The Power of QuickBooks, No Install Required
While QuickBooks wasn’t the first to the online accounting party, Intuit has caught up in a big way. QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based offering that aims to give you anytime, anywhere access to your financial data from any connected PC or mobile device with a supported browser. As with the desktop product, you can buy additional "seat" licenses so that multiple employees can access the program. Intuit offers three levels of service.
QuickBooks Online Simple Start ($12.95 per month for access for one person plus your accountant) requires essentially no accounting knowledge. It lets you create and manage invoices, track sales and expenses, run any of the 20 customizable reports (such as profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and sales), and more. The searchable Customer Center serves as the "hub" for your customer data and provides access to important customer information such as contact details, outstanding balances and recent transactions.
QuickBooks Online Essentials ($24.95 per month) adds online banking support, 40 customizable reports, a Company Snapshot that provides a real-time, 360-degree view of vital business information and your bottom line, and other features. Most notable is the handy Scorecard, which offers a quick "health check" of how your business is doing vis-a-vis three key ratios: Net Profit (how much money is left after paying everything?), Margin Sales Growth (is the demand for products increasing or decreasing?), and Cash Flow (is there enough money to pay the bills?).
Figure 2: Where has all the money gone? The handy charts of QuickBooks Online’s "company snapshot" will show you in graphic detail.
At the top of the food chain is QuickBooks Online Plus ($39.95 per month). Designed for established and expanding businesses, QuickBooks Online Plus offers advanced tools such as purchase orders, class tracking (so you can categorize income and expenses by department, type of business or any category designation you choose), time tracking, 1099 creation, inventory tracking, budgeting and planning, and much more.
Adding to the appeal of both the desktop and the online QuickBooks platforms is QuickBooks Mobile. Available for Apple and Android devices, the app lets you create estimates, manage invoices, view customer details and more -- all from your smartphone or tablet.
The application automatically syncs with QuickBooks, arming you with the most up-to-date information, whether you are in or out of the office. The app is free (and downloadable directly from the Android Market or Apple iTunes App Store), and QuickBooks Online subscribers get free access to their data, while users of the desktop programs pay a small subscription fee.
Sage 50: A Real Peach
One of the oldest names in PC-based accounting, Peachtree, has been put out to pasture. In its place comes Sage 50 Accounting 2013 (available May 2012 in editions ranging from $129 for First Accounting to $569 for Premium Accounting). But worry not, Peachtree fans: The name change is more a branding strategy than a retirement of the product you’ve come to rely on. The new version still delivers the look and functionality you’re accustomed to, while adding new features and services.
This desktop accounting package delivers features such as invoicing (by email or snail mail), cash-flow monitoring, online bill paying, job management and inventory management. Along the way, automatic accounting checks ensure the integrity of your data.
The customizable interface lets you create shortcuts to your most common tasks, access key screens with a click, and easily access your most important business information. Also handy are the various "Centers" -- Business Status Center, Customer Management Center, Vendor Management Center, Inventory Management Center -- that put all information related to those aspects of your business in one place.
New features in this release include more convenient bank reconciliation that can be done on your timetable, not just in sync with an accounting period; support for currency amounts up to $99,999,999,999,999.00 (we should all be so lucky); and enhancements to the Business Intelligence Center, including a new inventory analysis report, a dashboard that shows a graphical summary of key performance indicators (such as profit/loss, top five expenses, top five customers and more) and a Report Designer for creating customer reports.
This release now includes Sage Business Care for all new customers. This service includes free upgrades and updates, unlimited access to customer support, online training, a dedicated account manager and more.
As with other mature platforms, you can expand Sage 50’s functionality with Sage Connected Services. Most notable is the new Mobile Payments Integration, which lets you accept credit card payments on the go with you smartphone; and the integrated Sage E-marketing service, an email marketing tool that includes customizable templates, a survey tool and campaign reports.
You can also pay bills electronically with Sage 50 Online Bill Pay, plus process payroll, e-file taxes, and get tax updates with Sage 50 Payroll Solutions. These add-on services all integrate directly with Sage 50, so you don’t have to worry about double-posting transactions as you might with some third-party services.
Sage One: Integrated Accounting, Contact Management and More
If you prefer a cloud-based solution, you may want to consider the new (so new, it’s still in beta) Sage One service. For a monthly fee of $39 for two administrators and an unlimited number of read-only "collaborators," Sage One combines several tools you need to run your business all in one place: accounting, project management and contact management. Granted, each area is not as full-featured as a best-of-breed product you might buy, but each delivers essential functionality in an integrated, easy-to-use environment.
The site’s main interface features self-explanatory menu choices for Dashboard, Projects, Tasks, Contacts, Money and Reports. The Dashboard is a handy landing page, with frames for Recent Activities, Unpaid Invoices, Tasks and Projects. Each of those areas has a "Create" button so you can create a new invoice, project, and so on quickly.
Naturally, the Dashboard shows your business’ health at-a-glance, and highlights things that need attention. You can manage projects and proposals by tracking estimated and actual revenue/expenses, organize tasks and even assign them to others; employees and contractors (an example of the "collaborators" mentioned above) can see what has been assigned to them and track their time.