Dec 18

in place of their currently dysfunctional hybrid of class tracking and sub-accounts.

The goal: I would like to know how much we spent on various marketing and advertising initiatives with a breakdown by individual occurence so that I can see we spent a total of $X on conferences this year and be able to drill down on specific amts for each conference. The same goes for online adspend across various channels like pay-per-click, sponsored banners, direct email, etc broken out by vendor. Likewise with outsourced efforts like PR, directory submission services, SEO. Ditto physical collateral broken out by literature, t-shirts and schwag, etc- you get the point. This would be so much easier if we could tag every transaction with multiple tags (provided tags can have a parent tag).

The current failing:Instead we have this strange way of doing things whereby we assign each transaction to an expense account (okay, necessary GAAP stuff) but then we have an optional class tracking feature where we can assign it one (and only one) class. There are recommendations on how to best use class tracking but unfortunately you can’t track multiple dimensions (ie. I can use class tracking to track by geographic location or business department or marketing initiative but not all three). Seems like allowing ad hoc tagging and having the ability to do multiple, hierarchical tags would solve this and allow people the flexibility to track across any number of dimensions… grrrrrr quickbooks…. And Intuit has a lovely policy of sunsetting their products every two versions and forcing you to upgrade- we’re coming up on our sunset period. Let’s hope they add this capability to this year’s edition.

For that matter, is anyone aware of a viable open source alternative to Quickbooks? Some brief research reveals one called GNUcash which looks interesting. Is there a de facto winner out there though that everyone uses or are OSS accounting packages still too primitive and we’re stuck with Quickbooks for the time being?

4 Responses to “Another Quickbooks shortcoming: they need hierarchical tagging”

  1. Mike Rankin says:

    I think maybe, you might be misunderstanding the purpose of classes in quickbooks. It’s used to give you a lightweight way to get an income statement by division. Typically, divisions would be either physical locations (the Denver office, the Boston office, etc) or lines of business (the drywall division, the hvac division, etc). By assigning revenue and expenses to the different classes, you could get an income statement for each one and a combined income statement. When you think of it this way, you can see why you could never have an expense appear in more than one class.

    Other accounting systems typically accomplish this with a segmented account number. Classes (while strangely named) do this without bloating up your chart of accounts.

    Speaking of your chart of accounts, that’s where you would normally get your hierarchy of expenses. For example, you have an account called “online advertising expense” with sub-accounts for pay-per-click, banner ads and direct email. You should be able to get your vendor breakdown from accounts payable with maybe a little custom report work.

    I think adding tagging to an already strangely presented application would probably do more harm than good.

  2. sean says:

    I’m admittedly no QB expert so I’m probably bastardizing the class tracking function by using it this way. Unless I misunderstand sub-accounts though, I don’t think those are the answer to my problem. Take this scenario:

    The month-long road trip I just did to San Francisco consisted of various charges for meals, gas, event registration fees, car repairs, etc. I want a way to track the cost of that trip as a single initiative. Each of those trip expenses right now is assigned to a different account – some under travel, some under education, some under equipment. We went to another conference in Portland earlier this year and there was a cost associated with being there- same thing, I want to see the cost of that trip and be able at the end of the year to know what our presence at tradeshows cost us as well as dig down to a per-trip cost. Does that make sense?

    Seems like accts and sub-accts won’t help and class tracking can do it but that’s all it can do (ie. it’s impossible to slice across our accounting on a different dimension like seeing revenue by application type – open source vs. proprietary, or P&L by business unit – consulting vs. hosting vs. product sales). Seems like a flattened tagging approach with ability to do parent tags would enable this and be a powerful reporting feature without introducing any extra complexity for the user (unless this is just an extreme outlier use case and 99% of the world doesn’t need the capability to report on multiple dimensions).


  3. Tanya says:

    Have you considered assigning Job Names to your Trade Shows/ Conferences. You could then create items tied to your income/expense accounts. That way, each time you enter an item ie; meals, you would then put the job name. Then you could ruan a job expense summary.

  4. sean says:

    Tanya, I had not heard of the ability to assign an expense to a job- that sounds like it might do what we need. I’ll look at it. Thanks!


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