GnuCash Quick Start Guide For Business Users

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Single User

GnuCash is a single user software. Only one person can log in at a time. However, more than one person can use it, by taking turns to access a shared account file. If you have plans in place to grow your business, and you may need simultaneous access for two or more people in the near future, you might want to look at other options.

Business Functions

Quotations, purchase orders and other business functions do not result in an accounting transaction. You can do business accounting in GnuCash, but not more than that. If you need these business functions as well, you might want to look for other options.

Personal or Business or Both

You can use GnuCash for your personal and/or business accounting in the following different ways:

  1. Do only your personal accounts.
  2. Combine your personal accounts and business accounts into one single account. For example, if you have a simple rental type of business, you can keep your rental income and expenses in separate accounts.
  3. Do only your business accounts.
  4. You can create separate account files for your personal and each of your businesses. This is because GnuCash saves one account with all of the related transactions in one file. You can open your personal accounts file, enter transactions and save it. Then you can open your business account A, enter transactions...and so on.

This is technical advice based on what the product can do. You should check with your accountant and tax consultant regarding the best course of action for you.

Tutorial and Concepts Guide

The Tutorial and Concepts Guide is extremely helpful and is the best place to start for a new user. Once you have installed the software successfully and launched the application, you can access it from the Help Menu -> Tutorial and Concepts Guide.

Before You Start

When you install GnuCash, by default, it is set to compress your accounts file. You may not have to ever open this file separately. However, we found it useful to turn off compression until we got over the initial learning period. To disable compression, use Edit -> Preferences, access the General tab, and uncheck the Compress Files check box. Once you have saved and closed GnuCash, you can open this file (which is in XML format) in a text editor, such as WordPad in Windows. Don't forget to make a back-up copy of the file first.

A Sandbox for Practice

Once you have set up your chart of accounts and you start entering and posting transactions, you will have limited ability to roll back or undo. You can cancel transactions before saving them. You can delete transactions. You can move Accounts to a limited extent, within the bounds of the account-type constraints. Merging two accounts into one may be difficult. Before posting an invoice, you can make any changes. However, once you post an Invoice there is no way to delete it. However, you can either make it Inactive, so that it will not appear in search results, or you can re-use it by assigning it to another Invoice perhaps for another Customer.

Because of this limited ability to undo, we recommend that you set up a separate sandbox account just for learning. You can use this to walk through setting up your initial chart of accounts and practicing your first set of transactions of each type. Once you are familiar with how it all works, you can create your real accounts with confidence. Even when you are well into it, if a new type of transaction comes along, you will find it useful to try it out first in your sandbox.

Creating Your Chart of Accounts

In the Tutorial and Concepts Guide, the section 'The GnuCash Interface -> Create a new set of accounts' shows you how to create a chart of accounts. You can also access this from the File Menu -> New -> New File. This will open a 'Druid'. This is GnuCash's name for what Windows calls a 'Wizard'. This will step you through the process of setting up your chart of accounts. When it comes to the screen titled 'Choose Accounts to Create' the account type 'Common Accounts' will be checked by default. This is for personal accounts. If you plan to set up accounts for your business, you should uncheck this and check 'Business Accounts' instead. Think of this as an initial template. You can edit this further to set up the chart of accounts to suit your requirement.

Opening Balances

At the time of creating your chart of accounts, you will get an opportunity to enter opening balances. If you don't enter the opening balances then, you can enter them later following the steps outlined in Transactions -> Putting It All Together -> Opening Balances.

Entering Your Transactions

Again the Tutorials and Concepts Guide is your friend for entering transactions. You can focus on the type of transactions that you will need and skip others that are not of interest to you. Practice these in your sandbox. Pay particular attention to split transactions. For example, if your sales price includes sales tax, the base price of the product goes to sales revenue and the tax collected goes to the tax payable account.

Additional Tips

Refer to the following articles for additional tips:


After you have set up your accounts and entered a few transactions, you can run the Transaction Report and Account Summary. If you want to look at your income and expenses on a monthly basis, run the "Income/Expense Chart" report. There are several other reports and charts available. If you want to do further analysis, GnuCash will allow you to export any report as a HTML file. You can then open this saved HTML report in OpenOffice Calc or Microsoft Excel to do further analysis or formatting.


You can create a budget in GnuCash. This will allow you to run a budget vs actuals report and see how you are doing at the end of the month, quarter or year. You can see the details of how to do this under 'Budgets' in the Tutorial and Concepts Guide. While in the budget screen, GnuCash gives you the ability to create an estimate based on actual data from previous period.

Backup and Recovery

Don't forget to read the section 'Backing Up and Recovering Data' and practice it. In case of a virus, disc crash or other data loss, this will be your life saver.