Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Small Business Accounting Software

Last month we undertook an overview of the role administrative systems play in the SOHO market, and how vital their implementation can be to the overall success of any enterprise. Over the next few months, we will look at some systems specifically tailored to this market, with an examination of the features inherent in Quicken Home & Business, QuickBooks Pro and Accpac Simply Accounting.

Intuit, the world leader in SOHO administrative systems, until very recently had two streams to choose from: one for business and one for home finance. Then Intuit decided to address the burgeoning home office market with its product, Quicken Home & Business '99. This innovative software ties the accounting needs of the home office together and standard household finance management requirements into one neat package, which is very easy to understand and requires minimal setup.  The first thing that greets you after you enter your Quicken password is you customisable "Home Page" which includes details of all your account balances, scheduled transactions, computer generated observations about your financial position, stock performance charts, unpaid invoices - whatever you choose to be displayed in summary detail on this page.

Also located on this page are a variety of links which may be clicked to give you access to the latest online research on stocks, currency rates, financial reports and so on. You can additionally create different "views" (essentially alternate information and layout) of the Home Page and save them for later perusal. The Home Page model is a fantastic feature which is duplicated within each of the six "Centres" : Banking; Planning; Investing; Home and Car; Taxes and Business. You may select any of the Centres from a drop menu at the bottom of the page and view summary level detail pertinent to that area in the form of charts, graphs, alerts and links - just like the Home Page. Let's take a look at these Centres in detail.

Banking

This Centre is where most of your daily transactions are recorded in the easy to use register. If you want to see your transaction details, you simply click on the register link and all the information is displayed in familiar bank statement format. You can perform quick reports on income vs. expenses, print cheques, schedule payments, transfer funds to other accounts among numerous other functions... all from this easy to use screen. You may categorize your transactions from a customisable list which enables you to determine where your funds are going by way of charts and graphs, which in turn allow you to more accurately budget your finances.

The software additionally permits you to split transactions over up to five categories - very handy when withdrawing funds once for expenditure over diverse  transaction types. Quicken's tight integration with the Internet allows you to perform online banking from right within the application. This is great for those who, like me, often do their books at odd hours and need up to date, accurate statements in order to make informed decisions regarding their financial position.

Planning

The Planning Centre is a good place for forecasting and budgeting your finances. It includes an excellent multimedia utility which helps you to create a debt reduction plan you can truly manage. The Planning Centre offers graphs and charts which illuminate your progress towards your budgetary and savings goals. Internet integration here is good as well - including links to information on credit reports, retirement planning insurance and RRSP advice.

Investing

The Investing Centre provides a wealth of timely information related to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, RRSP's and other investment instruments. It provides access to nearly current (20 minute delayed) stock prices, security historical pricing, headlines, and allows you to set price alerts on stocks ... very handy for the busy home entrepreneur! Of course, it allows you to track your investments with detailed charts and reports designed to permit you to quickly and easily get a grasp of your current investment position.

Home & Car

This section is very good for tracking all details related to your home inventory, car expenses, loans, mortgage rates and so on. The home inventory subroutine is really beneficial, enabling you to get an accurate handle on what your insurance requirements really are. I got quite a surprise when I did mine... I found that I had underestimated the value of my contents by about $50,000! This would have obviously had a huge impact in the event of a fire or similar disaster. Again, there are many reports you can run to track everything easily.

Tax Centre

I was really impressed by this section. Not only does it automatically break out the PST & GST owing based on my business transactions, but it also tracks all commonly tax deductible expenditures related to my business in an easy to read chart. It also has a great utility to provide "what if" scenarios related to capital gains, a tax planner, a handy tax calendar with alerts and links to common tax questions as well as other tax related resources.

Business Centre

The Business Centre is obviously the place where customisable invoices are created, payments are recorded, reports on aging receivables are generated, and accounts payable invoices are entered. Everything in this section is very straight forward and comprehendible to the accounting jargon novice, yet powerful enough to provide the functionality required by most small business people. Great multimedia tutorials ensure that most queries are comprehensively addressed. However, if you require extended help, the manual is pretty useless and Intuit charges for telephone support.

Additional shortcomings are its lack of payroll, inventory, job costing and time tracking. These are, however, addressed in the QuickBooks software we will review next month. Overall I'd have to say this is a really good package for the home entrepreneur and despite a couple of weaknesses, would recommend it whole-heartedly.

Originally published in Monitor magazine's lanStuff column, August, 1999, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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