It only takes being in business for a few months to realize how important it is to know exactly what's going on with your books. Fortunately, there are many accounting programs that help you keep track of monies coming in and going out, not to mention managing inventory, setting budgets, analyzing profitability, handling payroll and more.
A few years ago, Intuit's QuickBooks was the only game in town for small-business owners who didn't want to wade through a lot of accounting mumbo-jumbo to computerize their books. Now Intuit's competitors, Peachtree and DacEasy, are catching up with QuickBooks in terms of ease of use. Both companies are big players in the accounting software arena, but until recently, their programs were too complex for novices to grasp.
All the programs reviewed here are designed to run under Windows 95 and NT, but they can also work under Windows 3.1; Macintosh versions are available as well.
All three of these programs offer similar functions. They help you maintain accurate accounts receivable and accounts payable records. You'll be able to create invoices, and customer data, including contact information and purchasing history, will be stored and easily accessible. Check writing and printing features are also standard on all three programs, as is an inventory function that shows what's on hand and on order. All three also have payroll capabilities and will calculate and deduct federal, state and local taxes--meaning you might be able to do away with your bookkeeper or payroll service.
Having an accounting program do all your work for the year makes tax time much simpler. You'll be able to output data for your accountant or export data into one of the popular tax preparation programs on the market (see next month's "Business Software" for a review of tax software).
Though the accounting functions are great, what really makes these products exciting are the business management tools for creating customized reports and financial statements. For example, you'll be able to analyze whether a certain product is profitable, and there will be no more guessing about who's your biggest client or which sales representative is the most productive.
Easy Does It
Setting up DacEasy's Accounting & Payroll 95 is simple. You input your company's name and address, and a list of 100 different types of businesses appears--from accounting to real estate. Choose the one that best applies to you, and DacEasy generates the various accounts required for this type of company; you can also opt to create your own.
DacEasy includes an upgrade function for people using other accounting programs. You can import data from older DacEasy programs, as well as from Peachtree and QuickBooks. (No other accounting programs are supported, however.) The DacEasy interface is fairly standard, with pull-down menus and icons. The icons are difficult to decipher, but if you hold the mouse over them, descriptions of their functions pop up.
This program is designed to interact with other Windows 95 programs, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Access, which means you can easily import and export data such as spreadsheets and customer lists.
If you're in the service industry and bill based on hourly or daily rates, DacEasy recommends integrating its program with TimeSlips Accounting Link, a time-and-billing-system program. You can input data in the TimeSlips program and have it automatically updated in your DacEasy--or other accounting program--files. (Intuit offers its own QuickBooks Pro, a program designed for users who bill for their time.)
Within DacEasy are a few basic contact management functions that let you track the contacts you've made with a customer, dial his or her phone number using the integrated phone dialer, and print labels and letters.
The Payroll feature in DacEasy lets you track earnings, deductions and liabilities for each employee. You can also use DacEasy to set up a 401(k) deduction plan.
Overall, DacEasy's program suffers from a clunky user interface laden with difficult accounting jargon.
Peachtree Complete Accounting for Windows is head and shoulders above DacEasy when it comes to usability. Setting up a new company is an easy, though time-consuming, process.
Peachtree's interface is unique but extremely easy to understand. A row of standard pull-down menus graces the top of the screen, while tabs for various functions, such as Receivables, General Ledger and Payroll, line the bottom of the screen. Click on one of the tabs, and a tree of icons unfolds, letting you easily choose the desired function. A Smart Guide pop-up menu follows you around as you work, giving tips about the area you're in.
Peachtree Complete offers all the standard accounting functions. It also includes a powerful job-costing function that lets you analyze job costs and track current job estimates. In addition, Peachtree offers tracking capabilities to keep tabs on back orders and partial shipments.
Peachtree's contact management features are slightly more robust than DacEasy's. This program can also alert you when inventory gets low or you're going over budget. The Administration section lets you manage tasks such as creating job descriptions and tracking sales reps and handling contact management. Peachtree has numerous easy-to-modify reports that let you analyze data and includes a form designer so you can create your own forms.
What makes this program stand out the most, however, is its support of multiple users. Peachtree Complete is fully network-ready, which means different sections of your books can be worked on by different users.
Although this program is great, I have a big nit to pick: It doesn't import files from common accounting programs. That means if you're a QuickBooks user, you'll have a difficult time switching over.
Make It Quick
We were fortunate to get our hands on an early copy of Intuit's new QuickBooks 5.0, which boasts an amazing number of upgrades, including improvements to a navigation system that was already su-perior to the competition.
The QuickBooks Navigator is a graphical interface designed to help inexperienced users easily find their way around. The Navigator puts QuickBooks' functions into easy-to-follow icons. For example, from the Sales and Customer icon, a diagram leads you through doing an estimate, writing an invoice, receiving a payment and making a deposit. Experienced QuickBooks users will appreciate the new menu buttons that make it easy to complete tasks without leaving certain areas.
Intuit has also improved QuickBooks forms by including a layout designer that lets you create more polished invoices and statements.
If your company has numerous inactive customers or inventory items, you can put them on an inactive list to hide them and then easily reactivate them if necessary.
If you spend a lot of time paying bills each month--printing checks, signing them, mailing them--you'll appreciate QuickBooks 5.0's online payment feature, a function all banks support. Additionally, many users will be able to take advantage of online banking, which lets you view your actual bank accounts and even transfer money from within QuickBooks.
If you already use QuickBooks for Windows, your old data will automatically import into version 5.0; if you use another accounting program, however, data importing won't be so easy. I could find import functions only for Quicken and QuickBooks DOS.
If you're just starting out with computerized accounting or are already a QuickBooks user, QuickBooks 5.0 is my recommendation. If a multiuser platform is important to you, however, Peachtree is certainly a viable product. (Unfortunately, importing data into Peachtree is no easy task.) As for DacEasy, it has become much more user-friendly, but it still has a way to go.
New and notable software
- World's Easiest: Deluxe Corp. is on to something. It's created a software program designed to take the hassle out of minor desktop publishing tasks.
I gave World's Easiest a try to generate business cards. The process was absolutely painless. The included paper makes it easy to print a few dozen cards fast. Biggest problem: It was difficult to figure out how to modify the template to include an e-mail address. Because the process is so easy, it's also somewhat inflexible.
The software is affordable--about $20. You can also transmit your files via modem to Deluxe Corp. for printing: 250 one-color business cards are just $14.99. Visit the Web site for more information at (http://www.easiest.com), or call (800) 730-EASY.
Cassandra Cavanah is a former executive editor of PC Labtop magazine and has reported on the computer industry for eight years.
DacEasy Inc., 17950 Preston Rd., #800, Dallas, TX 75252, (800) 322-3279;
Intuit Corp., P.O. Box 7850, Mountain View, CA 94039-7850, (800) 4-INTUIT;
Peachtree Software, 1505 Pavilion Pl., Norcross, GA 30093, (800) 247-3224.