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10 - Step Blueprint for Selecting
 the Right Accounting Software

Selecting the wrong accounting software can be a complete disaster. You could even lose your job or your business by making a poor choice – it has certainly happened many times before. Exactly where can you go to get the information you need to make the right decision? There are trade shows, seminars, and magazine articles on selecting accounting software, but they typically just tell you the good stuff. The accounting software publishers at conferences and other similar shows will provide you with a fancy brochure and show you what they have to offer, but the truth is that it is almost impossible to tell what’s missing or what’s wrong with the product. The Value-Added Resellers (VARs) will come to your office to demonstrate the product, but they  usually skip over the negative points and weaknesses as well. The magazine articles all seem to gloss over the bad stuff in fear of chasing away advertising dollars. 


Too often it takes a complete installation of the system and at least a month of operations to tell if the product will meet your needs – and by then, it is too late. There seems to be no independent place to go to get good help in avoiding the wrong package. This is a problem that everyone faces when selecting accounting software. The good news is that almost all accounting software packages have gotten better over the past decade, and it is now easier to end up with a fairly good product than it used to be. But still, here are some important steps you should follow when selecting accounting software:

Ten Steps for Choosing the 
Right Accounting Software Package


1.          Become Knowledgeable – To get started, it is always helpful to educate yourself about the accounting software packages that are out there. (We know that the reality is that nobody has enough time to fully do this.) The Internet can help by making it faster and easier to locate information. But you may also choose to attend independent seminars, vendor sponsored seminars, and trade show exhibition booths, and read newspaper and magazine articles.


2.        Make a List of Potential Solutions  - Make a list of all of the products that might meet your needs. Include products that you are aware of, products you read about, products you hear about, products listed on the Internet, etc. If possible, talk to your competitors and ask them what they use and add these to the list as well. So that you can evaluate the products side-by-side, you may consider preparing a more elaborate list – a spreadsheet listing key information for each product. For example, your spreadsheet might include information for modules, pricing, platform, customization capabilities, certified payroll, retainage, time and billing solution, and bar coding – or whatever you determine is most important to your company. The objective here is to focus just on the most important issues and not be blinded by small insignificant shortcomings. This matrix will also be helpful in sharing information with others who may have input into the ultimate decision.

For each product you are evaluating, begin tabulating a list of the features and facts that impress you about the company, the product, and the reseller. For example, you may list key awards received by the product, the fact that the company provides great support, or describe a great feature that you think your company would really benefit from. Continue to add to this list as your evaluation continues.



3.        Eliminate the Obvious Poor Choices - Start to eliminate potential products due to missing modules, missing key features, or because they are simply too expensive. Cross them off your list and notate why you did. Selecting the right package is mostly a process of eliminating the wrong packages. Generally, you can eliminate many products at this stage. Continue to eliminate products throughout the entire evaluation process.



4.        Evaluate Product Features - Next, make a complete listing of the unique features that your company requires, and compare this list to the features provided by each product. There are several good software programs that aid you in this process. By far the least expensive and most comprehensive program on the market is The Accounting Library. This product can be purchased for $395, $995, or $1,295 by calling 800-272-4085 or by clicking here. The Accounting Library lists over 4,000 accounting software features. Simply place a checkmark by each feature that your company needs, and the Accounting Library will rank the top 150 products according to the product that best meet your needs to the product that least meets your needs. You can also print a "Missing Needs Report" that will summarize the features you need that are missing from each product. Based on your review of the features, you can easily eliminate obvious poor solutions from further consideration. I highly recommend this product to potential customers as well as resellers and consultants. 



5.        Visit Internet Sites – Next, visit the Internet sites for each accounting software product remaining on your list. If your list is still lengthy, pick your best  four or five options and concentrate on them for now. Print out the information, organize it in a binder, and study it in detail. Use a highlighter to highlight the key points you identify as it is likely that someone in your organization will probably review your documentation at some point the future.



6.        Request Brochures and Evaluation Code – Next, call each accounting software publisher and request their latest brochure information and an evaluation copy of the software. Watch out, this will trigger accounting software sales representatives to come calling on you. 



7.        Identify Top Resellers - By far, the number one complaint in the accounting software industry is "poor resellers". Because this is the single-most important element in the successful implementation of an accounting system, you need to take extra care to make sure that you identify the best resellers and consultants. If you call the company and ask for a referral, the accounting software publisher will typically pass you off to the next reseller on their list, and you may get stuck with a less experienced installer. Don't make this error. Here at Accounting Software Advisor, we have published a complete section devoted to helping you understand how to find, evaluate and select the right reseller to meet your needs - we recommend only those resellers who have passed our rigorous due diligence standards. 



8.        Product Demonstration – By this point, hopefully you have identified the best resellers in your area for the products you are considering. Next, you should arrange for these resellers to demonstrate their products to you. They should be able to do this in about 2 to 4 hours. They should take time up front to ask you extensive questions about your company and your needs. This will help them better understand what you are looking for and they can then tailor their demonstration to your particular needs. (If they don’t take time to talk to you up front, watch out - you are probably dealing with an inexperienced person.) Allow them to make their pitch - they all have a canned sales pitch, and by damned, they will all make you endure it. Hopefully the reseller will use live software to demonstrate the product to you, but sometimes slides and overheads are used as well. Take the demo for what it is – a sales pitch. Before it is over, hit them with your toughest questions. Make sure to ask them about their available time, their installation methodology, their track record for getting the systems up and running properly on time, and a list of 3 to 5 references whom you can call to check up on their work. You may even ask them to install an evaluation copy of the product on your computer so you can further evaluate the product on your own time.



9.        Hands On Testing – If you received code from the accounting software vendors, this would be a good time to evaluate it. Keep in mind that you will be testing software that you do not know how to use. If you are unable to make something work the way you want it to work, don’t assume that it won’t do it. (Most software publishers receive thousands of suggestions to add features that are already present in the system.) Simply write down the problem and address it with your reseller the next chance you get. Make sure to update your list of good and bad points for each product. Include subjective points about performance, look and feel, ease of use, etc.



10.        Call References – At this time, call the references supplied by the vendors and ask a few simple questions as follows: 

1. Do you use XXXXX Software? 

2. When did you install it? 

3. Who performed the installation (company and name of reseller)? 

4. Did they do a good job and install the system in a timely manner? 

5. Are you satisfied with the product? 

6. What problems have you had with the product? 

These six questions are usually all you need, as they will flush out any problems with the resellers or the product. Be careful to make sure that the reference is being honest with you. Some references will not say anything bad in fear of a lawsuit. Others may not really be valid references, instead they may be a brother-in-law or close friend. Therefore, be on the look out for suspiciously short responses or people who are not able to describe specific details of the engagement. If you reach 3 consecutive good references that you are comfortable with – then in our opinion, that product and installer have passed the final test. Also, if you receive negative feedback, it may be helpful to try to distinguish between a “Good product/Bad reseller” versus a “Bad product/Good reseller” situation.


Decision Time


At this time, you should be in a good position to select an accounting software package. If you have more than one package left on your list, make a decision based on guts or instincts. If you still can’t decide, choose the product that is easiest to use on a day-to-day basis, the product that is built on top of the most promising technology, or the product that offers the strongest reporting. Otherwise, flip a coin. We believe that the actual price of the software is not really relevant (within 200% or so). The real cost of accounting software is the time required to get it up and going and the time required each day to implement manual work-around procedures to compensate for missing features and reports.




The reality is that the apparent winner may reveal itself long before you complete all 10 steps described above. Still, it is a good idea to run through all of these steps with that last remaining product just to be on the safe side. Some companies can make this decision easily, with just a 30-minute conversation with a consultant. Other companies must endure a three-month ordeal to arrive at the best choice. You alone must make the determination as to how much effort is warranted to select the best accounting software package to meet your current and future needs.

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