Archive for the ‘Tribune’ Category

Manage Your Money

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Camping in Manjedal, Western Australia

I’ve received a few reader emails recently, asking me what I think of different online and offline accounting packages, and which one I use.

Well, I’m an old-fashioned type, so I use an offline accounting package. This is primarily because there’s more than one business entity I’m involved with that uses the same software.

However, if you’re starting out, or still deciding on the right accounting package for you, here are some thoughts.

There are plenty of accounting system choices available to you, both traditional offline packages and web-based.

Features and costs vary widely among the options on the market. Any accounting package you consider should allow you to track items such as:

accounts receivable
accounts payable
general ledger
billing
stock or inventory
purchase orders
sales orders

Most systems allow you to send an invoice or receipt as a PDF by email, as well as the old-fashioned “print out and mail” method. Some of the newer versions also feature handy functions, such as time sheets (so you can input your hours directly into the system), mail merge (to enable a basic mailing list), and automated debt collections or reminders.

Speak to other colleagues to find out what they use, and search for reviews and tutorials for these packages online before making any commitment.

It’s also very important to ask your bookkeeper or accountant for their advice prior to making a commitment; they’ll probably be very useful also when it comes time to set up your initial accounts.

In my book, The Principles of Successful Freelancing, I cover some of the popular packages available. Here are six that I look at:

Traditional Software

Quicken
Quicken have at least five versions of their product, ranging from the ultra-light starter edition, to the premier edition, which integrates with banks, tracks investments, and more.

QuickBooks
With 15 different suites, QuickBooks have everything from home finance tracking through to Retail, Accountant, and Payroll editions.

MYOB
With their four products — FirstEdge through to Premier — MYOB have payroll, time billing, inventory, and even a simple contact database included.

Web-based Software

FreshBooks
FreshBooks is both an invoicing and time tracking system, with widgets available for desktop integration, sophisticated reports, and integration with the big-name payment gateways.

Less Accounting
The individuals at Less Accounting make a point of saying that, instead of “some bloated accounting package,” they offer simple small business accounting software.

Saasu
The most mature of the web-based finance offerings, Saasu rolls out new features regularly and has tight integration with social networks, search engines, and CRM systems. They have all the regular software features as well.

Whichever system you end up choosing, it’s vital that you become familiar with how it works. That way, you’re able to gain a quick snapshot about your business profitability and current standing at any time.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 442 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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Keeping Life and Work Apart

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Cable Beach, Western Australia

Many of us recently had a short holiday to celebrate Easter. Regardless of how you feel about the religious significance, it’s important to embrace a well-deserved break once in a while.

I’ve written before about managing the tricky balance between work and life. It seems, however, from what I’ve been reading on Twitter and hearing from people, there were still plenty who worked over the Easter weekend.

Sure — some of us may have had strict deadlines to meet; still, it seems that many others enjoy playing the martyr, working the weekend because we’re possibly just badly organized.

A trick I learned a while ago is to have an occasional “time audit.” You may already use a sophisticated time-tracking system for your professional output; however, this is more an audit of how you spend your day every day. The idea here is to write up a table, with the columns denoting the next seven days, and the rows representing various broadly defined activities.

For an example, you may use activity headings such as:

sleeping
travel to/from office
client meetings
project work
family dinner
web surfing

What I tend to do is write the activity headings in once I’ve actually done them — and remember to keep them broad.

At the end of a week-long trial (and remember, maintain your habits as you usually would spend them), add the rows up, and see where those 168 hours of your life went. Typically, most people still manage to shock themselves — with plenty thinking they work far less than they actually do.

Now, look at your activities, and see which ones really are less important to you, and see how you can change your weeks to incorporate more of the high payoff activities. These would include high profit work, exercise, family time, AND sleeping (very much a high priority).

Make this audit a habit to undertake every six or so months, and you’ll soon tame the time beast!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 442 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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Grow your own Sales

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Cable Beach, Broome

Many people I’ve spoken to recently have repeated the same words: new enquiries are down, because people are wary of starting new projects in the current climate. This is an excellent opportunity for you to increase your focus on sales, and there’s no better customer to sell to than an existing one.

Ask any successful salesperson and she’ll tell you — it’s cheaper and often easier to sell to an existing consumer, than to sell to a new one.

Think about it. With a new prospect, you need to build a relationship, gain their trust, explain the merits of your product or service, prove to them you have the skills and reputation, and that they stand to benefit from what you can offer. Then, you still need to procure that sale — a lengthy process indeed.

With an existing client, you’ve already achieved the above (I hope!). You can skip most of that, and jump straight to offering solutions to their requirements.

“But we only built their web site a year ago,” I hear you say. Start by looking at your current offerings, and see if there’s a service or product that you’ve developed since you last spoke to them that they may be interested in.

Then, consider what else they may need.

Perhaps they’ve created dozens of pages of bad content in the content management system (CMS) you installed for them. You could approach them and suggest you edit their copy. Maybe they’ve lost their way with search engine optimization, and you need to help tune their web site back to perfection.

Does the client have an email newsletter? You can design and develop a system for them to be able to send regular newsletters out. Maybe they started small on the Web, but now could be a time to speak to them about adding ecommerce or installing a CMS, so they can take care of maintenance themselves.

These may often seem small compared to your standard projects, however a handful of these jobs can easily fill gaps in your schedule, and help you touch base with a rejuvenated customer.

Let me know how you go. I’d be interested to see what products or services you create as additional extras.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 438 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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