Using Integrations to Build a QuickBooks ERP System

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With over six million customers, QuickBooks is the most popular small business accounting software on the market, appealing to businesses from the solopreneur level up through enterprises with its wide range of offerings.

As a result, the software has to be flexible enough to move and grow with businesses. There’s no point in building a sticky customer only to lose them when they hit 50 employees.

Like other accounting software providers—such as Xero and Sage—QuickBooks has achieved flexibility, in part, through a strong set of integrations.

Today, we’ll look at extending QuickBooks into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) realm through the software’s marketplace offerings.

While there are plenty of free or open source ERP offerings on the market, the scope of these offerings and the prospect of leaving the familiarity of QuickBooks often proves daunting enough to keep businesses from shifting to new technology when they should.

Any growing company that avoids ERP implementation can encounter efficiency, planning, and financial problems as they try to piece together the moving parts of a growing business.

By tacking ERP functionality onto QuickBooks, you can claw some of that efficiency back without having to spend a fortune or undertake a massive technology shift.

What is ERP software, and how does it help?

Before we dive into the options and paths available to small businesses, let’s talk about ERPs.

Enterprise resource planning software is a suite of software modules that combine finance, planning, manufacturing, inventory, and HR functions (among others) in one place. By relying on a shared set of data definitions and data sets, ERPs allow complex businesses to obtain a clear view of their operations.

Imagine a retailer that, upon opening, makes and sells a toy car. The sale and the cash are recorded, and the world moves on.

Now, imagine that retailer is a multimillion-dollar global business with a manufacturing arm that counts a sale when a product is created, a warehousing operation that counts sales when products ships, and a sales division that counts sales when an order is placed. The company’s accounting department only counts sales after the check clears.

It’s difficult for such a business to answer the question, “How much are we planning to do in sales next quarter?” Typically, a business’ financial engine drives its ERP adoption (or lack thereof).

Key takeaway: ERP software combines complex cross-division operations in one place, and can create a sales-tracking system. Companies can then select one version of the truth—the financial version, for instance—that translates different sales definitions into one, allowing the creation of meaningful plans and reports.

Building an ERP system

To build an ERP system, we need a strong financial backbone and database.

Enter accounting software.

On top of your financial data core, you can layer whichever ERP modules make sense for your business. While traditional ERP systems—massive, often fantastically expensive behemoths—are usually packed to the gills with modules regardless of need, modern ERPs are modular and flexible.

If you don’t need a manufacturing module, there won’t be one. Constructing an ERP on top of a foundational accounting system recreates this modularity, but offers more providers for future additions than a classic, one-vendor ERP, all in pursuit of your business’ financial truth.

ERP-Files: The Truth is Out There

ERP-Files.

The QuickBooks connection

This bring us back to QuickBooks (though many of the extensible accounting systems on the market offer the same functionality). To build your own ERP equivalent, you have to choose between QuickBooks Online Plus and Desktop Enterprise. The former scales up and can be accessed anywhere, but lacks some inventory and manufacturing tools.

Fundera did a nice online versus enterprise rundown on the differences between the two. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Desktop Enterprise because of its strength in handling inventory. It’s also the flavor of choice for larger businesses.

QuickBooks App Store

QuickBooks puts all its apps in one place, the QuickBooks App Store. You can search, filter, and find exactly which app you need to build your ERP.

While there are some free options in the store, most of the apps are costs you’ll need to plan for. For example: Fishbowl is one of the top-rated manufacturing integrations for QuickBooks, and starts off at $10,095. Even a successful business won’t drop that kind of cash on a whim.

Before you start building, read through the app store offerings and get a feel for what’s available. QuickBooks collects reviews, and many of the available options have also been reviewed on Capterra.

Building your ERP stack

Once you’ve chosen your QuickBooks flavor, you can dive into actual ERP construction. If you aren’t sure where to begin, don’t fret.

I’ll cover two apps—HandiFox and Method:CRM—to get you well on your way to ERP success. Both apps are top ranked in their QuickBooks App Store categories—inventory and CRM, respectively.

This will give you an idea of what’s required to get an ERP system up and running on a QuickBooks backbone.

HandiFox: Integrating inventory management with QuickBooks

HandiFox comes in two versions: Start and Pro. Start contains most of the inventory management tools the brand is known for, while Pro adds in some customer and billing options. We’ll cover Start below.

HandiFox brings a better front end to QuickBooks for inventory management. While QuickBooks has some tracking capability, interacting with your data isn’t straightforward. HandiFox makes the data visually appealing and accessible in a way that supports daily inventory tasks.

Simple diagram of HandiFox in action

HandiFox in action.

Reasons to use it:

  • HandiFox lets you scan barcodes with a mobile phone. If you’re receiving, shipping, or transferring inventory, you can do it all using the HandiFox mobile interface. The data is then pushed into QuickBooks to update your financial records.
  • Remember when I cited having one version of the truth as a major ERP benefit? With an inventory management app tacked onto the front of your system, you can easily track, value, and manipulate inventory without creating multiple versions of what you have on hand. Your financial records will then mirror your inventory management system’s records, facilitating better demand forecasts and asset understanding.
  • Inventory management apps like HandiFox give you access to extra layers of inventory data. While QuickBooks can store value and count data, it’s not designed to track lot numbers or bin locations on its own. HandiFox layers this all on top of your existing data, allowing you to better track and pick inventory as it updates QuickBooks with the relevant information.
Key takeaway: The important thing here is the single version of the truth that an inventory management app gives you. Like a full-blown ERP, you have access to multiple interfaces—accounting and inventory—all resting on one data set.

Method:CRM: Integrating a CRM with QuickBooks

Method does for people what HandiFox does for things. While QuickBooks stores some customer information on which you can run a handful of reports, it’s an accounting platform, first and foremost.

With a CRM integration, you put a shiny face on QuickBooks’ customer data without creating a new and slightly different set of data like you might with a standalone CRM.

Reasons to use it:

  • Method:CRM syncs your customer information changes with QuickBooks, maintaining that single version of the truth we’re after.
  • Like HandiFox, Method also layers in new levels of data regarding contacts, purchase and interaction histories, and marketing campaign performance. It takes the underlying data that allows QuickBooks to function and puts additional data on top that will help your business thrive.
  • Method:CRM lets you add a payment portal to your website, create email marketing campaigns using your QuickBook contacts, and track potential customers without muddying your database. This means no more scrolling through pages of clients you’ve pitched. Instead, these potential customers live in Method until they become actual customers and are pushed into QuickBooks.

Key takeaway: To get the most out of your financial data, you need to connect it to your customers. To get the most out of your customers, you need to link them to their financials. A good CRM can make those links easy to understand and use.

Keeping your QuickBooks ERP running smoothly

If you can find the right integrations for your business, you can keep your company revolving around one version of the truth. No more back and forth about how much you’ve sold, what products are where, or who’s been paid how much.

The integrations you end up selecting should largely be based on the type of business you’re running. I think a CRM is a good bet for anyone, but your manufacturing, warehousing, and HR choices are all industry dependent.

If there are other QuickBooks apps that you use in your business, let everyone know in the comments below. If a build-your-own system isn’t a great fit for your business, check out Capterra’s ERP directory, which includes more than 400 software options.

Looking for Logistics software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Logistics software solutions.

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About the Author

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Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.

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