Whatever the size of your business, payroll is one of the most important functions it performs. It’s how your business feeds into the economy, and it’s how it feeds the people who keep it alive from week to week. There’s often a sense among small business owners though that payroll is a mystic art that needs to be done as though we’re still living in the Victorian era, with ledgers and printed payslips and enormous hassle to file taxes in person, and the like. Newsflash: Victoria’s dead – and payroll doesn’t have to be a hassle anymore. Let’s take a whirlwind tour of the best small business software for payroll in 2023.
The first thing to understand is that most small business software for payroll will give you a core body of functions. You should be able to at least deliver a timely payroll operation on any payroll software – that’s how it gets in the door. That’s table stakes. But the best small business software for payroll in 2023 is going to go at least an extra mile, and possibly two, to help you organize your small business’ life. It will probably help you organize your HR function, ensure you deal with staff benefits and leave requests, track your staff’s time, and help you file your taxes – all while it’s waiting for you to set up the next payroll run.
That’s what separates the best small business software for payroll in 2023 from the rest of the pack – the added extras. And that applies to pricing plans, too – delivering more for less, and ideally with a user-friendly interface, is key to making it into our top five picks for small business payroll software as we head into what promises to be an economically challenging 2023.
QuickBooks Payroll benefits from brand recognition, absolutely – almost everyone’s heard of QuickBooks. That’s enough to make us sit up and take notice, but it’s not enough on its own to get QuickBooks Payroll to the top of our list.
The thing that makes QuickBooks Payroll stand out is what we said it would be – the added extras that it delivers. In particular with QuickBooks Payroll, you can do a whole lot of things while you’re on the move, from your smartphone or tablet, rather than having to boot up your main computer system.
Obviously, it runs your payroll – and you can execute that from its app. But you can also make short work of same-day deposits and next-day deposits with just a handful of smartphone taps. That gives you a flexibility that you might expect to pay enterprise bucks for. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with your internal employees or external contractors, you can get both types of workers paid in a handful of heartbeats – and, as we mentioned, you can even use it to electronically file your taxes, so you’re not dealing with the traditional last-minute small business scramble when that time comes around.
Naturally, you’re going to get added benefits from QuickBooks Payroll if you use QuickBooks as your main accounting software, because the two sync together perfectly. That’s going to give you a connected suite of financial products, with a strong market reputation that QuickBooks can’t afford to lose.
That’s what puts it at the top of our list when it comes to the best small business software for payroll in 2023.
For smaller businesses that are expanding in a hurry and need a payroll system that has some flexibility built in, Paychex is ideal.
Why smaller businesses? Unlike QuickBooks Payroll, you’re limited in the number of pay runs you can make in a given period, so if you have a higher number of staff, it’s less suited to your needs than our first choice. But what it takes away with one hand, Paychex gives back with the other, in that it lets you review and approve PTO (paid time off) requests — which Quickbooks Payroll won’t do.
That’s a handy added function, especially for small teams that need PTO decisions in a hurry, and with Paychex, you also get flexibility in the ways you can pay. Whether you’re a fan of vintage paper checks, or up to the minute with pay-on demand, Paychex allows you to get the job done – again, through a straightforward phone app.
Another element that makes Paychex especially suited to small businesses and startups is that it comes with three separate price plans, so you’re never buying features that aren’t strictly useful for your level of business. That extends to sole traders, too – if it’s just you and your payroll software against the world, there’s a Paychex level especially for you.
While it’s a sound, functional, middle of the road payroll software on paper, what pulls ADP Payroll up our ranking is its dedication to trying to give you more for your money. As well as payroll and payroll tax filing, ADP extends itself into more significant HR functions too, like new hire onboarding and background checks, and even to the creation of HR booklets and HR training.
Those functions are available across five service levels, so as with Paychex, you pay only for the level you absolutely need, but it means you can build up your integrated HR function along with your growing staff, and never necessarily pay more than you need to.
If there’s a downside to ADP – and there is – it’s that there’s an almost complete lack of transparency in its pricing model. Usually, you have to call the sales department for your “individual quote,” which means you have to genuinely know what you need before you pick up the phone.
But ADP is winning awards for payroll excellence, particularly in 2022, so there’s reason enough to give ADP at least that initial call once you have comparison quotes to work with.
If your business is in the hospitality or retail sector, Square Payroll is worth your time specifically. Why? Because the name is no coincidence — Square Payroll syncs seamlessly with the Square POS, which is frequently used in those sectors where connectivity at the moment of sale is crucial.
There’s a pleasing straightforwardness to the business of payroll on the Square Payroll app – whether you have longstanding staff, or your business depends mostly on contractors, there are easy options to get your people paid. What you can’t do is run PTO requests, which can make it slightly painful in a business that mostly survives on contract workers.
That said, the pricing model of Square Payroll has been well thought-out, especially if your business is heavily reliant on contract staff.
While it’s seriously worth considering, you may need a certain amount of patience to set up your Square Payroll – you need to have a Square Payment account before you’re allowed to use Square Payroll for things like next-day payments, so it’s worth checking whether Square Payroll is absolutely the way to go for your business. But if you’re already a regular Square Payment user, there’s good sense in choosing Square Payroll as your small business software for payroll.
Every business decision tends to be a balancing act between the skills and time you have, and the money you’re prepared to spend. If you have less money and some more skills, SurePayroll has a lot to recommend it.
Firstly, it’s owned by Paychex, so if you want an option with some security but can’t stretch to actual Paychex, SurePayroll could be right for you.
Secondly, it lets you deal with a lot of HR business from the same app as your payroll – including PTO, Workers Comp, sick leave and vacation days. That’s more than many modern payroll apps will do.
Thirdly, SurePayroll is hot on data security, which is likely to be more important in 2023 than ever before, as the cybersecurity threat level for small businesses is set to rise across the course of the year.
You have to do some more of the work for yourself with SurePayroll than you do with the likes of QuickBooks Payroll, but on the other hand, the entry-level offering at SurePayroll will also cost you less than entry-level QuickBooks.
The truth about the best small business software for payroll in 2023 is that there are several products that are “best,” but they’re best for particular types of small business, each with particular needs. The handful here are best for startups, best on price, best on HR functionality, best for hospitality, and so on. There’s almost guaranteed to be one here that will be your best small business software for payroll in 2023. Which one that is will depend on the nature of your business, and what you most need your payroll software to deliver.