Although Intuit's QuickBooks has long been favored as the accounting program of choice for small businesses, it has had some significant limitations--primarily a lack of networking capability. In the not-too-distant past, networking and multiuser support might not have had much meaning for small-business owners, but today, as networks become easier to set up and businesses increase their staffs, the convenience of this feature is becoming more apparent.
Intuit's strong desire to meet its customers' needs has resulted in QuickBooks Pro 6.0 ($219), complete with multiuser support. An upgraded version of the basic single-user QuickBooks 6.0 ($119) has also been enhanced.
Multiuser support is not the only new feature in the upgraded version of QuickBooks, which was scheduled for release in June. Intuit has taken pains to make this program Internet-ready, with an embedded version of Microsoft Explorer, free online access to QuickBooks support and services, and new online payroll, banking and bill payment services. Let's take a look at some of these features.
Cassandra Cavanah is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has reported on the computer industry for nine years.
Check It Out
QuickBooks was the first small-business accounting program designed to be easy to use for those of us without accounting experience. There's no need for double entries; QuickBooks "knows" where all your figures and data should be posted and does it automatically. Intuit's continuing goal is to help eliminate time-consuming accounting tasks so users can get back to business as soon as possible. In keeping with this philosophy, QuickBooks 6.0 sports an upgraded help system that includes new "How Do I" buttons to give users tips on optimizing their QuickBooks experience. And CD-ROM videos train new users on various functions.
Because Intuit has been providing products to small-business owners for so long, the company has gathered extensive feedback that it has used to develop interesting data on all types of businesses. You can access detailed tips for using QuickBooks for whatever type of business you run. Reading through these tips will inspire you to use QuickBooks to its fullest potential.
Links to Web-based information on small business are also a welcome addition to QuickBooks, as is the link to business advisors in your area.
Installing QuickBooks 6.0 was incredibly easy. If you're upgrading from an older version, your data will easily import into 6.0. If you're a Quicken user and are ready to take the plunge into more advanced accounting capabilities, you'll be happy to note that Quicken data can now be converted into QuickBooks files.
As a new user, you'll want to go through the QuickBooks interview process to assure yourself that the program will be set up to meet your needs. To eliminate any confusing functions that don't fit your business's needs, QuickBooks will hide them from view until needed.
All Together Now
In the past, if QuickBooks users wanted to network their accounting data to share some or all of the functions with other employees, they'd be forced to upgrade to a more powerful accounting program. QuickBooks Pro 6.0 changes all that with its multiuser capability. Although many would say it's been a long time coming, Intuit says it was worth the wait: It claims that QuickBooks Pro 6.0 is the easiest multiuser accounting program to hit the market.
The beauty of a multiuser environment is obvious. For example, if you're busy at your computer paying bills or running reports, with a multiuser program, one of your employees can input invoices and print them out for customers at the same time. Or perhaps you have someone in accounts receivable doing collections but you still need access to invoices. Having the ability to work simultaneously will save you a tremendous amount of time and stress.
Although I was unable to test the networking functions, they include the ability for multiple users to view the same transaction simultaneously. QuickBooks tells each user who is editing a given transaction, and a list of all the users logged onto the system is available for review. In addition, individual users can customize QuickBooks to work the way they do, while an Audit Trail tracks which user made changes to each transaction.
Each user in a multiuser environment will need a copy of QuickBooks; a five-user value pack costs $599.
Even if you don't intend to use QuickBook Pro's multiuser capabilities, you should be aware that the program also features time-tracking, estimating and job-costing. If your clients require job estimates or you bill time to customers, QuickBooks Pro will save you from re-entering data into various forms. Instead, you enter your time or your employees' time into a time sheet, attribute it to a specific customer, and all the appropriate accounting and payroll records are updated automatically. An added benefit: It's easy to edit the hours to be billed before invoicing your client.
The job-costing function gives you a clear picture of what products, services and employees generate the most or least profit. This makes it possible to determine your company's profitability with hard facts. An on-screen timer lets you track tasks as you go.
Online Payroll and Direct Deposit services are yet more ways Intuit is trying to make small-business users' lives easier. These online services allow QuickBooks users to easily deal with payroll tax filings, tax deposits, W-2 processing and direct deposits. These capabilities will be included in the QuickBooks Pro 6.0 release; however, the services won't be available until next year. The fee for Online Payroll is $20 per month, plus $1 per employee per payroll run. Direct Deposit costs $1.50 per pay period.
QuickBooks has consistently been a favorite for small-business owners with fewer than 20 employees. With the addition of multiuser support, QuickBooks Pro 6.0 is a must for any QuickBooks user ready to move to the next level without committing to thousands of dollars in software. It's easy to use, and it's something most small-business owners are already familiar with. (According to independent software tracking firm PC Data, QuickBooks has an 80 percent market share.) If you're looking for ways to make running your business a little easier, QuickBooks Pro 6.0 won't disappoint.
- Business Maestro: Creating budgets is rarely pleasant. Planet's new Business Maestro for Windows is designed to take the tedium out of this process. Maestro works with existing accounting systems and uses spreadsheets, databases, accounting know-how and charting capabilities to enable just about anyone to effectively plan, budget, model, forecast, report on and analyze business activities.
A single-user version costs $995. Visit http://www.planet-corp.com or call (800) 366-5111.
- SurfSaver: If you're a Web site junkie, take a look at askSam's SurfSaver. This program lets you store Web pages into folders. Once saved, you can quickly search and browse these pages (even when you're not connected to the Internet). It's great for online research and will keep you from retracing your steps to find a particular Web site. And when sites disappear from the Web altogether, as they often do, you'll still have the information that originally caught your eye.
SurfSaver is available for Microsoft Explorer (for Windows only) and will soon be released in other browser versions. A version can be downloaded from the Web (http://www.surfsaver.com) for $29.95, or call (800) 800-1997 for more information.
- Conversá Web: Are you ready for hands-free Web surfing? Conversá Web from Conversational Computing delivers just that for users of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 with Windows who also have a sound card and a microphone. Thanks to speech recognition technology, Conversá Web lets Web surfers jump from one hot link to the next by using just their voices. The key market for this product is comprised of those suffering from physical ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, that limit their ability to use their hands.
Conversá Web can be downloaded from http://www.conversa.com for $29.95, or call (888) ITS-HERE for more information.