January 7, 2009
by Colin Copeland

minibooks: Small Business Bookkeeping

Caktus released minibooks (open-sourced under the AGPL) as a bookkeeping package for small tech agencies. Boasting a double-entry accounting system, customer relationship management (CRM) and transaction reconciliation, minibooks provides a clean, multiuser web-based interface to manage simple accounting needs for small businesses.

minibooks was originally developed out of our frustration with single-user, desktop-oriented accounting packages like QuickBooks. We wanted a team-accessible system, so everyone on our VPN could access the CRM and manage bookkeeping tasks remotely. So Caktus developed a lightweight web app using Django and PostgreSQL to handle our basic needs. We use it everyday at Caktus, so we're continually improving it and adding features (most recently recurring transactions and flags to monitor delivered and undelivered exchanges) to make things easier.

I'd like to spend some time highlighting a few of the many great features found in minibooks:

ExchangeType Model

Invoices, Receipts, Orders, Purchases, etc., are represented by a single, generalized Exchange model in minibooks. At a very low level, they all do the same thing (record an exchange between two entities), but vary slightly in their characteristics. So, they all reside in the same database table and are distinguished by their type. Exchanges have a foreign key relationship to the ExchangeType model.

ExchangeTypes provide a powerful interface to streamline repetitive tasks and customize interface elements based sets of characteristics. For example, if most purchases are made through your credit card, you can create a Purchase ExchangeType to credit your Credit Card Account by default while still allowing you to debit each item on the receipt to a separate account (e.g., Food Expenses, Office Supplies, etc.). Invoices can also use this system with accounts receivable (accrual accounting). Simply set up an Invoice ExchangeType with Accounts Receivable as the common account and separate income credit accounts (e.g. Consulting, Hosting, etc) will be available for each item on the invoice.

Quick Search

minibooks' CRM stores all of the contacts, businesses and projects associated with Caktus. This way everything is consolidated in one spot ---from a client phone number to a project invoice. Being able to jump quickly is a necessity, so we created an AJAX auto-complete search bar that's displayed at the top of every page. Need to enter a receipt from the client meeting at the coffee shop or quickly find a phone number? Just type the first few letters and minibooks will search project, business and customer names and emails and return a list of matches instantly. Then just arrow down and hit return or click the one you're looking for. Better yet, the Quick Search field is accessible through the "f" access key, so hit Control+Alt+F on a Mac or Shift+Alt+F on Linux (and Windows?) and you'll never have to leave the keyboard!

Transaction Reconciliation

Balancing your checkbook can be a slow and tedious process, so we tried to ease the process with your business accounts. When a monthly credit card statement arrives, jump over to the Accounts tab and go to the credit card ledger. Here you'll find all credits (purchases) and debits (payments) ordered by date alongside a running total. Once you OK the amount on the credit card statement, check the checkbox next to that transaction and, using AJAX, minibooks will update the current reconciled balance! Now you can make sure your bookkeeping records always match your bank and credit card statements with ease.

Recurring Exchanges

Caktus provides web and email hosting services for our clients, so we wanted an easy way to automatically generate invoices for recurring services. The exchange creation form has the option to repeat items based on a set interval (days, weeks, months and years). Just setup cron to access /ledger/cron/ every night and all of your recurring exchanges will be automatically generated. An itemized email of generated invoices and other exchanges will be sent to you as well.

LaTeX Exchange and Report Generation

minibooks uses LaTeX to generate PDFs for exchanges (Invoices, Receipts, Member Distributions, etc.) and project reports. LaTeX files fit nicely into the Django template system, so you can use django variables, tags and filters right in your .tex document. minibooks includes the template we use here at Caktus by default for you to use, but the possibilities are endless, so feel free to create your own and style your invoices anyway you like! Further, the CRM automatically attaches the PDFs when sending exchanges to clients through minibooks.

Learn More

These are just some of the features found in minibooks. The source code and installation instructions can be found on the minibooks project page. An online demo (login:demo@minibooksdemo.com, pass:demo) is available for testing as well. minibooks is far from feature complete, so feel free to hack away at it and add features as you see fit!

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