three businesswomen managing their business payroll online

Comparing Online Payroll Solutions for Small Businesses

6 min read

For women who own and operate small businesses, effective payroll management is absolutely essential. How one chooses to manage payroll impacts a business’ efficiency, federal, state, and local tax compliance, and overall financial health. Efficient payroll solutions simplify complex processes, ensure compliance with tax laws and regulations, and manage financial transactions smoothly. This foundational aspect of business operations, when handled well, can save time, reduce errors, and improve employee satisfaction. But selecting the right payroll provider is key. Read our list and simplify the entire payroll process with one of the best payroll services for small business owners.

What Exactly Are Payroll Solutions, and Why Are They Necessary?

Payroll solutions automate the process of paying employees, including the calculation of wages, withholding of taxes, and distribution of payments. For small businesses, these solutions are crucial for maintaining compliance with tax laws, ensuring accurate financial management, and saving time and resources that could be better spent on core business activities.

Common Features of Payroll Solutions

Typical features of payroll solutions include automated federal tax deposits, direct deposit to employee bank accounts, compliance management with federal and state regulations, protection of payroll data, and easy access to pay stubs and tax documents. The best payroll service will also allow workers to access an employee self-service portal. These features streamline payroll processes, enhance accuracy, and improve employee engagement.

Potential Challenges in Payroll Management

Without a proper payroll system, small businesses may face significant challenges, including payroll errors, penalties due to non-compliance with payroll taxes, and excessive time spent on manual calculations and paperwork. These challenges can detract from the overall efficiency and productivity of the business. Managing your business payroll online with one of these platforms can help you ensure that all laws are followed to a tee.

These Are the Best Payroll Providers for Small Businesses


Gusto stands out for its intuitive design and all-in-one platform, streamlining payroll, benefits, and compliance for small to medium-sized businesses. Its user-friendly interface simplifies complex processes, making payroll accessible to non-experts. The platform also excels in customer support, offering personalized help that small businesses often need.

On the downside, Gusto’s pricing can be higher than some competitors, especially for businesses that require more advanced features or have a large number of employees. Additionally, while Gusto offers a robust set of features, companies needing highly specialized HR tools may find it less flexible.

QuickBooks Payroll

For businesses already embedded in the QuickBooks ecosystem, QuickBooks Payroll offers seamless integration, allowing for simplified payroll and financial management. Its automatic tax calculations, filings, and payments feature remove much of the complexity associated with payroll tasks.

However, the platform’s dependency on QuickBooks means that businesses not using QuickBooks for accounting might find it less appealing due to the potential need for additional software. Moreover, some users have reported a learning curve with the broader QuickBooks software, which could extend to its payroll services.


ADP’s scalability and comprehensive solutions make it an excellent option for businesses of all sizes, including those planning for growth. Its global reach and extensive suite of payroll, tax payments, and HR services cater to a wide range of business needs.

However, ADP’s pricing can be on the higher side, with custom quotes that can make it difficult for small businesses to predict costs. Some users have also noted that the extensive functionality can make the platform somewhat complex to navigate for newer users or smaller teams without dedicated HR departments.


Paychex offers a broad range of services beyond payroll, including HR and retirement plan management, supported by 24/7 customer service. This makes it a versatile choice for SMEs looking for a comprehensive solution.

However, similar to ADP, Paychex’s wide array of features and custom pricing can sometimes overwhelm small business owners and lead to higher costs than anticipated. Additionally, while the platform is designed to be flexible, some users have found the interface less intuitive compared to simpler payroll solutions.

Square Payroll

Square Payroll is highly attractive for small businesses, especially retailers or service providers using Square for payments, due to its integration capabilities, straightforward pricing, and ease of use. This focus on simplicity and cost-effectiveness is great for small teams.

However, businesses not using Square for payments may find less value in the integration features. Furthermore, Square Payroll’s feature set, while robust for payroll processing, may lack the depth in HR and benefits management found in more comprehensive payroll solutions.

Wave Payroll

Wave’s payroll service is an affordable, straightforward option for very small businesses, integrating well with its free accounting software. This integration can significantly streamline financial management for small teams.

The main limitation of Wave Payroll is its simpler feature set, which might not suffice for businesses with more complex payroll needs or those requiring detailed HR management tools. Also, its availability and features can vary significantly by location, potentially limiting its usefulness outside major markets.

Patriot Payroll

Patriot Payroll offers an extremely user-friendly experience and affordable pricing, particularly suitable for small businesses prioritizing ease of use over complex features. Its two-tier plan system allows businesses to choose between basic payroll functions and full-service options with tax filings. While Patriot is an excellent value, its simplicity might not cater to businesses that need more detailed HR management or those with complex payroll requirements.


Zenefits shines in its ability to integrate payroll seamlessly with a wide range of HR functions, offering a comprehensive solution for small to medium-sized businesses. This integrated approach can significantly reduce administrative overhead. However, Zenefits’ broader focus on HR might make its payroll offering less tailored than those of competitors specializing solely in payroll. Also, the cost might be higher for businesses that are only looking for payroll services without the additional HR tools.


OnPay is favored for its simple pricing structure and comprehensive service that covers payroll processing, tax filings, and payments. Its flexibility across various industries makes it a versatile choice. However, while OnPay does an excellent job in payroll and tax services, businesses seeking an extensive array of HR features might find the platform lacking in comparison to more HR-focused services.


The last payroll service on this list, BambooHR is ideal for businesses that view human resources as strategic to their operations, offering an integrated payroll solution within a broader HR software suite. This integration facilitates a cohesive management experience.

The limitation, however, is that BambooHR may present a higher price point and a broader scope than what small businesses looking strictly for payroll solutions might need. Its focus on HR also means that the payroll component, while comprehensive, may not be as detailed or customizable as those from payroll-specific providers.

How to Select the Right Payroll Service for Your Creative Business

Choosing the right payroll service or platform involves a careful evaluation of your business’s specific needs and priorities. Start by assessing the size of your business and its expected growth, the complexity of your payroll requirements (including multi-state operations and diverse employee contracts), and your budget.

Consider not only the cost but also the range of features offered, such as tax filing assistance, direct deposit, compliance management, and integration capabilities with existing systems like accounting software. It’s crucial to evaluate the usability of the software—its ease of setup, user interface, and customer support quality—because these factors directly impact the efficiency of payroll processing.

Additionally, look for reviews or case studies to understand the experiences of similar businesses with the platform. Opt for a solution that not only fits your current needs but is also scalable enough to grow with your business. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of free trials or demos offered by many companies to get a hands-on feel for how the platform works before making a final decision.

Final Thoughts on Payroll Solutions

By carefully considering your specific business needs, budget, and the scalability of potential solutions, you can identify a service that aligns with your goals and growth trajectory. Remember, the best payroll solution is one that not only simplifies payroll processing and ensures compliance but also integrates seamlessly with your existing business operations, thereby enhancing overall productivity. Take the time to explore, evaluate, and even test drive the options through trials or demos to make an informed choice that will support your business’s success now and in the future.

Which payroll provider do you currently use? Let us know in the comments below!