Solve 5 top accounting annoyances

Get expert advice on locating software that works for you.

By Susan G. Hauser

FSB -- Kate Spontak, president of MKS Consulting (mksconsults.com) in Ridgefield Park, N.J. gets an earful from disgusted clients every day. They gripe to her if the accounting software they just paid an arm and leg for is nothing but a pain in, well, some other body part.

It is her business to steer small business owners away from lemons and to recommend the best system to meet their individual needs. Spontak shared some of the most aggravating software problems she encounters and the advice she offers to get clients back on track.

1. "The data is not secure; any clever hacker could access our accounting program." Spontak says firewalls, security measures and redundancy may not be enough to put some business owners' minds at ease. Lucky for them, remote hosting of online accounting software on the Internet is making a revival. Companies that hire an application service provider (ASP) can access their accounting data and make entries through the web. Such a service may be a good option for a business that doesn't want to make a big initial investment in software. But bear in mind that if you use one for years, the monthly costs might eventually match what you would have paid for new software. "It's not a big difference one way or the other in the overall cost," says Spontak. "If you use it two years or so, the monthly cost might overtake what your initial investment might have been for software, but the hosting company is also taking care of renewals, updates and that sort of thing."

2. "We outgrew our software almost as soon as we bought it." Spontak notices that many startups begin with Intuit's QuickBooks (which has the majority of the market share) but quickly grow out of it. "Consider the growth that you expect and the type of business that you are in so that you can choose something that is going to adapt to that growth," she suggests. "You'll want to have available to you specific solutions for the needs of your business so you avoid having to just go so far and then change software."

3. "Now that we've entered the data, we can't get it out!" "Putting all the information into an accounting program is hardly worth it if you can't get it back out," Spontak says. That may sound obvious, but the truth is that some software programs make it nearly impossible to access information that users have added. "You can only get a limited amount of information - and then you have trouble getting that into something that's printed!" she says. "And then some software can produce a report - but you'd have to search through that whole report to find the information you need."

The lesson? Ask industry colleagues or your accountant what their experiences have been with a particular software before buying it. If they have noticed problems like these, watch out. Be sure to check out websites that help identify the best accounting software for individual business needs, such as AccountingSoftware411.com or FindAccountingSoftware.com.

4. "We need to import some date into our program, but the software doesn't allow it." "If a program doesn't have the capability to import or retrieve information from other programs, that's a real handicap," says Spontak. "At one time the model was that you had your core accounting product and then you had things that worked with it. But now there are stand-alone programs to keep track of fixed assets. The only place they need to send any information is to a general ledger. But if your general ledger can't import that information, it's a problem." Make sure you find out before you buy a particular software if it is compatible with your other systems by contacting the manufacturer.

5. "I'm going to strangle that mouse! A good accounting program will let workers to do data entry directly on the keyboard, Spontak advises. "If they have to keep reaching for the mouse to do something, it really slows them down." If you delegate this task to your employees, you may not be aware of how much productivity you can lose through a poorly designed program. "If you were typing a letter and you had to keep reaching for the mouse to move down to the next line, it would be pretty aggravating," she notes. "If you are entering data and then you have to reach for the mouse to go to the next screen, what good is that? Same difference."  Top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.