Starting yesterday afternoon, and continuing into today, some of Intuit’s servers went offline to the outside world.

That means that businesses using QuickBooks Online, Intuit Merchant Services, or QuickBooks Online Payroll were left twiddling their thumbs. Lots of them were not too happy. I read these tweets on Tuesday afternoon:

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“How can QuickBooks Online Edition be down all day? Very frustrating.”

“Quickbooks Online has been down for hours now. Anyone else feeling like “the cloud” is more like “the smoke”?”

“Freaking out a bit that QuickBooks is unavailable and has been all day. This is when “in the cloud” stuff scares me to death.”

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This is one of the disadvantages of the cloud — it’s completely out of your hands. That’s also it’s biggest advantage (when it’s working right).

The pros and cons here apply to all cloud-based applications. There were the same mumblings and grumblings a week or so ago when a chunk of Gmail’s users lost access to their accounts because of a problem on Google’s servers.

What brings me down, though, is that this is not a rare event for Intuit customers. This happened back in January, a couple of times in 2010, and you can keep going back.

Honestly, Intuit makes great software. QuickBooks rocks. Quicken rocks. TurboTax rocks. ProSeries rocks.

But Intuit’s deliverable online IT doesn’t rock, and this is not new.

Why fight it? Why doesn’t Intuit farm out their online services IT to somebody who has a fantastic track record and can deliver 99.95% uptime? IBM, maybe? Sun?

Unless someone from Intuit wants to chime in and give us current figures, there are different ways to estimate the number of businesses using QuickBooks:

In mid-2008, Intuit claimed that QuickBooks had 3.7 million users, representing 94.2% of the business accounting market.

A current Intuit webpage asserts that QuickBooks holds 85% retail market share in small business accounting software.

SCORE says there were an estimated 29.6 million small businesses in America in 2009. How many of them license their own accounting software? Who knows? The vast majority of the ones who do their books in-house, however, have got to be using QuickBooks.

It’s a huge market, and there are thousands of software developers in the Intuit Developer Network who want to reach that install base. These developers can try to get their app listed in the Intuit App Center.

Those select apps have a built-in marketing connection to the user base, at least for users of the 2010 and 2011 versions of QuickBooks. The App Center — located as a button on the QuickBooks icon bar — makes those apps just one click away from the user. Selected add-on developers can also advertise on QuickbooksUsers.com.

How about users in the cloud?  Intuit now claims 215,000 users of its QuickBooks Online Edition, with growth last year of 44%.

Any way you look at it, QuickBooks dominates the SMB accounting software market.

Job costing is an important function for every business that has employees, sells good, or provides services to customers.  Job costing is especially important for contractors, because you need to know if you are making money on the jobs that you have been awarded.

While the start of a busy construction season may not be the right time to do a full-scale revamp of your current job costing system, it is certainly time to give it a thorough review for the upcoming season and perhaps make some modifications to your existing systems within QuickBooks.  As you read through this article, take some notes and see what things you can change now and what should wait until you are in “off season” before tackling.

Implement job costing for your company using the following 13 steps:

1.    The QuickBooks Customer Center provides you with the ability to track your Customers (project owners, awarding authorities, or general contractors) that you perform work for.  For each Customer you can then track the various Jobs (projects) that you are working on for that specific customer.  For each Job that you are working on you can also track Sub-Jobs (your Change Orders or Extra Work orders) that are specific to the original job.

If you are going to use Jobs and Sub-Jobs, each one should have its own Estimate; the Estimate that you create at the Job level should be for the Original Contract, whereas the Estimate that you create at the Sub-Job level should only be for the items that are specific to the change order/extra work order.

ALL costs that are entered into QuickBooks should be posted or job costed to either the Job or to the Change Order/Extra Work order.

Variations:

Sometimes the contract owner wants the Change Order/Extra Work Order to be added or included with the original contract for billing purposes. In this case it is recommended that you still set up both the Job and Sub-Job records in QuickBooks for job-costing purposes and also add the Change Order/Extra Work Order (in whatever sort of detail required) to the BOTTOM of the Original Estimate for billing purposes.

RELATED: 10 Common Mistakes When Using QuickBooks for Contractors

2.    NEVER, I repeat, NEVER simply open the original QuickBooks Estimate and just change the dollar amounts of any line item to reflect the new amount after a change – this will NOT provide you with a good documentation system.

3.    Review your QuickBooks Chart of Accounts and make sure that you have suitable accounts listed there for Direct and Indirect Job Costs

4.    Review your QuickBooks Item List – it should be set up to match your industry’s cost code lists, with all items being “Double-Sided” (having both a Purchase and a Sales price) and using “Group Items” as appropriate.

5.    Use the cost codes from your Items List when creating Estimates, Purchase Orders, entering bills, writing checks or entering credit card charges.

6.    Review your QuickBooks Payroll Item List – does it have different payroll wage items that reflect the types of work (work classification) that the employee performs on the job site?

7.    While we are on the subject of Payroll, you should be doing your payroll in-house or through the use of QuickBooks Assisted Payroll and entering employee hours using the weekly timesheet – mirroring the information that is sent from the field.

8.    Make sure that you are accounting for your Equipment Costs on the job site and in your job costing reports.

9.    Track committed costs, material purchases, and subcontracts using customized QuickBooks Purchase Orders and the cost Codes you create in your Items List.

10. Create Estimates that reflect the Schedule of Values using the Cost Codes you create in your Items List and then use the Progress Invoicing feature to generate the base billing.

11. Use our free Project Info Worksheet as a means of providing essential contract information to the appropriate people and document ALL of your procedures.

12. Get your employees involved; make sure that everyone is trained properly.

13. Monitor the work flow carefully and make adjustments as necessary.

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About the Author:
Nancy Smyth has supported Intuit products and end users since 1986, with her primary focus being commercial/government construction contractors. She has been a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor since 1999; and as President of Sunburst Software Solutions, Inc., she is a key player in the development of several QuickBooks Add-Ons for the construction industry. She is also the author of the QuickBooks for Contractors blog.

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Note: We periodically offer live online training seminars called “QuickBooks Job Costing Essentials” and “Advanced Job Costing”. Check our schedule for upcoming sessions.

Remember watching TV when you were a kid? In the evenings, a public service announcement would come on, saying, “It’s 10:00 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”

Well, on many a Friday night – late at night! – our team is busy working on QuickBooks data. It’s not because we are insomniacs. No, the motivation is to turn around data jobs as quickly as we can. It’s good for our clients to be up and running in QuickBooks again no later than the dawn’s early light of Monday morning.

We repaired some QuickBooks data last weekend for a gentleman named Larry Seltzer. I didn’t know at the time that he is a writer for many tech pubs and a contributing editor for PC Magazine. We got his data at 5:00 pm on a Friday afternoon, and returned his repaired file to him on Saturday. Then he wrote about his experience with us. I’m glad he was pleased with the results.

Our team is happy to work our tails off to minimize your QuickBooks downtime, whether it’s related to data recovery, supercondensing, edition downgrading, or recreating your QuickBooks file. It’s about your schedule, not ours.

Do you often burn the midnight oil to take care of your customers? (Now that it’s tax season, I’ll bet some of you CPAs are in that mode right now…)

If you’re like me, you use Windows shortcuts a lot. You’re always a quick click away from the window you need.

To similarly speed up your access to common QuickBooks functions, you can easily customize your QuickBooks icon bar.

Just right-click on the icon bar (located right below the menu for File / Edit / View…) and click Customize Icon Bar…

You’ll see something like this:

The QuickBooks icon bar
Save time by customizing your icon bar

You can add, edit, or delete from a lot of potential icon bar shortcuts. In QuickBooks Pro 2011, there are seventy shortcuts to pick from!

You can reposition the active icons by clicking and dragging the little diamonds to the left of the choices. You can create visual groups by adding or moving separators. Great!

Set it up so that your most commonly used functions are visible on the icon bar all the time. Delete ones you rarely or never use (you can always re-add them later if you want to.)

If QuickBooks has the capacity to make it more convenient for you, why not take advantage of that?

Do you want a free, continuing education on QuickBooks? Then read a few of the QuickBooks-oriented blogs out there. Here are some of my favorite writers who blog about QuickBooks:

Charlie Russell (c/o the Sleeter Group)

Charlie is a software developer, but he’s also a great tech writer. Most of his articles dig deep into specific features – or problems – in QuickBooks. He’s my go-to guy for information on problems relating to specific version updates.

Just in the last week or so, he announced that he is moving his blog to Sleeter Group’s blog page, so he will be in there with other writers. I’ll be looking for his contributions.

Scott Gregory

Scott is the owner of Better Bottom Line, and a CPA in Ohio. I met him on Twitter. No, he doesn’t tweet what he is having for lunch. He tweets and blogs about best practices for small businesses using QuickBooks. Scott isn’t afraid to call it the way he sees it, which is good in a blog.

Nancy Smyth

Nancy is the owner of Sunburst Software, a developer of add-on software for contractors using QuickBooks. She also writes a great blog about all kinds of QuickBooks topics — not just contractor issues.

Robert Lockard

Robert is a pro blogger for Fishbowl Inventory, a software company whose product enhances QuickBooks’ inventory power. So of course, Robert writes a lot about inventory issues. But believe it or not, he can make articles about inventory interesting and even funny sometimes. Recommended.

Intuit Small Business Blog

Even though they make QuickBooks, their blog is not really about QuickBooks. It’s about innovation, technology, HR, entrepreneur issues, online marketing, and much more. Really well done.

Kathy Ivens

OK, this isn’t a blog. It’s a monthly eNewsletter with great QuickBooks content. That’s not surprising, since it is written by Kathy Ivens, the author of most of the “Official Guide” books about QuickBooks. Check out the archive issues on her page and subscribe if you like it. Best part? It’s free.