Like many small-business owners, I use Microsoft Excel when I do my business accounting. I realize that Excel isn't an accounting system, but for my limited needs it's always worked fairly well. I use it with Microsoft Word to generate invoices and track payments. Analyzing my business data is a bit tough--it becomes a brute-force type of process where I create new spreadsheets with links to other spreadsheets to create the reports I want--but because I run a sole proprietorship, this clumsy process hasn’t been a major problem.

Unfortunately, however, I've noticed that many of my clients do the same thing. Although most have seven-figure annual revenues, their accounting process still depends on nothing more than a spreadsheet program and ledger books. A few are using custom accounting apps that were written ten or more years ago, and the only person who can solve problems with the application is a consultant who isn't local.

The few who have looked into improving their systems have talked to vendors who recommend large, complex, and expensive accounting applications with significant training expenses. I've also recommended Intuit's QuickBooks to some of my clients. When I see these clients six months later, however, they haven't made any move to fix their accounting problems. The most common reason for the inaction is that nobody is willing to spend the few dollars and time necessary to get a new application, even an inexpensive one, up and running.

Lately, I've been telling these clients to try Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007. It's free for the download, which takes away many of the excuses for not acquiring the software, and the wizard-driven setup makes configuring it for a small business fairly simple. The download totals 208MB, and if that's too much for your connection, Microsoft will send you an installation CD-ROM, gratis, within two weeks.

Nearly half a dozen of my clients are using Accounting Express. All are small businesses with fewer than five employees, and this is a major step forward for them. One client was getting ready to launch an Internet-based business on eBay and is happy with the way Accounting Express can integrate with eBay for posting and managing auctions and sales. He pointed out that the tools he had originally planned to use would have cost a few hundred dollars; not only is Accounting Express free, but he's also getting accounting features with it.

Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 can be downloaded from http://ideawins.com