Zoho Books is a standout among accounting software. The friendly dashboard presents your financial details in a transparent manner, making them easy to understand.
According to the official website, Zoho Books is collaborative, customizable, and scalable—it’s also tax compliant, so you can prepare 1099s and write off expenses with minimal efforts.
So how does Zoho take on expense tracking? Is it a built-in functionality? Or do you need to add a plug-in to increase your visibility and better control your budget?
Below, we’ll take a look at what you can expect to get from Zoho Books, in the context of expense management.
What is Zoho Books?
Zoho Books is a double-entry accounting system—so it’s accounting-pro approved. The tool automatically creates a journal, which tracks the movement of money from one place to the next.
This software solution allows you to track purchases and sales, as well as replenish your stock when new inventory comes in. Additionally, Zoho Books enables collaboration. Add customers to the system and invoice them from the platform. Or, add vendors and manage your contacts from Zoho.
It’s not quite a CRM (there’s a separate solution for that), but it’s a conduit for communication—far more than something like QuickBooks.
We looked at Zoho’s Expense Specific solution—which seamlessly integrates into the Zoho lineup—from Zoho Books to Zoho Projects. But, how does the general accounting software work as an expense tracking tool?
Pretty good—so long as employee expenses aren’t a huge part of your company’s budget. For example, you can monitor purchases—both from a purchase order perspective or the expenses employees are charging to the company card.
UX is Front and Center
Zoho is one of our favorite accounting suites. The software solution is ideal for people who aren’t natural accountants but want to do things right.
Take the dashboard, for example. Here, you’ll get a clear picture of your finances. Most users we came across were pleased with the service’s interface—it prompted them to set everything up with no significant issues and allowed them to automate specific tasks like sending invoices and reconciling their accounts without the help of an accountant.
We’ll say this upfront—Zoho Books is intuitive, user-friendly, basically anything that qualifies as being helpful. But, there’s one exception. There is somewhat of an issue with the customer service. Phone agents aren’t based in the US, and there are no numbers listed on the website that confused customers can call for help.
In addition to language barriers—which can be a subjective measure, some users mentioned that the advice given by the support team was not helpful. They merely reiterated the information present on the site.
Those customers who were able to get through reported some language barriers and long hold times, so it may be better to work your way through the massive library of tutorials and learn on your own.
Can Handle Multiple Bank Accounts at One Time
Bank syncing works quite well, and you can connect multiple bank accounts and credit cards to your Zoho Books account. This allows you to easily track expenses based on card usage—and auto updates regularly, eliminating the need for manual entry.
So, Zoho Books is an all-around accounting tool, not an expense tracking-exclusive option. The elements consist of the usual accounting functions. It comes with bill pay, expense reporting, AP and AR, and syncs with your bank.
Here’s a quick rundown on some of Zoho’s best features.
Enter bills directly in Zoho Books and create recurring payments. You can set payment reminders and keep your vendor records saved in the platform.
Schedule payments or pay in bulk, too—this way you’ll never forget to pay an invoice again.
Zoho Books offers the standard run of expense management tools like receipt uploads and reporting. Zoho connects to your bank account, so you’ll get some automation here and can categorize your expenses as they come in. The software automatically suggests expense categories based on past behavior and supports bank reconciliation.
You can also enter expenses manually and import statements via CSV if you have unconnected accounts or records that pre-date your time with Zoho.
Attach expense receipts by taking pictures with the mobile app and upload them to Zoho Books.
Finally, the tool comes with expense reports that break down your spending by category. A basic functionality, but a critical one—organizing your expenses can give you greater visibility into where you’re spending the most money. Use this information to inform future estimates, apply tax deductions, or set a budget.
Expenses incurred on a regular basis can be automated in Zoho Books to save you some time. Things like rent or your web hosting fees are good examples of recurring costs. You’ll automate this process by going to the purchases tab and scrolling down to “recurring expenses.”
Whether you enter expenses manually or they’re coming in from your bank account, you’ll need to enter a few details to create a recurring expense. Each expense requires a profile—a name created for tracking purposes. You’ll also need to select how often this expense is incurred and what account it is paid through.
Don’t Miss Out On Billable Expenses
Zoho Books’ expense management extends to billing clients for expenses, as well. You can scroll through your expense report and apply transactions to invoices—and markup accordingly.
Expenses can be organized by unbillable, reimbursable, or invoiced. So, you can quickly sort which transactions need to go where. For example, employee travel expenses are reimbursable, while something you buy for a client project can be added to an invoice.
Custom Views for Expenses
Filter your expenses based on custom criteria. The Zoho Books website states you could filter out expenses over a certain amount. Input your criteria and use it to classify your data later.
Zoho Books has a contact management feature that’s pretty advanced for an accounting platform. The Basic plan only allows you to keep 50 contacts on record at a time, so you can’t make the most of this feature unless you upgrade.
Display contacts by company or by customer name. You can assign default taxes, send estimates, and invoices, and keep track of who owes you money.
Additionally, you can start raising your online profile by requesting reviews and testimonials directly from Zoho.
Zoho Books comes with three subscription options which can accommodate sole proprietors at the entry-level and multiple employees at the top-tier. The basic plan limits access to two users—one normal user and one accountant.
Below, we’ll break down the pricing plan, but features and users. All are relatively affordable—perfect for small businesses that can’t afford a full-time accountant but want to make sure they’re documenting their finances the correct way.
Basic Plan, $9 per Month
The Basic Plan grants access to one user and special access to an accountant. You’ll get the full run of Zoho’s online banking tools and automatic recurring transactions. Still, there are some limits. Users get five workflows per month and are limited to 50 contacts.
This plan makes the most sense if you’re a small business that sends a few invoices here and there. Or, maybe you need to work on budgeting or expense tracking. The 50 contact limit is the main area where we could see some improvement.
Even freelancers with a small operation are bound to rack up more than 50 contacts in a short amount of time—so the contact management feature might be a drawback.
Standard Plan, $19 per Month
Upgrade to the Standard plan, and you’ll get 500 contacts, which is certainly worth the $10 extra. This plan allows for two normal users, plus accountant access and comes with ten workflows.
Professional Plan, $29
At $29, the Professional Plan still offers ten workflows, like the Standard. But, you now have unlimited contacts and access for ten users. The online banking tools remain the same, but we think upgrading to the Professional makes the most sense, especially if you’re a small business experiencing a period of growth.
All plans allow you to send sales and purchase orders and make it easy to pay bills directly from the platform. It should be noted that none of the plans come with payroll integration. You’ll need to get a separate module for that functionality, but something like Gusto might be a good option if you’re looking to keep costs down, but bring further automation to the table.
Zoho Books doesn’t require any downloads or specific hardware; you need a device that connects to the internet. For best results, you’ll want to have Excel (for CSV uploads), a PDF reader (for reports), and an up-to-date browser.
Additionally, you can download the mobile app for iOS or Android—so you can check your account on the go. The mobile app makes expense tracking easier—you can take photos of receipts as you make purchases, so you don’t need to worry about keeping track of multiple pieces of paper.
Cloud-based data means your financial info is always at your fingertips. Zoho Books keeps your data secure through 256-bit SSL encryption, virus scanning, and two-factor authentication.
We mentioned in the above section that phone support is not Zoho’s strong suit. The company has outsourced customer service, and it seems that the quality has suffered due to an effort to keep costs down.
That said, the ease of use mitigates a lot of the need for phone support. The entire website is teeming with video tutorials and written instruction. So, you can easily walk through the basic set-up steps yourself and do some further reading for information on say, how to connect your bank accounts.
The Set-Up Process
The Zoho Books set-up process is straightforward and doesn’t involve a long conversation with a sales rep. Instead, the site takes you through a series of screens after sign-up.
They’ll help you configure your setting and provide a back button so you can edit your previous choices if needed. The set-up process is divided into a selection of small tasks. So, you’ll first add your contact information, your tax basis and fiscal year. What’s more, you can select up to five custom fields, so you can track your finances in a way that makes sense to you.
From there, you’ll enter your opening balances and set up any additional users. You can set permissions by user. Admins, staff, accountant, and timesheets staff get varying levels of access.
Then, you can easily input your contacts, items, sales, records, and more into the system with a CSV upload.
The tour tab takes you through each of the Zoho Books features. From time tracking to profit and loss reports, it’s an excellent walkthrough that can instantly tell you whether or not the platform is the best solution for your small business.
This is especially helpful because the expense feature isn’t especially clear. The reason we bring this up is, Zoho makes another tool, Zoho Expense, which automates the expense reporting process.
Zoho Books’ expense functions are pretty robust, though. You can pull reports, attach receipts, and pay bills. So, from the get-go, you can see that expense tracking is likely enough for most businesses. But—if you need to focus on expenses in more detail, you can add on Zoho Expense.
The support section is a whole wealth of resources, ranging from business guides that provide actionable tips. You’ll get advice on how to apply for a small business loan, using time tracking tools, and contextual banking.
We liked that the articles don’t stick to the base level topics and dives into some of the complex questions real business owners might have.
The blog, on the other hand, seems to be a platform for Zoho to talk about new features. It’s not especially useful, but if you run into any posts on social media, you’ll hear about new features.
Additionally, you can access the documentation section which shows you how to use every single feature in the lineup. It comes in handy if you want to learn how to add mileage or recurring expenses.
Zoho Books Expense Management—Worth It or Not?
In all, Zoho Books is one of the better pieces of accounting software in a sea of cloud-based solutions. Sure, there are some problems associated with the human aspect of their service offerings. And certain parts of the software could benefit from more automation, but it gets the job done.
In comparing Zoho Books to Zoho Expense, you’ll need to consider both in the context of your business and how exactly you’re spending your money.
A startup with a small line of products will be spending a lot of time on the road, promoting their wares—and as such, spending money on travel, meals, client meetings, and miscellaneous supplies. A situation like that would benefit greatly from Zoho Expense and its mileage tracking and expense automation.
For a small business like a digital marketing agency or an individual graphic designer, Zoho Books’ slightly more analog approach leaves nothing to be desired. In these cases, your primary use will likely be sending invoices and paying for things like SaaS tools and equipment.
So, with that in mind, yes, we’d recommend Zoho Books. It’s easy, multi-functional, and affordable. You can always add Expense to the mix later on, anyway.