Zoho Books has been flying under the radar for a few years now, gradually adding features and fans and at the same time refining its design and user experience. The result is a powerful accounting package for small business that is a match for sector leaders like QuickBooks and Xero.
It doesn’t do everything as well as its more famous rivals, but it does some things better. It is also very competitively priced, with three affordable plans that start at just $9 a month. One thing to note is that, while QuickBooks - for example - has a wide enough reach and feature set to service the needs of both small and medium sized companies, Zoho is more suited to firms at the smaller end of the scale.
- Industry leading invoicing and project management
- Good customer portal
- Lack of payroll may put off larger businesses
Zoho Books specs
Deployment: Cloud, SaaS
Apps: Android, iOS, Windows phone
Training: Documentation, webinars, one-to-one tutorials
Support: Phone, email, live chat
Zoho’s excellent dashboard is designed to gently lead users into its more complex and advanced features, displaying graphs for cash flow, income and expense, projects and so on. A nice touch is a graph of your company’s top expenses, letting you keep track of spending and easily distinguish between necessary purchases and more frivolous ones.
As is standard with accounting software, a vertical pane on the left of the screen navigates you around Zoho’s various features. It doesn’t look too dissimilar to equivalent screens in QuickBooks or Xero (to name just two) and the feature list appears to be much the same. But Zoho does contains real points of difference and one or two pleasant surprises.
Invoicing is one. It’s hard to see how Zoho invoicing could possibly be bettered. The program presents you with 16 templates to choose from, which you can customize to some degree. You can autoschedule invoices and set them to recur, and add discounts, shipping charges and attachments. You can schedule reminders and send invoices in any one of 13 supported languages. You can add an extra layer of security by encrypting PDFs. In summary, we couldn’t think of anything invoice-related that you couldn’t achieve with Zoho.
Purchase transactions offer a similar level of detail, and creating expenses and bills, as one-offs or recurring charges, is simple and straightforward. Zoho’s contact management tools also manage to pull of the trick of being both entirely straightforward and extremely detailed, something Zoho pulls off again and again. Zoho’s customer portal is another major point in its favour. It’s great to look at, packed with information and lets you know as soon as clients have viewed your invoices and paid what they owe.
Zoho offers all the other standard features you would expect from a complete accounting package, including bank reconciliation, a detailed chart of accounts, fixed asset management and over 50 reports. It provides tax support, mileage deduction tracking for employees who spend a lot of time on the road, and support for well over 150 currencies. The software’s project management and time tracking tools are among the best we’ve seen. It takes minutes to create a new project, assign tasks to employees, and budget accordingly. A click or two turns a project into an invoice.
To summarise, Zoho offers nearly every feature a small business could need. We say nearly, because if there is one glaring omission it is the lack of a native payroll solution. That won’t be a problem for very small businesses, but makes the package less attractive for larger companies.
Interface and usability
- Clean, clear and logical layout
- Excellent setup support
Setting up your business in Zoho is as clear and easy as anything we’ve come across. Zoho walks you through the entire process, focusing first on the modules you require for your specific business. You can turn other features on and off later. There’s a nice demo video that helps with the basics.
You can then set up opening balances, configure the chart of accounts, connect banks and cards, and add employees with one of three levels of permissions. Some competing solutions, including Xero, allow for more detailed permissions, but Zoho’s access levels will be good enough for most small businesses.
Zoho is popular with very small businesses, so the people doing the setup may not have a great deal of experience with full-featured bookkeeping and accounting software. Zoho is not a basic financial management tool like Wave, and to get the most out of its advanced features takes a little time and effort. Zoho helps here, with a series of excellent webinars and the option to book a one-on-one session with a Zoho product expert. You might not need this, but it’s nice to know it’s there.
If you’ve been using other accounting tools, it’s also good to know that you can import (and export) nearly all data in Zoho using CSV.
After setup, navigating around Zoho’s sections and features is relatively easy. While the most common areas of the package are linked to from the left hand pane, Zoho hides more in the settings tab than some comparable solutions. This isn’t a problem, but it is worth knowing in advance. If you’re not sure where something is, check settings first.
- Excellent customer support
- Good templates and forms
- Decent - but not stellar - integrations
Zoho performs well, getting you where you want to go quickly and efficiently. Its outputs are excellent. Whether you are raising an invoice or compiling a report, Zoho automates what it can and helps with what it can’t. The results are impressive, with the documents you create with Zoho feeling clean, professional and useable.
This is especially true when you use Zoho’s own templates, which are invariably well designed and useful. Doing so saves a lot of time and hassle, which is - after all - the point of a cloud-based accounting package.
We especially liked Zoho’s forms. The solution features all the forms you would expect from a powerful accounting solution, and some you wouldn’t, like packing slips, retainer invoices and delivery notes. Having these automated and in one place can certainly improve the performance of any small business.
As you’d expect, Zoho has a mobile app that syncs with the package and gives you a range of quick insights and tools. It works well, and is available for Android, iOS and, a little unusually, Windows phone.
Integrations are less comprehensive. They are less of a weak point for Zoho than they once were, but it is still a far less connected solution than, say, QuickBooks. But it has got better. Today it connects seamlessly with a wide range of Zoho’s own tools and apps, including Zoho CRM, Zoho Inventory and Zoho Campaigns. Third party solutions are represented by the likes of Office 365, Slack and Square. Zoho can also integrate with third party payroll solutions like greytHR and Paybooks, partially overcoming the lack of in-built payroll features.
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One area where Zoho shines is customer support. You can contact the company in one of a number of ways - phone, email and live chat - and expect to be connected with a helpful and knowledgeable agent. There is also a comprehensive knowledge base, weekly webinars on Zoho products (not all related to Zoho Books), active social media channels and a handy accountant finder.
In a world where big players like QuickBooks and Xero dominate, you may be tempted to overlook Zoho. That would be a mistake. Any small business seriously considering a complete accounting package should at least sign up for the software’s free 14 day trial.
Because when you do, what you will find is a feature-rich solution that, in some areas, is second to none. We couldn’t find fault with its invoicing tools and Zoho’s transaction forms and templates are exceptional. It does pretty much everything well, and even those familiar with accounting and bookkeeping tools are likely to be impressed by Zoho’s obvious attention to detail.
Of course, Zoho isn’t perfect. The majority of complaints surround its lack of native payroll, while we could also imagine Zoho’s limited integrations and sometimes limited customization being a problem for some users.
For those reasons, we think Zoho is better suited to smaller SMEs, while businesses heading for medium-sized status might be better off with an even more comprehensive package. But for small businesses, Zoho is an extremely capable accounting solution with great features, good design and an attractive price.