Vendors of accounting software for small businesses often tout how simple their products are for the end-user to operate. There are a number of vendors which serve this market (Burns, 2006; Elikai, Ivancevich & Ivancevich, 2007), but QuickBooks from Intuit dominates the market for small business accounting software purchased at retail stores in the United States (Needleman, 2008). McCraigh, et al. (2000) stated that "as the non-accountant's accounting software, QuickBooks has greatly simplified that accounting process," and Perry (2006) claimed that "QuickBooks is so easy to use that someone with little or no accounting background can start using the program right out of the box." Christensen, et al. (2003) described QuickBooks as a "disruptive innovation." The marketing material from accounting software vendors tends to reinforce this assertion. For example, Intuit's Web site states that the QuickBooks user can "get set up and running quickly" and can "learn QuickBooks skills as you need them--in your own time, at your own pace" (http://quickbooks.intuit.com). Elsewhere, it states that QuickBooks Online was designed "to be as easy to use as possible. You don't need to know accounting" (http://oe.quickbooks.com).
These assertions of simplicity are attractive to small business owners, who have little time or interest in learning the details of accounting or accounting software operation. As Mucha-Aydlott (2003) remarked, "Many small business owners or new entrepreneurs start their business with one thing in mind, their product or service... frankly, most people don't like accounting." However, the reality experienced by these individuals is often quite different. Sleeter (2005) found that many small businesses "are now using some type of accounting software, most often QuickBooks, and they've hired bookkeeping staff (often with minimal if any accounting skills) to do the data entry. The lack of skills inevitably leads to errors in the QuickBooks data, which results in poor information for management." Scott (2006) quoted a QuickBooks consultant who stated that "It's so difficult to hire a good QuickBooks person. You really have to have a strong accounting background ... I'd have to say that about half of the work is really accounting-related and using the functions within the software." McCraigh, et al. (2000) asserted that "no accounting package can be operated properly without a sufficient understanding of its features and functionality." Long (2007) declared that "there is a wealth of opportunities for trouble-shooting and fixing mistakes and problems that clients have with their data files." Schiff, et al. (2009) analyzed 1,000 questions submitted to the discussion forums for two popular QuickBooks user groups. They found that many of these questions revealed a lack of fundamental understanding concerning the operation of the software, accounting concepts and procedures, and related issues. Crawford and Long (2011) wrote that "accounting professionals indicated that as much as 60% of their billable time is spent troubleshooting or correcting client data files."
The authors, through their external consulting activities, have trained over 500 small business entrepreneurs in the use of QuickBooks accounting software over the past 10 years. The settings have ranged from adult education classes, to teleconferences, to training programs sponsored by the Small Business Administration, to small group meetings. A variety of instructional material has been used, including Craig (2009), TLR (2010) and other products. The authors consistently found that while most participants were able to complete basic data entry tasks correctly, they often failed to grasp various underlying concepts and procedures that were essential to using QuickBooks correctly and to producing accurate results. A majority of these concepts and procedures pertained to the operation of QuickBooks itself, while the remainder related to proper accounting practices. The objective of this paper is to share these findings, and the appropriate corrective actions, with the entrepreneurs who use QuickBooks and the consultants who advise them so that they can produce more accurate accounting records and financial reports.
With over 90 percent of the United States market for small business accounting software, QuickBooks has made the most aggressive attempt to appeal to the end user who does not have a knowledge of accounting. When compared to other, more traditional accounting packages, QuickBooks contains a number of unique features that have contributed to its popularity (some of which have subsequently been copied by competitors). Among the most significant are the following:
1) The main interface is organized around everyday business activities, rather than traditional accounting journals and ledgers
2) English-language commands are used, rather than accounting terms such as "debit" and "credit"
3) Mistakes can be easily deleted, and do not have to be "zeroed out" with correcting transactions
4) All transactions are combined into a single journal, rather than being separated among traditional accounting journals
5) A unique window called the "Register" enables certain transactions to be entered more efficiently
6) The accounting records do not have to be "closed out" at the end of each fiscal year before starting a new year
7) Various payroll tax returns can be printed automatically, and individual accounts can be linked to the year-end income tax return
8) Add-on applications, such as online banking and credit card authorization, can be integrated with the accounting software to increase transaction processing efficiency
9) Different versions of QuickBooks, which have been customized for specific industries or for multiple users, are available
But despite the simplicity and user-friendliness of QuickBooks compared to other accounting software, various features of how the program and its underlying design can make it more challenging to use than might be evident from a first impression. The challenges faced by QuickBooks users have been noted by many authors, as was mentioned above. Moreover, the proliferation of training and technical manuals, including those mentioned above and others (Biafore, 2012; Madeira, 2011); live training seminars offered by companies such as Real World Training and QBExpress; training DVDs (AExpert Systems, 2012; TeachUcomp, 2012); instructional videos on Web sites such as YouTube and DailyMotion;...