I recently setup a limited company and entered the world of contracting. I’m enjoying my new life of freedom but it comes at a cost – so much paperwork! A colleague suggested that I try Free Agent.
Free Agent is a web-based accounting package designed for freelancers and small businesses. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Yet, somehow, I wasn’t expecting much. Actually I was expecting something. Something painful and crashy. Perhaps my expectations were as bad as they were because of my experiences with both enterprise accounting packages and a number of very badly written websites.
At one point in my career I was a Business Analyst and provided training for Oracle’s JD Edwards. This thing was huge. Every form contained umpteen fields and there were complex rules about which ones needed to be filled in in different circumstances. The forms were not so much user-centric as they were data-centric, displaying most of the fields in the database on a screen which scrolled horizontally for pages. Simple tasks like raising a purchase order were a minefield.
Thus I was pleasantly surprised by Free Agent. I signed up for a trial, logged in and everything just made sense. I didn’t need to learn how to use it. Before long I had logged my expenses, prepared my self assessment, raised some estimates and created a vat invoice. Nice. Next I’ll be linking up my business account and organising payroll and dividends. It makes accounting admin so easy.
Now I know that JD Edwards is an enterprise system and needs to support complex accounting for large corporations across the world. It may seem unfair to compare such complex software to the simpler Free Agent and conclude that it doesn’t measure up in terms of simplicity. However, the commentary here is not one about features but of usability.
A user shouldn’t need to duplicate information, perform calculations that the system could perform or find it possible to put the system into an inconsistent/incorrect state.
Rather they should be able to rely on a good interface that does the heavy lifting for them, presents information in an intuitive manner and generally makes their life easier.
All in all Free Agent is brilliant software.