One big issue I used to have when doing my business bookkeeping was gathering and organizing all my documents. I tried many methods, both paper and digital. I’ve even created a QuickBooks Bookkeeping System course that’s totally built around collecting, organizing, entering, and filing documents for accounting purposes.
You might be wondering why use a digital document management system and software when your can put your paper in a filing cabinet? Business document management software can allow you to do lots of neat things that a paper based systems can’t:
- Capture documents by scanner, email, smartphone, camera, and web
- Store the documents in the cloud (online), locally on your desktop, or both
- Pull data from the documents using OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
- Export data directly into your accounting software
- Add tags to your documents, allowing you to file them in multiple ways
I did an interview with the paperless master Brooks Duncan of DocumentSnap.com about how to go paperless with a digital filing system. It goes through the pros, cons, and setup of a paperless way of business document management. His site is dedicated to going paperless, so I’d make sure to check him out if you’re trying to take your document management digital.
Because I’m assuming you checked out the paperless interview with Brooks above and know the benefits of going paperless, what I want to cover is using document management software specifically for bookkeeping and accounting.
I’ve made up a list of different things to consider when choosing a business document management system:
- Automated processing of data / OCR
- Adding metadata (tags, notes, accounting details)
- Both online and offline ability to access files
- Collecting files – different methods available (scanner, web, email, smartphone, desktop)
- Structure and organization of filing system
- Search – how robust is it
- Sharing – how easy is it
- Document viewer for working with files
- Integration with other software
- Storage space
- Setup / Installation
- Support / Help
- Export of data
- What happens if you stop using the service?
Document Management Software Providers
So, you might be wondering what software is currently out there that can help with your document management. Below is a list (in no particular order) of document management software that can help with your bookkeeping / accounting needs. They are grouped by what they specialize in, but this doesn’t mean that software couldn’t fall in more than one category (for example: shoeboxed.com could fall into all 5 categories), so make sure to read the brief summaries further down in this article.
I also want to put out a big warning that I have an extreme positive prejudice towards online document management software (or at least software where the online part is the most important part of their package). If you haven’t realized it yet, all out software is going to the cloud, so if your document management systems does not work with the cloud, it’s going to get left behind.
Specialized in managing business receipts
Specialized in integrating with QuickBooks Desktop
- PaperSave Plus
- Personable (SourceLink and Scanwriter)
- Simple Software (SimpleIndex and SimpleQB)
Specialized for the desktop
General online document management
Here’s an overview of each software. Full reviews of the software specialized in business document management are being conducted. This means that the little details that make some software better than others for your needs won’t be included in these summaries.
Specialized in managing receipts
It was built with the sole intent of allowing bookkeepers / accountants and clients to collaborate. It is therefore basic in design and functionality. The service is completely cloud-based, meaning no local storage on your computer is available.
You can either upload documents through it’s web interface, email, or through their iPhone app. Once the documents are online at LedgerDocs, they go into a general inbox. From there you have folders to which you can put your documents into, similar to how you’d file documents on a computer.
One nice feature is the document viewer, which allows you to quickly go from document to document, add tags to them, rename the files, and add notes. If you have multi-page documents, you have to tag and organize one page at a time, since every page is treated as a separate document.
Downloading documents can only be done one-file-at-a-time. If you’re looking to get all your documents you have to contact support to get a zip file.
Here’s the most up-to-date pricing. It starts from $4 a month and goes up from there. No credit card is required to sign up.
LedgerDocs doesn’t have some of the fancy capabilities of other software below, such as extracting data, local storage of files, OCR, adding accounting metadata, and exporting the data to accounting software.
Like LedgerDocs, OfficeDrop is also fairly basic software. It has OCR built-in, which means that you should theoretically be able to type in some words found in your document (such as the price you paid for something) and it will find the document for you. I say theoretically because OCR is never 100%. Viewing documents must be done one-file-at-a-time, since OfficeDrop opens up a separate window in your web browser when you click on a document. If you’re looking to quickly scroll through documents, and comment / label them, it’s not the ideal experience. From the view mode you can add comments and apply labels (tags).
A nice feature is the ability to sync your local folders on your PC (Mac version coming) to OfficeDrop’s online storage service. You are able to select any folder you like, which is handy as some programs force you to have all your documents in one folder. This is useful if you’ve already got a digital folder structure that you don’t want to change. This also allows you to easily upload all your documents by simply syncing OfficeDrop with your desktop folders.
The last feature of OfficeDrop is that you can share files or folders with other people (with the option to share only with one person or with the public).
You can use OfficeDrop to attach receipts to FreshBooks (online billing and cloud accounting software). Since OfficeDrop doesn’t extract any data from your documents I don’t see it as being that useful of a feature.
Here’s the most up-to-date pricing. It starts from free and goes up from there. No credit card is required to sign-up.
Is a comprehensive system for managing documents for bookkeeping / accounting. The service started in 2007 and allowed you to mail in all your documents to be scanned and stored online. It has since evolved into a complete business document management system that allows the upload of digital receipts as well.
What makes Shoeboxed unique is that the service will extract bookkeeping information from your receipts (such as vendor name, taxes, accounting categories, payment method, etc…) for you. It’s done through a process of OCR and human checkers. You shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this means you won’t have to do any bookkeeping for your expenses, but this can save you a bit of time, since your job is to now verify your receipts (you’ll still want to double-check categorizations and amounts even though they have human checkers).
Since Shoeboxed is probably the most feature-rich document management software for bookkeeping / accounting I’ve seen, I can’t go into depth about all the features (this will be done in the full review). Instead, I’ll quickly list them off.
- Document viewer that allows you to quickly go from one document to the next as well as add details to receipts (vendor name, taxes, accounting categories, payment method, etc…)
- Ability to add accounting categories as well as bank and credit card accounts, making categorization easier
- Universal search that will search all your documents (and since your documents have a lot of info pulled out of them, this can prove to be quite useful in finding a receipt)
- Multiple way to upload (drag and drop documents into the web browser, Windows and Mac OS X desktop uploader, mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android, email in documents, and envelopes that you can mail in)
- Multiple ways to export data (CSV, Excel, PDF with expense table and receipt images, QuickBooks IIF file, MYOB, Xero / Saasu (CSV), as well as integrating directly with QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Xero, and Sassu). The export also allows you to customize the date range, and expense type.
The service is completely cloud-based, meaning no local storage on your computers is available. For cloud document management software, it’s the speediest and most versatile that I’ve seen so far.
Pricing is a pain-in-the-a** to find. You have to sign-up for free to see the options, which you can do from their home page. It starts from free with the DIY Forever account (where you upload and process documents yourself) and goes up from there. No credit card is required to sign-up. In case you can’t see the option for the DIY account (like me), it’s on the right hand side of the plan page, purposely made not obvious, but it’s there.
If you read the overview for Shoeboxed above, you’ll notice that they are similar services. You can get documents to them by mail, file upload, email, and smart phone (iPhone). So, for the purpose of not being redundant, I will highlight the differences between Shoeboxed and Receipt Bank. Things that Receipt Bank does differently are:
- Integrates with Dropbox, meaning that it’ll create a folder within your dropbox from which it’ll automatically process all items in that folder once every 24 hours. A new folder called “processed files” will be created as well, meaning that no matter how you get files to Receipt Bank, they’ll end up in your Dropbox folder. This is pretty cool since you’ll be able to locally access your documents on any computer as well as be able to access them online via Receipt Bank or Dropbox. This local storage capability is something that Shoeboxed can’t do.
- You are limited to the types of files you can upload to be automatically processed (you can manually process any document you like, but it’s not recommended). For example, you can’t upload (bank statements, atm receipts, paperwork regarding recurring payments, receipts showing full credit card numbers, non-expense documents).
- The search is different (There are about 18 different criteria to choose from like date, amount, name, etc…). Without testing, I don’t know if it’s better or worse than Shoeboxed.
- Export options are not quite as extensive. For example, the export to PDF only contains the images, but not an expense table, like Shoeboxed. The other export options are to Xero, Excel, and email. Two nice things are its “Expense Report” which generates a submission / sign-off page. Second is that if you do use Xero, it does attache the images of the receipts to your Xero transactions, which is something Shoeboxed can’t do.
There are other fine grained details that are different, but those are the major ones. Shoeboxed seems a bit more full featured, but that’s not to discount Receipt Bank. To me, the integration with Dropbox alone is something that gives it an edge over Shoeboxed (but I’m an existing user of Dropbox). If you find yourself liking one after trying it out, I’d seriously consider giving the other a spin before making a final decision. It’s those little details that may make you go to one service vs. the other.
Here’s the most up-to-date pricing. It starts from free and goes up from there (the pricing is more affordable than Shoeboxed). No credit card is required to sign-up.
Neat is unique in that it is both hardware and software, meaning a scanner plus document management software. In comparison to the other software in this article, Neat is more focused on personal documents than business documents.
It has an assortment of products, which is not dissimilar to a feature list, except that they actually are separate products. You can find the full Neat product listing here.
- NeatDesk: Their document management software plus their desktop scanner.
- NeatReceipt: The same document management software as NeatDesk but a mobile scanner instead of a desktop scanner
- NeatCloud / NeatMobile: The first being their webapp, the second being their iPhone / iPad app. NeatCloud also allows you to email in receipts as well.
- NeatScan: Their mail-in scanning service – you send them docs, they scan them in.
- NeatVerify: Their human checker service – because OCR is not perfect, they offer to manually check each receipt to ensure the accurate extraction of data
- Neat Software for Mac: The OS X version of the document management software (no scanner) at a price of $79.
- Neat Software for PC: The Windows version of the document management software, which is actually NOT for sale on it’s own. If you want the software, you have to buy the scanner as well, by purchasing NeatDesk or NeatReceipt. Kind of silly if you ask me (and as I’ve seen other people on the web comment as well).
Neat feels to me like an almost-there product or an in-between product. Like Shoeboxed and Receipt Bank, it has some good data extraction capabilities for receipts (such as vendor name, taxes, accounting categories, payment method, etc…). However from an initial look, only the PC version of Neat can export files to accounting software (QuickBooks Desktop is the only choice). This means that the Mac and Cloud version can’t be used for exporting the data to accounting software. So, while Neat can help pull data off of your receipts, what are you realistically going to do with data if you can’t import it into accounting software? Well, you can still use it to make an expense report and enter it manually into your accounting software or give it to a bookkeeper, but it seems like it would be so much better if it had stronger export capabilities. I would almost prefer Neat to be more basic, like LedgerDocs and OfficeDrop, since I don’t want to spend all that effort verifying data (whether through their provided service or by manually doing it) extracted from receipts if that data can’t be easily imported into my accounting software.
The search capabilities in Neat performed quite well when tested. Because the software does OCR on the documents, you’re able to search text found within the documents as well.
One thing I don’t like about Neat is that to use it to it’s full capabilities, you need to buy into the whole ecosystem (scanner, desktop software, cloud software). Other services give you the full benefits of their software without having to buy each piece from their company. It seems like the document management system is built around selling scanners as opposed to be built around managing your documents.
The desktop software looks ok (couldn’t test it without purchase) and the cloud software is basic but functional, but it’s nothing that blows me away enough to buy into their whole ecosystem. I think there are better document management software out there that provide more flexibility. Honestly, it’s not that hard to buy a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner to fill out the scanning part of the equation.
Specialized in integrating with QuickBooks Desktop
All the software below have one thing in common, they are primarily desktop based and enable you to attach documents to QuickBooks Desktop. It’s a very niche solution.
If you’re not using QuickBooks Desktop, skip along my friend.
This seems like a solution for QuickBooks document attachment that was good 5 years ago, but perhaps not such a great solution in this day and age. This can be evidenced in their 122 page user guide from 2009 and their ad on their main page comparing itself to QuickBooks 2010 Document Management. Don’t get me wrong, the core functionality is great for QuickBooks Desktop users, which to be honest is a majority of the users out there. However, there are a few things that are limiting PaperSave Plus’ technology from being usable in the future.
All the scans are kept in a proprietary database that needs to be installed on your desktop. This means that your complete document management solution suddenly isn’t so useful if you want to take your business to the cloud or if you stop using QuickBooks Desktop. PaperSave Plus does allow you to access the database outside of QuickBooks, but it’s main functionality is designed around you attaching documents through QuickBooks. It also comes with all the installation and maintenance associated with desktop software.
You pay a fixed fee for the software, which is different than where software is going, which is to a rental or subscription model (this may or may not be good news for people). It’s $299 for a single user license.
Personable has two relevant products for the small business person, SourceLink and ScanWriter. SourceLink allows you to do document attachment whereas ScanWriter automates the entry of receipts and bank statements into QuickBooks.
This product is essentially like PaperSave Plus, but does has one beneficial difference, which is that it does not require a proprietary database. You can save the files wherever you like and create your own file folder structure. I’ve actually used SourceLink myself for 2 years and set up the software to save files to a folder in dropbox, which means I was able to use SourceLink to attach my documents to QuickBooks Desktop while simultaneously having all my documents available to me online and on any device that I installed Dropbox on.
One of the reasons I liked SourceLink and had been a user for 2 years was because it would automatically rename files based on criteria I chose (which was vendor name, date, and $ amount). This made the files when seen outside of QuickBooks immensely more useful, since I could now search for any document by vendor name, dollar amount, or date from Windows Explorer, the OS X spotlight, or online at Dropbox.com.
Unlink PaperSave Plus, there’s no Sourcelink interface outside of QuickBooks (meaning that you can only use SourceLink from within QuickBooks). Since SourceLink did a good job of nicely naming files, it was good enough for my purposes.
ScanWriter and ScanWriter Cloud
ScanWriter is very similar to the automated date extraction services available through Shoeboxed or Receipt Bank (discussed above). What it does is scan your statements and receipts, extract the data, and enter it into QuickBooks Desktop for you. The last time I checked, this process was done by Personable (the makers of ScanWriter) creating templates for your most common types of documents and using those to find the data to pull out. This is different than Shoeboxed and Receipt bank which use a part OCR / part human combination to extract the data. This means that with ScanWriter you have to double-check the data first as there is no human involved in the ScanWriter service. Additionally, since the data extraction is template based, setup is probably a bit more cumbersome (but the data extraction may be more accurate).
ScanWriter Cloud (QuickBooks Edition) is Personable’s new offering, which hosts QuickBooks and ScanWriter online so that you can access it from anywhere. This may be a good solution for existing QuickBooks Desktop users who don’t want to switch to QuickBooks Online. For someone setting up their books from scratch, this is probably not the best solution, unless you need the full capabilities of QuickBooks Desktop.
You can find the latest pricing here. It starts at $125 a month per user with a $50 setup fee. So, it’s generally more expensive than services that are solely cloud based.
In it’s basic form, it allows you to attach documents to QuickBooks, just like PaperSave Plus and Sourcelink (written about above). There are however a few differentiating features:
- It’s both a cloud and desktop solution. Your files are automatically uploaded to the cloud, when attached in QuickBooks Desktop, but you’re also able to keep a local copy as well.
- Because it’s a cloud based solution, you can setup access for people to login and submit documents. While a useful feature, I think the solution that other online document software have come up with is much better, which is creating an email address that people can send documents to. Email doesn’t require a user to login and means documents can be easily sent from any device that can do email, which is almost everything nowadays.
Some disadvantages, in comparison to other online document management software, are:
- There’s no built in online viewer when you login online. This means that if you click on a file, it’ll prompt you to download it. The iPhone, iPad, and Android apps do allow you to view the document though.
- The web interface and documentation feels like it was made a half decade ago (I know I made the same comment about PaperSave Plus, but check it out and tell me if you don’t agree). It makes the software confusing, when really, SmartVault is simply an online file folder.
- You can only add notes and rename files, you can’t add tags or bookkeeping data (vendor name, $ amount, taxes, categories, etc…)
- The online search seems pretty useless, at least for the accounts that don’t have full text search (you need to pay at least $99 a month to get OCR – look at their pricing guide to see). For example, I typed in the partial name of my file and it couldn’t even find it. Since it doesn’t allow for tags, bookkeeping data, or the ability to read the files using OCR, it’s only good if you know the exact name of the file you’re looking for (I did try searching using partial file names and in some instances it worked, so the search was hit and miss).
If you’re strictly on QuickBooks Desktop and don’t plan on using the cloud abilities of SmartVault, it may be just the solution you’re looking for. However, if you plan on using any of its cloud capabilities, there’s better software out there.
The price is free up to 25 MB a month (which you’ll fill up with only a few documents). The next price up is $19 a month. You can get the latest in pricing here.
If you’re looking for some more info on SmartVault, Charlie Russell from the Sleeter Group has a good walk through of how it works.
It’s a lot like Personable’s SourceLink and ScanWriter offerings. There is OCR, document attachment, and document management. Simple actually has a whole suite of document management solutions, one being SimpleQB. The cost of that is $500 (but I believe you need SimpleIndex as well, which is another $500). The software seems more designed for Enterprise (ERP) than small businesses. After checking out the online documentation for 20 minutes, I still can’t quite figure out exactly how it works, and since it is desktop based and enterprise focused, I won’t comment any further.
Specialized for the Desktop
Paperless is available for both PC and Mac. It is quite similar to NeatDesk in the way it works. It has some nice OCR and tagging capabilities. The interface allows you to easily view your documents. You can view their MAC product page here or their PC product page here.
Yep from Ironic Software
Yep allows you to do one thing, tag documents on your Mac. It also does not have any proprietary database that it moves your files to. It simply adds tags to your documents while keeping them in whatever folders they are found. By tagging your documents, you can use the spotlight search to quickly retrieve your documents by tag name.
General Online Document Management
The software states its intentions right on the front page of its website. Capture anything. Access anywhere. Find things fast. How does this translate to bookkeeping documents, like receipts?
The one thing that Evernote sorely lacks is a document viewer for PDFs. When you click on a PDF, it opens up a new tab in your web browser to view. This slows the process of viewing your documents down quite a bit.
A nice thing about Evernote is that it’s easy to drag and drop folders (called notebooks) and tags onto your documents. Something that is pretty neat is the ability to email your documents to Evernote and have it take parts of the email to organize the document. For example, you can put a hash tag (#) before any word to make it a tag, like #receipt to tag a document as a receipt. You can add as many hash tags as you like. Evernote also can file documents according to folders, so you can use @invoice to put a document in the invoice folder. Lastly, Evernote uses OCR, so you can do full text searches of your documents.
There’s software out there that’s probably a better fit for businesss bookkeeping needs, but if you’re a small business, you may be able to manage using it.
Cloud Storage Providers
Cloud storage providers are in a basic way online document management as well. Some providers are:
- SkyDrive (Microsoft)
- Google Drive
- Logmein Cubby
- Apple iCloud
- Mozy Stash
The Verge has a good article overviewing all the online storage services listed above and more. Since they did such a good job, and because this article is focused on document management for accounting / bookkeeping needs, I won’t do more than list their names.
If you’ve found any software out there that you think I missed out on, please leave a comment below and let me know. If you’ve found a workflow for your document management that you think’s a keeper, also feel free to share.