Bookkeeping software is a pain in the ass.
One of the tiny handful of things that has kept me running a desktop machine over the past couple of years is the bookkeeping software that I've been using.
Sometimes people keep using older systems because there is something they love about the old way. People profess their love for paper books despite the presence of electronic options; I maintain a fleet of fountain pens for writing by hand despite three quarters of a century or so of advancement in terms of other options.
This is not the case with respect to my desktop bookkeeping software. Not even a little bit.
A couple of times per year over the past two or three years I'd find myself wistfully googling for alternative options, trying to find an option that would meet my small business needs, would not put a vast array of unneeded complications in front of me, and would, ideally, work on my iPad.
Oh - and that would not be QuickBooks.
You see, several years ago, after years of happily using a version of Quicken Home and Business that was two or three generations behind the then most current version, I clicked the wrong button and triggered an unwanted update. In a fit of pique I declared myself finished with any and all bookkeeping products offered by Intuit and went in search of alternatives.
One of the best ways to make your decisions about things that have a large impact on your personal and professional life is to make a rash decision in the middle of a tantrum.
Despite that, the drive to search for alternatives maintained itself for quite some time. For personal finance tracking I switched to Mint, an online application that offered the ability to connect to and track all of your accounts in one place, and would do a fair-to-medium job of categorizing your transactions for you. And it wasn't an Intuit product.
...Until 2009, when Intuit purchased it. More on that below.
For professional purposes I searched high and low for an option that would meet a variety of needs, including tracking of expenses and invoicing. I ended up using a product called AccountEdge. Never heard of it? Neither had I. But it was available for Mac (and Windows), had reasonable reviews, would sync across multiple machines, and otherwise seemed to meet my needs. I took the leap.
My relationship with AccountEdge has been... complicated. While time has blurred the events somewhat in terms of timeframe, at some point relatively early in my use of this app I found that I needed a feature that AccountEdge Basic did not have. So I upgraded to AccountEdge Pro.
The perception of the small business bookkeeping world seems to be that you will want your business to become an international corporation shortly after founding it, and AccountEdge Pro appears to be set up to make you feel like that's already happened in your bookkeeping software.
But not, you know, in a good way.
Setting up things like invoices in AccountEdge Pro requires thinking like a database developer - in most cases you cannot simply type something into the invoice directly - rather, the database consists of fields that have to be filled from information you have entered elsewhere. This means developing reference "lists" for everything - clients, jobs, activities, vendors. Want to do a one-time activity for a client? Gotta enter it on to the activities list, where it will remain forever despite its one-timeness. And AccountEdge offers an app that supposedly syncs with iOS devices and offers some functionality, but I've found setting it up to be inscrutable.
I remained with it for quite a while longer than I wanted, but I was often contemplating straying. Every few months I would find myself searching the App Store and google for iOS bookkeeping software. QuickBooks was always the top hit, but there are other options. Still, the hurdle of moving to something else always seemed to big a hill to climb.
While it would be tempting to think I was lost in the sunk-cost fallacy - I did spend a lot of time setting AccountEdge Pro up. But ultimately it was prospective cost, in terms of my time, that I was concerned about. I've set up these systems multiple times, and they are typically complicated to learn and time consuming. Most programs offer a trial period, but really understanding how they will work for you means setting up your entire business in them, a daunting prospect just to try something out.
The beginning of the year is the perfect time to make a change if your fiscal year mirrors the calendar year. As 2017 rolled into focus and I had a bit of time off for the end of the year, I found myself looking. And, of course, QuickBooks showed up at the top of each search. But I still wasn't using Intuit's products out of principle.
Principle can be a funny thing. When the state of Illinois rolled out their Ipass system (it's called "EZ Pass" in the rest of the US) and MLW picked up a transponder for her car, I made a bold statement about how I wasn't going to use such a thing. Why would I agree to put something in my vehicle that allows me to be tracked? And it was clear the system could be used to track speed between tolls and to then issue tickets. It was just a matter of time! I would not be duped into entering into such a situation.
...About the third time I asked to borrow MLW's Ipass "just this one time" she suggested I might be a touch hypocritical. I have my own Ipass now.
And you know how I mentioned that Intuit bought Mint? I wasn't pleased about that, but I was already bought in, and Intuit mostly seemed to leave it alone, so I left it be. In the intervening years they've developed iPhone and iPad apps, and it remains one of the easiest ways to quickly see what is going on with virtually everything in your financial life. It still works just as well, if not better, as it did back when it was an independent product.
Plus, I never actually stopped using TurboTax. There are other tax prep options, but TurboTax is very familiar, and works very well for me.
And when I needed to start producing 1099's, and could not sort out any easy way to do so with AccountEdge, I ended up holding my nose and going on Intuit's website, setting up an account that not only allowed me to make them, but also to send them electronically to contractors and to file them electronically. So convenient and straightforward... felt a little like getting the first hit for free...
So, yep, I realized I'm using an awful lot of Intuit products for a man engaged in a principled stand against using products by Intuit. I set my prospective cost concerns aside and went ahead and took a shot at the 30-day trial.
About two hours in I had all of my account information set up and was ready to design invoices. By early afternoon I was able to send out my first invoice, complete with the option for customers to pay electronically (an option I've explored but have never cleared the hurdle of setting up before). Some of the setup - like designing the invoices - had to be done on the desktop - but it appears virtually all of the day-to-day activity can be done on the iPad or on an iPhone. And it may be possible that all of it can be done on an iPad, as invoice designing can be done in a web browser. I didn't try this option - I had invoices to send out and, while I am writing this for you, I tried out the software for me .
If you've never set up financial software before you might think this description sounds like a lot of time was taken to set up. It was about six hours across the course of a single day, to be sure, but that was learning completely new software and getting almost entirely up and running. In the past - as with AccountEdge - this has been a process that can take days to accomplish. I was astonished at how quickly everything came together.
It's early days, of course, and I haven't done everything yet - I have yet to need to print a check, for example. But initial experience is positive. I often prefer to go with smaller, independent software company options when I can find something that will work for me. Still, there are times when the combined experience and expertise of an established company pays real dividends. And assuming everything continues to go well, I'm one more step away from the desktop.