My Dream Accounting (Billing) System

, posted: 27-Aug-2009 04:28

For the last 8 years or so I've been using Quickbooks for both my own business, and the flying club I'm treasurer for. 

From an accounting and usability and reporting perspective I love Quickbooks, from my point of view it does the job of accounting, properly.  But the problem is, as it usually is, that I am terribly terribly lazy, and not at all driven by money.

So sometimes (in my own business, not the club) I can easily go two months without getting around to generating invoices, I'm absolutely rubbish at collecting the money from debtors, I always have to spend like a couple of days at GST time, and near a week at income tax time, to get everything in order.

Over the years, I've developed some "procedure" to help me a little.  Mainly, I use email to record everything to be billed (which is everything).  All my emails have an automatic BCC to a mailbox where I can then (when I get around to it) go through and bill out everything I did.  Emails from the clients are also automatically copied to that mailbox and marked as read so I can havea full thread to see exactly what was happening.

As well as the programming stuff, I sell web hosting which involves of course regular billing, for this I uses memorised transactions.  Which is a great idea in theory, but because of my lazyness it falls down - the reason is that Quickbooks only processes the memorised transactions when it starts up (so, once a month if I'm lucky), AND you can't just say "email all these invoices", you have to email each and every one after QB has generated it.  What a chore!

Since I'm doing my invoice run at the moment (and basically procrastinating, even at 4:40 AM), here is what my DREAM system would be.

I'd like a plugin in Thunderbird which when I'm sending an email, any email, it automatically prompts me to provide details for an invoice, for example I'm sending an email to say such and such a job is done, then right there in the reply I complete a form to say howmuch should be billed etc.  This gets linked to the email somehow (X-header of some type) and then picked up automatically by the accounts system at a mailbox it's configured to check.  And the accounts system should automatically email the new invoice to the customer.

I'd like for my recurring invoices to be automatically generated and sent without needing for me to fire up vmware and quickbooks, and then manually email each invoice. 

I'd like for my customers to be able to manage their invoices and payments online, that means they should be able to login and see their entire account history, when upcoming invoices are going to be generated, what invoices need to be paid, they should be able to make a payment and select which of those invoices they are paying with it (I have some clients who cherry-pick which invoices they pay each time, frustrating, but what am I going to do).

I'd like for it to automatically get transactions from my bank accounts (deposits!) and intelligently record them as payments against invoices, each and every night! 

In short, it should do almost everything without my interaction.  And I see no reason why this shouldn't be possible!

Just think what that would do for freelancers, clubs and other small businesses to increase efficiency and "compliance" of their customers. 

Why has nobody come up with this yet.

I'd make one myself.  But like I said, too lazy.

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Comment by M Freitas, on 27-Aug-2009 09:00

You should try Xero. It does pretty much what you want. And you don't have to redesign the wheel...

Comment by meesham, on 27-Aug-2009 10:13

Have you thought about trying Xero? I'm run a small company writing software and was using MYOB up until this financial year, and Xero has cut down the number of hours I spend keeping my accounts up to date from over an hour each week to about 15 minutes. Their API is pretty decent, I'm currently working on generating invoices from my timesheeting system which imports from Google Calendar, but paying work keeps getting in the way and the API currently doesn't support multiple currencies (all of my work comes from Australia). It'll already take care of some of the items on your wish list:
* It's web based. I run Linux about 95% of the time, so no more firing up VMs for me either
* Automated bank account imports - saves me lots of time
* The transaction matching is VERY good, it's usually just a matter of me hitting "OK" to match the transaction
* Recurring invoices
* Email invoices directly from Xero
* If your client also uses Xero you can send the invoice directly to them and it shows up in their accounts payable
* You get that warm fuzzy feeling of supporting an NZ company trying to make it big worldwide

Comment by meesham, on 27-Aug-2009 10:17

I was just reading your older posts and noticed you'd already looked at Xero (I'm late to the party as usual!)

Comment by sleemanj, on 27-Aug-2009 12:12

Xero doesn't do what I want I think, which is why I have not used it,

* I would still have to manually create invoices, there's no Xero thunderbird plugin :-)  Ok, this is a far out there wish, but I think it's one with merit.  Xero does have an API which would make it possible to create such a plugin perhaps more easily.  ALthough, like another commenter, I use multi-currency a lot, I have clients all over the place and bill in their currency, so f the Xero API doesn't support that, less good.

* I believe that Xero also requires a manual verification/sending of recurring invoices, that you can't just flick a flag to say "just send the damn things when they need to be sent you don't need my say so every time".

* I don't see Xero offering a way for my customers to login and see their billing history, future recurring invoices, invoices to be paid, and ultimately, pay for those invoices.  Xero have made some rudimentary work towards integrating with Pay Pal I see, but falls far short of what I have described, actually it looks little more than putting a click to pay link on invoices :-(  Most of my clients are "regulars", some might get 30 or more invoices in a month from me.

* Xero does get transactions auomagically from the bank, awesome.

But also there are things I just don't like about Xero, mainly that it's totaly web based.  I've said it before, I'll say it again, they NEED some offline way to access your accounts, in perpetuity, no matter if Xero still exists, no matter if you still pay them, no matter if the internet goes phut. Your data, your accounts, you should be able to take it with you in at least a read only format.  Saying "oh you can export" isn't good enough, if I wanted to look at raw data I'd use a pencil and a ledger book!

Comment by meesham, on 27-Aug-2009 22:08

I've spoken to the Xero API guys, multicurrency support is coming as well as automated invoice approvals.

Comment by Mike Block CPA, on 28-Aug-2009 00:34

Hi James: I have great news. There is a program like QuickBooks that does exactly what you want. It runs memorized transactions when you want, merges data for one or many custom emails or letters and has thosands of low-cost plugins or customizing add-ons for customer - vendor -employee web history, mass emails and much more. You change little and do not convert data. This near perfect software is extensively pre-release tested and monitored by many of its five million users, employing 25 million people, with 40,000+ registered local support professionals and award winning free user-to user support. It can cost nothing for one person, but hundreds at a time can batch work with add-ons, for companies employing thousands.

The software is, of course, QuickBooks, once you learn more, possibly from a QuickBooks and add-on specialist like me. For example, you can run any memorized transaction when you want. You can even force monthly memorized transactions to run by temporarily changing the system date before entering QuickBooks. You can use the integration to Word to custom mail merge letters, bills and even custom invoices. A system date change can let you pre-bill and then use the mild, medium and strong collection letter fuction, with custom letters or emails, to send advance bills and reminders.

QuickBooks should soon have an Intuit Federated Applications plug in so employees can see checks, with QuickBooks alone or its Intuit or Paycycle service. and InLattice integrate with QuickBooks to give customers and vendors web history and ACH payments (much cheaper than credit cards on larger transactions). also lets you fax or email bills for e-pay, with automatic recurring payments if you wish. Constant Contact and Vertical Respons integrate with QuickBooks for automated mail and returns. You (or I) can quickly find automated web invoicing and much more at my QuickBooks add-ons site or

The best is yet to come.

Author's note by sleemanj, on 28-Aug-2009 00:52

@Mike Block CPA

Unfortunately, Quickbooks US is not the same as Quickbooks NZ.  Quickbooks NZ is like the poor red haired second cousin twice removed.  It's not sold or supported by Intuit for a start, it's sold by Reckon.

You also seem to have missed my point that I want stuff to be done for me automagically. 

Look, I love Quickbooks as an accountin gsystem, and I also know it inside out, and it does NOT do this stuff well, in New Zealand.  In the US, the support for online billing etc is far far better.  But we don't get that here.

Author's note by sleemanj, on 28-Aug-2009 00:53


Good to hear.

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James Sleeman
New Zealand

PHP Programmer Extraordinaire

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