Accounting software only sounds boring

Most business owners I know think that accounting software is boring. Not as boring as say, sitting through the movie ?Watchmen.? Or waiting in line at Starbucks while some idiot discusses what flavor of tea he should choose (it?s TEA for God?s sake). Or listening to NPR.

But accounting software can be fun. Fun, I say!

Jason has lots of fun with his accounting application. He?s the owner of a 20-person firm that distributes party supplies. His company?s all about inventory. He?s spent the time to make sure that inventory is tracked in great detail by his accounting software. This is not an easy task as he?s got over 10,000 items. Oh, and a lot of helium for balloons. Now, that?s fun.

Jason?s completely obsessed with quarterly cycle counts, weekly spot counts and semiannual physical counts. His warehouse is cleaner than my kitchen, but that?s only because I have teenage kids who specialize in home destruction. Jason?s inventory records are even cleaner than his warehouse floor.

A lot of business owners ignore inventory management in their accounting software. Some don?t like keeping detailed records because they don?t want to reveal too much to the tax guy. But using these features can keep this asset under control and therefore save lots of money. Now that?s fun.

But the fun doesn?t stop there. Jason?s big into alerts. So when certain inventory levels get below a minimum his purchasing guy gets an e-mail alert to order more. If a ship date passes the current date then his customer service person gets an e-mail alert. If an inventory item hasn?t been counted recently his warehouse manager gets an alert. Jason takes alerts even to his receivables systems too. His controller gets email alerts when invoices go past 30 days. And if helium inventory levels are high then Jason takes care of that too. He has a lot of fun doing that.

All of this is done by his accounting software. Most popular accounting applications do this stuff today. And most major databases, like Microsoft?s SQL Server allow you to write ?triggers? which are the same as alerts. Knowing things before they happen is fun. Finding out after the fact isn?t. Just ask the people who invested with Bernie Madoff.

Want more accounting software fun? Ask Susan.

Susan is a partner at a 10-person law firm. Sure, as an attorney she likes to eat puppies and beat little children. But there?s another side to her too. A fun side. She?s a penny pincher, running a business. Susan doesn?t have to worry about inventory. But she can still have fun with her accounting software.

There?s a lot of stuff she needs to know about every day. Like unbilled time that needs to be billed. And pending client work that needs to be assigned. And client projects that are running up against their limits. Susan?s not an accountant but that doesn?t mean she doesn?t know how to use her accounting software. She gets flash info.

Every day there?s a Flash Report on her desk. This report is a one pager with key information about the firm. The flash info. Plus open receivables and open payables. She?s not waiting for the end of the month to get her information. She?s getting it immediately. She?s taking advantage of the daily reports that her accounting system offers. Like alerts, most software today generates dashboards and flash reports and daily status information, in addition to the detailed financial stuff that accountants like to know.

Like Susan, Ellen?s another owner who has fun with accounting software.

Ellen sees her accounting application as a sales tool. She runs one of those annoying franchise kiddie-tumbly-gymastic places. The ones that hand parents two Advil and a shot of Jack Daniels when entering. Every time Ellen sends out an invoice she plays with the message on the bottom. She advertises upcoming classes. She promotes her summer camps. She highlights a great staff member. Her invoices are like mini-tweets (there, now I?m cool because I just referenced Twitter). Ellen looks at her invoices not just as a bill for services, but as a communication with her customers. Fun!

Another fun thing I?ve seen good penny pinchers do: They beat up their accounting software partners. They have them come in, or get online, and demonstrate to them new features, add on applications, and better ways to use the product they have. They torture them with questions and try to soak some free training from them. The software vendors think they?re going to sell upgrades or more licenses. Boy, are they na?ve.

See? For some penny pinchers, accounting applications can be fun! And profitable too!

Gene Marks, CPA, is the author of ?The Streetwise Small Business Book of Lists? and three other books on small business. He heads The Marks Group (, which provides technology and financial consulting in Bala Cynwyd. Marks was a senior manager with KPMG in Philadelphia for nine years.