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Six steps to QuickBooks: Managing dairy finances

Rebecca Lampman for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 February 2016

“When it comes to money, ignorance is not bliss. What you don’t know can hurt you.”

Sandra S. Simmons, from the book Unleash Your Cash Flow Mojo: The Business Owner’s Guide to Predicting, Planning and Controlling Your Company’s Cash Flow

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Financial management is a vital but often overlooked task of the dairy farm operation, and one that is often done by women on the farm. Most dairy operations today utilize QuickBooks software to manage everything from paying bills and accepting payments to performing tax duties and payroll.

Outsourcing this job can cost your farm $20,000 to $50,000 a year depending on the size of your operation and the scope of tasks you ask an accounting firm to take over, so if you are willing to take on this sometimes daunting task, you can really make a difference to the bottom line of your farm operation.

Additionally, managing the finances on your farm helps to keep you in tune to the financial climate of your business, which serves a very important role to a farm’s success.

If management of the books has recently fallen into your lap as one of the many duties you must perform, or if you are new to these duties because of farm succession and you are unfamiliar with QuickBooks software, the following is a six-step guide that will help you get rolling and on top of the farm finances.Lampman computer

1. Utilize a mentor. If you are taking over the finances and there is already an existing QuickBooks program for your farm, sit down with your mentor/predecessor and have them orient you to the program.

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Look at the home page and notice that many of the main functions you will have to perform are accessed right from this page. You can enter and pay bills, access all of your accounts and see their balances, record deposits, write and print cheques, reconcile accounts and perform payroll right from this screen.

2. Take a QuickBooks training course. When I first began working within QuickBooks 10 years ago for our farm, I didn’t have a mentor, so I took a two-day-long training program with certified QuickBooks trainers.

The cost is reasonable, and it is well worth the time it takes to make the transition to farm financial manager smooth. Additionally, this is a great place to locate QuickBooks experts who can answer any future questions or solve major financial management dilemmas.

3. Practice. Have your mentor sit to the side while you perform some basic functions. I would suggest starting with entering and paying some bills. Keep your mentor close at hand while performing tasks within QuickBooks that are new to you for the first several months.

It is especially important that you understand how to properly do payroll and manage payroll and tax liabilities, as a misstep in this area can cause you lots of headaches and require help from a QuickBooks expert.

4. Create to-do lists. Go to the company tab at the top of the home screen and scroll down to “To Do Lists.” Right-click on the screen that appears and you can create step-by-step instructions to walk yourself through any tasks you feel unsure about.

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This is also a great place to serve as a reminder of tasks that need to be done monthly, quarterly or yearly. You can also create notes to remind you to perform regular backups and keep track of employee information like birthdays or Christmas bonus amounts.

5. Explore. Don’t be afraid to look around within the program. QuickBooks is pretty forgiving, and if you mistakenly perform a function, you can almost always delete or void it without causing any damage. Look at the tabs on the top to access additional functions.

Here is where you can access and edit all of your vendor and employee information, find useful reports for payroll and tax time, perform banking functions, access your chart of accounts and much more.

If you really want to learn the program without feeling like you have to be afraid of messing up your existing farm’s financial records, click on the “File” tab at the top of the home page and scroll down to “Create New Company.”

Have some fun and create a dream business complete with income, bills and vendors, loans, bank accounts and employees. QuickBooks will walk you right through a new company setup, and this is a great way to build the confidence and skills needed to manage your farm’s finances.

6. Use the “Help” tab. QuickBooks does a great job of helping out someone new to the software in a number of ways. It is easy to forget that the “Help” tab at the top provides access to all different kinds of assistance with the software.

From this tab, you can access the QuickBooks Learning Center, which provides links to a fairly comprehensive number of tutorial videos introducing everything from basic navigation of the program to more complicated tasks like payroll.

Once you are rolling and the finances are safely in your hands, make sure you keep up on all of the tasks required regularly. Don’t let several weeks’ worth of bills stack up before you enter and pay them.

Regular repetition of tasks is the best way to make you feel like you are operating the business rather than feeling that the business is operating you. Keep a clean, well-organized office space in your home set aside specifically for the important job you have taken on, and be proud. The job you perform is worthwhile, and your farm couldn’t exist without your efforts.  PD

Rebecca Lampman and her husband, Bruce, own and operate Lampman Dairy in Bruneau, Idaho, with their three children and several wonderful employees. Rebecca contributes to the farm by raising calves, performing odd tasks around the farm and managing the farm’s finances with QuickBooks. 

PHOTO: Computer. Photo provided by Thinkstock.

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