pool planningQuickBooks® is a generic bookkeeping and accounting program, designed to be used by every type of business that you can imagine. If it was industry specific, well, it would have the same big price tag! Sure, Intuit makes a “Contractor” version, but even then it’s designed to meet the needs of every type of contractor – from the handyman to the bridge builder.

As a contractor, you know how important it is to have a plan or blueprint in your hands before you go to the construction site and begin work on the project. That way, you know what you are up against. This same principle applies to using QuickBooks Financial Software for your accounting, payroll and job costing needs.

Many QuickBooks users fall for the seductive marketing messages that boast “easy to set up, easy to learn to use” and fall prey to the myth of do-it-yourself accounting.  QuickBooks users aren’t the only ones who fall prey to this myth; so do accounting professionals.  As a matter of fact, recently I was asked by a QuickBooks ProAdvisor “What are the most common mistakes that you see happen when using QuickBooks for a construction business?”

Here is a list of common mistakes that I see:

  1. Outsourcing payroll
  2. Entering job costs using the Expenses and/or Accounts tab
  3. Thinking or believing that every contractor can/should use the exact same Chart of Accounts or Items List
  4. Not setting up Items to track both Expenses and Income
  5. Not using the built-in Estimate function or an estimating program that interfaces with QuickBooks.
  6. Creating a new QuickBooks file for each project/job
  7. Receiving customer payments incorrectly
  8. Not properly applying Vendor Credits to Bills.
  9. Not reconciling Bank or Credit Card accounts
  10. Not using the Ask My Accountant Chart of Accounts item for expenditures that are difficult to categorize.

The biggest mistake that I see is business owners (not just contractors) failing to hire someone who can help them to really learn how to use QuickBooks and utilize all the different functions that are available.

There are a lot of really great blogs and user forums, such as the forums here at the QuickbooksUsers Forums and the Intuit Community forums for getting help for free.  Keep in mind, when you ask a specific question, it’s difficult for the person answering to know whether or not they should be taking the bigger picture into consideration.  When you hire someone who is experienced in using QuickBooks in your industry, they can help you look at the entire plan.

Have a question about using QuickBooks in your commercial/government construction business?  Feel free to contact me.

Joe Williams, of Piedmont, OK, is one of the biggest voices on the QuickBooks Forums. He just posted his 6,000th answer on the forums, and there is a reason why he knows so much about QuickBooks: He was a veteran QuickBooks support rep for Intuit.

Me: Joe, thanks for talking with us today. You have an interesting background, having worked for Intuit — supporting QuickBooks — for quite a few years. What can you tell us about that? What kind of support were you involved with?

Joe: I started in 1990 supporting Turbo Tax for DOS, both the personal 1040 and the business PRO Tax. Then, after tax season, I started supporting QuickBooks DOS 1.0 and 2.0 with the great payroll add on Quick Pay that worked most of the time. I migrated to the Windows version 3.0 of QuickBooks and was part of the first support team for the integrated payroll in version 4.1.

Me: Joe, I suppose you have talked to thousands or tens of thousands of QuickBooks users over the years. What were some of the common problems you saw over and over again?

Joe: The most common problem was “My account disappeared”, caused when “creating a new account”. It was usually caused by clicking Edit instead of New and then changing the account type and name. The most difficult thing was explaining to a CPA that QuickBooks CANNOT make a one sided journal entry, even if it “just a program”.

Me: When your job is helping people, strange things happen from time to time. Do you remember any notably humorous or strange conversations you had with users?

Joe: Two of the most remembered ones:

1. A secretary was handed QuickBooks and told to install it and start using it. She called in tears because she could not get it installed and could not find the PC. The support tech finally got it installed. She had the computer on the desk but it did not have a drive door. On the desk was also a TV and on the floor was some other box.

2. A customer called with a network connection issue and data damage. We got the damage cleared up and the connection fixed. As we were closing the call, there was a loud yell “Oh my G..”.

When asked what happened, he answered, “Well, my partner’s office is across the alley on the 2nd floor. I turned the BNC connector to lock it and the trash truck just came by and the PC flew out the window”.

Me: Wow. Everybody must have been surprised by that one.

Joe, you’ve seen QuickBooks evolve over the years. What trends have you seen? Where do you think QuickBooks is heading as a product?

Joe: I have seen it become more graphics-oriented and organized into the different centers. I will say that I still use the menu bar and control keys to get what I want to see and find.

Me: You’ve posted 6,000 answers on our QuickBooks Forums. That’s an amazing accomplishment and represents a tremendous amount of help for QuickBooks users. Thank you! It’s a pleasure having you in our community. Any final thoughts or words for your fellow forum members?

Joe: 1. Keep up the good work and remember “Use QuickBooks like you would do the books manually.” If you get a notice (bill) and then immediately pay it just use a check.

2. No, Intuit has not created the Kreskin version of QuickBooks yet.

Get free expert QuickBooks help from Joe Williams and others at the QuickBooks Forums.

We are getting lots of calls today from people having problems accessing QuickBooks Online and other websites and services on Intuit servers.

Intuit tweeted this morning, saying that they had a commercial power failure and are working to restore services.

As of the time of this post, we are seeing the following websites down:

QuickBooks Online
Intuit Merchant Services
Intuit Community

QuickBooks Online put up a status page with updates today.

We are trying to tweet and retweet status updates on our twitter account.

Last Friday, QuickBooks Online was offline for about a half day. There was quite a bit of Twitter traffic about it — people were frustrated who needed to access their books and couldn’t.

That is the downside of cloud computing: When there’s a problem with the cloud, everybody gets rained on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.)

So you might conclude that putting your accounting data in the cloud makes you vulnerable to outages like last Friday’s. And you’d be right about that.

The alternative is desktop software, like QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise. When QuickBooks is installed on your server or your computer’s hard drive, it is under YOUR control, and any problems on Intuit’s servers aren’t going to affect you too much.

No, you then have a different set of potential issues to deal with: issues with your own system.

  • Power blips in your office
  • Hard drive crashes on your computer
  • Viruses/worms/malware on your computer
  • Backup failures on your computer
  • Theft/fire/flood affecting your computer
  • Software conflicts between QuickBooks and other software installed on your computer
  • Outdated versions on your computer

There is an extremely good chance that Intuit’s IT department is more sophisticated than yours and is better equipped to prevent these kinds of problems than you are. But if you are running QuickBooks on your own computer(s) and have a good IT plan in place, you might go for years without any problems.

So the bottomline is this: Who do you want to manage the inherent risks associated with business IT?

One final thing.  This isn’t especially a QuickBooks question or even an accounting software question; it is a question that exists for any cloud vs. desktop business app.

What do you think? Do you trust the cloud or your desktop machine more?

QuickBooks 2010 introduced something new: a suite of optional products/services that integrate into QuickBooks. There have been 3rd party solutions available for QuickBooks for years, but the difference here is that these new products/services live on the web.

They are accessible directly within the QuickBooks application, by clicking on the App Center button. You’ll see the Intuit Workplace App Center.

Almost all of these solutions are available to try for free for a limited time. Then there is a monthly subscription fee if you choose to continue using them.

There are currently three main categories of apps:

1. Professional Services apps. These include document, fax, and expense managers and other efficiency-enhancers for professional offices.

2. Financial Services apps. Add-ins for accountants, tax practioners and financial advisors.

3. Field Service apps. Route and vehicle tracking and more.

There are also project management apps, marketing and CRM apps, management reporting apps, and a nice inventory analysis app.

The suite of available solutions is growing all the time and with it, the possibility of making millions of offices more productive.

I spoke with Brian Sweat of Alterity, Inc. about developing products for the Intuit Workplace App Center. The App Center connects QuickBooks users with a variety of optional software products.

Brian, tell me a little about your background and your company.

I’m the Product Manager at Alterity and have been working on the ACCTivate! product line for the last 9 years.  ACCTivate! is a full-featured inventory and distribution management system designed for QuickBooks® users.  We joined the Intuit Developer Network in 2003 and were in the first group of Gold Developers in 2006.

Alterity just released EZ Analytics for Inventory as a solution within QuickBooks’ App Center. Tell us how that product came to be and what business problems it aims to solve.

The Intuit Partner Platform was launched in late 2008 as a part of Intuit’s  “Connected Services” strategy.  We recognized this was a great opportunity for both Alterity and Intuit.

Advanced inventory management is a common need for many QuickBooks users.  We realize that many users don’t want to switch to a mid-market system for better inventory management.  EZ Analytics for Inventory provides simple tools to better understand their inventory without any changes to their business process.

Your inventory solution is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). And that seems to be a trend for QuickBooks add-ons starting with the new QuickBooks 2010 versions…user data moving into “the cloud”. What do you think the users’ experience will be like compared to using desktop software?

The experience is great!  You can sign up with just a few clicks using your Intuit account.  Intuit handles the entire sign-up and billing process.   Of course, there’s no software to install and updates are automatic.  The user interface is much more robust than traditional desktop software.

What technical issues did you run into in developing a web-based product that interfaces with QuickBooks? And what is it like supporting a web-based product?

There were a few major changes for us.  First, it required a new set of development tools (ie Adobe Flex Builder).  We also switched from using Microsoft SQL Server to the online Intuit Data Services.  There was definitely a transition for our development team, but we’re really happy with the changes.

Providing end user support is very different as well.  Intuit is responsible for synchronizing and storing the QuickBooks data.  EZ Analytics for Inventory is pretty easy to use, so we really haven’t had much additional support.

On a closing note, it seems to me that for both financial and technological reasons, the App Center approach could be a win-win-win for 3rd party developers, Intuit, and end users. Any final thoughts, Brian, about the QuickBooks App Center?

We completely agree!  We are very excited to see more users and developers discover the Intuit Workplace App Center.  EZ Analytics for Inventory is our first Workplace App and we have big plans for the future.  I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.

Thank you, Brian!

I’ve got a phish story for you.

Someone I know buys and sells stuff on eBay. During the course of one of his auctions, he got an email from eBay with a question from a potential buyer. This is a very normal experience for eBay sellers. The email had details about him, his item, his auction.

He clicked the “Reply to question” link in the email, and logged in to eBay. Except it wasn’t eBay.

Just as he clicked the Login button, he noticed that his address bar didn’t say eBay.com. It had an IP address. Ding, ding, ding, red alert!

He immediately logged into the real eBay site and changed his password. So there was no harm done.

He had been phished. Actually, spear-phished. He was specifically targeted. Why? He had made the mistake of putting his email address as part of the auction information. So some cybercriminal had sent him a tailor-made phishing email that looked, felt, and smelled like a real eBay email.

The reason it worked is because he expected to receive an email just like the one he was sent.

How could he have avoided this? By not clicking the link in the email. He could have, and should have, logged into eBay through eBay.com.

That is the main way to not get caught in a phishing scam. Whether it’s an email supposedly from Intuit, your bank, the government, etc., the safe way is to avoid the link in the email and go straight to the website from your address bar or your trusted browser bookmarks.

Recently there have been a lot of phishing emails going around that falsely claim to be from Intuit. You can check on Intuit security alerts at http://security.intuit.com.

Do you have a phish story? Or any other advice?