Accounting for Custom Manufacturing

Accounting for Custom Manufacturing

Accounting and bookkeeping is a part of every business large and small, yet there are myriad details to work with and a multitude of possible approaches to addressing the requirement.  From a summary perspective, there are standards which are fairly easily met, providing the basics of sales and expense tracking and income reporting sufficient for basic tax and compliance work to be performed.  Yet accounting may go much deeper into the operational processes of the business, delving into the details of productivity and profitability in order to find and expose areas where the business might improve both.

mfgManufacturing, particularly custom manufacturing or ETO (engineering to order) is among those industry types that could benefit tremendously from a more intimate and detailed approach to accounting.  Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find experienced professionals with not simply a competence in working with manufacturing industry sector clients, but specifically with ETO process.  Building to order is one thing, but finding the way to improve efficiency and profitability when every job is a custom encounter takes additional skills and a lot of data.  Accounting professionals with these skills are needed to help these custom manufacturers grow, transform their businesses and make the overall operations more efficient and sustainable.

It seems logical that manufacturing and ETO space businesses are ripe for the same bridging of technology and analysis that the accounting industry started broadly approaching some years back.  With bookkeeping processes being more frequently outsourced to non-accountants, the accounting professionals saw increased pressure to find more efficient ways of doing things and had to find new value to deliver to clients.  Technology, data collection and analysis became the foundations for delivering on that new requirement.  With the established model and philosophy, bringing more operational aspects of client systems into the mix and extending the model end-to-end just makes sense.

It takes a combination of systems – from the core accounting solution to the manufacturing control or other operational systems, through to the analytical tools.  Leveraging hosting technologies and cloud service, businesses are finally able to bring the multiple work locations – shops, warehouses and business offices – together in a single software and technology platform, and collect the level of detail necessary to provide a comprehensive and true picture of the business.  The analytical tools then provide the means to explore the details and identify where improvements might be made or where previously unrecognized risk exists.

QuickBooks desktop editions remain among the most popular financial systems used by manufacturing and job shop applications, largely due to the effectiveness of connecting the operational applications to an accounting solution which proves highly workable and which has strong industry support.  Even with the emergence of QuickBooks Online (and the push by Intuit to get customers to adopt this web-based alternative to desktop-based software) the QuickBooks desktop edition products continue to provide more functionality and application support for these working models, as the ability to fully manage the information in the solution exists more in the disk based products than it does in a multitenant web-based application.  Accounting “mechanics” are able to see, access and work with all the data rather than simply view reports where only half of the transaction is visible – making detailed accounting and data analysis more readily available.


The key is to leverage the accounting professional, the right software tools, and the platform and delivery environment that allows it all to work in concert for the entire organization.  Add the QuickBooks hosting service provider, who turns hosted applications and QuickBooks desktop products into anytime/anywhere SaaS-type service, so the participants can work more closely together.  Enabling the accounting professional and bringing them closer to their clients (and client systems) allows the deeper move into operational issues, creating the basis for both to receive new and more value from the relationship.

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The Language of Accounting: Disconnect between Accountants and Bookkeepers

The Language of Accounting: Disconnect between Accountants and Bookkeepers

There are a tremendous number of bookkeeper training programs developed over the years which propose to deliver the essential bookkeeping knowledge (e.g., double entry accounting) required in order to properly service business bookkeeping requirements.  Particularly as the CPA profession stepped away from traditional bookkeeping in favor of performing “higher level” and more profitable work, there was and continues to be a great need for skilled and experienced bookkeepers.  While it seems that accountants and bookkeepers would be a natural fit for partnering to serve small business client needs, there is often a disconnect between the two which causes the working relationship to not always prove as beneficial as it could.  What is the cause of this disconnect?  In many cases, it is due to the fact that the bookkeeper training educated the operator on the use of a software product, and not on the fundamentals of accounting and bookkeeping.

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to look through a lot of bookkeeper training programs, and the thing that stands out is that many of these programs aren’t really training bookkeepers on accounting principles.  More frequently, the training is focused on teaching users how to use software (usually QuickBooks).  With the number of users of the QuickBooks product, it is obvious that there is a need to educate users on the solution because people need to know how to use their software properly.  But it happened at some point in time that a majority of the industry came to believe that learning QuickBooks (or Xero or Freshbooks or Kashoo or whatever) was somehow synonymous with learning bookkeeping.

When I first started working with my father in his accounting practice, I had to use a manual general ledger, check register, etc.  It was all manual – computers didn’t come along for a while (yes, I am that old).  It was time-consuming, but it taught me the fundamentals.  I know what a subledger is.  In consumer-friendly software like QuickBooks, you don’t work in the AR subledger; you push the button that says “customers” or maybe “invoices”.   QuickBooks, in many ways, doesn’t speak accounting.  It speaks record keeping.  And this is where the disconnect begins.

An old school accountant will recall the green eye shade days and working with book ledgers and 13-column pads, but even “new” school accounting professionals know that the fundamentals of accounting aren’t available for re-invention.  A debit is still a debit and a credit is a credit.  Yes, there are intimacies involved which speak to specific treatment of items for reporting and tax purposes, etc., but the essentials of double entry and other basic accounting principles are consistent and unchanging.

The “language of accounting” includes certain precise terms with specific meaning, and this precision in the use of terms simply doesn’t exist in many bookkeeper training programs. Rather than focusing on the fundamental accounting training bookkeepers truly need in order to be of maximum value to the business, these programs focus on helping users become experts in using the software product, or even to become experts at teaching others how to use the solution.  While this software expertise may be beneficial in terms of helping accountants work with their clients who use the software, it doesn’t add enough value to the relationship to warrant partnering.  What accounting professionals need are bookkeepers who understand bookkeeping and who can apply basic accounting principles to the task.  Which software they operate is secondary to that purpose.

Professional bookkeepers, accountants, and the business client are all in a position to benefit tremendously when the service providers team up to provide comprehensive service.  The key to making these connections lies with the professional bookkeeper who must not only understand basic accounting principles, but must also be able to speak to the accounting professional in their native language.

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Opinion:   I think that every QuickBooks training program should include taking the sample data file in QuickBooks, and translating that to a manual accounting system of book ledgers and reports.  Then, have the student process a years’ worth of transactions manually and from paper-based source materials (and also make them create and use a manual paper filing system for all that information, and come up with a means to travel to obtain all the documents necessary which aren’t mailed via USPS).  The requirement would include generating the bank reconciliations from printed bank statements and cancelled check copies, creating a trial balance from the general ledger and then creating the P&L and Balance Sheet.  I’ll bet you end up with a group of bookkeepers who better understand the fundamentals of the accounting process.  The other benefit is that these folks will have a much better understanding of the problems in the outsourced accounting model which can be directly addressed and solved by today’s cloud and connected solutions.