2007 will mark my first year of using QuickBooks financial software to manage our online business(es). I have to admit: I was initially very reluctant to fork over the cash for QuickBooks Pro. I was already a user of Quicken 2006 Premier Home & Business, and it seemed to be handling things just fine.
But now that I've had the opportunity to learn QuickBooks and get it tweaked with a year's worth of use (which takes more than a weekend to do — that's for sure!), I'm awfully happy I made the jump.
I paid about $130 for QuickBooks Pro 2007 at Sam's Club (then, later, about $98 for Quickbooks Pro 2009). Up until mid-2006, I wouldn't have considered it a worthy expense: Our small-biz, self-employment accounting wasn't all that complicated, and I'm not sure our profits merited spending over a hundred bucks on (more) accounting software.
But all that changed once I began selling spreadsheets and my wife started selling jewelry and papercrafts. Not much later, advertising and affiliate-program money started to snowball nicely, too ... and next thing we know, we're having to track income and expenses from all over the place, as well as monitor separate bank accounts and ship products and track inventory and generate invoices and —
Well, you get the idea.
While I had absolutely no idea how well QuickBooks would handle our mesh of "e-tailing" and content-driven ventures, I told myself that all my previous great experiences with Quicken had to count for something. In other words, QuickBooks didn't become such a huge name for no reason; Intuit had to be doing something right with it.
Please allow me to get a bit retrospective here. I'd like to divulge a few things about QuickBooks in the hope that others perhaps "on the fence" can make a better decision as to whether the software can help them.
The Learning Curve
Quicken isn't exactly a snap to learn, right? Well, QuickBooks is even tougher. In fact, if I didn't have years of accounting experience (read: fixing small-scale disasters) at my Day Job, then getting up to speed with QuickBooks would've been ... uh ... formidable. This isn't intended to scare folks away; rather, you simply need to understand that QuickBooks isn't "plug 'n' play" software. In any sense.
Double-entry accounting wasn't new to me, but I still had to buy a book to help me along with QuickBooks — though this was more for the software's features and how-tos than with basic accounting principles. For me, when I need to figure out how to customize invoices in Quickbooks, I'd much rather learn it from a book than from some obtuse Help Files. (I highly recommend the "QuickBooks Guide" series published by McGraw Hill / Quicken Press, by the way.)
Income From All Over?
When you've got multiple online income streams working, keeping tabs on all of them can be problematic. But thankfully, it's not tough at all with QuickBooks. We can always know where we stand with our Adsense earnings, Commission Junction revenues, IYM advertisers, spreadsheet and jewelry customers, and all the rest.
In QuickBooks, all these entities are CUSTOMERS. You generate and track invoices, sales receipts, and manage payments from each of them over time. You can see all balances owed at a glance, as well as each customer's history of transactions. And like any good batch of accounting software, QuickBooks keeps you abreast of account aging and overdue balances.
The ability to customize your receipts and invoices, and email them from within QuickBooks, was a big selling point for me. My wife's jewelry invoices don't have to look like my advertising invoices (each contains different information), which look still different than my spreadsheet receipts.
Yeah. I'm getting my money's worth out of this feature.
Vendors and Expenses
What categories are to Quicken, accounts are to QuickBooks. And once you've got your business Chart of Accounts at least moderately fleshed out (are they ever really done ... really?), handling your hosting bills and Paypal fees and domain-renewal charges is a snap.
Like Quicken, in QB you can enter expenses directly in the bank-account registers (see below), or you can do so by entering "bills" (when you get the bill) and "payments" (when you actually pay the bill) that are specific to each of your vendors.
Physical (and Online!) Bank Accounts
Even before we began operating as an LLC, our business had its own bank and credit-card accounts separate from our personal ones. (I consider this to be a "must," really, no matter how you handle self-employment income.) QuickBooks is much like Quicken in that all of your bank accounts — physical as well as 'net variety, like Paypal and Google Checkout — and their balances appear at the forefront of your desktop at all times.
All in all, I'm very pleased with QuickBooks Pro. While I can envision it having some significant limitations for larger businesses, it really seems to be a great accounting-software option for small businesses like ours.
I can't think of any good reason why it couldn't work for pretty much any online venture — from straight e-tailing to eBay selling to blogging to whatever else is out there. The only drawback I might see is that if you sold a lot of small products (in my case, spreadsheets) and you wanted to track personal information (think email addresses) for all your purchasers, you would have a pretty bloated CUSTOMER CENTER in QuickBooks before long. My workaround? I simply created one Customer (named "Spreadsheet Purchaser") whom I use whenever someone buys a spreadsheet. I enter the purchaser's actual info on each sales receipt when the purchase is made, so the data is there if I need it, and finding someone isn't too difficult with QB's Search features.
But because there's only one listed spreadsheet "Customer" in my QB Customer Center (albeit a customer with hundreds of receipts!), I don't have to scroll through endless entries to find customers of other types.