Intuit QuickBooks SimpleStart 2008 review

Price when reviewed

While Sage and Intuit have largely cornered the slow-moving enterprise accounting market, the battle for the small-business market continues apace. Microsoft Accounting has stirred things up by offering a free version of its new accounting suite, so how does Intuit’s SimpleStart match up?

Intuit QuickBooks SimpleStart 2008 review

Like Accounting Express, SimpleStart is a cut-down version of a higher-end offering. In SimpleStart’s case, it shares a similar look and feel to its more advanced big brothers, QuickBooks Pro (web ID: 128837) and Premier. As you’d expect from an entry-level product, only a fraction of Pro’s reporting tools and features are available in SimpleStart: there’s no payroll or stock control here, and it’s single-user only. For the majority of startups, though, these absences aren’t critical; if you end up needing them, just upgrade to QuickBooks Pro.

Intuit has made the software easy to use, claiming you can be up and running in SimpleStart in less than half-an-hour. This is under-selling, though, as we were inputting invoices in minutes thanks to a simplified setup interview that skips the offer to pre-prepare a set of accounts based on your business type. It’s easy enough to add accounts to the skeleton set provided, though.

SimpleStart’s homepage – similar to previous versions – includes a hefty amount of information in a limited space, while remaining easy to use. Dominated by an icon-based overview, it’s split into three logical areas: Money In, Your Business and Money Out. Each is populated by related task-based icons; for example, estimates and invoices appear in the Money In section. Hovering your mouse over them reveals further options. Under the Invoices icon you can create a new invoice, list outstanding ones, or create a statement showing invoices between set dates. You can see an overview of your current financial status through the Profit and Loss icon. Since it’s so important to small businesses, we’d liked to have seen cashflow analysis here, too. At least, like other reports, you can base your P&L report on cash or accrual accounting methods, so you can get an idea of your financial health.

The homepage offers other perks for first-timers, including a contextual “related activities” section, and screen-based tutorials, with 30 days of support included in the price. Links to Google Marketing tools and a discount on Google AdWords are thrown in, too.

In terms of features, SimpleStart is a good, basic accounting system. All the key areas – invoicing, estimating and bank reconciliation – are well covered. You can create invoices speedily through a hyperlink on the homepage and can now email both estimates and invoices as PDF attachments. And, aside from the standard entries in SimpleStart’s slimmed down list of 14 reports, which now includes a trial balance and a better audit trail, there are useful gems, including a “Total Sales by customer” report that shows an overview of active customers and their balances. Handily, you can drill down on its figures to the invoices.

It’s also good to see the use of plain English in reports: rather than the traditional aged debtor analysis, SimpleStart’s equivalent is the clearer “Invoices that haven’t been paid”. Unfortunately, though, the reports are hamstrung. While you can now extensively customise the layout of reports and forms, we couldn’t find a way to export them to Word and Excel for further analysis. This compares poorly with Microsoft Accounting’s superb integration with Office applications.

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