MICROSOFT OFFICE Small Business Management Edition 2006 (www.microsoft.com; $569 new user; $399 upgrade; both prices reflect $100 rebate that expires April 1) is a comprehensive out-of-thebox integrated solution designed for companies with 25 or fewer employees that can help contractors manage customers, finances and daily tasks.
In addition to providing authorized employees with a complete view of the business, it automates and organizes a number of tasks perhaps previously handled manually or in several different software solutions or that were just not done. It enables creating and tracking of quotes, invoices and purchase orders.
The integrated management software includes current versions of the popular Microsoft Office programs: Word 2003, Excel 2003, PowerPoint 2003, and Access 2003, for database management.
The suite also includes Publisher 2003, for designing and publishing professional-looking marketing materials and creating e-mail newsletters and Websites, and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager Update, which not only handles e-mail but also manages contacts, customer accounts and opportunities and daily scheduling.
Rounding out the solution is Small Business Accounting 2006, a financial management program that, Microsoft says, is suitable for all levels of accounting expertise, from first-time business owners to seasoned accountants.
Working within a well-integrated suite has many benefits. Data entered once can be linked within individual programs and also can be reused in and accessed from any of the other programs. All the programs feature the same familiar tools most people already know from Word, Outlook or Excel.
Business Contact Manager Update features the ability to link accounts, contacts, opportunities and appointments, giving authorized users full access to all the latest data about a customer or a prospect. It extends the capability of Outlook by giving users an organized, easily accessible way to keep track of new and existing business connections.
If you are already using a contact management database such as Act! you can download your contacts for immediate reuse.
Getting started in Update is a three-step process, with each user managing his contacts. You create accounts for each company your business works with and then generate contacts for each person within the account. Then you create opportunity records to keep track of possibilities and upcoming meetings. All details can be tracked and linked with relevant e-mail messages and appointments.
Office Small Business Accounting 2006, which is a double-entry accounting solution, is organized into six areas: company, customers, vendors, employ-ees, banking and reports. Each has a user-friendly highly graphical home page that includes the data, tasks and forms relevant to that area of your contracting business.
The default view contains a suggested flow of buttons to guide users through the main tasks of the area. Management can set up levels of permission for access to sensitive data that match each employee's need to know to maximize effectiveness with your customers.
Your company home page gives an overview of the business' financial condition with current account information and reminders that identify areas needing attention.
Users track billable time on the employee home page, and that data transfers directly to Small Business Accounting. It is possible to send e-mail messages, forms and documents directly from Accounting to your customers and vendors as well as employees.
Microsoft has partnered with ADP, a provider of full-featured payroll and tax processing solutions, to offer small-business payroll and tax-processing services that fully integrate with Small Business Accounting 2006. If you select one of the three options offered (self-service, filing, and paying federal and state taxes electronically, or totally out-sourced), payroll data will appear directly in the company accounts. (Checks and forms are available at additional cost.)
Small Business Accounting 2006, which can manage multiple company bank accounts, facilitates and expedites reuse of financial data from other sources. The program can import master records and supporting tables as well as beginning balances from QuickBooks via a startup wizard, as well as import master records and beginning balances from any application using Excel. (You can also export data to Excel.)
Users can also add various third-party add-on solutions to Small Business Accounting, while keeping updated data in one place. These include BillQuick and Electronic Service Control.
BillQuick (www.BillQuick.com) is a time billing and project management solution that permits exchange of data via e-mail, PDAs, the Web and cell phones.
ESC (www.escservicesoftware.com) is desktop service scheduling and dispatch software for small service companies for tracking daily service calls and work. Designed specifically for Microsoft Small Business Accounting and Office, it can route service technicians and track customer data and service history.
Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writ-ers for magazines, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected]