HERE ARE TWO software solutions that tackle targeted tasks neatly and affordably. Both products are suitable for small contractors.
QuickBooks Simple Start
For some contractors, the concept of computerized accounting creates more trepidation than other electronic business solutions. Intuit, the maker of Quicken (for home-based bookkeeping) and QuickBooks (and all its demarcated editions for various sized businesses) recently released QuickBooks Simple Start Edition 2005 (Intuit, www.simplestart.com, about $100). The new release is a close to intuitive version aimed at service-based small businesses. It can serve as a steppingstone toward fuller-fledged electronic accounting.
The solution, designed to get small businesses up and running within half an hour after a brief (three-question) set-up interview, handles basic everyday business tasks including sending invoices, tracking payments, writing checks and recording expenses, and gathering, recording and storing expenses in anticipation of income tax preparation.
The software bypasses accounting lingo in favor of common-sense jargon, categorizing money functions as Money In, Your Business and Money Out.
Money In covers basic activities related to funds coming into the business, such as invoices, receive payments, sales receipts and deposits.
Your Business is where the user enters and views data about customers, vendors and bank accounts and sees a profit-and-loss statement.
Money Out is where the user writes checks and records expenses.
Quick (a minute or two) interactive lessons demonstrate tasks such as how to set up a check register to make deposits, how to record a deposit, how to write a check, how to bill customers by creating and sending invoices and how to receive payment for an invoice. For ongoing assistance with the current activity, there is also clickable Related Help.
Other functions of the solution, which offers password-restricted access, include time tracking, job estimating and job costing. In addition, off-site data backup is available as an option.
In addition, the 14 customizable reports include sales, expenses, profit and loss, taxes, total sales by customer for any selected time period and the all-important “invoices that haven’t been paid.”
While the Desktop Edition is restricted to one user at a time, buyers can opt instead for the Online Edition (first year subscription included with purchase price, then monthly subscription), which operates from any Internet-connected PC with access to a Web browser and enables access by multiple users simultaneously. Featuring daily automatic backup on Intuit’s server, it offers access to more reports and customization of forms and basic employee tracking.
When it’s time to move up to the big time, all the data entered in Simple Start will transfer to an upgraded QuickBooks (Online Edition, Basic, Pro or Premier).
Technology is, it seems, always delivering another way to facilitate fast collaboration among project members. Small contractors who need to share job files with others outside the office and have relied on FTPs, e-mail attachments, or files sent on CDs or other storage system, can now substitute a new solution that effectively sets up a “private” network.
ShareDirect v. 1.1 is a secure peer-to-peer application that users navigate from their own Windows Explorer, (Laplink, www.laplink.com, 800-LAPLINK).
The product enables users on different computers to share any folder on their PC directly and securely with other authorized software users on their PCs across the Internet, as long as the parties have their PCs on without ever having to disable or reconfigure firewalls.
The contractor who authors the project files loads up a folder with as many files and types of files as desired and converts the folder into a shared folder. Rather than sending out any files to everyone, the author sends an invitation to selected ShareDirect users and waits until the intended recipient agrees to “pull” the file or files from the folder. (Only the folders or subfolders designated as Shared are visible to the recipient.)
Once they have connected their folders, the author/inviter is notified and the ShareDirect members can begin importing the remote files into their local file window. A built-in anti-virus engine scans files being downloaded, protecting the recipient PC. The recipient needs to have the appropriate program running to read the type of file being shared.
The solution automatically detects the Internet settings of the PCs and establishes secure connections. If a firewall separates ShareDirect users’ PCs, the solution automatically and securely establishes a 256-bit encrypted connection among authorized users who utilize the ShareDirect relay servers.
File management is straightforward. The software uses a color coding system for instant recognition of available, previously copied and unavailable remote files. The solution can also filter remote files by user.
Caveat: The software is not a versioning program that enables users to keep track of changes as they evolve. Rather, if the recipient wants to change anything in the file, the file has to be saved as a new file (with a descriptive identifying name along the lines of “Job Revision 1”) and worked on as such. However, the software includes encrypted instant messaging for notifying recipients of new additions or revisions to shared files and does offer protection from accidentally overwriting a file when downloading a newer version.
ShareDirect is subscription-based, with pricing dependent upon the volume of data transfer anticipated using the Laplink Relay Servers. If users can establish direct connections through their router or firewall, then data transfer is unlimited with any of the subscription plans.
William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at [email protected].