A LOT OF programs designed to help manage businesses today require a Ph.D. in computer science, a master's degree in accounting, or both.
Unfortunately, most small businessmen have neither. They don't have the time to master a program that arrives on sixteen disks with an 800-page instruction manual when all they want to do is type out a few invoices, see how much they've collected and figure out who owes them what.
So I was intrigued when a simple little program called MyInvoices came in the door.
The $24.95 program promises to generate invoices, aging reports, sales summaries and lots of other goodies. Better yet, if you believe the propagaganda on the cover, it takes "less than 5 minutes to learn."
The five minutes was a little optimistic. But if you've got half an hour, you can figure out it. In an hour, you'll know everything there is to know.
MyInvoices, which runs on IBM-compatible computers with 384K memory, is the latest release from MySoftware Co., a Menlo Park, Calif. firm that specializes in inexpensive programs designed to make it easy to do one specific thing.
The company's previous offerings include mailing list managers, label makers and checkbook programs. These are all relatively simple applications. But invoicing and accounts receivable management take a little more horsepower -- from the programmer and the user. For the most part, MyInvoices delivers.
MyInvoices is aimed squarely at service-related businessmen, such as consultants, photographers, lawyers, repair shop owners, architects, even accountants. It's designed to track sales or fees by customer and time period.
Like most invoice programs, it will multiply quantity by unit price to produce a total (4 widgets at $15 each equals $60). But businessmen in wholesale or retail trade who want to track sales of specific items or update inventory records won't find that capability here.
Given its limitations, MyInvoices does an admirable job. And it is easy to use. In fact, there's no printed instruction booklet. The manual, such as it is, resides on the disk. You can call it up on screen while you're running the program. Or you can print it out -- all eight pages. Suprisingly, that's enough.
When you run the program, you'll see a blank invoice on your screen, with a menu bar at the top activated by the PC's function keys.
You can create invoices in two ways. The first is to set up a list of customer names and addresses. By selecting your customer from the list, you can automatically fill in the name and address blanks on the invoice.
Alternatively, you can fill in the invoice and tell the program to add the name and address to the customer list. This is a convenient feature.
Each invoice has space for up to 16 line items. Each item can be flagged as taxable or non-taxable. You can fill in the tax rate, or set up a master invoice that automatically fills in the tax rate and other repetitive items.
You can print the invoice on the spot, or go onto the next invoice and print the whole day's work in one batch. Invoices are automatically numbered starting with the number you type on the first invoice you create.
To get to the next invoice, just hit the PageDown key. The current invoice slides of the screen and a new one appears. Hit the PageUp key and the previous one slides down.
In fact, the screen is designed to be a sliding window on your whole list of invoices. You can display the whole list, or just unpaid invoices.
If you don't want to thumb through the invoices individually, you can display a register that shows invoice summaraies. Select the item you want from the list and the full invoice pops up.
When payments arrive, just bring the invoice to the screen and call up a payment window. Enter the amount of the payment and the invoice and account are automatically updated.
A particularly nice feature is an aging display at the bottom of the invoice screen. It show's the current customer's outstanding 30-, 60- and 90-day balances.
For a low-end package, MyInvoices produces a rich variety of sales and aging reports with different levels of detail. You can customize the reports to some extent to add subtotals for categories of your choice.
The program will print invoices on standard letterhead or on special invoice forms available from MySoftware Co. In fact, selling forms is probably the way the company makes its money on this program, and that's a caution flag. Many accounting programs support tractor-fed or laser printer forms avaialable from large office supply companies. The tractor-fed forms generally come in 7 or 11-inch sizes. But MyInvoices uses an oddball 8-inch form available only from the publisher.
The company sells 500 two-part invoices imprinted with your company's name for $79.95. This is about $15 more than mail-order office supply firms charge for similar 7-inch forms. But the price is not so important as the issue of being limited to a single supplier.