Financial Planning: What Tools Should Do

When shopping around for accounting solutions for your business, make sure they won’t be too time-consuming to learn.

October 30, 2015

If you’re handling your own recordkeeping, you don’t want to waste time on a long learning curve with overly complicated programs. You could use several solutions that come together to provide multiple accounting services, or you could buy an integrated software suite that includes accounting, sales, expenses, commissions, and payroll in one. Just make sure it’s user-friendly. The more robust the program’s offerings, the longer it could take to learn how to use.

When Luke Weathers, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty Consultants in Roswell, Ga., was investigating accounting systems for his team of two agents and support staff, he found many popular solutions to be more sophisticated than he needed. Individuals and small-team leaders are more likely to want the most intuitive solutions — ones with short learning curves — so they can focus on real estate, he says.

Weathers went with RealtyZam, a $10-a-month cloud-based accounting service that allows him to create categories for his income and expense activities, such as sales, lead generation, and marketing. It also generates graphical reports with insights into budgeting and performance. Weathers devotes about an hour each month entering his team’s business banking and credit card receipts into the system. “It’s been very good as far as tracking our numbers, and it’s made it easier to understand how we’re doing,” he says. “For the price, it’s very effective.”

Where Are You Now?

The search for the right solution should begin with an assessment of how you’re tracking finances today. If you’re using accounting services or already have software in place, where do you need more organization or insight?

Those looking to transition from an older accounting program will want to know they can easily migrate to a new system without re-entering data. QuickBooks users, for example, may want to consider a back-office system that easily integrates with it to provide specific real estate functionality. Once you’ve decided what you want, there’s something that can fulfill every need. Make sure to take advantage of vendor offers to “try before buying” to find your best solution. When shopping around, here are some questions to keep in mind:

Data security: Though cloud-based services are increasingly popular, some users will balk at entrusting remote servers with critical financial data about the company and clients. Software installed on your computer or network can bring you peace of mind on that score. You’ll have fewer program choices, of course, but those that are software tools are reliable. Over the long run, software may be the less expensive option, too. There’s a one-time cost compared to the ongoing subscription fees for cloud services.

General business or real estate–specific software: Unless you’ve hired an accountant to manage your books, you have to make a realistic assessment of accounting software options and your capability to use them. Generic solutions are designed for the typical business, so you’ll need to customize them to some degree for real estate. Solutions specifically designed for real estate have that functionality built in, so you’ll get a faster start on using them. But they may not have as many features as generic solutions. There are affordable solutions in both categories. For a quick start, concentrate on solutions centered around. If you’re comfortable managing your numbers and have a good understanding of basic accounting principles, a general solution will also serve you well.

Report functions: Reports draw insights from your numbers to determine the true costs of doing business, identify trends within your company, assess individual productivity, compare present and past performance, and set goals for the future. When the program can translate those numbers into graphics, you gain quick visual insight into all aspects of your business. Real estate–based solutions can generate commonly used reports, but you always want the option of creating custom reports to gain insights into your specific business.