Best self-employed accounting software Self-employed, freelance, or a sole trader? Accounting software could really help your business – and here’s our pick of the best Alec Hawley October 7, 2021 9 min read Our experts We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality. This article was co-authored by: Alec Hawley Bryn Glover Editor Whether you’re self-employed, freelance, or a sole trader, doing your accounts is never fun. But, help is at hand, and finding the best accounting software for you will mean you spend much less time keeping track of your bills, and more time actually running your business.In our opinion, the best accounting software for freelancers doing essentials such as tax returns is Freshbooks, thanks to its intuitive interface, simple templates to help you process common tasks, and extremely low software cost – kept lower still by regular deals and discounts. Running it close is Quickbooks, another fantastic choice for freelancers that can even work out cheaper depending on the plan you choose.Accounting software does so much more than just keep track of your basic financial comings and goings. You’ll also be able to manage your accounts on the go, create invoices, keep track of your cashflow, and easily handle your expenses. However, there are loads of options out there, and it can be hard to know how they stack up against each other – and which is the right choice for your business.That’s where we come in. We know small businesses inside out, and have used this knowledge to choose the four best self-employed accounting software options out there. We’ve based our choices on features, design, support, and price, and will serve as your guide through this sometimes confusing world. Latest Accounting Software Deals Don't miss out – we've spotted some excellent deals on accounting software that freelancers and sole traders can snap up:Freshbooks – 30 day free trial, then plans beginning from just £11 per month (Alternative deal: 60% off for the first 6 months)Sage – plans from £12 per month (with a 5-months free period when you pay to sign up)QuickBooks – 30 day free trial, then plans beginning from just £8 per month (Alternative deal: 50% off for the first 4 months) Best self-employed accounting software - Our top picks QuickBooks - Best for doing your tax return FreshBooks - Best for impressing your clients Sage Business Cloud Accounting - Best for customer support Xero - Best for a clean, user-friendly interface How to choose your self-employed accounting software Best self-employed accounting software – Our top picksSo, without further ado, here they are – our top choices for best self-employed accounting software: QuickBooks – Best for doing your tax return✔️ Makes sorting your self-assessment tax return a doddle❌ Support options are limited Recommended plansQuickBooks Self Employed (£8 per month exc VAT)QuickBooks Simple Start (£12 per month exc VAT) QuickBooks is one of the big players when it comes to accounting software in the UK, and its unrivalled features for sole traders and freelancers makes it a very strong contender when it comes to the best self-employed accounting software.Where QuickBooks really stands out is its tax planning support. Unlike with some of the other options on this list, you can:Separate personal and business expensesTrack mileageAutomatically view income estimatesEasily get all the figures you need when it comes to submitting your self-assessment tax returnThese features come on top of a very capable business accounting package. Even the most basic plan comes with:Unlimited invoicingReport creation toolsBank account integrationThe ability to snap your receipts on the go, and have the data automatically extractedIt’s good value too – the base self-employed plan has a standard cost of just £8 per month (exc VAT), making it one of the cheapest plans out there.This should be ideal for most self-employed people, but if you are registered for VAT, then you should upgrade to the Simple Start plan (£12 per month exc VAT), as this lets you easily prepare and submit your electronic VAT declarations. You even get SmartScan, a clever bit of error checking tech that will check whether any of your VAT codes are unusual (i.e. possibly wrong) or duplicates. Simple Start also lets you quickly create quotes and estimates, and supports Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) contractor and sub-contractor deductions.The only thing to really fault QuickBooks on is its support options. The £8 per month self-employed plan only offers online chat support, and while the hours for this are generous (7am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 8pm on weekends), it might not be ideal for some self-employed people. Of course, there are lots of resources available through the website, but in terms of actual one-to-one assistance, you might not be able to get help when you really need it.The £12 per month Simple Start plan adds phone support, but with similar conditions. This is available 8am to 12am Monday to Friday and 8am to 8pm on weekends, which is again generous, but obviously not 24/7. VerdictFor most people, QuickBooks is the perfect self-employed accounting software, with a very strong base package elevated by specialised tax planning support for sole traders and freelancers. It’s reasonably priced, and has a strong track record, having been available in the UK since 2011. The only thing we’re less keen on is the slightly limited support on offer, but even this shouldn’t be much of a problem for most users. FreshBooks – Best for impressing your clients✔️ Impressive invoice and estimate creation tools❌ Lite plan is limited to five clients Recommended planFreshbooks Lite (£11 a month exc VAT) Freshbooks began life in Canada in 2003, but has recently made a strong push in the UK, including adding Making Tax Digital (MTD) VAT integration in 2020. It’s a strong overall package, but what we really like is its invoice and estimate creation tools.While most accounting software offers this, it’s been a key priority for Freshbooks for years, and this focus really shows. There’s a wide range of colours available, and it’s easy to import your own graphics, meaning you can very quickly produce invoices and estimates that perfectly reflect the tone of your self-employed business.Freshbooks’ base plan, Lite (£11 a month exc VAT), also includes some really useful features for sole traders and freelancers. You’ll get:Unlimited time trackingUnlimited expensesMobile mileage trackingUnlimited estimatesReporting toolsBank account integrationThe ability to easily create VAT reports that can be submitted directly to HMRC with a clickThe real downside is the five client limit on the Lite plan. Freshbooks advises that this refers to “the number of both active and archived clients in your account”. However, “if you’re no longer billing or working with a client, you can delete them to free up spots for new clients”, and retain access to their invoices and information. You are also able to delete and undelete clients as you wish.How much this impacts you will, of course, depend on how many clients your business has – but it feels like a rather strict limit given the monthly cost. The other option is to upgrade to the Plus plan, which costs £19 per month (exc VAT) and limits you to 50 billable clients per month.In terms of support, Freshbooks does offer phone assistance alongside the resources on its website. However, this seems to operate on US business hours – meaning it’s only available from 1pm to 1am GMT – so make sure you bear this in mind when choosing the right self-employed accounting software for your business. VerdictFreshbooks offers some of the best invoice and estimate creation tools around, and all its plans include advanced features like time tracking, mileage tracking, and MTD VAT support. As long as you can stay within the five billable clients per month limit (or can afford to upgrade), then it could be the perfect self-employed accounting software for your business. Sage Business Cloud Accounting – Best for customer support✔️ 24/7 customer support❌ Lacks some additional features Recommended planAccounting Start (£12 per month exc VAT) If you’re less confident with accounting software, then Sage Business Cloud Accounting is a strong option. Everything is arranged clearly and logically, plus there’s 24/7 support via phone and live chat, so there’s someone there to help whenever you need it.Sage’s base package, Accounting Start, costs £12 per month (exc VAT) and includes tools to calculate and submit VAT returns. When it comes to self-employed accounting software, this plan is probably more suited to well established freelance/sole trader businesses.With Accounting Start, you get a solid basic package. This lets you:Create and send invoicesTrack what you’re owedAutomatically reconcile your bank accountsCreate and submit MTD VAT reports to HMRCHowever, if you need to work out Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductions, then you’ll require the £24 per month (exc VAT) Accounting Standard plan. This also grants you the ability to:Run advanced reportsSend quotes and estimatesForecast cashflowManage purchase invoicesAnd that’s it, unfortunately. No matter which plan you pick, you won’t get any advanced features like mileage tracking, and the ability to import expenses receipts by snapping them on your phone is only available as an optional extra.Where Sage really shines, though, is its customer support. On all plans, you get 24/7 help via both phone and live chat, as well as a comprehensive suite of instructional videos and online guides. VerdictIf you’re looking for basic accounting software and support to guide you every step of the way, then Sage Business Cloud Accounting could well be your best option for self-employed accounting software. The 24/7 support on offer is unrivalled, but for most freelancers and sole traders, the feature list is a bit limited for the price. To learn more, check out our in-depth Sage Business Cloud Accounting review. Xero – Best for a clean, user-friendly interface✔️ Looks great❌ Usage limits on basic plan Recommended planXero Starter (£10 per month exc VAT) Xero calls itself “beautiful accounting”. While beautiful might be going a bit far, here at startups.co.uk, we’re big fans of its elegant interface. Everything is laid out clearly, and the white, blue, grey, and light green pastel colours it uses are calming. This is important, given that you’ll be checking your accounting software a lot as you run your self-employed business.Crucially, there’s substance to go with that style. The basic £10 per month (exc VAT) starter plan lets you:Create invoices and quotesEnter billsReconcile bank transactionsSubmit VAT returns to HMRCAutomatically calculate Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductionsCapture bills and receipts using HubdocHowever, this plan does also come with some strict usage limits – indeed, you can only send 20 invoices and quotes and enter five bills per month. Go above this, and you’ll need to start paying £24 per month (exc VAT) for the Standard plan. It’s a steep increase, especially given that the Standard plan offers no other extra features.It’s also unclear what Xero’s promise of “24/7 support” actually means. Its website is full of helpful guides and instructional videos, but things are much less clear cut when it comes to getting help from an actual human. Xero has no support number you can call, and no live chat option either. Instead, you send a message, and then wait for them to get back to you. It’s hard to tell how long this takes, and there’s at least one disgruntled customer on the Xero forums complaining about waiting several hours for a response to their query. VerdictProvided you can stay within the usage limits, Xero is the natural choice for anyone who wants sleek, stylish self-employed accounting software. With those limits offering a very clear incentive to upgrade, Xero does offer an impressive range of features in its basic plan – making this plan perfect for any small-scale sole traders that need to work out VAT or CIS deductions. The limited support on offer, however, means that those less confident with accounting software might want to look elsewhere. How to choose your self-employed accounting softwareChoosing the right self-employed accounting software for your business is just like choosing anything else – you need to work out what you need most, and what you can live without.If, for example, you’re VAT registered, then it’s going to make a real difference if you choose software that lets you directly submit VAT returns to HMRC. And if you know you’ll need to calculate Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) deductions, then look for a plan that offers this.More generally, think carefully about how your business works. If the plan you’re considering has strict usage limits, then work out whether you’re likely to be able to stay within them. You should also think about how much you’ll actually use advanced features like time tracking, or being able to submit your expenses just by snapping a receipt with your smartphone.Just as importantly, think about how you work. If you’re an IT whizz that loves learning new software, then you probably don’t need to worry too much about when and how in-person support is available. If you’re less confident though, it could be worth paying a bit more to ensure there’s always someone to call if/when you run into problems.Finally, if you really can’t decide, then check whether a free trial is available. At the time of writing, QuickBooks, Sage, Xero, and Freshbooks all offer 30-day free trials, so you can take them for a spin and see if they’re the right self-employed accounting software for you. If you do do this though, make sure you know what features would actually be on offer in your chosen plan – the free trial generally gives you access to everything, and there’s no point diving into features that are only available on plans you can’t afford.This time and effort is worth it, though. Whether you’re self-employed, a freelancer, or a sole trader, finding the right accounting software can make running your business quicker, easier, and less stressful – leaving you more time to do what you’re actually good at.Good luck! Share this post facebook twitter linkedin Tags LAUNCH Guides and Resources Alec Hawley Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.