Given how many businesses perform their own accounting, you might think that write-up is a thing of the past. After all, why should a business pay you to do something that they can do in-house?
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Fortunately, for the many practices for which write-up is a major revenue generator, that's simply not the way things are. Yes, there was a major switch to in-house accounting a number of years back. But a number of factors have renewed client interest in having someone else perform this task.
One of these is that many smaller businesses underestimated the ease of actually performing accounting, or even bookkeeping, in-house. As the years have gone by, entry-level accounting software has gotten ever more powerful, with more and more bells and whistles. Even though navigation and help systems improve with each yearly update, as entry-level software has become more powerful, it's also become more complex for many smaller businesses to use.
Sometimes this results in a client throwing up their hands in frustration and going back to the way things used to be -having you do the task. Sometimes, it results in the client really mucking up their books and records, leaving you to sort out the mess, and boost your revenue.
WHAT YOU NEED VS. WHAT YOU GET
There are a fairly diverse number of write-up applications available, ranging from inexpensive to budget-draining. However, it's actually pretty simple to narrow the choice.
First is deciding if you even need a write-up system. In the past several years, accounting software vendors including Intuit and Peachtree have really beefed up their accountant's editions, adding many of the features, such as transaction review and reclassification of entries, that were previously found in dedicated write-up packages.
Another decision point is what do you need to accomplish with the application? Write-up is optimized to allow the accounting practice to enter transactions and after-the-fact payroll, as well as make adjusting, reversing and closing entries. An easy-to-understand working trial balance report is a must-have.
Many practices also like the tight integration with tax prep, though if this capability is the primary need, you may find that a less capable (and less expensive and intimidating) trial balance package may be a better fit.
You also need to determine, if you are already using a write-up package, if it's time to change to another vendor's offering to better meet your needs.
Finally, you need to look at what other practice areas you need, and if the vendor has all of the components to not only meet this need, but to meet your budget constraints.
We tested a half-dozen popular write-up applications to help you in your search. All were tested on a Lenovo Dual-core laptop running Windows 7 Enterprise, so you won't need a super high-end PC to use any of the packages we reviewed.
Pricing: $990 per year, plus $9.95 per month per client if client performs in-house bookkeeping with the Bookkeeping Module.
We've come a long way in the last decade or so, at least in terminology. And AccountantsWorld has been at the forefront. We've seen ASP come and go, supplanted first by Software-as-a-Service, and now by cloud computing. To some extent, these are all the same thing - separating the process from the platform - and Accounting Relief is an excellent example of how it's done and pretty much has been since it was first introduced.
One of the things we really like about Accounting Relief (as well as other applications in the AccountantsWorld Power Practice System) is that the system is exactly the same whether you have one or 101 clients set up on it. The front end of the system lets you manage the clients, and if you allow clients access to perform their own data entry, each client feels as they are the only one using the remote system. There's no downtime, no worry about backups, and no system or application maintenance. It's about as trouble-free as write-up gets.
Need to add new clients? You don't have to worry about buying new licenses - Accounting Relief's pricing approach provides for an unlimited number of staff users and clients for a fixed fee of $990 per year. If you want to enable your clients to do their own bookkeeping in-house, it's an additional $10 a month per client, which you can easily charge back to the client. If your practice is very small, and you don't want to make even that much of an investment, AccountantsWorld lets you work month-to-month for just $99 a month. AccountantsWorld has its own stand-alone practice management application, Practice Relief, but the write-up system provides good client management tools, as well as customizable client dashboards and ratio analysis.
At the price, you're not making any major compromises. The software is easy to set up, with a large number of boilerplate client types and charts of accounts. There are numerous reports and financial statements, and we didn't find it difficult to modify and customize these. The vendor made much of its reputation years ago for its excellent data entry design, and it has kept this ease-of-use feature current in its applications. Data can also be ported over from client bookkeeping, or from QuickBooks or Peachtree Accounting if your clients are using those applications.
And while trial balance is often sold as a stand-alone application, it is also a subset of write-up. Accounting Relief provides a very comprehensive working trial balance, a must-have for adjusting entries and closings.
Some of the write-up packages in this roundup include after-the-fact payroll. With Accounting Relief, as with a number of the other packages, this is an option, and AccountantsWorld offers both an ATF Payroll for $395 a year, or a full payroll system (Payroll Relief) that allows you to offer service bureau payroll to your clients, which is priced based on the number of employees processed.
While AccountantsWorld does have a variety of packages that integrate nicely, including Practice Relief, two payroll offerings, and CyberCabinet, a data storage and management application, it does lack a fixed asset app and tax prep. However, it should not be difficult to use AccountantsWorld's apps for many of your practice needs, with other vendors' products filling in where needed.
CaseWare International Inc.
Pricing: Single user - $499; up to five users - $1,399. Connector and Smart Sync are optional at additional cost.
CaseWare's applications have always been a bit hard to define. The vendor often takes "the road less traveled" in software design. That's not a criticism; it's just that CaseWare often approaches an application from a different direction than the rest of the vendor pack.
Working Papers is a case in point. Working Papers is hard to classify as just write-up - it also functions quite well as a trial balance application. But that's often true of applications from a number of other vendors as well.
What really sets Working Papers apart from the crowd is its underlying design. Most accounting-oriented applications these days are based on some sort of underlying database. So is Working Papers, but its underlying database is comprised of documents, rather than just records. This approach makes it easy to expand client records with scanned documents like receipts, images and even faxes, as well as e-mails and other electronic documents. This document orientation sometimes makes data entry a bit unwieldy, but it's terrific when it comes to using and/or creating reports, which is a major use for write-up.
And if you find the data entry screens a bit awkward (many won't), using the inexpensive connector option seamlessly integrates with Office so you can do your data entry in Excel and pop it right into Working Papers.
Unlike some write-up applications, Working Papers doesn't have hundreds of boilerplate reports. The reports it does have will be sufficient for many users, and report templates for specific purposes, such as GAAP financials, are available from CaseWare.
Working Papers also has excellent import capabilities from most accounting software, so your clients can easily do the majority of transaction entries in QuickBooks or another package, and have you import the data to make adjusting and recurring entries, as well as generate statements. Sure, QB, Peachtree and other packages will generate financials, but not many clients know what a statement of cash flow is, much less how to generate one or know if it is accurate. Export capabilities are also excellent, with direct export to many of the popular tax prep applications.
Working Papers has some features that set it apart. Unlike most write-up packages, Working Papers has strong engagement management capabilities, something usually more associated with practice management. And the optional SmartSync add-on lets you track files between staff members, and when multiple staff are working on the same client, the client records can be synced with a central client file.