It is difficult to choose the right accounting software. Not only are there so many choices, but there is no single software package that is 'the best'. Accounting software is very much horses for courses, and the match between a business and its accounting system needs to be carefully made.
A reseller selecting accounting software on behalf of a client needs to look beyond the features found in each product. Much more important is how the software actually works, how foolproof it is, and how easy the basic everyday functions are to operate. With small businesses, look especially for flexibility and ease of use; the ability to change transactions once they have been recorded is a blessing, and an absence of complicated end of month and end of year procedures is a godsend.
Take a look at the support offered both to you, and to the user. Some products offer free access to on-line support databases (just so that you can continue troubleshooting a client's file at 2am on a public holiday); others provide training courses or extra teaching materials. Some products charge resellers for support calls; others don't.
This article focuses on four accounting software options for small to medium sized Australian businesses. There is not an attempt to make a detailed review of each one, rather to explore what type of business each product suits best, and where their limitations might lie.
QuickBooks 4.0/QuickBooks Pro
QuickBooks is an example of beautifully written Windows software, and is perfect for many small business users. It works similarly to Quicken, Intuit's well-known personal finance software, and so the learning curve for Quickbooks is an easy one for all those previous Quicken users. QuickBooks Pro extends the features of QuickBooks, allowing businesses to bill by the hour, by the project, track time with time sheets, and to produce job-costing reports and quotes.
Both QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro are a great choice for service businesses, providing features not found in many of the more expensive accounting products. They set the standards when it comes to reports. You can view your key financials in a single snapshot, customising the layout and fonts, or you can zoom in on any single report line to investigate the transactions that make up a total. However, if your client is a manufacturer, retailer or wholesaler, make extra sure that the sales tax and pricing features offered are sufficient - these are fairly elementary.
To become a QuickBooks reseller you need to supply business details proving that you are a genuine reseller, after which you will be provided with a dealer pack containing POS, shelf talkers, an electronic catalogue, and access to on-line product information. To become a QuickBooks "training centre", you need to sit an exam showing that you have sufficient computer and accountancy knowledge. Training centres deal with all on-site referrals for QuickBooks users.
M.Y.O.B. v6.0 for Windows
M.Y.O.B. is one of Australia's favourite accounting programs for small business, and rightly so. It is robust, flexible and packed with features. M.Y.O.B. is the natural upgrade from BestBooks, a cut-down version of M.Y.O.B. without inventory. M.Y.O.B. also comes with an optional fully integrated payroll.
M.Y.O.B. has many features, but its winning attribute is that the essentials of day-to-day accounting are superbly provided for. Sales invoices are able to be fully customised, come in four different types, and provide discount columns, mailing labels, and backordering. All entries can be changed at any time (although you can password protect against this), and the design of the bank reconciliation window is the best around. Reports are foolproof, and easy to customise.
From a reseller point of view, the support offered by M.Y.O.B. helps to create happy customers. M.Y.O.B. comes complete with a "Getting Started" video, on-line help, and a CD-ROM Interactive Help disk. Beyond this, users have access to support plans, free Fax on Demand assistance, a Web site, and access to both privately run and TAFE run training courses.
To become a M.Y.O.B. reseller you have two options: retail resellers and "Quality Consultants". To become a retail reseller, you must make an initial order of one full package at retail price. This entitles you to one full package plus a resale copy, point of sale material, demo disks, and 12 free calls per year to technical support. To become a Quality Consultant, you are required to have installed M.Y.O.B. in at least four sites, and give reference details for these sites; you must pass a 60-point questionnaire, and pay the $450 annual membership fee. In return, you will be advertised in the Quality Consultant brochure, and Data-Tech will also refer phone enquiries in your area directly to you.
Sterling 3 for Windows
Sterling 3 was released only in May this year, and is a full general ledger package. Sterling 3 is part of the Solution 6 family, which starts with a simple cashbook called Instant Accounting, then goes to Sterling 3, and then works up to the full Sovereign multi-user range.
Sterling 3 is rather like a one-man band with a wealth of different instruments, none of which are played very well. Despite the array of features, the day-to-day tasks are made to be cumbersome. For example, when you go to write a cheque you discover that you must type the cheque number in full for every entry, and you must type the cheque amount both at the top, and at the bottom. If you allocate the cheque to a new general ledger account and don't remember to customise your profit and loss statement, this essential report will be wrong. The moment you record the cheque, you will not be able to change it in any way. There is no job costing, no integrated payroll, nor is there the ability to zoom-in on reports. Most sadly of all, there are no short-cut keys or keyboard alternatives to the mouse: an omission which ultimately costs a business time, and therefore money.
There are some distinguishing features. The inventory module includes three standard pricing levels, a quantity discount matrix, bill of materials, re-order quantities, and item weights. General ledger records allow you to view account history for the previous 12 months, including budgets, all on the one window. There is a custom report writer, with flexible criteria options, including a formulae column. These features mean that Sterling may be a good option for some wholesalers, retailers, or manufacturers with special pricing requirements.
The reseller focus is on accountants and approved independent consultants, though as yet Solution 6 products are not available from any retail chains. Resellers are given good support, including two days training, POS materials, brochures and demo disks. Resellers get margins on initial sales, upgrades, and on the support contracts that they sell. To become a Sterling reseller, you must prove that you are a genuine reseller with both computing andÊaccounting knowledge. Accountants can become approved resellers by subscribing to the Practice AdvantageÊor Accountants Plus programs.
Pastel Partner, v4.1
Pastel Partner is a very interesting product. At $995 retail, you can obtain a full Windows accounting system, networkable up to 10 users. (The next closest retail price for a multi-user Windows accounting system is Sybiz Vision Lite, at $2,500.) Optional add-ons are the Point of Sale or Bill of Materials modules. Pastel has done a good job customising its product for the Australian market, with excellent sales tax management, and an Australian developed payroll package.
Pastel is an obvious option for importers and exporters, as the multi-currency features are excellent and come as part of the core package. Multipricing levels make Pastel attractive to wholesalers also, with flexible quick-mode invoicing, date sensitive price specials, volume based pricing, and future price lists. These features do not come at the expense of useability: Pastel's general ledger is well laid-out and very foolproof: the profit and loss will always balance, as will the Balance Sheet.
Version 4.1 has seen some major improvements, in particular the new in-built report generator, meaning that the Pastel reports and graphs are more flexible, and much faster to print. All the data in all the files can be read in virtually any format (including Lotus, Excel, dBase and ASCII) which provide the resellers with scope to develop reports and customisations.
Pastel users will fare best if they are methodical and have some understanding of bookkeeping principles. Pastel uses batches to post all types of entries, and users need to remember to update batches in order to access up-to-date reports. Once these batches are posted, the transactions within them cannot be edited or deleted.
To become a Pastel reseller, you must make an initial order of one full package at retail price. This entitles you to one full package plus a resale copy, point of sale material, demo disks, and training at a nominal fee. To maintain dealer status you must purchase a minimum of $1,000/year, and to reach Gold dealer status you need to purchase a minimum of $4,000/year. Resellers receive free support, plus access to the on-line support database.