Like it or not, QuickBooks Online (QBO) is the future of small business accounting.
We may be dragged to it kicking and screaming, but Intuit is the largest provider of small business accounting software in the world and they are pushing to get as many customers into the cloud as possible. I, for one, am resigned to this fate, so I decided to get ahead of the game (at least as far as accountants go, which is to say, 5+ years behind) and learn as much about it as I could.
Most small businesses are still using the desktop version, so there are a lot of comparisons going on, but I am trying to approach it on its own as a new business owner would. Here are just a few of my thoughts, having used it for several clients and played around in their sandbox client, located here.
- Cloud-based access to your data – there’s just no substitute for data being available anywhere you can get online. If you have an accountant who adjusts your books, or even just wants to see the financials regularly, it is infinitely easier in the cloud.Sure, it’s possible to set desktop software up in a virtual environment so you have access to it anywhere, but it is often difficult to manage and harder to allow 3rd party users, like your accountant, to access it. Although the mobile applications are not yet full-featured, they do exist and are being improved all the time. Desktop software does not have this option at all.
- Attractive interface, useful features – you can find your way around pretty easily, and there are some nice summary charts and graphs that can be helpful for everyday business decisions. Everything you need to do as a small business owner is available, and there are several ways to get to almost every feature.It is definitely designed with the business owner in mind, not an accountant, as the more accountant-y features are harder to find and focus more on being pretty than usable. Still, once you learn it, everything is there.
- Automatic bank transaction download – this is available in many desktop applications as well, but QBO acts more like it was designed around this feature, instead of having it tacked on after the fact. With a little setup and some practice, it can almost completely automate regular transaction entry, so it’s a huge time and money saver.
- Continuous secure backups – most clients I know back up their data once a year – when the send it to me. This can be a real problem if something goes wrong, and it happens more often than you think. Especially as your business grows and becomes more complex, making sure you have all your data secure and backed up should be automated, seamless, and non-negotiable.
Cons (and the ways around them):
- More expensive – the pricing for desktop software is one and done, and even if you choose to upgrade only when support stops, that’s probably every 3 years that you have to invest money again. With QBO, you pay a subscription fee every month, so the total investment is equal to desktop software by about your 6th – 9th month, depending on what kind of deal you are getting.The good news is, if you sign up under a QB ProAdvisor, they can offer you wholesale pricing, which can save you up to 50% for the life of your subscription. That can be a significant savings.
- Reduced reporting – this is really only a problem if you don’t pay attention to the 3-tier pricing model and choose the cheap route. Most of the reports you and your accountant need are available in the ‘Essentials’ version, with quite a few more available in the ‘Plus’ version. The ‘Simple Start’ version is kind of worthless as far as reporting goes, it is only designed for a bare-bones, tiny business. I would avoid it if I were you.
- Inability to use multiple windows – this was really a deal-breaker for me in the beginning. When you are bookkeeping, there is almost always more than one module you need to be in at the same time, and the nature of using software within a browser creates a real problem in this area.Fortunately, I was shown a work-around in some training I took, which may have been obvious to others but wasn’t to me. Use Chrome for your browser and open the windows you need to switch between in different tabs. You can even bookmark them, creating a nice toolbar above your workspace that you can save. Life-changing, I tell you!
There is of course a lot more to say about this software, but these seem to be the recurring themes that I hear in daily interactions.
As an accountant user of QuickBooks Online, I feel that I am in the minority when I say that I don’t hate this product. Most accountants I talk to avoid QBO like the plague and lament its existence, but unfortunately I think it’s here to stay. Technology is obviously moving to a cloud-based, mobile world, and anything stuck on your desktop computer is going to get left behind.
Also, the subscription-based model makes Intuit significantly more money and offers them far more control over access to your data, so it’s just profitable for them to recommend QBO over any desktop software, even their own. I’m not saying I agree with that, I am just saying it’s the way of the world.
Moral argument aside, there are some redeeming qualities of QBO and some things that need to be improved. The main point you have to remember is that it is not, and was never intended to be, an online version of QuickBooks Desktop. It was built from the ground up as brand new software, so you should expect for it to have just about as much in common with QBD as it does with Xero or any other vendor’s software.
Taken in this light, I think that it is a very good option for a small business person on the go who wants reliable software that will automate as much as possible.
What is your experience with QuickBooks Online? Feel free to share in the comments below or on Facebook.