We review small business software for payroll

Before you find the best payroll software, you have to know what you need.
2 January 2023

Want to make your money move faster – find the right payroll software.

Small business software for payroll can be a confusing affair, especially for new startups. The key to getting the right payroll software for your small business is usually having a clear understanding of what your business needs – and what it doesn’t – along with the levels of three things you have to dedicate to payroll: time, skill, and money.

Defining your business.

The first step to getting the best small business software for payroll for your particular business is understanding what your business is, what it does, what it needs, and what it would be simply wasteful to pay good money for in terms of unused functionality.

That way, you carve yourself a clearer idea of what you’re genuinely looking for in terms of small business software for payroll, and can match your business with the right software.


The old and intensely comforting rule is that size isn’t important, but in finding the right small business payroll software, it really can be. That’s because most payroll software for small businesses comes in service layers, and they tend to be predicated not only on the level of sophistication of the features provided, but also on the size of the payroll run you regularly make. In other words, to some degree, you should be cutting your payroll software’s cloth to the size of your staffing.

Paychex, for instance, is tailored more towards really small businesses, as it limits the number of pay runs you can do in any given period – but that means you’re not paying for unlimited pay runs that your business is not going to need to make, whereas some of the bigger brand-recognition names like QuickBooks Payroll will give you those unlimited runs – but charge you generally higher fees for the privilege. Rule #1 in finding the best small business software for your payroll needs is never pay for what you don’t need.

Naturally, if your small business is larger than a startup, or if it’s expanding rapidly and has more regular, complex payroll needs, then you’re better advised to go with something like QuickBooks Payroll, which can seamlessly handle unlimited pay runs, and also plugs into the standard QuickBooks accounting software for relatively few financial headaches.

Complexity of function.

What does your business actually need? Does it literally just need something to run your payroll? That’s a question worth thinking about, because many payroll software packages for small businesses bundle additional functions into their offering – with some only unlocking at higher priced tiers. If you only need a basic payroll function – or, in some cases, if you need more than that – there are even a number of free software providers who can keep your outgoings incredibly minimal. The likes of Adminsoft Accounts will give you free payroll functionality rolled into an overall accounting package that even delivers some HR functions too, though its focus tends towards cafes and similar small-scale retail businesses.

If you need something more all-singing and all-dancing and are a little suspicious that in payroll, you get what you pay for, ADP Payroll may well be worth your time. While it delivers standard, solid payroll functions, it makes its growing, award-winning reputation more on all the extras it bundles into its offering. Everything from automatic tax filing to an impressive HR function that can grow as your staff numbers expand makes it worth taking a look at, and having several tiers of functionality gives you the freedom and the flexibility to go in at the level that’s appropriate to your particular business.

It’s also worth a word of caution. While something like QuickBooks Payroll scores highly on the functions it delivers as a payroll software for small businesses, it’s relatively limited – certainly compared to the likes of ADP Payroll, in terms of what else it does. So again, first of all, take a long, hard, dispassionate look at your small business, and see what it actually needs before you pick a provider.

The three-way ratio.

The three-way ratio we mentioned is probably at least as fundamental as any other factor when choosing the payroll software for your small business.  The combination of available time, available skill, and available money in your small business will help guide you to the best payroll software for you.

If you have more skill in the whole business of payroll calculation, it’s worth checking out SurePayroll. It’s relatively inexpensive, because you have to do more of the nuts-and-bolts work yourself than you do with some other software, and the user interface is geared to those who know their way around payroll processing. So, if your small business is equipped with more skill and less money, SurePayroll is a good fit for your needs.

If you have more money, but less time and skill, QuickBooks Payroll may have your name on it. While it doesn’t do some of the fancy HR things that some other software does, like process paid time off or holiday entitlement, as a sooth, easy-to-use payroll software, it’s right up there in the higher echelons – and it lets you do a whole lot from a simple, user-friendly app, so you can process payments on the go from your smartphone.

You will have to have quite a lot more money with QuickBooks Payroll, especially if you want it to do a handful of HR tricks for you too, but as a minimal-headache solution, if you have a budget for payroll software, it’s worth taking a look at.

Specificity of business.

We’ve mentioned that some small business software is better suited to particular types of business, so always bear that in mind when making your choice. As part of your initial business assessment, always keep your business type firmly in mind, as there are software options like Square Payroll which, having connectivity with the Square point-of-sale system, is ideally suited to café, restaurant or retail businesses.

Other options exist at other points in the business world – if you want to narrow your search to software that is specifically geared towards your business type, that’s a valid choice and will at least result in a system that probably speaks your particular business language and may be geared to your particular needs.

Bottom line, when looking for your ideal payroll software for your small business, first define what your business is and what it needs. Make sure you never pay for functionality you don’t need – but be willing to spend a little more for functions that genuinely make your business life easier, because however enthused they are by it, nobody on their deathbed says “I wish I’d run more payroll.”

Payroll should be easy. Make the right choice of small business payroll software and it can be.