From the September 2000 issue of Startups

What do homebased business owners look for in business and financial accounting software? In a word, dependability. In another word, simplicity. The last word? Affordability.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of productive options for homebased business owners looking for a good deal in financial software. It's about time, too--financial management and accounting software vendors have finally gotten around to building top-notch applications for the home office set.

Here are a few financial software tools worth mulling over:

Big Business: Advertised as a "complete management system for growing companies," Big Business might find a home on your desktop if your company buys and sells a lot of wholesale, distribution and retail products. That's because Big Business is one of the few financial software packages that allows growing companies to merge their sales, marketing and financial objectives into a single program. In addition to performing all accounting functions, Big Business automates sales, order entry, marketing, inventory tracking and Web site creation.

That's a boon to homebased business owners who fit the above profile and who may be using an entry-level bookkeeping product like Quicken--software packages that are single-user, after-the-fact, data-entry and calculation tools.

Business owners can start with the single-user version of Big Business and move up to the client/server version as their company grows. The best feature, in my humble opinion, is the software's ability to share information about any contact, transaction or item in the system, thus making planning and decision-making among several people easier.

QuickBooks: Quicken's big brother, QuickBooks, is a huge hit with the SOHO set. Sure, some home office users make do with Quicken, which handles a lot of basic bookkeeping tasks like bill paying and electronic banking. But QuickBooks goes a whole lot further in helping you manage your business finances.

I like QuickBooks because it does so much for you automatically. The software helps you fill in familiar forms with customer and vendor data, so you never have to enter information twice. It provides a bundle of features that you may have been doing in separate applications like Excel or Microsoft Word, including estimating, time tracking, job costing and integration with key business applications like Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook and Symantec ACT. Like Big Business, it's also multi-user ready, with simultaneous access for up to five people on your network.

Other features I like about QuickBooks include:

  • Easily tracks time. Enter employee hours on weekly forms or single activity forms. Time information flows automatically to invoices and paychecks. An onscreen timer allows you to record time spent on projects easily.
  • Creates professional estimates fast. Start typing a customer name or service; QuickBooks fills in the rest, thus creating an editable invoice from the estimate with just a click.
  • Shows job profitability 11 different ways. Estimates, invoices, timesheets and expenses all flow automatically to reports. Compare estimated job costs to actual costs to see if you're making or losing money.

If you have to choose between Quicken or QuickBooks, don't sweat it. After all, if you started your homebased business with Quicken, you'll understand the basics of using QuickBooks. Download free trial versions of QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro for Windows at www.quickbooks.com.

Additional Choices

Other financial software packages that a home office user might appreciate? For the PC-only crowd, Peachtree offers a pricey but effective accounting package for small businesses that comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee, which I like. The software includes general ledger, accounts receivable, invoicing, accounts payable, job/project tracking, payroll, custom forms design and a report writer.

Another contender in the business accounting software arena for both the Mac and PC is M.Y.O.B. Designed for businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenues, M.Y.O.B integrates general ledger, checkbook, sales, purchasing, inventory, card file and optional payroll functions in an effective format. In my experience, M.Y.O.B is slightly complicated to use, so if you're a technophobe, stick with QuickBooks.

Price-wise, current home office accounting packages retail for anywhere from $40 to $200. Anything less won't do the job, and anything more is usually a luxury you won't need. But then, your new financial software package should tell you that.


Brian O'Connell is a Framingham, Massachusetts-based freelance business writer. His most recent book, B2B.com (Bob Adams Media), is available this September. His earlier books, Generation E: How Young Entrepreneurs are Changing the Corporate Landscape (Entrepreneur Press) and The 401(k) Millionaire (Random House/Villard), are available in bookstores. A frequent contributor to many national business magazines, he can be reached at Bwrite111@aol.com.