QuickBooks Showdown: Desktop vs. Online Editions for Construction Accounting

Desktop vs. Online Editions for Construction Accounting

In construction accounting, selecting the appropriate accounting software is critical for effective financial management. QuickBooks, a renowned name in the accounting software market, offers two main editions designed to meet the needs of businesses: QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online.

Each edition has its features, advantages, and limitations, making them suitable for different types of construction businesses. This blog aims to provide a detailed comparison between the QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online editions, focusing specifically on their application in construction accounting.

We will explore what each version offers to help construction companies make a well-informed choice that best fits their financial management requirements.
We intend to present this information straightforwardly and formally, ensuring it is accessible to those new to accounting software.

Read along to discover which QuickBooks edition is the right fit for your construction business.

Differentiating Customers vs. Vendors in QuickBooks

Customers in QuickBooks

  • Definition: Customers are individuals or entities that purchase goods or services from your business. In QuickBooks, they are the focal point for sales transactions.
  • Purpose: Tracking customers in QuickBooks allows you to manage receivables, understand sales patterns, and maintain detailed records of customer interactions and transactions.
  • Direction of Transaction: Transactions with customers represent the inflow of money into the business, primarily from sales of goods or services. These are income-generating activities that boost the company’s revenue. When a customer makes a purchase, it’s recorded as a sale, and when they make a payment, it increases the company’s cash or bank balances, directly impacting the financial health.
  • Type of Information Tracked: For customers, QuickBooks focuses on collecting and managing information that supports sales and customer relationship management. This includes detailed sales history, which tracks the frequency and volume of purchases, payment records that ensure accounts receivable are accurately maintained, and contact information that facilitates marketing efforts and customer service initiatives.
  • Financial Reporting: The transactions involving customers directly influence the revenue side of the business’s financial reports. They play a crucial role in shaping the accounts receivable ledger, which tracks money owed to the business, and in compiling revenue reports that summarize sales performance over a period. These reports are fundamental for assessing the business’s profitability and for strategic planning.

Vendors in QuickBooks

  • Definition: Vendors are individuals or companies from whom your business purchases goods or services. They are essential for recording your business expenses.
  • Purpose: Managing vendors in QuickBooks helps you track payables, manage expenses efficiently, and maintain a history of purchases and vendor performance.
    Direction of Transaction: In contrast, transactions with vendors signify the outflow of money, reflecting the business’s expenditures on goods or services necessary for its operation. Payments to vendors decrease the company’s cash or bank balances and are categorized as expenses, which are necessary for the production of goods or services sold by the business, ultimately affecting profit margins.
  • Type of Information Tracked: For vendors, the emphasis is on information that aids in the procurement and financial management processes. This encompasses the tracking of purchase history, which helps in analyzing spending patterns and negotiating terms, recording payment terms that aid in cash flow management, and maintaining contact details crucial for negotiating contracts and resolving issues. This information is vital for optimizing cost management and supply chain efficiency.
  • Financial Reporting: Vendor transactions impact the expense side of financial reporting. These transactions feed into the accounts payable ledger, detailing money the business owes to its suppliers, and they are also integral to expense reports that outline the cost of goods sold (COGS) and operational expenses. Such reporting is essential for managing the business’s cost structure and evaluating its operational efficiency.

QuickBooks Desktop vs. Online: Choosing the Right Edition

To understand better, let’s look at it in detail:

What is QuickBooks Desktop?

QuickBooks Desktop is a robust, on-premise accounting software designed for small to medium-sized businesses. It’s known for its comprehensive functionality and one-time purchase model.

  • Pricing Model: Requires a one-time purchase for the software license, with optional annual upgrades. This model is cost-effective for businesses looking for a long-term investment.
  • Functionality and Features: Offers extensive features such as inventory management, job costing, and industry-specific versions (Premier, Enterprise), beneficial for complex accounting needs.
  • Data Access and Mobility: Data is accessible only on the installed computer, limiting remote access unless using hosting services.
  • Internet Dependency: Operates mostly offline, ideal for areas with unreliable internet service.
  • User Interface and Learning Curve: Features a traditional user interface with a potentially steeper learning curve but provides extensive features for advanced users.

What is QuickBooks Online?

QuickBooks Online is a cloud-based, subscription-model accounting platform from Intuit, designed for ease of use and flexibility, catering to small to medium-sized businesses.

  • Pricing Model: Operates on a monthly subscription basis, offering lower initial costs and scalable plans.
    Functionality and Features: Though it may lack some advanced features of a desktop, it’s continually updated with new functionalities and designed for ease of use and accessibility.
  • Data Access and Mobility: Being cloud-based, it allows for remote access from any device with internet connectivity, enhancing flexibility for managing finances.
  • Internet Dependency: Requires a stable internet connection for access, which might be a drawback in areas with limited connectivity.
  • User Interface and Learning Curve: Provides a more intuitive and user-friendly interface, making it easier for beginners to navigate and learn.

Choosing the Right Edition

  • Opt for QuickBooks Desktop if: Your business demands the depth of functionality offered by advanced features, particularly in inventory and job costing, and operates primarily from a fixed location without the need for remote financial management.
  • Opt for QuickBooks Online if: You can prioritize the ability to access and manage your accounting data from anywhere, prefer a flexible and scalable subscription-based model, and value a platform that is easy to learn and use, with the benefit of continuous updates and new features.

8 Best Practices for Construction Accounting

  1. Utilize the Job Costing Feature: Set up each project as a “job” within QuickBooks to track the financial progress by comparing budgeted costs to actual costs. This helps identify profitable projects and areas where costs exceed budgets.
  2. Accurate Expense Tracking: Keep precise records of all expenses, including materials, labor, and overhead, by categorizing them accurately in QuickBooks as soon as they occur. This is crucial for monitoring project costs and overall business.
  3. Progress Invoicing: Use QuickBooks’ progress invoicing feature to bill clients for work completed based on milestones or the percentage of work done. This aids in managing cash flow and maintaining customer satisfaction.
  4. Regular Financial Reviews: Conduct monthly reviews of profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and job cost reports to make informed decisions and identify potential financial issues early.
  5. Maintain separate accounts for business and personal Expenses: Process all business transactions through a business bank account linked to QuickBooks, keeping personal finances separate to avoid accounting complications.
  6. Use the class and location tracking features: Assign classes or locations to transactions for detailed reporting and analysis, useful for understanding profitability across different business segments.
  7. Utilize Integrated Applications: Enhance efficiency and data consistency by integrating QuickBooks with other construction-specific software for project management, time tracking, and more.
  8. Train your team: Ensure your team is proficient in using QuickBooks by investing in training focused on construction accounting features. Consider QuickBooks-certified advisors for customized training sessions.

Maximizing Efficiency with QuickBooks

  1. Set Up Properly: Ensure QuickBooks is set up correctly for your business needs, including a chart of accounts, customer and vendor lists, and preferences tailored to your industry.
  2. Automate Data Entry: Take advantage of features like bank feeds to automatically import transactions, saving time on manual data entry and reducing errors.
  3. Invoice and Payment Automation: Set up recurring invoices for regular customers and automate payment reminders to streamline accounts receivable processes.
  4. Customize Reports: Create custom reports in QuickBooks to track key performance indicators (KPIs), monitor financial health, and make data-driven decisions.
  5. Regular Reconciliation: Schedule regular reconciliations to ensure accuracy in your financial records and identify discrepancies promptly.
  6. Seek Expert Assistance: Consider consulting with QuickBooks experts or accountants for guidance on optimizing your setup and workflows for maximum efficiency.

Integrating QuickBooks with Other Construction Tools

  1. Construction Management Software: Integrate QuickBooks with construction management platforms like Procore, BuilderTREND, or CoConstruct to sync project data, including budgets, expenses, change orders, and invoices. This ensures seamless collaboration between project managers, contractors, and accounting teams.
  2. Estimating Software: Connect QuickBooks with estimating software such as STACK, PlanSwift, or HeavyBid to import estimates directly into QuickBooks, eliminating manual entry errors and speeding up the invoicing process.
  3. Time Tracking and Payroll Systems: Integrate QuickBooks with time tracking and payroll systems like TSheets, ClockShark, or ADP to automate employee time capture, payroll processing, and job costing, ensuring accurate labor cost allocation to projects.
  4. Inventory Management: Sync QuickBooks with inventory management solutions like Fishbowl or DEAR Inventory to track materials, supplies, and equipment used in construction projects, ensuring accurate cost of goods sold (COGS) and inventory valuation.
  5. Payment Processing: Link QuickBooks with payment processing platforms such as Square, Stripe, or PayPal to facilitate online payments, invoicing, and reconciliation, providing convenient payment options for clients and improving cash flow management.
  6. Document Management: Integrate QuickBooks with document management systems like DocuSign or Adobe Sign to streamline contract management, approval workflows, and document storage, ensuring compliance and reducing administrative overhead.
  7. Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Connect QuickBooks with CRM software like Salesforce, Zoho CRM, or HubSpot to sync customer data, track sales opportunities, and streamline the lead-to-cash process, enhancing customer communication and retention.

In Closing!

The choice between QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online editions for construction accounting ultimately depends on the specific needs and preferences of your construction business. While QuickBooks Desktop offers robust features and functionality, QuickBooks Online provides the flexibility of cloud-based access and seamless collaboration, making it ideal for businesses with remote teams or multiple locations.

Both versions have their advantages and limitations, and the decision should be based on factors such as the size of your business, your accounting needs, and your preference for on-premises versus cloud-based solutions.

Ultimately, whether you opt for QuickBooks Desktop or QuickBooks Online, the goal remains the same: to efficiently manage your construction business finances, stay organized, and make informed decisions that contribute to your company’s success. So, weigh your options carefully, explore the features and benefits of each edition, and choose the one that best aligns with your business goals and objectives.


Mr. Amit Chandel

Amit Chandel is a “Certified Tax Planner/Coach”, and “Certified Tax Resolution Specialist”. He has extensive experience in Tax Planning and Tax Problem Resolutions – helping his clients proactively plan and implement tax strategies that can rescue thousands of dollars in wasted tax.