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Wave Accounting review

Not the biggest or the best, but excellent value

Our Verdict

Wave is a powerful and well designed basic financial management package for very small businesses. It is free, which explains the omission of one or two useful features.

For

  • It’s free! (though some extra functionality can be paid for)
  • The design is clean, clear and functional
  • Mastering Wave is a very easy learning curve

Against

  • Bigger than a very small business? It’s probably not for you
  • It lacks a couple of features that even its target market may find useful
  • Support can be a little sluggish

Really, what’s not to like about Wave? If it cost $10 a month, we would talk about a lack of certain advanced features and still conclude that this is a very decent bookkeeping and accountancy option for freelancers and very small businesses. 

The fact that Wave is free is a huge bonus, especially where cash-strapped freelancers, startup entrepreneurs and Etsy traders are concerned. That makes it a real contender in the space occupied by the likes of FreshBooks and GoDaddy BookKeeping. That said, if you own a business with 20 employees, you almost certainly need a bit more, and that means spending money on true accounting software. The best thing we can say about Wave is that if it’s just you, or perhaps you and a couple of friends, you probably don’t have to.

Features

  • You can easily start to create invoices, recurring invoices and estimates
  • Wave’s dashboard is great, displaying the information you need
  • There is no built-in inventory tracking feature
Wave specs

Deployment: Cloud
Apps: Android and iOS
Training: Documentation, webinars
Support: Email, documentation, user community

There’s no doubt that Wave does the basics well, but it also goes beyond that. For instance, adding customers by hand is easy enough, but you can also import contacts from CSV and, usefully, Google Contacts. Many freelancers use Gmail for business, and if you’re one of them then populating your customer database can be achieved in a matter of minutes. 

Once you have customers, you can start to create invoices, recurring invoices and estimates. You can set up credit card payments and create customer statements. Invoices and statements can be attached as PDFs. 

Everything you produce using Wave looks modern, clean and professional, and that is also true of Wave as a whole. It is very nicely designed, and a user-friendly layout means that all the important information is exactly where you expect to find it. As is the norm with accounting software, a vertical pane on the left of the screen contains the links you need for all Wave’s most useful features.

Wave’s dashboard is great, displaying the information you need and nothing more. It’s simple and clear, featuring cash flow and profit and loss charts, a breakdown of what you owe and what is owed to you, your net income and an expenses breakdown. For freelancers and small businesses, that’s pretty much everything you need to keep on top of your finances. Clicking on a link takes you to more detailed information about that specific figure or transaction.

What many freelancers want above all is something that takes away the drudgery of invoicing customers, chasing payments and tracking receipts. Wave excels here, letting you schedule reminders, record payments, and upload expense receipts in moments. You can easily track the status of your invoices, and the sales dashboard will point out overdue bills and prompt you to send reminders. If you have only tracked invoices and expenses on Excel before, the ease of use will be a revelation. 

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Wave accounting

(Image credit: Wave)
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Wave accounting

(Image credit: Wave)

Wave also comes with three report templates, for profit and loss, balance sheet and cash flow. That’s not many, especially compared to the 60 or so QuickBooks Online comes armed with, but these three are the crucial ones for very small businesses. 

And for a free package, Wave is remarkably generous. There are no limits on the invoices you can send or the contacts you can create. You do pay a fee if you want to add payroll, payment processing, or professional bookkeeping, but that’s hardly surprising and many freelancers and sole proprietors will be happy to do without these features. 

But while it is certainly true that Wave gives you a great deal for nothing at all, there has to be a trade off when you are getting something for nothing. For a start, there is no built-in inventory tracking feature, though that might not be a problem for many very small businesses, and especially those offering services rather than  products. What would certainly be useful is the kind of time tracking and project management tools that many paid for packages in the micro-business marketplace include. FreshBooks, for example, has particularly strong offerings in this area.

Nor can you estimate quarterly taxes or add multiple users, among other omissions. But it seems a little churlish to complain too much about these things. If you’re a cash-strapped freelancer or sole proprietor, Wave provides you with a powerful and efficient way to simplify your financial life, keep track of your spending and make sure you get paid on time for your work. It will connect with your bank and reconcile your accounts. It does all this simply and well. In summary, Wave offers the most comprehensive feature list of any free accounting software package, and can hold its own against many paid for alternatives.

Interface and usability

  • Wave is great to look at and easy to navigate around
  • Wave is also completely ad free
  • Does not require any kind of proficiency in bookkeeping or accounting

If you think a clean and satisfying user experience might be one step too far for the producers of a free software package, think again. Wave is great to look at and easy to navigate around. Its simple blue and white design is uncluttered and logically laid out. We didn’t have any issues getting to grips with its features which are all easy to find.

We should probably add at this point that Wave is also completely ad free. The company behind the software makes money from credit card processing and some of Wave’s other paid-for features, none of which you are in any way obliged to try. 

Wave boasts a very easy learning curve. Setup is simplicity itself, and does not require any kind of proficiency in bookkeeping or accounting. After sign up Wave presents you with a series of options depending on what you want to do first. Choose invoicing and you can be sending your first request for payment in a couple of minutes. You can also choose general bookkeeping and payroll. When you complete each section Wave will give you the option to set up the next. None of it is anything other than straightforward. 

Wave also features some very nice templates. That’s particularly noticeable when you first set up invoicing and are presented with a choice of three readymade designs: contemporary, classic and modern. You can add a logo and tweak colours, but in general Wave is not overly customizable compared with some competitors. But it doesn’t really need to be. The invoice templates look great as they are, and most very small businesses will be happy to stick with these.

Performance

  • Its accounting tools are simple but effective
  • There isn’t a full Wave mobile app
  • Third party apps are not well catered for

Wave is a smart and usable financial management tool for very small businesses. It does not perform like a fully-featured accounting package, and shouldn’t be compared to one. What it does, it does well.

Creating a report, raising an invoice and uploading an expense receipt are easy to do and take minutes. Its accounting tools are simple but effective. 

One shortfall with Wave is integrations. There isn’t a full Wave mobile app, just two apps that allow you to complete the most common Wave tasks - invoicing and uploading receipts. These are available for Android and iOS and perform their limited tasks well. But Wave’s mobile solutions are no match for those of competitors like FreshBooks, and having two apps is simply not as convenient as having one.

Similarly, third party apps are not well catered for. Wave knows its market, and integrates seamlessly with Shoeboxed, Etsy, PayPal and Google Sheets. And that’s it. The integrations are well thought out - Etsy sellers can connect to Wave and it will track their Etsy income - but by no stretch of the imagination could Wave be described as the centre a network of conjoined financial applications. 

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Another issue is customer support. Wave’s Help Centre is good, with a large repository of helpful articles and guides, and you can also connect to an online community of users. But if you can’t find what you need using these methods, your only option is to email. There is no phone or live chat services for users who only take the free tools. Emails can take around a day to answer, which can affect your performance if you have a real issue.

Verdict

Wave is a very good financial management tool for freelancers, small proprietors and micro-businesses. Complete beginners will quickly get the hang of its most-used features. Its clean, logical design makes Wave easy to use and navigate.

We were particularly impressed with its intuitive setup and stylish, professional templates. Most freelancers won’t want or need anything else. If you need a smart tool to automate time consuming tasks like sending and chasing receipts and tracking expenses, Wave is an excellent choice.

It can actually do much more than that, with decent banking and accounting tools and a few useful integrations. But it’s worth remembering that Wave is free, and won’t offer everything its paid-for rivals can.

What many very small businesses will miss most in that respect are the kind of time- and project-tracking tools that FreshBooks, for one, does so well. Its integrations and mobile apps are also limited, so it won’t become the hub of your wider financial world. But for a free service, Wave is remarkably accomplished.