What Your Profit & Loss Is Really Telling You

When I meet with new clients, I find they all like to look at their Profit & Loss (P & L or Income Statement). After all, who doesn’t like to look at profit?!  But I find many have misconceptions about what this report can/should do for them.  This is usually due to a lack of knowledge when it comes to accounting, which I understand. But whether you are the business owner or the bookkeeper you should understand at least a little bit about accounting and your financial reports.


If you are the bookkeeper, you’re the one doing the data entry, so it’s important that you understand how the transactions you’re creating are affecting the books. And if you don’t, ask your accountant.  Some mistakes can be huge.  A couple examples I’ve either seen first-hand or heard about:

  • Expensing loan payments
  • Entering vendor invoices (i.e. your bills) as invoices
  • Entering bank transfers as income to the business
  • Assuming that if you use the online banking/bank feeds, you don’t have to reconcile your bank & credit card accounts.

Those mistakes can have a huge incorrect impact on the Profit & Loss report.

If you are the business owner, these are your numbers so you should understand what this report can and cannot tell you.  Don’t be afraid to ask your accountant!!  After all, your business is your area of expertise and accounting is theirs. So, especially in the beginning, I understand this can all seem like Greek!

I know some business owners are hoping this report will help them with their cash flow if they run this report on a cash basis (I had someone contact me one time wanting to know why this didn’t match their bank balance). That’s not the intent of this report.  The focus is on profitability (not cash), so loan payments, sales tax remittance, payroll liabilities, are not to show on your P & L, yet they obviously have a big impact on cash flow. If you see them on this report, then find some help with getting your books corrected.


The purpose of your P & L is to show you Profitability and the factors that affect it.  When you run your Profit and Loss, you’ll first see Income, then many of you will a middle section for Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS) and below you have expenses, with the net income or loss at the bottom. The Profit and Loss covers a period of time, which you choose, such as last month.

The types of expenses classified as Cost of Goods are typically those purchases you made in for a specific job, project, or product. Some examples are:

  • a retailer who had to buy products (inventory) that they could put on a shelf for resale.
  • a manufacturing company who has to purchase raw materials to make a product to sell.
  • contractors or those who are in professional services it would be the materials purchased specifically for the job (like lumber, landscaping, appliances, etc.) and the labor involved for that job. (Note: if you are a contractor and you don’t have labor costs showing in your COGS, you’re not seeing the total costs associated with your jobs.)

Expenses are typically those associated with running your business whether or not you have jobs/projects, such as rent, your phone bill, Internet Access, utilities, and so on

While the bottom line doesn’t change, it’s more helpful to see the direct costs (COGS) separate from the overhead (expenses). For instance, many of you want a particular profit margin for a job.

Helpful Metrics

When setup correctly, you can run a P & L for job, turn on percentages, and the % showing for Gross Profit Margin is your profit margin!  And when you run the P & L for the company, you’ll see your profit margin across all your jobs.  Simply click to customize the P & L report, then check % of Income on the Display tab.

When you have percentages turned on, then you’ll also see your Net Margin as a percent.

Both can be useful for planning purposes and giving you targets you need/want to achieve

Cash vs Accrual

One other aspect to look at when reviewing your financial reports is cash versus accrual basis. Most of my clients operate on a cash basis for tax purposes, but several operate on an accrual basis. If you’re on a cash basis, (in oversimplified terms), you earn the money when you get paid and you spend money when you write the check or pay by credit card. Most of us can understand that, since that’s typically how we treat our personal finances. Technically, cash-basis businesses don’t have an Accounts Payable or Accounts Receivable. But accrual says that you earn the income when you invoice whether or not the client ever pays you! And you spend the money on the date of the bill whether or not you ever pay the bill. Those on an accrual basis can write off bad debt. Those on cash basis cannot write off bad debt because they never originally claimed the income.

I generally recommend that clients look at it reports on an accrual basis because it typically evens out some of your income and expenses and is better for showing trends in your business. On a cash basis, sometimes cash comes in sporadically so you may find you pay several bills at once so you have understated expenses for some months and overstated expanses for other months. So cash basis doesn’t necessarily reflect the work that’s being done in business. The 2018 version of QB makes it easy to switch between cash & accrual – the option is right on your report screen!

So take a closer look at your report and see if problems jump out at you or if you get some new “aha’s”!  If you need help with this, you can contact our office or your accountant.

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Commonly Overlooked Features In Quickbooks Pt 2

I’ve written before about useful features that many don’t know exist.  Today’s article takes a look at more features you might find helpful.

Workers Comp – If you use Intuit Payroll, you might like the Workers Comp feature – this can simplify those workers comp audits!

You can setup your various codes (see below, left) and either assign a workers comp code to an employee in the employee record, or if they change tasks, you can use them in the timesheets (see below, right).

Note that you can also set your experience mod factor and just look at the reports you can run!

Batch time sheets – Speaking of timesheets, if you’re still manually entering timesheets in QuickBooks and you have crews (even a 2-man crew), you can enter the time, work etc. just once instead of for each person on the crew. That can be a huge timesaver for some of you.  The “trick” is to scroll up to the top of the list where you have the option to click on Multiple names

Sales/Work Orders –  For those of you who use work orders and are doing it on paper, you might find the Sales Order feature in QuickBooks Premier and Enterprise an option. You can customize a sales order to be a work order (e.g. hiding pricing, adding instructions). You can create a sales/work order as a stand-alone or create it from an estimate.  You can create PO’s and invoices from sales/work orders and there are Sales Order reports.

Collection Center – For those of you who have to deal with collections, you might like the collection center. One feature it has that the Income Tracker does not is a place to write notes, which is often helpful for documentations purposes as well as other reasons.  Once you turn it on, you’ll find it in the Customer Center

Billable vs Unbillable

  • Billable in QuickBooks means you will invoice based on the actual cost of the time or materials with a markup. If you mark something unbillable but use the customer:job, the item or expense WILL show in your job cost reports
  • The default setting in QuickBooks is to make time and expenses billable any time you use a customer job in the transaction (e.g. bills and timesheets). If you invoice for time and materials, then I would leave this as is, even if you don’t always invoice that way.  Better to have to uncheck the billable, than find out later you missed it and now can’t go back and invoice the customer! However, if you always use fixed pricing, then by all means turn “billable off!!

I’d love to hear which of these you found most useful. And, as always, if you have questions or want some assistance with any of these, contact our office.

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A Few of My Favorite Features in QuickBooks

There are many features I like in QuickBooks, guess that’s why I support the software!  But I find when I’m with new clients who have been using QuickBooks for a while or clients who are upgrading, I always like to share a few of the features I like either as a business owner or from a timesaving bookkeeping perspective.  So here’s my list:

The Company Snapshot – it’s all here in 1 place!  My account balances, payables, receivables (in red if late so it jumps at you), upcoming (like sales tax), and graphs.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I love the ability to see trends for this year or compared to previous years, or visually see the percent of sales from a product or service or where the biggest chunk of my expenses is.  For busy business owners, you can look at this quickly and then move on with your day.  Doesn’t mean you ignore your other reports, but you aren’t going to run lots of reports daily, so it’s a great 1-stop page

Find – Doesn’t matter who it is – a client or my own books. I can’t tell you how often I use the Find feature and it searches sooo much faster than I ever could.  I even use this feature to help me build custom reports.   And because I’m a keystroke person, Ctrl-F quickly puts me in the Find screen (but you can get there by Edit>Find or putting it on your toolbar). I keep finding additional ways to filter what I’m looking for.  I use Amount, Account, Class, Transaction Type frequently, but another one I use often is Entered/Modified; this is great when you gave the transaction one date other than today’s date).  By using today’s date for Entered/modified, you can find the transaction no matter what date you gave it.  I could do a whole session on nothing but different ways I search when I’m looking!

Keystroke Shortcuts – Maybe it’s because of my DOS days, but I still use keystrokes to get around quickly – and I’ll bet I can move faster than those of you using the mouse ;-).

The Esc key closes whatever window you have open

Invoice: Ctrl-I

Find:  Ctrl-F.

Pop-up calculator – Hit an operator (+,-,*,/) when you’re in a numeric field and voilá – up pops a calculator –  now you don’t need to copy & paste your answer!

Date Shortcuts – I find the date shortcuts are frequently faster than using the calendar (e.g. t for Today). If you keep pressing the same key, it continues in the same direction (i.e. hitting the + multiple times keeps moving forward in time, pressing M multiple times keeps taking you to an earlier month). The letters are not case-sensitive, either.

Memorized transactions – This is a great timesaver for some businesses and there are so many types and reasons for memorizing; even (or especially) somewhat complex transactions – just change the numbers if you need, but the hard part’s been done.  Between clients and myself, I’ve memorized estimates, invoices, sales receipts, journal entries, bills, automatic deductions/charges and probably more.

Groups – This is a very powerful feature. You can create a group item or a group of memorized transactions or a group of reports.  A group Item quickly pulls multiple items onto an estimate, invoice, sales/work order, purchase order, bill… Groups in Memorized transactions and in Memorized reports can help you stay organized.  But you can also double click on a group to create invoices or run multiple reports, saving you lots of time.

Type – I have been using types for quite a while now. It started when I was filling out surveys and applications with Intuit and they were asking me the percentages of my clients in certain industries. So, as you might imagine, I track industries and I use the Customer Type (and subtypes) to do that. Then it’s very easy to get a Sales by Customer Type report; I can even create a P & L by Customer Type to see which Types are most profitable!

You can also do Vendor Types. One idea might be to have different types of subcontractors or suppliers so you can easily get a list.

Custom Fields – I used to overlook this feature, or not do much with it, but after working with a marketing coach, I realized there is more I want to track about my clients, products, and services, so custom fields help me do that.  If I pull them in on the invoice, I can get sales information – great for refining niche areas to pursue – or drop.  If information is in a custom field, I can pull it into a transaction, onto a report, sort, or filter – much more useful than buried in notes or descriptions. I work in Enterprise, so you can customize even more as shown on the right-side of the screen shot below outlined in red.  I love the ability to create custom drop-down lists in Enterprise. This makes the data entry faster and more uniform so whether I’m filtering or sorting on a custom field, it’s much easier. (Just think how many different ways there are to enter dates – that gives you an idea of why controlling the information is helpful).

I could go on with features that I like and use frequently, but I’ll stop here ;-).  I’d love to hear what your favorite feature is!

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Four Areas Where Spending More Pays Off

It’s generally a good idea to keep overhead costs low so that your business profits will be higher.  This is especially true with items that are fairly standardized, such as utilities and rent.  But there are times when increasing expenses pays yields nice dividends like investments. Here are four areas to consider so you can reap the rewards.


Whether it’s for you or your staff, good training can pay back for years to come. Having untrained staff, whether office or field, impacts

  • Getting work done on time (slow can be costly)
  • Getting it done well or correctly, (incorrectly can be expensive) and
  • Your reputation. You definitely don’t want that to suffer!!

While QuickBooks is user-friendly, I’ve lost count of the mistakes I made in the past as well as those I see my clients make.  When I do my assessments, I cover a wide range of areas and it gives me a good idea of just how much (or how little), those using QuickBooks know.  And then we can tailor training that addresses both the “how-to” as well as ways to get work done more efficiently.

You might get training to increase your skill in your profession.  I know many of you need to maintain certifications; that provides both opportunities and impetus for training.  Not only do you learn new “tricks or tools” of the trade, but it provides another benefit when marketing your business – especially if you are compared to those without your credentials.

Sometimes that training includes helping to run your business, such as general business skills, new technology, marketing, finance, and leadership.  And just about everyone can benefit from learning more about project management, communications, and negotiations, to name a few more.


For many of you, that’s the tools and equipment while out in the field as well as the tools in the office. Old or cheap equipment often affects how quickly work gets done as well as your maintenance costs. The last thing you want is to have to postpone work because you don’t have working equipment!  I know some companies lease lots of their equipment so they can easily get replacements when something stops working and they can easily upgrade to a newer/better model.

In the office (and for some field staff), it’s a great idea to provide your employees with the most powerful computers and software on the market.  The cost of labor outweighs the costs of the computers, so it makes sense to load employees up with the best tools you can.  An employee with a slow computer, through no fault of their own, is not giving you their best, and that will cost money in lost productivity.  One of the reasons they went to larger monitors and dual monitors was they found the cost of an employee having to scroll or wait for something to load affected productivity.  While it may seem small, multiplied over the day/week/year and then number of employees, it definitely adds up.

Personally, because I know I’m going to load new software every year that won’t care about the age of my computer, I get plenty of RAM and go with a faster computer (not the top, but definitely above the middle).  If you’re the owner, you can spend your time fighting with a machine or getting a ton of work done.  I’m pretty sure the latter is more profitable.


With software, there are two areas to consider: your existing software and software that solves for a pain point.

In the case of existing software, I often see businesses fighting upgrading software, such as their QuickBooks. I always recommend looking at what the new version offers.  If there are features that help you get your work done faster or being able to do something you’ve wanted for years, it usually makes sense to upgrade so you and your staff can get work done more easily.

In the case of software that solves for a pain point, you have to ask what’s the cost of doing it the “long, slow” way compared to the new way.  While you may not need software with all the bells and whistles, you may find that some version will streamline your workflow, which will save you money in the long-run.  It may even help you make more money because you can get more done!  Some examples include estimating software, CRM (lead and opportunity tracking), time tracking, inventory, reporting, etc.

If you are interested in software that integrates with QuickBooks, this page has a few.  But there are many more, including industry specific, so let me know – there are many I know of that aren’t my Add-ons page .

Your Books

The most successful companies invest in accounting technology, accurate bookkeeping, thorough reporting, tax minimization, and professional consulting.  When business owners cut corners in any of these areas, it usually costs them more money in the long run to clean up the problems that result.   I certainly see this with users who set up poorly (because they didn’t know better) and missed out on tools in QuickBooks to help them get their work done faster.

An up-to-date version of QuickBooks minimizes maintenance and troubleshooting costs.   Making sure the bookkeeping and reconciliations are done properly is essential for compliance reporting (such as payroll and income taxes) and decision-making.  Reports easily accessible help a business owner make smart decisions about running their business, and minimizing taxes helps you keep more of what you make (yeah!!).

Since accountants see thousands of financial reports in their careers, they have developed an eye for opportunities that a business owner may not see.  Bringing an outside perspective into your business is a good investment that can help you discover great opportunities in your business.

Measuring the Payoff

Your accountant can help you measure return on investments in many of these areas. If it involves QuickBooks we can help in a variety of ways – obtain a version of QuickBooks that suits your needs, customize settings and features to fit your business better, train staff to use it correctly and effectively, streamline your QuickBooks workflow, set up custom reports and more – just ask!

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5 Ways To Lower Overhead Costs

Many focus on saving time out in the field – watching hours spent on jobs, looking for ways to improve productivity.  But how often do you look at saving time in the office?  So often, time on office tasks, time on sales tasks, time spent working on estimates,  (to name a few)  isn’t tracked – perhaps just the total hours worked for the day/week – or not at all for those who are salaried.  But the profit from your jobs needs to cover your overhead and leave you a profit.  So it’s a good idea to review what gets done and see if there is a more efficient way to get the work done. And that leaves you with more profit J.  Here are 5 ways you can lower your overhead costs.

  1. Delete! – How often do you find you’re doing something that no longer needs doing or no longer important? Look around and see if any tasks can be eliminated. Or perhaps there are costs you can eliminate. While auto-pay is a nice feature, it’s easy to forget to review expenses that are paid monthly.  So take a look and see what can be eliminated.
  2. Delegate First, can this task be delegated so you can focus on tasks more in line with your position in the company? If you’re the owner, that could be focusing sales or revising your vision for moving your company forward. In some cases, hiring someone to do lower-level tasks will actually save you money because then you’re free to work on tasks that will help move your business forward – or maybe enable you to work less.  I know this can be tough – I’m guilty of just working on lower level tasks when I should delegate.  I’ve told my assistant she has permission to remind me to let go so I can focus sales, marketing, and strategizing.  And this is something to review at least once a year if not quarterly – or even monthly if your business is rapidly growing.
  3. Systematize – Many get caught in the trap of “this is how we’ve always done it”. But, have you asked recently if there’s a better way?  Or have you found steps get overlooked?  If you can systematize, you ensure steps don’t get overlooked, thereby preventing problems. This may mean having a checklist or procedure.  In some cases this may mean you can drop a few steps.  It never hurts to review. Perhaps the place to start is what tasks take the longest or which tasks are really critical?  It could be a checklist for hiring – not just the payroll information but perhaps usernames, logins, permissions etc. need to be established. A checklist will keep you on track.
  4. Automate – This is one of my favorites! Automating gets tasks done for you, saving you time, money and preventing mistakes from human error. In the case of QuickBooks, it can be monthly, quarterly or even annual charges – automatic bill entry or deductions from bank accounts or charges on credit cards – or even monthly billing to customers if the bill is the same amount every month. A popular one is to automate time entry.  So mobile apps that integrate with QuickBooks saving the bookkeeper LOTS of time.  In some cases, automation may mean an initial investment of a tool or software, but the ROI is often big.  So look around, what can be automated? Even lots of little tasks add up.
  1. Training – This is another area that involves investment but can have big pay-offs. Training shortens learning curves, can prevent costly mistakes, and in some cases offer time saving tips and strategies. When working with clients I almost always find mistakes in setup or data entry.  In many cases, features aren’t being utilized either due to not understanding the feature or not even being aware that feature even exists.  That’s true for long-time users as well as “newbies”. And I always find ways to get work done faster; guess that comes from my own impatience with computers ;-).  While I naturally think of QuickBooks training, training is often needed in a variety of areas in your business, including HR (e.g. keeping up with changing regulations), project management, sales and marketing, just to name a few.

So look around. What takes a long time or is costly?  Perhaps there’s a better way or it can be eliminated completely. If you’d like help in reviewing your QuickBooks setup and/or procedures, let us know and we’ll schedule a time to discuss!

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Commonly Overlooked Features In QuickBooks Pt 1

As I work with clients, I frequently see that there are features that can be useful but my client was unaware.  So, today’s article takes a look at several features you might find helpful.

First, whether or not you have admin privileges, it is worthwhile looking at the preferences. As a user, the My Preferences lets you customize QuickBooks in a way that you prefer.  As the admin, you can turn features off/on in the Company Preferences for the company file. Most the items on this list come from the Preferences. (Edit>Preferences).  Personally, I recommend going through the list any time you have a new version installed.  You never know what might have slipped in there that you could use! Commonly Overlooked Features In Quickbooks Pt 1

Don’t save the desktop – For some unknown reason, the default setting in QuickBooks is Save the Desktop. That means, every window, report you had open, has to open and/or run before you can begin working in QuickBooks.  It can also impact other users if you are in a network environment.  So, either select Don’t save the desktop, or if you have a few that you need to see as soon as you open QuickBooks, then leave those windows open, and then select.


  • While we’re in the desktop preferences, if you like a top toolbar, like I do, I find color makes the icons easier to see, then check Switch to colored icons.
  • And if you work in multiple company files, I highly recommend making each company a different color so you know which one you’re in. Would be disheartening to realize you entered transactions in the wrong company file!


Top Toolbar –Since I mentioned icons on the top instead of the side, click on View and you can switch from the left icon bar to the top if you’d like.

Open Windows –If you’re like me and keep lots of windows open, I like the Open Window features. Then I can quickly move between screens by locating the desired one in the Open Window box that appears on the left.


Reminders –  Did you know you can choose the timing for your reminders?





Report Preferences – While there are many changes you can make to a report when you customize, some you might appreciate are in the company reporting preferences.


And here’s a look at the default formatting options(Note: 2018 now has a quick cash accrual toggle right on the report page)

Batch Enter –If you find that you are downloading transactions into a spreadsheet, this might be useful.  One aspect it has that you can’t do in the bank feeds is use Items, which is very important for job costing.  This feature is available in the accountant’s edition of Premier and all editions of Enterprise.

Did you find features you will begin using?  I’d love to hear which ones you found most useful!

If you need help with any of these or would like me to take a closer look at how you use QuickBooks, contact the office.

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Filter To Find What You Want

QuickBooks makes it easy to find information with their Filters.  A filter simply limits what you see (i.e. filters out what you don’t want) so you see only what you want to see.   Both the Find Feature and reports in QuickBooks use Filters. So once you know how to use filters in one place, you can use them elsewhere.

Perhaps you’re having problems reconciling the bank account and you’re off by a $500. Click on Edit>Find

Don’t let the word Advanced scare you off!  Click on Amount, then click the circle by = and type 500 in the box.  Notice on the right, QuickBooks is listing your current Filters/choices.  (Posting status refers to whether or not it affects your financial statements.  Estimates, Sales/work orders, Purchase Order are “non-posting”, i.e. they don’t affect your P & L or your Balance Sheet or other financial reports.)  QuickBooks very quickly finds all the transactions that meet your criteria.  It’s great when you see only a couple transactions.  But sometimes you’ll get a long list and will want to narrow it down some.

Perhaps you know that it’s from last month or you know it’s a payment and not an invoice. So if you scroll through the list of filters, you’ll see Date (in image below and Transaction Type (in image on the right).





So in this example, I selected last month for Date and Bill Payment for Transaction Type.  Now my list is much shorter.  (Don’t panic – this example lists only 1 transaction but shows “twice” because there are 2 sides to every accounting transaction).

Other filters I frequently use in the Find feature are Account, Class and Entered/Modified.   Perhaps I entered or modified a transaction today, but dated it the beginning of the month or some other date. This way I don’t need to know the actual date of the transaction – simply the date I created it!

You might find there are times when you want more than one filter in a given category.  Using the bill payment above, perhaps I want to see bills paid by check or credit card.  By clicking Multiple, I can choose more than one.

I’ve used the Find feature to create reports, and if you go to modify a report, notice you’ll have access to the same set of filters!   So maybe I want to see a list of bills that I clicked to pay but have not printed the checks yet.   Here’s what QuickBooks found. Notice you can click on Report or Export on the right.

So now that you’ve seen Filters, here are the filters to some common reports you run:

Profit & Loss

A/R Aging Summary

Now it’s your turn!  What do you want to find? Want a little more guidance? Here’s a great video on Filtering to Find What You Want .

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Better Business Decisions by Customizing QuickBooks’ Reports

Whether you’re a contractor, wholesaler, non-profit or some other service professional, reports are crucial to monitoring your cash flow and profitability.  When I work with clients, I often recommend changes in their setup and changes in their data entry.  While part of this is to help them save time, the other reason is to help them get the reports they need in QuickBooks instead of using data from a variety of places and then using Excel or a calculator to get their final numbers.  Once changes are made, then there are reports in QuickBooks that are just a click or two away. And, these reports can help them make better estimates and business decisions going forward.

Often, to get the information you need, you need to customize an existing QuickBooks report.  One of the aspects I like about QuickBooks is the ease of customizing reports. (And having dabbled in Microsoft Access years ago, I’m amazed at how easy QuickBooks makes this!)  You’ll find that the more you customize, the more tricks you will pick up helping you get all sorts of reports you didn’t know you could get!

Types of Reports:

There are two basic types of reports –

  1. Summary (i.e. has totals like your Profit & Loss, A/R aging summary) and
  2. Transaction detail (which shows the detail behind the totals such as P & L Detail).

If you’re new to customizing, don’t worry if you think you’re not ready to differentiate.  Just realize that will explain some of the differences in which display options you’ll have.

When you run a report, then click on Customize Report, you’ll see 4 tabs

  • Display options let you specify the columns you want to appear in your report. Note that you can add subcolumns and change your sorting. If you’ve never done much more than change your date range, take the time to change the columns across the top, try some of the subcolumns, and be bold and even check out the Advanced button (trust me – it’s not too advanced for you)! Other options here include how your data should be totaled. Some reports let you choose between cash and accrual basis.

If you’re in QuickBooks 2018, it’s right on the report page (which personally I really like)

The Modify Report screen capture for the P & L above is from a “summary” report while the one below is from a detail report.  Notice you have more columns from which to choose in a detail report.

  • Filters let you be more selective as to which data you see (i.e. they filter for only what you want to see).  This is the tool that will provide the most insight. You can pick & choose classes, types of transactions, names, types, Items, etc.  If you’ve never really taken a look at the different filters, I encourage you to do so; you’ll be amazed at what all is in that list.  If you use the “multiple” feature, you can then choose more than one (e.g. class as shown below).

Another way to begin to be more comfortable in this screen is to take a look at some of the reports that come with QuickBooks and see how they’ve used filters. The more you try some of the filters, the more comfort you’ll have in this screen and you can then start to really tweak reports.

  • Header/Footer – What I like best about this section is that I can name my report so that when it prints, it’s not using the name QuickBooks gave it – which can be very helpful if you’ve customized your report much.  And even more so it’s a report you need to give someone or memorize.
  • Fonts & Numbers This section is probably used more often by my accounting friends, but if you’ve never looked at this screen, do take a quick look to see if you want to make any changes, like how negative numbers appear or whether or not you see cents.

Memorize!  If this is a report you will want to run again, then memorize it so you don’t have to recreate what you did and you can get your information faster next time! One tip on memorizing, as much as possible, use the dates from the drop-down date menu; this way, the report will “roll forward” with you. When you key in the actual dates and memorize, QuickBooks thinks you always want to see those same exact dates, and unless you do, you’ll always have to redo the dates.


Comment? Do you ever find you need to explain (or ask) about particular numbers on a report?  Try the Comment button (new a couple years ago) right next to the Customize Button.

After you click on comment, you’ll see little boxes appear next to each one.

Simply click on the box next to the number you want to comment on and a box will appear for you to type your comment.  Notice that is has a number next to it so if you have multiple comments, there’s a way to reference.

With your custom reports (and other QuickBooks reports), you can spot cash flow problems, see which jobs are the most profitable, compare your estimates to actual costs, and maintain the right inventory levels. You’ll also be able to identify your best customers and your most sought-after products and services. Customizing your reports and analyzing your data will make the answers to your questions about your company’s future direction much clearer. Let us know if you need help customizing or creating your reports. Want a walkthrough? Here’s a great video on Making Better Business Decision by Customizing QuickBooks Reports.

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You may be in the middle of your mad rush or just extremely busy right now. Either way, you have jobs in progress or already completed so it’s worth knowing just what job costing data you can pull from QuickBooks. Here are a few job cost reports to help you monitor your progress and profitability – perhaps some you didn’t know existed!

    • Estimated vs Actual – I’m a big proponent of some version of your estimate being in QuickBooks because the rest of your data is there. Why not be able to look at your reporting in one place?  Found in the Jobs, Time & Mileage reports
    • Expenses Not Assigned to Jobs – When I was doing the books for a landscaper, bills would come in and I wouldn’t know which jobs they were for so I had to wait to ask someone. But what if I forgot to ask?? This report helps ensure that all costs that are to be costed to a job, are. (Not all expenses are job related, like rent and advertising.) The last thing you want is to find out after you invoiced your customer that some billable costs were missed. This report is found in the contractor reports in Premier and Enterprise.

  • Billed/Unbilled Once the work is done, you want to get those invoices out the door! Here are a few reports to help you review.
    • By Person and Job (found in the contractor reports in Premier and Enterprise) –This helps you monitor your billable labor costs.
  • Unbilled Costs (found in Jobs, Time & Mileage reports) helps you track your unbilled costs – important for Time & Material invoicing!
  • Job Progress Invoices vs Estimates (found in Jobs, Time & Mileage reports)- When you do contract pricing, this lets you see if you are up to date for invoicing on the project.
  • Open Work Orders (Work Orders are Sales Orders in QuickBooks, found in the Sales reports in Premier and Enterprise) – Just as you can invoice off an Estimate, you can invoice off a work order. Open Work Orders means you haven’t invoiced your customer yet – or at least not entirely.
  • Cost to Complete – for your larger projects, this report helps you see if you will still come in at or under your original costs. YOU decide how far you are on the project – 10%, 50%, etc.  Then based on your estimate, your actual costs to date and the percentages you enter for the different tasks, this report calculates your cost to complete the job and whether you are over or under your estimate. This is a report where negatives numbers can be a good thing!  (FYI – lately there have been issues with this report.  If this report does not work for you, let us know and please click on Help>Send Feedback Online>Bug Report. Intuit is aware this report has had problems but the more people they hear from, the higher it moves up their “to-fix” list.)
  • Committed Costs – An Enterprise report found in Jobs, Time and Mileage, this will pull in your open Purchase orders, Item receipts and unpaid wages (if you use Basic, Enhanced or Assisted Payroll), which are costs that don’t show in the Cost to Complete report. Very helpful for monitoring large projects.
  • Work in Progress (WIP) – Many of you with larger projects track WIP. For some, you can’t invoice or run reports until you have these numbers.  If you are in QuickBooks Pro or Premier, you’ll have to run a couple reports, export to Excel to calculate (or maybe you already have some elaborate spreadsheet). Depending on the number of job, this can be a time-consuming project.  But with Enterprise, it just takes a few seconds! Found in Jobs, Time and Mileage reports.  This might even be worth bumping up to Enterprise. (We can help you price so you can decide – just let us know.)
  • Job Profitability Detail – I prefer this to the P & L by Job because I like to keep the Chart of Accounts simple and have the detail in the Items list, which is the basis for this report. This is probably not an under-used report, but an easy one to point out a common issue.

If you see No Item followed by a number (especially if it’s thousands or tens of thousands), then you have a data entry error and possibly a setup error as well.

If you have to rely on spreadsheets, it could be because you either don’t know about some of these reports or something in your setup isn’t right and therefore the reports aren’t providing useful information.  Our Common Costly Mistakes report covers the main mistakes people make in setup.  Let us know if you don’t have that report.

So what report(s) have you missed out on that would be beneficial?

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Many of you create estimates for jobs with the idea of achieving a certain profit.  Often you have a percentage in mind.

When reviewing the job cost reports in QuickBooks and turning on the %, it’s important to know just what percentage you see in the report.  Where this really jumps out is comparing the P & L for a particular job to the Job Profitability Detail report. You’ve probably noticed these percentages are not the same.  I must admit to sometimes being a little dense but one day the light bulb went on and I realized just what each was measuring.

If you use the estimate in QuickBooks (even if it was created in an add-on product and then imported into QuickBooks), you can turn on the markup column.  This simply means you will mark your costs up by a certain dollar amount or percentage with the goal of achieving a certain profit, often thought of in percentages (profit margin). In other words, you mark your costs up to achieve a certain profit margin.

Some add-on products focus on the profit margin but when you look at the estimate in QuickBooks, there’s no column for profit margin – only profit.

When you run the P & L for a particular job and turn on percentages, you will see your profit margin percent.  However, when you the Job Profitability Detail report and turn on percentages, that is the markup percentage, NOT your profit margin.  Both are useful in helping you estimate future projects.


So next time you run your job cost reports and click on Customize to add the %, take the time to compare the differences between the two reports. I think you’ll find that both reports will guide you in your future estimates.  If you have any questions, please be sure to reach out!

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