Saturday, February 03, 2007
Is QuickBooks the Right Tool for the Job?
As a contract programmer, my accounting needs are (I think) pretty simple. I just need to do the following:
- Record time spent on client projects
- Record reimbursable expenses
- Record non-reimbursable expenses
- Record income
- Once a month, generate invoices for clients detailing the time and expenses.
- Once a month, do payroll (my corporation pays me).
- When appropriate, pay dividends to the shareholders (currently consisting of just myself).
- Handle taxes
In my previous independent-contracting career, in which I was organized as a sole proprietorship, I just used Quicken Home & Business and a few spreadsheets to do all this stuff. Now that I've organized a corporation and need to keep my personal and business finances formally separated, I decided to buy QuickBooks, as I've heard a lot of good things about it.
Unfortunately, QuickBooks makes me feel stupid. No matter how much documentation I read, I can't figure out how to do a lot of things that I think should be simple. For example, I discovered the QuickBooks timesheet feature, and entered all my time spent. I figured there should be some easy way to generate an invoice from my recorded time, but when it came time to do it, I couldn't find a way. The Invoices dialog has a little button labeled "Time/Cost..." that the documentation seems to indicate will do what I want, but that didn't give me any of the data I've entered in the timesheets. The only solution I've found is to generate a monthly report of my time, and then manually copy those values into an invoice.
Everything I do in QuickBooks seems unnecessarily difficult and counter-intuitive. I've developed a theory that QuickBooks is targeted at a more complicated business, with multiple employees, a large number of customers, inventory, suppliers, etc. For a one-person service-oriented company, it's overkill.
I'm going to spend a little more time trying to master QuickBooks, not because I think it might be useful, but just because I want to understand how it is intended to be used. The bank that has my business checking account provides a set of online small-business tools that are supposed to handle a lot of this stuff (payroll and invoicing, in particular), so I'm going to look at those.
A lot of independent programmers decide to develop their own accounting systems, because it looks deceptively simple. I'm not going to fall into that trap. If a client wants to pay me to develop a new accounting system, I'll be glad to take the money, but I'm not going to waste my own time on such a project.
I could hire a real accountant, but that seems like overkill for my needs. Also, part of the attraction of forming my own business is the challenge of doing all this on my own.
But I've never tried time sheets, or billing from time sheets.
The Quickbooks differentiator is to have a nice interface, and to do things under the covers. As a computer wonk, I expect you'll find the hardest part about QB (as I did) will be to not understand why things are happening, but just type it in and let it happen.
having a really simple practice file, or looking in the sample files that come with it, might help.
And google the quickbooks group for Usenet as well.
QuickBooks and all the rest of the accounting software out there leave alot to be desired and are all really not good. The programers who wrote the software were very careless, sloppy, and inconsiderate. Their philosophy is one size fits all and if the shoe hurts, too bad.