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Bookkeeping Tip – Getting the Information You Need

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organizing your dataGetting all the information that you need – from the people that you need it from; and then getting it all organized and into your accounting software – is one of the biggest challenges found in any office.

Even if you have the latest computer hardware, one of the new versions of QuickBooks (or whatever accounting program that you use), you still might not have all the data that you need.

Why, you ask, because to get the most functionality from your computer and software, you need to have an organized flow of information from the field, to the office, and finally, to you and your computer system.  You may need to study – and perhaps change, the way you do things.

For example, let’s say that you want to accurately record the number of hours that your companies employees are working on each job — that’s a great goal — but what if you are only getting half of the information that you need each week from the field?  You end up only half accurate job costing reports.

Office and paperwork flow should follow a strict process, whether you work alone or have office help, if you don’t have that strict process, you will find yourself spending many hours each week (day) shuffling papers.  The best way to get a process going is to get everyone involved — and in some cases, you need to make it sound like you are doing them a favor; instead of doing yourself one – although, this is very hard to do if it’s only you!

The best way to establish a new routine or procedure is to get EVERYONE involved.  In our opinion – and I’ve found it to be true time and time again – the more informed you keep the people who are actually doing the work, the more effective they will be.  For example:

Job cost information needs to make a complete circle so the people creating it get feedback on how and what they are doing.  Show your project managers a job cost report each week, chances are, if they understand HOW you are using the data that they give you, they will more likely make sure that you get it.  Another good report to run on a weekly basis is the Job Estimate vs. Actual Detail, it shows the job – broken out by line item 0 with actual cost, estimated costs, and the variance.  These numbers will help to evaluate where the job is running over or under the estimated costs, while you can still do something about it, in most cases.

Another big challenge in a construction office is keeping the job files current.  An efficient and effective filing system is mandatory.  Organizing your files like QuickBooks organizes it’s lists makes the most sense.

Customer Job Files:

If you have a large contract with your customer — and many people need access to the information – a 3-ring binder and dividers are very useful.  If your jobs are smaller, a classification folder will work in the same manner as the binder.  Use the dividers to organize correspondence, original project contract, copies of billings, copies of certified payroll reports, copies of change orders, or extra work orders.  This allows for easy maintenance as new billing, certified payroll reports, and work orders, are generated.

Vendor Files:

It isn’t necessary to give each vendor their own file – create folders or use box-bottom folders for vendors that you do large amounts of business with, regular folders will suffice for others, and a Misc A-L and Misc. M-Z are great for those vendors that you use only occasionally.

Employee & Payroll Information:

It is recommended that certain employee information be kept in a locked file drawer, thus ensuring that confidential information regarding each employee is not accessible to anyone who walks into the office.  This drawer can be set up with each employee having a folder of their own, and should include the following information:

  • a completed employment application and resume
  • a completed Form I-9 with a photocopy of their driver’s license, social security card, and perhaps even their insurance card
  • completed Federal and State W-4 forms
  • relevant Union information
  • copies of wage garnishments, child support orders, payroll deduction authorizations
  • payroll wage information

Weekly payroll information should be handled a little differently; but still filed securely.  Setup up folders for weekly payroll information if you have a large number of employees, (monthly folders if you only have a few employees).  Each week, when you have completed your payroll, take the weekly time cards (or daily ones) that you received from the field, a generated Payroll Summary Report, and the paycheck voucher, for your records – staple all of these items together and file them in a folder.  Also, file here a copy of any certified payroll reports, if you are required to generate them.

Keeping Paperwork Current:

Getting the paperwork from the field to the office is the important thing, and many times this may involve teaching your key field people, what, when, how, and where; you want them to get this information to you.  Don’t get discouraged – this may take awhile, and you may need to get creative, but make it easy for them.

Provide them with forms and teach them how to fill them out with the information that you need.  Provide them with a place in the office with an in-basket to put completed paperwork and folders where they can pick up additional blank forms.

You may even want to go so far as to purchase inexpensive fax machines for your crew supervisors to have at their home, if you require them to submit daily time sheets, reimburse them for phone charges if its a long distance call.  This will alleviate the need to make a trip to the office on a daily basis, and you will have the information that you need to stay on top of things.

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About Your Host:

Nancy Smyth, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor

Nancy Smyth, Sunburst Software Solutions, Inc.
QuickBooks Construction & Payroll Expert


I've been using and supporting QuickBooks products since the early 1990's. I've worked with thousands of contractors, assisting them with QuickBooks setup, Certified Payroll Reporting requirements, AIA Billing and Weighted-Average Overtime.


QuickBooks is a powerful product, but learning how to use it in your construction business can be difficult. I hope you find resources available here to be helpful.

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