic Payroll for the small to medium businesses and VIP Essentials Payroll for the small business that employs fewer than 30 people. In addition, Softline VIP’s new HR application brings full HR functionality to the VIP product suite.
- Omni Accounts is another locally developed product, unique in that each Omni download or CD delivers the entire range of Omni features, accommodating growth at any time. It’s therefore not only suitable for small or start-up businesses but also for larger companies.
- Omni Essential is a basic entry-level, pre-configured bundle. Omni Trader is for small businesses requiring advanced stock control, such as small retailers and trade services. Omni Business is a fully functional accounting system suitable for businesses requiring greater flexibility and controls. For the bigger business, Omni Enterprise provides sophisticated accounting controls with advanced management information.
- The QuickBooks range includes SimpleStart (about R900) for new and home-based businesses, QuickBooks Pro (from R1 740 for a single user licence) and the more comprehensive QuickBooks Premier (R3 100), both for small businesses. QuickBooks packages are easy to use, affordable, secure and compatible with popular software packages such as Microsoft Office.
- Omni Accounts, +27 861 666 472, email@example.com, www.omniaccounts.co.za
- QuickBooks, +27 861 726 657, www.quickbooks.co.za
- Softline, +27 11 304 1000, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.softline.co.za
- Softline VIP, +27 861 55 44 33, email@example.com, www.softlinevip.co.za
- Softline Pastel Payroll, +27 11 304 4000, www.pastelpayroll.co.za
Financial Metrics In The Business World – Keeping An Eye On KPI’s
The results and findings after each analysis, using the relevant metrics, then create a premise for strategising and executing specific tactics needed to improve, uplift, as well as highlight where increased attention should be directed.
Monitoring sustainability and the condition of a company’s business model plays a key role in the overall performance and success of an organisation. If these are given the required attention, it would enable easy identification and corrective protocol to eliminate or curb potential problems or detriments.
One of the accounting metrics serving this functionality are Key Performance Indicators, better known as KPI’s. Metaphorically speaking, you could say that just as an Electrocardiogram would monitor your heart, so to would specific KPI’s measure up the health and activity of particular areas of a business. This ultimately leads to a fine-tuned route to achieve financial success.
The two main relative KPI’s would be Financial and Non-Financial. The former would assist in portraying a full view landscape which proves critical when it comes to competitive advantage. These provide quantifiable accounting metrics that are simple to analyse, hence easy to act upon.
An example would be the Debt to Equity Ratio – a ratio calculated by looking at a business’s total liabilities in contrast to the shareholders’ equity. This indicator is vital, helping to keep focus on the financial accountability.
The latter, being Non-Financial KPI’s, are measures not quantifiable in monetary units. Typical non-financial KPI’s would range from product and service quality to human resource management. Also an essential avenue to keep a consistent tab on in order to maintain an ardent image.
A critical element in forming these metrics would be ascertaining what is important to the organisation at hand. The development of KPI’s should be part of an overall strategic management process that connects the mission, vision and strategy of a business. Keeping in mind the goals, both in the long and short term.
Aside from the metrics relating to KPI’s, the most crucial aspect in financial management would be accuracy. Processes that aren’t efficiently controlled along with inaccurate data input, will inevitably have an adverse effect on the business and also leave a window open for measurement inversion. Imagine executing massive plans based on incorrect results and information. This could jeopardise any business severely. Furthermore, the most advanced metric structure proves futile if the information used to ascertain a desired result lacks accuracy. Hence, any enterprise must ensure that there are always effective controls in place with heightened scrutiny over accuracy levels. Regular checking procedures and reconciliations at set intervals need to be structured to maintain this.
Small Business Has A Critical Role To Play In The Economy – But Entrepreneurs Need Better Financial Skills
While government is stepping up to support small business more than ever before, the sector will not thrive unless entrepreneurs are also equipped with the financial tools to optimise their organisations – UCT Associate Professor Mark Graham.
The role of small business in promoting growth and development has shot to the top of the agenda this year with both President Ramaphosa in his inaugural SONA and Minister Malusi Gigaba in his budget speech highlighting the critical role of this sector of the economy.
Globally, SMMEs are recognised as one of the key drivers of economic growth and job creation – and it is clear that the small business sector has led the world out of several global recessions – but in South Africa, the sector is under-performing.
Entrepreneurs need help to become sustainable
Recent data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that South African entrepreneurship lags behind that in similar economies. And for every 1.5 people who were engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity in SA in 2016, one was exiting a business.
According to Mark Graham Associate Professor in Accounting at the University of Cape Town, typical reasons for business failure include: insufficient start-up funding, incorrect pricing for products or services, growing too quickly or prematurely, and inadequate cash flow.
“We need entrepreneurs to run their businesses successfully so that they can be sustainable,” he says. “Most of these issues can be addressed through a proper understanding of financial and accounting principles and concepts to help entrepreneurs run their businesses better.”
A growing understanding of financial principles
Graham, who runs the Finance for Non-Financial Managers programme at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), emphasises that finance and accounting terms are really just a language that uses numbers to tell a story about a business.
“If you understand the fundamentals of financial principles you will be able to analyse what is happening in any organisation,” says Graham.
“Concepts like profit and cash flow are basic to business. However, people are often surprised to find that while a business can be extremely profitable, there may be a cash flow problem that will soon bring it to its knees.
Most people don’t know the basics of financial reports, what the right capital structure (i.e. the mix of debt and equity) might be. By getting to grips with concepts like working capital management and cash flow vs profit, business owners and managers can give themselves the best chance of success.”
Financial literacy is key to entrepreneurial success
Jannie Rossouw, head of Sanlam’s Business Market, agrees that financial literacy is key to entrepreneurial success and has argued that it should be integrated into the school curriculum so that future business owners can understand critical concepts like the time value of money.
“It is imperative that SA starts to spend significant time and resources to address the need for access to quality education aimed at those who want to pursue entrepreneurship and business ownership. We shouldn’t only start teaching these skills at the tertiary level,” says Rossouw.
And it is not just entrepreneurs that would benefit from a better grasp of the basics of finances, says Graham. All businesses should invest in developing the financial skills of their people – especially those in managerial roles.
“It is important for everyone working in business to understand the basic language of business and demystify the jargon – which is one of the things that the course I run at the GSB seeks to do,” he says.
“Feedback from previous course participants shows that people really appreciate being able to see how the numbers are telling a story about the health – or lack thereof – of a business and that this helped them make better business choices.”
Financial tools are needed to optimise businesses
“Sustainable small businesses have big potential to make a significant contribution to the SA economy and put a dent in the unemployment figures. So when Gigaba said that by enabling new businesses with new ideas to emerge and thrive, ‘we are radically transforming patterns of production in the economy’ he is not wrong.
But unless serious steps are also taken to equip owners and managers with the financial tools to optimise their companies, we will find that despite more proactive government policies and funding, the small business sector will still not thrive.”
Build A Financial Model
Start-ups often struggle to develop a suitable financial model for their new businesses. Here are some of the most important financial modelling considerations.
All budding entrepreneurs spend long hours typing up a well versed strategy document for their new entity, as expected. However, very often there is insufficient time allocated to the crux of the business, the numbers.
Definition: Financial modelling is the process by which a firm constructs a financial representation of some, or all, aspects of its business.
For any new start-up entity the initial necessity for assessing potential returns on new investment or seeking external funding can be a daunting process. Whether you are soliciting funds from an institution, or a high net worth individual investor, the financial projections could make or break your deal.
Although you as the founder are naturally optimistic about the new venture, be mindful that most investors would rather see the worst case scenario. This allows the potential investor/banker to take a realistic view on the maximum potential losses, should the business fold in the first 12 – 24 months. As such, it is recommended to produce a low, middle and high road model, for a three to five year period.
Inputs and outputs
Most importantly, always keep in mind that your financial model is nothing more than certain inputs producing certain outputs. By designing the model correctly, a user should be able to change certain inputs to assess the impact of these changes on the related outputs (commonly referred to as a ‘what if analysis’ or ‘stress testing’ a model).
By way of a simple example, your sales revenue line for any specific month should be a function of the number of products sold, at a specific sales price.
For ease of use, both you and a potential investor should be able to adjust either of these variables in order to see how resilient the business model is, should your assumptions be incorrect.
Other basic recommendations when building your model:
- Create an assumption page, clearly defining any assumptions on which the model is built. By linking certain variables to the assumption page the model becomes robust and user-friendly.
- Be as transparent as possible, showing all formulae that lie behind calculations. This allows the user to easily follow logic through the model.
- Aim for simplicity and ease of understanding. Over-complicating a financial model with unnecessary worksheets can confuse and overload the reader.
- When inputting projected overheads, deal with each line item separately, without consolidating. This demonstrates detailed thinking, and allows discussion around each expense if necessary.
- The model should evolve with the business. You should be looking to check the assumptions made at the inception of the business, with the reality of what is achievable, after having the benefit of hindsight. By tweaking the numbers accordingly, the model becomes a more accurate prediction of the business in the future. This should be an ongoing process.
- Beware of attempting to use a generic template that may not apply to your business. Trying to customise these generic models could complicate a would-be simple model. Building your own bespoke model from scratch is the cleanest approach, even if assistance is necessary. This forces you to learn the intricacies of your model, which will hopefully stand you in good stead.
- Many books and websites recommend a myriad of options when it comes to building financial models. As a principle, lean towards the concept of simplicity, provided you are able to integrate your model into regular projected income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statements.
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