Business is booming, but you’re drowning. Somewhere, beneath a mountain of paperwork and a virtual avalanche of Excel spreadsheets, you’ve lost sight of the fun it used to be to run your business. When you were in command. When you knew where you were and what was going on.

Your business has grown, but your processes haven’t evolved to accommodate it. So it’s time, perhaps, to consider a more dedicated and specialised way of managing your accounts such as professional accounting software. But how much money should you be spending to make it viable for your business? After all, you didn’t get to where you were today by wasting money.

So let’s look at what you need from your software, and whether the benefits are going to be worth the investment.

1. You need software that does the heavy lifting

Even if you’re a sole trader, after a while Excel spreadsheets start to get unwieldy. The longer you’re in business the more customers and clients you’ll be dealing with and the harder it is to keep track.

The busier you get, the more data entry you end up doing. You’re probably having to enter things in multiple locations, increasing your risk of error – and errors can be costly.

Accounting software for sole traders can link everything together, including syncing your bank feeds so you can virtually eliminate data entry.

Take Paddi Roberts, a dance teacher and psychologist. Having various sources of income and using a range of providers created a lot of complexity for her business. Getting proper accounting software not only meant she could manage her finances more easily and more reliably, but it also gave her extra time back. Freed from accounting worries, she can now spend more time enjoying the outdoors and leisure activities.

2. You want software that has a range of integrated app options

As a small business, or even a sole trader, you don’t need the same accounting capabilities as a major corporation with several thousand employees. Their budgets are huge and their needs are expensive. But you just want to pay for something simple: only what you need.

Of course your needs may change and you might eventually want to add more features. If so, modular, cloud-based software is going to be an affordable and flexible option.

Retired airline pilot David Jacobs developed an iPad app demonstrating a special landing technique. He wanted an accounting solution for his new business, but getting a full accounting system, with components he didn’t need, seemed overly complicated and expensive. By choosing a system that offered a range of apps he could simply add when he needed them, David could effectively design his own software, picking only the features he needed and adding more as his business grew.

3. You need software that’s mobile and always accessible

Many of us work extensively outside a conventional office: running a mobile business, or being based in various sites. Thanks to laptops, tablets and mobile phones, we’re effectively connected everywhere we go.

If you want to access your accounts away from your desk, cloud-based accounting software could be the answer. It can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, which means you can add different users no matter where they are. This makes it much easier to collaborate with your team.

Working all over the place also means you need to be aware of how much work you’re actually doing. You don’t want to forget to bill your hours! Accounting software lets you track projects, as well as time and expenses. You can track your time spent on a particular project and account for all your costs, and get instant timesheets and expense reports.

4. You want invoicing to be automated

The more accurate and professional looking your invoices are, and the sooner you send them, the more quickly and reliably you’ll get paid. The problem is that many of us fail to do this promptly and end up with a cash crunch.

Let’s face it, your debtors are going to use any excuse to delay payment. If you’re doing your accounts after a long day – perhaps late at night, when you’re tired and need a break – you’re going to stuff up. More than 60% of invoices are already settled beyond the 30-day payment period.

Self-employed plumber Jason Chivers was already working twelve to fourteen hour days, and hitting the books at the end of the day was too much. But if he didn’t send out his invoices, he wouldn’t get paid. Jason gave cloud-based accounting software a go. It has allowed him to instantly invoice via his iPad after completing a job, easily and accurately. He can then move on quickly to the next job and earn more money, as well as free himself up earlier to enjoy leisure activities.

Will these features take the pain away? Remember that your time is valuable: time is money. Let’s say that just one of these features saves you an hour a month, allowing you to spend that extra hour on billable work.

Even if you were on minimum wage – $16.87 an hour – you’ve already paid off the cost of your software.

To read more about how the right accounting software can save you hours at a time, download our free ebook below.