QuickBooks is one of the best known accounting applications for small business. Versions are available from the most simplistic Simple Start version that includes minimal features, all the way to the Enterprise Solutions, geared to handle more data, increased security, and can handle up to 10 simultaneous users.
The Premier Edition 2005 can support as many as five simultaneous users when the proper licenses are purchased, and is available with industry-specific feature packs. We looked at both the Retail and Professional Services packages. Each version includes features that are important to the particular type of business.
(NOTE: QuickBooks 2006 has been announced, but will not be available until later this Fall.)
Premier Edition 2005
Installation and setup of QuickBooks is fast and easy. Once installed, QuickBooks asks permission to check for any updates that might be available, and downloads any that it finds. From that point, QuickBooks assumes the user is not an accounting professional, which is quite likely based on the market segment QuickBooks addresses.
QuickBooks is designed for small organizations, typically under 20 employees, where either the owner or a trusted employee is handling the accounting. This is a good thing because, although there is an audit trail function that tracks every change made to any transaction, this audit trail can be turned off. In a worst case scenario, a user with adequate permissions can turn off the audit function, make changes to existing transactions, then turn the audit trail on again. The resulting untracked transactions could be fraudulent. Fortunately, QuickBooks 2006, due to become available later this year, closes this loophole.
The walk-through and tutorials that present themselves when QuickBooks is started are extremely helpful in making the program easy to understand. The system includes a variety of sample companies that can be used to practice making transactions, generating reports, and generally operating the system even before the real company has been set up.
QuickBooks' navigators make it simple to find the right financial function.
When it comes time to establish the company, QuickBooks walks the user through the selection of a company template that includes a set of accounts that are typical for the type of company, along with other internal settings that make sense for the company. While it is possible to bypass selecting a company template, this feature can save hours of setup time and guesswork. And even when the company has been set up, any and all of the settings can be changed as needed. In fact, most can be changed even after data has been entered.
I used the Tutorial to explain QuickBooks' functions for my first use of the system. The tutorial walked through the basic steps, menus, and function. It explained QuickBooks' basic operating process and how the system stores data and automatically recalls information you've already entered, eliminating the need to retype, or even remember details of addresses, accounts, etc. Users of Quicken are already familiar with this feature, and it becomes even more helpful in a business environment where there is even more to remember.
Another helpful learning tool is the sample company. In the retail version, QuickBooks offered our different companies, each set up with different operating parameters. For example, one choice was for a retailer that tracked summarized sales, and another that tracked individual sales. Choosing one that matches the way you run your business can give you a more realistic understanding of how QuickBooks can work when you set up your own company. I selected the example that tracked summarized sales and was presented with a list of "overviews" I could use to understand the system. I chose the option to simply start using QuickBooks.
The sample companies are populated with complete data sets including customers, vendors, and transactions, so I could start recording sales, paying bills, and generally working with the company's financial information without having to build a set of information myself.
In the daily life of a business it's important to understand its overall financial status as well as the details. QuickBooks Premier includes over 120 pre-built reports that cover nearly every aspect of the business, and can be modified to better fit your needs if necessary. The reports offer the ability to start with a basic, high-level report like a Monthly Sales by Customer and view the full 12-months' history. The system's Zoom tool lets the user click on any item in the report and expand the information, displaying the detail that composed the item. It is possible to show increasingly finer detail until the most basic details are displayed. This kind of "drill-down" function makes it fast and easy to get specific details about transactions that make up your finances.
A company of your own
After you've worked through the sample companies and used the tutorials to understand the system's operations, QuickBooks walks you through the setup of your own company. I selected to use the sample company's template as the basis for my retail store, and selected the Track Summarized Sales model. QuickBooks created the data file for me that included the same accounting categories and accounts used in the sample company, but without any specific company, customer, vendor, and product information. Once the data file had been created, QuickBooks walked me through the setup process to gather and enter the information necessary to get started. The setup process took about 15 minutes, but I didn't add any customer or product details at that time.
Up and running
QuickBooks is flexible enough that you can begin using the system with a minimum setup and add or change information along the way. This eases the startup process and lets you address the modules as you need them. I was able to create a sale, enter customer information for a new customer, and add the products that were included in that sale on the fly.
QuickBooks' Navigator pages graphically display the steps in each accounting process. You can access any step by clicking on its icon. But every process and data item can also be accessed from a menu function.
QuickBooks Premier with its industry specific modules may not make you jump for joy every time you do your accounting, but it will definitely make the processes more understandable and simpler.
QuickBooks Premier 2005
Industry specific versions for: Accountants Contractors Manufacturers & Wholesalers Nonprofits Professional Services Retailers