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For a successful business, you need a viable business idea, the skills to make it work and the funding. Discover whether your idea has what it takes.

Forming your business correctly is essential to ensure you are protected and you comply with the rules. Learn how to set up your business.

It is likely you will need funding to start your business unless you have your own money. Discover some of the main sources of start up funding.

Businesses and individuals must account for and pay various taxes. Understand your tax obligations and how to file, account and pay any taxes you owe.

Businesses are required to comply with a wide range of business laws. We introduce the main rules and regulations you must comply with.

Learn why business planning is an essential exercise if your business is to start and grow successfully, attract funding or target new markets.

Marketing matters. It drives sales and helps promote your brand and products. Discover how to market your business and reach your target customers.

Some businesses need a high street location whilst others can be run from home. Understand the key factors from cost to location, size to security.

Your employees can your biggest asset. They can also be your biggest challenge. We explain how to recruitment and manage staff successfully.

It is likely your business could not function without some form of IT. Learn how to specify, buy, maintain and secure your business IT.

Few businesses manage the leap from start up to high-growth business. Learn what it takes to scale up and take your business to the next level.

Best accounting software for your business

The rules on how to keep VAT records and submit VAT returns changed on 1 April 2019 under Making Tax Digital. All sole traders, micro-business and small firms with a taxable turnover above the VAT-registration threshold now need to use compatible accounting software to submit their VAT returns. Here's our guide to some of the top packages

Which accounting software should I use?

Choosing accounting software can be daunting. It's important to find a solution that's the right fit for you and your business; it must have the features you need right now and be able to support you as your business grows and as tax self-assessment rules change.

Our guide allows you to compare features, functionality and prices to some of the most popular accounting packages, all in one place. Key features you need to consider include VAT returns, PAYE and payroll solutions. (Prices and functionality are as quoted on provider websites as at 25 November 2020.)

VAT software

From April 2022, Making Tax Digital (MTD) will apply to all VAT-registered businesses. It will be extended to include almost all self-employed workers, freelancers and small businesses from April 2023. This means that, even if you don't fall under MTD now, eventually you will need an MTD-compliant software-based accounting solution. The good news is that accounting software can handle your VAT compliance, save a lot of time and could even reduce the fees you have to pay to your business accountant.

Top accounting software packages

QuickBooks (Intuit)

Aimed at: Small businesses, the self-employed and accountants.

Key features & USPs: Tracks income and manages self-assessment for sole traders; invoicing; receipts; downloads bank transactions; payroll; manages CIS deductions; bills and payments.

Free trial? Yes (30-day).

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes.

Works with multiple currencies? Yes.

Links to bank accounts? Yes.

Handles payroll? Yes, for an additional £4 Standard and £8 Advanced per month.

Stock management? Yes.

Mobile version? Yes.

Any limit on number of users? From three to five, depending on package. Quickbooks Desktop can be more.

Costs: Simple Start £12 per month; for Essentials from £20 per month; Plus from £30 per month.


Aimed at: Freelancers, self employed, small businesses.

Key features & USPs: Makes billing and expenses tracking easy. Time tracking also makes it easy to make sure you're paid for every working minute.

Free trial? Yes (30-day).

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes.

Works with multiple currencies? Yes.

Links to bank accounts? Yes. Automated bank import.

Handles payroll? Not built in, but can be handled via software integrations.

Stock management? Yes.

Mobile version? Yes.

Any limit on number of users? Two team members included. Extra users can be added for £7 per user/month.

Costs: Lite £11 per month, Plus £19 per month, Premium £30 per month. Discounts available when paying annually.

Clear Books Large

Aimed at: SMEs; accountants and bookkeepers supporting SMEs.

Key features & USPs: CIS; fixed asset accounting; dividend calculation and distribution; project accounting; bank feeds and uploads; quotations and invoicing; stock lists and pricing; multi-currency; free email and telephone support.

Free trial? Yes (30-day).

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes. Full VAT accounting, VAT return production and MTD online submission to HMRC.

Works with multiple currencies? Yes.

Links to bank accounts? Yes, via bank feeds and uploads.

Handles payroll? Via separate product.

Stock management? Can manage stock lists and selling/buying prices. No stock levels.

Mobile version? Yes, available to download free from the App Store and Google Play.

Any limit on number of users? No.

Costs: from £12.00 for the first three months, then £24.00 per month. Savings available for annual payments (one or two years).


Aimed at: Freelancers, contractors and micro-businesses.

Key features & USPs: VAT filing; RTI-compliant payroll; overview screen bringing together invoices, expenses, bank accounts and cash flow tracking; Tax Timeline enabling users to see upcoming dates for self-assessment, VAT, corporation tax and payroll; powerful double-entry accounting engine; self-assessment filing for sole traders and limited company directors; free UK-based telephone and email support.

Free trial? Yes (30-day).

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes.

Works with multiple currencies? Yes.

Links to bank accounts? Yes.

Handles payroll? Yes.

Stock management? Yes.

Mobile version? Yes (iOS and Android).

Any limit on number of users? No.

Costs: Monthly at 50% discount for the first six months, from £9.50 for sole traders; £12.00 for partnership/LLP; £14.50 for limited companies. Full price applies after the first six months. Free for NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland or Ulster Bank NI business current account holders.

Sage Business Cloud Accounting

Aimed at: Entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses.

Key features: Free 24/7 telephone and email support 365 days a year; users can choose to take Payroll without an Accounting subscription.

Free trial? Yes

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes

Works with multiple currencies? Yes.

Links to bank accounts? Yes. Sage Business Cloud Accounting syncs with your bank account to give you an up-to-date view of your finances.

Handles payroll? Yes. Sage business cloud payroll offers tiers based on the number of employees.

Stock management? Yes.

Mobile version? Yes. Sage Expenses and Invoices apps are free for IOS and Android.

Any limit on number of users? Sage Accounting Start is for single users; Sage Accounting and Sage Accounting Plus is unlimited multi-user.

Costs: For Donut site users only - 75% off for four months then monthly from £12 for Sage Accounting Start; £24 for Sage Accounting; £30 for Sage Accounting Plus; Sage Payroll: from £7 for up to twenty-five employees (higher prices apply for additional employees).


Aimed at: Small business owners and their accountants, contractors.

Key features & USPs: Direct bank feeds; easy invoicing, expenses, CIS, stock control and bill paying; you can submit VAT and payroll to HMRC online directly; payroll; easy to use dashboard to see how your business is doing; mobile apps for invoicing, expenses and bank transactions; updates and new features released every three to six weeks; unlimited user access.

Free trial? Yes (30-days).

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes. - across all pricing plans. Xero calculates your VAT and lets you file VAT returns online directly.

Works with multiple currencies? Premium plan only.

Links to bank accounts? Yes.

Handles payroll? Yes. Three months free and then £5 per month for up to five employees and £1 for each additional employee.

Stock management? Yes.

Mobile version? Yes.

Any limit on number of users? No.

Costs: Initial 50% three month discount for the Starter plan £5 per month, Standard plan £12 per month and Premium plan £15 per month. Charges increase to £10pm/ £24pm/£30 after six months.

Zoho Books

Aimed at: SMEs and freelancers.

Key features & USPs: Double entry accounting software with financial reports including profit & loss, balance sheet and cash flow statement; business transactions including quotes, invoices, bills, expenses, credit and debit notes, recurring invoices, PO, SO and more; project billing and time tracking for service-based businesses; automation and customisation capabilities; integrates with Zoho apps including Zoho CRM, Zoho Projects, Zoho Expense, Zoho Inventory, Zoho Subscriptions and Zoho People.

Free trial? Yes (14-day).

MTD VAT capabilities? Yes. UK businesses can collect and record VAT on transactions and produce VAT reports for EU transactions and allows you to enable the flat-rate VAT option.

Works with multiple currencies? Yes.

Links to bank accounts? Yes.

Handles payroll? Not currently. Zoho Payroll is available in other countries and they are working on integrating it for UK businesses.

Stock management? Yes.

Mobile version? Available on iOS, Android and Windows; native apps for Apple Watch and iPad.

Any limit on number of users? Pricing plans are based on user and customer numbers. Basic supports two users and 50 contacts (customers and vendors for whom you can create transactions for); Standard supports three user and 500 contacts; Professional supports ten users and > 500 contacts.

Costs: Monthly from £6.00 for the Basic plan; £12.00 for the Standard plan; £18.00 for the Professional plan. Annual plans cost £60, £120 and £180 respectively.

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