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Why Do Some Many Small Businesses Choose Store Bought Business Management Software?

Updated on November 30, 2014

When dealing with small businesses with no employees or only a few, I am often asked what I think about store bought software like QuickBooks© or PeachTree©. My answer is usually, I hate it but it can be a necessary evil. Store bought software has its pros and cons.

First, the most attractive part of most store bought business management software is the price. As the old adage says, you get what you pay for. Even saying that, the add-ons can get expensive. Software like QuickBooks© does provide a good basic service for things like bookkeeping, payroll, and invoicing, so for the small businesses, it can work just fine…, as long as the business “follows normal protocol and practices.” The frustration with these programs, though, is legendary. What the software considers normal and what a business considers normal are often 2 different things. The lack of customization in prepackaged software as well as the weird software quirks, drives me nuts and it usually is something you run into after you have had the software for a while and have already entered a lot of data. If you Google© “I hate QuickBooks© you will see, very quickly, how frustrating it can be to use software that isn’t customizable to your business.

That isn’t to say you won’t find a work around but it means you are going to have to do something like, managing other parts of your data outside of the program and then finding a way to integrate that information back into the software so you can create things like year-end reports. Soon you begin to realize that it would have been easier to use something like Excel© with Quicken©. (I do like Quicken© for tracking bank, credit card, and stock data. It imports the data in and can be exported to Excel© easily enough). Even worse than using a work around is that many times the business owner or bookkeeper doesn’t know any other options and switching from one off the shelf software to another just changes the problem areas.

So what is the small biz to do to manage their business data effectively? There are a variety of options and most depend on your finances. The best options, and usually more expensive, are using fully customizable software that can conform to your unique business. We have a lot of good local businesses that offer such software. For example, Infoserv offers fully customizable office management software while FME offers a fully customizable facility management software that allows you to track all aspects of your facility from the light bulbs to the heaters allowing you to get ahead of ongoing maintenance instead of putting out fires. Both of these local businesses help you lower your costs and track where your money is coming from and going to. Obviously, this is the best kind of options and usually more expensive than store bought software. That is not to say that the best, customizable software won’t pay for itself in the end as you aren’t wasting man hours and buying expensive add-ons.

So what if you can’t afford the best option? You can always use store bought software and deal with the work arounds and there are businesses like mine that can assist you in creating and automating work arounds. What would be even cheaper is having the bookkeeper learn programs like Microsoft Excel© and/or Access©. Excel© is basically spreadsheet software that can easily assist you in mining your business data. I prefer Access©. You can mine 3D data in Excel© but since Access© is a database program, it, by design, makes it easier to manipulate the data and create customized reports. The downside is it will take a while to learn these programs and some owners/bookkeepers are not very tech savvy.

Back to the good thing about packaged software, you don’t have to be tech savvy to use it, just computer literate. That is also the downside of store bought software. If you run into problems with the software and are not tech savvy, a work around is not in your future unless you seek help. Sometimes the task you want the off the shelf software to do can be done in the software. The problem is the software is not intuitive and they often charge you to call for help. Trying to understand the person from another country on the other end of the phone is another problem all in itself.

So, when people ask my opinion on software like QuickBooks©, the answer isn’t short. I know a lot of businesses simply use programs like QuickBooks© for its payroll module and nothing else. I find that an expensive way to create payroll but it is certainly effective and cheaper than the tricked out, customized software. This is especially true if you are tech savvy enough to change the payroll rates in the program instead of paying for them. There is nothing wrong with using store bought for one aspect of a business but this usually makes me beg the question, “so how are you mining and tracking your other business data?” The answer sadly, usually is, “I am not.” My next obvious question is, “so how do you know if you are making the best decisions?” My least favorite, and most common, answer to that question is, “I don’t really need to track anything else.” My response to that is best left for another post.

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