Is it just my imagination, or are these the most plentiful pieces of software after games? It seems that just about everyone is producing some form of accounting package. In the 1980's I decided that my little shareware accounting program wasn't robust enough for my growing concern, so I purchased Peachtree. As I was cruising the tutorial for the payroll module, I was forced to work through a subroutine dealing with how to account for deceased employees. Hello? General Motors I'm not, and the last time I looked, all my employees could still fog a mirror; perhaps not much more than that, but that's a different topic. This was just a typical example of "techie" bells and whistles: let's take a straightforward application and obfuscate it to death. Needless to say, Peachtree went back into its box to gather dust on the shelf, and I'm still using an updated version of my old shareware program.
Most craft businesses are not in a position to have accounting professionals on the payroll. These services are both esoteric and expensive. However, all businesses have a need to maintain records sufficient to produce financial statements for bankers and taxing authorities, as well as the owners. Information costs money, but having the right information can make or save you money. My take on the situation is that craft business professionals ought to be doing their own record keeping at a minimum, and using paid professionals to file their taxes. Herewith is a short listing of some of the software available out there. It includes classic accounting software, as well as systems that can almost run your business for you. I've noted URL's where you can go to download trial or demo versions of the packages.
Quicken/QuickBooks. If you are one of the three people on the planet whose computer didn't already come with some version of this ubiquitous software, then go to www.intuit.com and click around for the trial version that fits your needs. I don't like Quicken myself. It's not intuitive, it's cumbersome to use, and it amounts to a glorified checkbook. Having said that, it's probably the most popular software for small business owners. Like anything else in life, there are trade-offs to consider and, what the heck, it's already loaded on your box. If it works for you, fine. [Note: I became a real fan of QuickBooks Pro after Intuit introduced their completely overhauled version in 2002. I don't believe you can go wrong with this program, and with the source code available to third party developers, we'll see more and more add-ons to this now robust accounting package!]
Makers Automated Clerk. This is by far the best and most robust accounting software ever produced for the small manufacturer. Go to Industrious Software Solutions' website at www.issweb.com to download a demo version. It was written for craftpeople, and is intuitively menu-driven. It will take you seamlessly through getting an order through producing it, shipping it, and invoicing it and then track the receivable until you get paid for it. Along the way it keeps track of your inventory, builds a data rich customer file for you to mine, and it includes a contact list manager for prospects, should your sales efforts be a wee bit more pro-active than most folks' in the craft industry. I've used this well-designed package for fifteen years, and have always considered that the MAC saved me the equivalent of at least one office clerk, if not more. The problem: it's gotten a little pricey; however, for a couple of thousand dollars you are definitely sitting in the front row. And it is idiot-proof! While you're at the ISS website, be sure to check out their new Oak Street Accounting package, which is even more robust (and pricier) than the MAC. I have not used Oak Street personally, but as next generation software from a developer with an excellent track record, it's worth looking into for those of you with serious information needs. [Note: ISS has killed off the MAC in favor of their Oak Street Accounting package. While legacy users of the MAC can get updates for it, there is increasing pressure to convert to the pricy Oak Street package.]
M.Y.O.B. Mind Your Own Business is another program I've started to look at. It's a lot cheaper than the MAC, but it's also more generic, while still being an upgrade from Quicken.The first thing I noticed is that it doesn't really have an order entry system to keep track of your order book automatically; however, it does have a payroll module, which the MAC lacks. Go to www.myob/us.com to download a trial version.
PC General Ledger from Charter Software is a stand-alone double entry bookkeeping package with or without an accounts receivable module. It is the latest iteration of the accounting software I've been using for fifteen years. It's cheap and easy to use. It does not assume that you are a trained accountant. If you are like a lot of people and just input your deposits and check stubs prior to turning the mess over to an accountant, this program is more user-friendly than Quicken, and will save you a large amount of fees for accounting services. I like it for its price and ease-of-use. Go to ww.chartersoftware.com to download the shareware version free. No, it won't track inventory or your order book, but see below. [Note: PC - General Ledger is also history. This sweet little program was sold to Componix in 2001, and has been morphed into something called Infinity. Information on it is available at www.componix.org.]
Microsoft Office 97/2000 [Note: soon to be released as MS Office 2003] is a marvelous suite of programs that can be customized into a decent accounting and record-keeping system using templates and macros, either off-the-shelf or custom built. Will there be anyone in business anywhere in the world NOT using Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint and Outlook in the near future? Not if Microsoft has its way, there won't! There is even a sample company setup in Access that you can rename as your own, and get right to work on many of your accounting functions. If you've got the time and money is tight, Office 97 could be a good alternative to the MAC. If you want to explore this route, go to www.ebay.com and pick up the CD-ROM at auction for $30 or so, instead of running down to your local software store and coughing up $+300, depending on which version you buy. You don't get the manual with your eBay purchase, but the dummies book or somesuch is all you really need.
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