Small business owners understand business. But they generally don’t know, or necessarily care to know, accounting. This is why they rely on accounting programs to manage their businesses and give them a fix on that all-important bottom line. For these purposes, Intuit’s QuickBooks Premier 2003 is a first-rate package that offers some enhancements over last year’s version and continues to make sense of those dreaded debits and credits. Combined with all of Intuit’s related services, QuickBooks Premier 2003 is tough to beat. It’s all in what you’re willing to pay for.
For 2003, the mantra from Intuit emphasizes diversification and niches — the old one-size-fits-all accounting programs have fallen out of fashion. In addition to QuickBooks Premier 2003, the program comes as the low-powered QuickBooks Pro and QuickBooks Basic, as well as industry-specific versions of Premier, with programs for accountants and contractors and an Enterprise version for larger companies. As a rule of thumb, QuickBooks Premier 2003 is designed for businesses with up to 20 employees.
While it’s much like last year’s version, QuickBooks Premier 2003 offers some new features that appeal to small businesses. To start, QuickBooks works with the FedEx shipping service to make it easier to send and track shipments from within the program. This feature even lets you print shipping labels from within QuickBooks.
New sales orders and planning tools and improved analysis tools help provide insight into a business. We were impressed with the new forecast and expert analysis tools, and found the auto-create budget and business planner useful. QuickBooks continues to improve its already powerful planning and analysis tools.
For manufacturing businesses, the program has new assembly tools that let you manage individual items from inventory and then track their assembly — something that has long been missing from QuickBooks. While QuickBooks Premier may not be the first choice for a small manufacturing business, this feature is welcome.
The program comes with an improved form library and design tools, and offers some 100 professionally designed forms, including invoices, estimates, statements, and more. An improved backup feature lets you schedule backups and verify the integrity of data files.
We installed our evaluation copy of QuickBooks Premier and configured it for a fictional service-oriented business. We created records and performed everyday business functions, produced a variety of business reports and applied the analytical tools.
Installing QuickBooks was fairly painless. The program effectively walked us through the process of entering business and financial data and let us select from various industries to set us on the right course. If you own a prior version of QuickBooks, the new program will import your company’s data.
We found that QuickBooks Premier retained its strengths from the 2002 version. The clean interface offered navigational flowcharts that depicted the accounting processes and acted as intuitive menus. The flowcharts were logically broken down into different categories by company, customer, vendors, employees, and more. The main menu was clearly divided by accounting categories so we could easily find the function we were looking for. We quickly located functions by invoice, customer, item, vendor, check, and more.
We easily added records for customers, employees, items, and vendors; prepared purchase orders and invoices; and ran basic and advanced business reports. We found that we could quickly customize purchase orders and invoices by activating and deactivating fields and altering layouts. Without a doubt, QuickBooks Premier 2003 makes it easy to perform and manage day-to-day business functions.
The program continues to offer a multitude of reports to cover almost every conceivable business need — a QuickBooks hallmark. We particularly enjoyed using the analytic tools that asked clear questions and let us designate time periods, and created detailed reports that were complete with easy-to-understand explanations.
QuickBooks Premier offers integration with other business applications and exchanges data with Act!, Microsoft Word, Outlook, and more. In addition to the software, Intuit offers powerful services — at extra cost — that cover online billing, credit check and merchant account services, bill paying and credit cards. Intuit payroll services range from the basic QuickBooks Do-it-Yourself Payroll to the new, fully outsourced Intuit Payroll Services Complete Payroll. The helpful new QuickBooks Employee Organizer service offers compliance guidance, and reports and information on federal and state laws to help small businesses manage employees.
As mentioned earlier, QuickBooks comes in various versions. Beyond the features found in QuickBooks Basic, the Pro version adds multiple-user support, customized price levels, job costing, integration with QuickBooks Point of Sale, and time tracking. Premier includes all of the features found in QuickBooks Pro and adds remote access, inventory assemblies, forecasting, analysis tools, enhanced journal entry and closing, stronger job costing, multiple journal views, and more.
This year, Intuit offers specialized versions of QuickBooks Premier 2003 that will appeal to contractors and accountants. The QuickBooks Premier 2003: Contractor Edition has QuickBooks Premier at its core, but adds features for estimating and performing job costing, manages change order processes, and provides specialized reports and industry-specific help.
The QuickBooks Premier 2003: Accountant Edition offers enhanced general journal entry options, accountant-specific reports, remote access to client files, and closing procedures. The Accountant Edition is compatible with all QuickBooks 2003 financial software products, which should allow accountants to view and edit client files. Both the contractor and accounting editions are available at the same price as the Premier version ($499.95 for new users and $379.95 for upgrades).
As a side note, Intuit recently announced that some 70 third-party developers, all members of the company’s Developer Network, will announce new products or services that integrate with QuickBooks 2003. These applications range from automotive and construction applications to task-specific applications built for real estate, manufacturing and transportation businesses. The addition of third-party developers has definite potential for further customizing QuickBooks for specific industries.
With a wealth of powerful features, QuickBooks effectively covers the small business bases. But this power doesn’t come cheap. QuickBooks Premier, Pro and Basic 2003 are respectively priced for new users at $499.95, $299.95 and $199.95. Both Premier and Pro come in 5-user packs that are respectively priced at $1,499.95 and $749.95.
QuickBooks Premier 2003 is available for Windows 98/Me/NT 4.0/2000/XP operating systems. The program effectively combines ease of use and strength, and is a first-rate program for small businesses with up to 20 employees. And if QuickBooks Premier doesn’t work for your particular business, there’s another QuickBooks that probably will. Contractors and accountants will want to purchase the industry-specific versions. And those who can get by with either QuickBooks Pro or even QuickBooks Basic should save their money and not purchase QuickBooks Premier. Just be sure to evaluate the various features in the products and pay for only what you need.