How to Build Your Customer Database in QuickBooks Online

They’re probably the most important elements of QuickBooks Online: your customer records. Make sure that you build thorough, accurate ones.

If you’ve ever done manual accounting, what would you have grabbed if you’d had five minutes to vacate your office suddenly? Chances are good that your customer list would have been a top priority. Lose it, and staying in business would be a challenge.

QuickBooks Online, of course, keeps that critical information safely backed up on Intuit servers 24/7/365.

If you haven’t started using QuickBooks Online yet, or you’ve only been entering minimal information about each customer on the fly, you should take some time and learn just how flexible and comprehensive the service’s customer records are. The more thorough and current you keep them, the better you’ll be at discovering how you can better serve your customers.

Manual or Import?

In a previous column, we looked at the different elements that make up QuickBooks Online’s Customer Center, and we briefly referenced the customer records. While we stressed the importance of setting up item records in last month’s column, it’s equally important to get your customers into QuickBooks Online. Once you have at least some of these two types of records completed, you can start invoicing in earnest. So here’s how to get started.

If you have a clean database of your customers in CSV, XLS or XLSX format, you should be able to import the entire list at once. Your file needs to be in perfect condition to move into QuickBooks Online correctly, and you need to understand something about field mapping. We can help you with this process, as it can save you a lot of time entering records manually.

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Figure 1: Importing your customer records requires a pristine file and some knowledge of field mapping. We can help you with both.

If you don’t have an existing file on your hard drive containing customer information, you’ll have to enter each manually. If you have a large list, you may want to do this as you go along, but it’s a good idea to take the time to enter as much information as you possibly can.

To get started, click the Customers tab, and then the New Customer button in the pane below that. Most of the Customer Information window is fairly self-explanatory. You enter as much of the customer’s contact information as you possibly can, including all phone numbers and website.

You may be puzzled by the sub-customer question. You can use this designation to indicate that there’s a hierarchical relationship of some kind. You could set up a primary organization and subsidiary groups, for example, or multiple locations for a customer. Bills can go to either the primary or sub-customer.

You could even stretch this function to track jobs or projects. Let us know if you’d like to do that but can’t figure it out.

Documenting the Details

The four tabs in the lower left corner of the Customer Information window open smaller windows where you can store additional information about your customers. The Address box, of course, is where the mailing address will go. You can enter random Notes by clicking on that tab, and the Resale # goes in the Tax Info box (if the customer is taxable, of course).

The Payment & Billing box should be filled out completely. This is where you’ll specify the customer’s preferred payment and invoice delivery methods, as well as their payment Terms.

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Figure 2: You’ll save time and unnecessary data entry by filling out the Payment Details box in your customer records.

When you’ve filled out everything you can, click Save. Your record will now appear in your customer list.

Unless you create your inventory items by hand or offer only services, you’re going to have to also enter information about the vendors you purchase products from. We’ll cover that in a future column since QuickBooks Online handles this process a bit differently. But once you have some of your item and customer records set up, you’ll start feeling more confident about using the service.

About Brenda J. McGivern, CPA

Brenda McGivern started her own certified public accounting and management consulting firm in October 2001. The full service CPA firm provides tax and accounting solutions to meet the needs of today's small business and individual. Brenda McGivern has become a trusted advisor and valuable resource her clients rely on for timely, accurate assistance when they need it. Before starting the firm, she worked as an accountant for three years at a local firm and prior to that five years at a large international CPA firm in Boston. She has performed the following tax services: federal, state and local tax planning, international tax planning, estate and succession planning, mergers and acquisitions, capital retention and IRS representation. She has also coordinated assurance engagements, such as financial statement audits, reviews and compilations from the planning phase through the reporting phase. She has prepared and reviewed regulatory filings for numerous regulatory agencies including the Security and Exchange Commission. Prior to these positions she was selected from over 2,000 candidates into an eight-person intensive financial management program at an international technology company. The program consisted of graduate level classroom study and two six-month rotational assignments in financial operations. She graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. McGivern also holds a license in Massachusetts as a Certified Public Accountant and is a member of the American Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants. She resides in Stoughton, Massachusetts with her husband Brian, and their sons Sean, Ryan and Conor and their dog, Davis.
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