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QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop – QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise – Pricing & Job Cost Features

QuickBooks Online? Desktop QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise Solutions?

Pricing & Job Cost Features

Which Version of QuickBooks Is Right For You?

I see many opinions and questions from QuickBooks users in the forums about which version of QuickBooks their small or mid-sized companies should choose…

After spending 25+ years working with job costing for construction, manufacturing, and service industries, I’d like to share my research, experience, thoughts, and comparisons on the topic.

As Certified Advanced ProAdvisors (including the QBO Certification), we believe that most construction companies are still better served by using one of the desktop versions of QuickBooks (i.e., Pro, Contractor Premier, or Contractor Enterprise). As stated below, if “anytime-anywhere-cloud-access” is important to you, hosting services make this possible with any of the desktop versions.

**Throughout this article, I am discussing the Windows PC – NOT MAC – versions.

QuickBooks Online vs Desktop QuickBooks Pro: A Humorous & Insightful Email…

A builder contacted me some months ago about which QuickBooks software program he should use – QuickBooks Online? Or one of the desktop versions – QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, or Enterprise?

After our conversation, I didn’t hear back from him, so, being busy with other clients, I assumed he’d made a decision and was doing OK. Then, a few months later, I received the following email:


The picture below will explain how I feel right now. I spoke to you last December. I wanted help with setting up a new accounting system for our building company.

You wanted me to use QB Desktop, and I thought I “knew better” because I had been a big 4 CPA, so I decided to use QBO [QuickBooks Online].

You advised against it.

I also thought I should put all my WIP [initially] into inventory, and you advised against it… I did listen to your advice on that subject.

But now, I find that QBO is really not nearly as robust for our building business. We do about 12 to 18 very high-end luxury homes in the [name of city] area.

If I did the right amount of groveling, could you help me get set up on Quickbooks Premier or another version you would suggest for a building business?

We build both custom homes and spec homes.

Most Sincerely,
Rick [Last name]
[Company Name & Phone Number]

Here’s the picture he attached to his email:

QuickBooks Online-QuickBooks Premier Cute picture from RW

I just had to smile! Rick’s an experienced builder, and I really appreciated his humorous email!

Shortly after receiving it, we were able to coordinate a time to talk in more depth. As a result, he had his company get on board with our QuickBooks job cost video training: Construction Accounting & Management Program (CAMP).

Why QuickBooks Is Moving To The Cloud

Setting the Stage… 
“The Cloud! The Cloud! Everything (and Everyone) is Going to the Cloud!” 

Low monthly paymentsCloud-based software, like QuickBooks Online, is simply a computer program that is housed on a server not located in our home or business, and we access and use it through the Internet. Why the big migration to “the cloud”? Here are some of the main reasons:

  1. Compared to developing multiple versions to meet the needs of users’ varied operating systems, it’s a less complicated process for Intuit, the creator of QuickBooks to develop and distribute a single version that they can control and update from a single location.
  2. Cost savings: Fewer versions of QuickBooks® to create, test, compile, distribute, and support result in lower cost – and allows Intuit to focus on creating new and (hopefully) better products.
  3. Monthly payment options feel more “friendly” to consumers than larger, one-time purchases.
  4. Centralized QuickBooks® software gives Intuit greater control over user licensing and makes pirating more difficult.

The overall benefits to Intuit for cloud-based programs? Lower costs, better control, and potentially higher, more-predictable income. What’s not to like?

It just makes good business sense for software companies like Intuit to move in that direction, doesn’t it?

QuickBooks Online accounting software in the cloudBut, Is QuickBooks Online Best For You?

What’s better for Intuit MAY, in certain circumstances, be beneficial for us as consumers. However, when it comes to software, it also pays to perform your own due diligence by determining EXACTLY what you need before you make a decision to adopt a new “shiny object.”

One of my favorite sayings is, “Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t always mean that you SHOULD.”

How Do I Choose Between QuickBooks Online & Desktop QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise Versions?

My “Setting the Stage” comments, above, were designed to get you thinking more deeply about your current accounting software choices.

Sadly, I’ve lately seen too many companies who, unfortunately, haven’t taken the time to investigate, research, and think through the various aspects of what they need when it comes to their accounting software. As a result, they’ve made mistakes that cost them too much time, too much money and, at least temporarily, left them without the information that they desperately need to intelligently run their businesses.

Which will be better for you at this time? QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Pro, Premier or Enterprise cloud or desktop versions? It’s a big decision!

To keep in mind:

  • QuickBooks Online or QuickBooks Desktop?Many people do not realize that even though it carries the QuickBooks name and logo, QuickBooks Online software is totally different than the more familiar desktop favorites. QuickBooks Online versions are web/cloud-based and will require a learning curve as you encounter software that has an entirely different “look and feel” than what you (and many other traditionally-trained QuickBooks users) are already familiar with and comfortable with.
  • You may also need to acquire additional apps in order to perform functions not currently built into QuickBooks Online. Each plug-in will cost more and require you to learn how to use it.
    • If you’re working with a QBO Accountant, you may need to contact them to add the plug-ins.
    • NOTE: QBO Support does not support QBO plugins. If the plugin stops communicating properly with your company file you could find yourself in a pinch if your QuickBooks Online Accountant or the QBO plugin company does not provide support for the plug-in.
  • You should remember that QuickBooks Online is a “subscription service.” That means continual payments if you want to continue to be able to access your financial data and details. If you fail to pay, you could lose your current and historical accounting records.
    • Background info: If you fail to pay, your QBO account becomes “suspended” (inactive) for 12 months. During that time, your financial and tax reports are available (but not your tax forms). At the end of 12 months, your company subscription is subject to being purged.
  • QuickBooks Online might be exactly the right choice for certain types of businesses. But it may very well NOT (yet) be the best choice for others. So, please, don’t blindly choose to convert your QuickBooks desktop accounting software into QuickBooks Online until you thoroughly examine the pros and cons of each environment.

“Accounting conversions should not be undertaken lightly.
Too much is at stake!”

Job Cost Accounting and Reporting?

Are you in construction, manufacturing, or a service business? If so, you’ll likely need job cost accounting and a wide variety of internal management reports that are not available in QuickBooks Online. “QBO”, according to Intuit tech support, is NOT designed to track or deliver the detailed job costing reports that most construction, manufacturing, and service companies need.

  • The Projects feature in QBO (Plus and Advanced subscriptions only) DOES allow for reports based on individual jobs. To access Projects, you will need to turn on the Projects Feature in QBO Settings. The reports are found only inside the Projects tab. (To get a report showing multiple projects, you would need to use a report and filter by sub-customers.)

Our Recommendation: QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise If You Need Job Cost Accounting

Even if you’re a small company, if you have employees and want to see detailed Estimated Cost vs. Actual Cost reports, or would like to access various other useful job-related reporting features, you’ll need to use one of the desktop or cloud (hosted) versions of QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise. (See the Q&A’s shown later in this article – below the FAQ picture.)

Therefore, from a job cost reporting standpoint, at this time, I ALWAYS recommend QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, or Enterprise desktop versions to my construction, manufacturing, and service-industry clients. (Well, actually, for any company with detailed job costing needs…).

When a company’s owner or bookkeeper comes to me and inquires about QuickBooks job costing help, if they are already in the QuickBooks Online version and are serious about job costing, we convert them to one of the comprehensive desktop versions. (FYI: If you wish to avoid data loss, switching from an online to a desktop version – or vice versa – needs to be handled carefully.)

Frequently Asked Questions About QuickBooks Online vs QuickBooks Pro, Premiere, and Enterprise

Are the Desktop Versions of QuickBooks “Going Away”?

Q. “I keep hearing a rumor that QuickBooks desktop versions (Pro, Premier, and Enterprise) are ‘going away’. Is that true?”

Is QuickBooks Pro or Premier Desktop Going Away?A. As a multi-certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor, I attend many national conferences where top-level Intuit executives respond to our inquiries. (As accountants who build a large portion of our businesses around Intuit products, we ProAdvisors are also extremely interested in knowing the future of desktop products!)

While explaining that none of us has a crystal ball to see the future, Intuit executives, for the last several years, have patiently explained that, although there is a heavy emphasis on continuing development for QuickBooks Online, the desktop versions will likely be with us for some time into the future.

They have explained that they are very aware that many companies need the functionality currently available ONLY in the desktop versions. They admit that desktop versions may “someday” be replaced by cloud-based solutions, but, at this time – and for the foreseeable future – they are continuing their commitment to add features and improvements to the desktop versions.

I’d also like to refer you to this article (Intuit Responds to Hard Questions from ProAdvisors) from The Woodard Report. Here’s a quote (shown in green text below) from the article:

Answers given both in the meeting Q&A pane and by Intuit executives emphasized that Intuit has no plans to retire QuickBooks Desktop, with Ted Callahan stating, “We have a strategy to continue supporting desktop until every last customer chooses to go to QuickBooks Online…. What we realize is that day of everybody leaving Desktop and going to QuickBooks Online likely won’t ever come. So, Desktop will continue to exist right alongside QBO.”

Callahan added that Intuit is continuing to invest in QB Desktop and will improve the product in line with the needs of QB Desktop users, focusing on security and data backup.

If You’re Thinking About QuickBooks Online –
…Which Version Would You Likely Need to Select?

BUT,” you say, “I’ve decided that I want to really look at QuickBooks Online’s features, so I can decide if it would be a good fit for me.”

Let’s start by looking at the comparison of product features between various QuickBooks Online versions. (I’ve created a comparison chart, below.)

Because nearly all of the companies I work with would need (at least!) one or more of the features found ONLY in the QuickBooks Online Plus version, I’ve highlighted the Plus version. So, when contrasting features and cost, you’ll probably want to focus primarily on the QuickBooks Online Plus product

QuickBooks Online Versions-710x587

Can You Get QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise Desktop “In the Cloud”?

Yes, You Can Get It!

“But,” you say, “Even if QuickBooks Online doesn’t have all of the features I need, it’s absolutely essential that I and/or other members of our staff are able to access our accounting records ‘anytime, anywhere’.”

You’re not alone. Many QuickBooks users are thinking of moving to QuickBooks Online primarily because they want the convenience and accessibility promised by the Online versions.

But, what if you could obtain all of the job costing benefits built into the desktop versions of QuickBooks Pro and Premier AND still get that “anytime, anywhere” access? Is that possible?

YES! By utilizing QuickBooks Pro or QuickBooks Premier desktop (subscription/cloud-hosted) versions, you receive the benefits of both worlds… Here’s how it works:

  • Desktop-Pro-Premier-Enterprise-300x300Your QuickBooks Pro or QuickBooks Premier software and company files reside on a cloud-based server that you “rent” and access via the Internet.
  • After you log in to your “virtual desktop”, you’ll see your QuickBooks software and can log into any of your company files. (Remember: QuickBooks Pro and Premier allow you to have as many company files as you wish at no additional cost.)
  • Your company files are backed up nightly (interim backups), and you can save additional backups as desired.
  • You can also email, and use/save Excel and Word files just as you would if the software and files were stored in your own office.

As a result, you get “cloud” access, AND you get to stay with the familiarity of your desktop software and continue to access the superior job costing and reporting capabilities included with the desktop versions. (Pricing? Yes, it can be higher than desktop versions…)

ALTERNATIVELY (and for a much lower cost) If you need to access your regular (non-subscription) QuickBooks Pro or Premier file, you can simply log into your desktop computer from your home computer, laptop, or iPad using one of the inexpensive and popular computer-to-computer log-in programs such as GoToMyPC.

Voila! You’ve used the Internet to create your own “cloud-based software.”

Frequently Asked Questions About Job Costing

What Are the Specific Differences Between QuickBooks Online Plus and QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier, or QuickBooks Enterprise Desktop Versions?

Based on my years of helping clients set up job costing systems using the desktop versions, QBO has always appeared to be very limited when it comes to job costing. This was confirmed as I studied for, and passed the two most recent QuickBooks Online Certification exams. However, some QuickBooks ProAdvisors have gone on record to say that you can get job costing in the online versions

Was I missing something? Was I just clinging to my “tried-and-true” methods and resisting change?

To put my mind at ease, I performed additional research by delving back into Intuit resources and study documents.

Then, in cases where I still wasn’t entirely positive of the resolution, I took it a step further and went directly to the QuickBooks Online tech support staff to get their answers. Here are the questions that I wanted to resolve – and what I learned – presented in a Q&A format. I hope you find these to be helpful…

FAQs-QuickBooks Online QuickBooks Pro PremierQuickBooks Online Structure for Customers and Jobs

  • Q. Can we set up Customers as “headers” and individual Jobs as under them in QuickBooks Online Plus – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. Yes, you can set up individual jobs (called “sub-customers” in QuickBooks Online Plus) under a single Customer. (In desktop versions, they are referred to as “Jobs” under Customers.)
    If you are using the QBO “Projects” feature, when you create a Project, you will be required to assign the Project to a Customer – and it automatically becomes a ”sub-customer.”

QuickBooks Online Payroll, Payroll Taxes, & Employee Benefit or Labor Burden Costs

  • Q. Is there a way to assign Payroll Taxes or Employee Labor Burden costs to Customers (jobs) or job tasks in QuickBooks Online Plus or Advanced – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. No. Not unless you’re willing to manually compute payroll taxes, and labor burden and assign those costs to Customers (jobs) using various complex manual entries. That’s because the Intuit Payroll systems available to any of the QuickBooks Online versions only allow assignment of gross pay to Projects.

QuickBooks Online Materials, Contractor, Other Non-Payroll Costs

  • Q. Can we assign labor and materials costs to Customers (jobs) in QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. Yes, in QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced, you can assign materials, subcontractors, and other non-payroll costs to a Customer.

QuickBooks Online Change Orders

  • Q. Can we enter Change Orders into QuickBooks Online?

  • A. Not in the way that most people want to track Change Orders. I.e., Although you could add Change Order income to your Quote, because you cannot create Estimated Costs in QuickBooks Online, you also cannot add additional costs related to Change Orders. In QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Enterprise, you can add extra lines to track additional Change Order estimated costs and income. 

QuickBooks Online Profit & Loss by Job Reports – Format

  • Q. What do job cost reports look like in QuickBooks Online Plus? Can we see gross profit percentages?

  • A. The reports do not display employee payroll, payroll tax, or labor burden costso, if you have direct labor or supervisory employees, the job cost reports will NOT be correct. But if you only have materials and subcontractor costs, you can run a “Profit & Loss by Customer” report. It will show “Sub-Customers” that will then create a subtotal for the “Parent” Customer. Then you can add Percent of Income calculations to display Gross Profit Percentages.

QuickBooks Online Profit & Loss by Job Reports – Accuracy

  • Q. Can we see Profit & Loss by Job (account-based reports) in QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced – like in the desktop versions?

  • A. If you track time and assign payroll cost to a Project, you will be able to see the gross payroll in a Profit & Loss by Project report in QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced.

    That cost will not be shown based on “cost codes” (job phase) – only in total for that project.

    If you have employee-related costs above and beyond gross payroll that should be assigned to jobs (e.g. payroll taxes, worker’s comp, health insurance, and other ‘burden’ costs), those costs would be missing. In that case, the reports would not be accurate.

QuickBooks Online Assigning Owner Costs to Jobs

  • Q. Can we assign a standard rate for owner time to jobs in QuickBooks Online like we can in QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise?

  • A. Yes. It’s a manual entry accomplished using a $0 check. (It’s a process different than an easier method we use in the desktop versions).

QuickBooks Online Customer Types

  • Q. Does QuickBooks Online Plus have Customer Types? (An easy one-time entry to the Customer or Job that we frequently use for profitability analysis in the desktop versions.)

  • A. Customer Types are not available in QuickBooks Online.

    You COULD use classes in Plus (up to 40) or Advanced (Unlimited), but every single transaction would need to be assigned to a Class – whereas the Customer Type assignment available in the desktop version is a one-time entry.

QuickBooks Online Tracking Job Cost Specifics Using Items

  • Q. What’s the nature of Items in QuickBooks Online Plus? Can they be set up with headers and sub-Items for job-specific detail – as in the desktop versions?

  • A. Yes, with the correct options selected, you can create non-payroll Items in QuickBooks Online Plus to mirror QuickBooks desktop capabilities. (I.e., you can set up headers and sub-Items to sub-total within header groups, and link Items into either cost or income accounts depending upon the transaction type.)

QuickBooks Online Estimated vs. Actual Cost Variance Reports

  • Q. Can we see reports that show estimated costs vs. actual costs for individual Customers (jobs) – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. No. Although you can estimate INCOME in QuickBooks Online Plus, you cannot create COST estimates. As a result, no Estimated vs. Actual Cost reports are available.

QuickBooks Online Converting Purchase Orders into Actual Customer (Job) Costs

  • Q. When we set up a Purchase Order for a vendor, can we easily convert it to a Bill – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. Yes. Purchase Orders in QuickBooks Online Plus include the Vendor Name, the Customer Name, and Items (or services) being ordered from the vendor. The Purchase Order can then be converted into a Bill, Check, or Credit Card Charge. 

QuickBooks Online Open Purchase Orders by Job Reports

  • Q. Can we see open Purchase Orders (subtotaled) by Job in QuickBooks Online Plus – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. No. You can obtain similar, but not all, information. What you can get will be limited, and will require extra steps:
    • First, you will create a report that shows open PO’s.
    • Then you will need to add a column to the report that shows customer names.
    • You can then sort the report to see the listing by Customer.
    • Limitations:
      You will NOT be able to see totals by Customer, nor can you filter to see PO’s for only one customer in QuickBooks Online Plus.

To learn more about how to use Purchase Orders to add speed, accuracy and control to your internal procedures and reporting in QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise desktop versions, take a look at our QuickBooks job cost video training: Construction Accounting & Management Program (CAMP)

QuickBooks Online Progress Billings

  • Q. Can we perform Progress Billing in QuickBooks Online Plus or Advanced – like we can in the desktop versions?

  • A. Yes. Progress billing is now available in QuickBooks Online Plus and Advanced if you enable that feature in your Account and Settings > Sales.

QuickBooks Online Group Items (Invoicing Application)

  • Q. Can we create “Group Service Items” in QuickBooks Online?

  • A. No.

What About QuickBooks Online Data File Downloads and Backups?

  • Q. Can I get downloads and backups of my QuickBooks Online files?

  • A. QBO Advanced (only) now allows for a ‘static’ backup to be created in the cloud, or to a local device. These back-ups can then be duplicated into another subscription or uploaded into a blank Advanced subscription. For non-Advanced QBO subscriptions, for a fairly extensive and eye-opening answer, please review this article written by one of the QuickBooks Community’s most respected technical writers (William “Murph” Murphy) titled: QBO Backups App Compare: A Worst-case Scenario Revisited

Does QBO Have Any Known “Bugs?”

QuickBooks Online User Permissions and “Visibility” of Financial Information

  • QuickBooks Online User Permissions-300x271Q. When it comes to “who can see what” in our financial records in QuickBooks Online how specific are user permissions?

  • A. User permissions in QuickBooks Online (non-Advanced) are far less specific than QuickBooks Pro or Premier desktop versions. For instance, if you give an employee access to perform payroll activities, they will also be able to access all of your other company financial reports. To prevent them from seeing this information, you would need to purchase and utilize another third-party payroll app for their use.

    However, QuickBooks Online Advanced now allows for Custom Roles. This gives an extensive (but not unlimited) level of online user customizations.

    > To see a full list of QuickBooks Online Plus User Permissions and Choices, click here.
    > To see Permissions for Advanced, click here.

    NOTE: If user-specific permissions are extremely important to you, you’ll want to consider QuickBooks Enterprise desktop.


In Summary:  QuickBooks Online?  Or QuickBooks Pro, Premier or Enterprise Desktop?

Desktop features for job costing are far superior to the online versions, but you should do the research in order to make the decision that’s right for YOUR company. Your final decision should not be based solely on cost, an external plug-in’s features, or perceptions of convenience.

If you’re in manufacturing, construction, or an industry that provides services that require job costing information, it’s highly likely that you should get one of the desktop versions.

If you’re not in one of these industries, QuickBooks Online may be a good solution for you.

Of course, we’re here if you find that you need some assistance as you work your way through the maze. Contact us at 734-544-7620 for help choosing the right version of QuickBooks for your company.

Having the right information at hand when you need it can have a huge impact on your company’s success or failure! So you’ll want to choose the option that provides the optimal decision-making information you need to meet your objectives…

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