Thursday, 30 April 2009

FreeAgent; brief review

I had a meeting with Ed Molyneux of FreeAgent yesterday and, amongst other things, he gave me a tour of the software as if I'd been from an accounting practice which was about to sign up as a partner.

I was seriously impressed with the look and feel of the software. It's slick, smooth and with plenty of plain English explanations for end users.

That said, end users do need to be reasonably tech savvy. For starters, there's no function to key in the closing bank balance. Users have to import a bank statement. Great if you do online banking and are comfortable with exporting a statement from your bank's website. And these websites aren't as user-friendly as FreeAgent's. But I guess that anyone who's thinking of doing their accounts online will be OK with that.

For accountants who might be interested in signing up as FreeAgent partners, as BFCA (Blevins Franks) have already done, two features which really did generate a "Wow!" for me were:
  • When a payment to a director/shareholder is entered, if the net wages journal has already been posted and there are some expenses outstanding, FreeAgent automatically divides the payment up between net wages and expenses and puts any balance as a dividend. And it produces dividend vouchers too.
  • If a business changes from invoice accounting for VAT to cash accounting for VAT, or vice versa, FreeAgent automatically works out the adjustment for closing debtors and creditors. I've spent hours wrestling with Sage to work that out...
The software is not perfect yet. I'd like to see it made impossible to post single entry journals, for example.

But I'd certainly add it to my list of software that I would recommend for small businesses, and in particular freelancers. Unlike other small business accounting software products, FreeAgent is very strongly focused towards that market. And having such a targeted focus means it's very, very strong in that area.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Sage Tricks for Accountants videos now available

For all accountants out there who've ever struggled to find your way round a set of client records on Sage 50 or Sage Instant...

Help is at hand.

I'm delighted to introduce to you a tutorial pack called "Sage Tricks for Accountants".

This is now available to buy at a special introductory price of £24.50 from my website here.

The pack contains 8 short videos as well as a set of .pdf tutorial notes for anyone who prefers the written word to watching a video.

For more information, and to get your copy, click here.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Who to pay first?

Xero have published a 2009 Success and Survival Guide written by their customers and blog readers.

It's definitely worth a read. There's a lot of very sound advice there.

A comment from Sue Baker in the Spend Wisely section of the guide winked at me - because I realised that subconsciously I already do this.

Sue advises:
Prioritize your payments:

  1. Individuals/one-man bands. Don’t mess them around. Their livelihoods are at stake.
  2. Critical suppliers. You need these people.
  3. Local suppliers. Look after your local firms.
  4. National/international firms.
Does 4. also include HM Revenue??

VAT rate change: big enough to be a nuisance, not big enough to make a difference

When Alistair Darling put the VAT rate down to 15% on 1st December, with very little notice, my initial thought was that all it would do was cause a great deal of annoyance.

At the time I was working for More and it meant several all-nighters for the IT team to get the rate into the software and running smoothly.

Wednesday's Budget has confirmed that the rate will go back up again to 17.5% on 1st January 2010.

Am I the only one who thinks this change up and back again was a complete waste of time?

The cut is far too small to make any kind of difference to spending or pricing. But it's plenty big enough to cause a nuisance, like having to re-write price lists, edit a website, edit sales literature, etc.

Yesterday, I was preparing a set of accounts, and in order to work out a creditor correctly, I had to take 1 month at 17.5% + 13 months at 15% plus 10 months at 17.5%... what a faff.

Come on Mr Darling, have a bit of common sense!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Gold star for Depositit, black mark for Camtasia

Yesterday evening, I sat down to finish off a big video I'd been working on. 15 minutes long, with not only screenshots but clips of moving pictures (not something I usually deal with), and lots of Camtasia intricacies like title clips.

I decided to put in some transitions between the clips. That's the page turn / fade / roll over effects.

When I put them in, for reasons known only to Camtasia version 6, the audio went absolutely mad. It cut bits off and stuck some extra at the beginning so that it sounded like there were several Ms all speaking at once. And it stuck some extra on the end after the video had finished.

And I'd pressed Save before I realised that had happened. There was no unpicking it. Even removing the transitions didn't cure the problem.


But then at 10.45 last night (which is very late for me - I'm a lark not an owl), I had a brainwave.

My computer is set up to run a daily online backup with Depositit.

And it had already run before I started working on the video.

So this morning, I went into Depositit and, for the first time, tried restoring a file from the backup.

It worked!! The old file restored with no problems and I was able to go back to a video with smooth problem-free audio.

The moral of this story is - if you haven't got a backup system in place, GET ONE NOW!! It saved my bacon!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Do I have to be an Entrepreneur?

Back from my Easter break and ready to start posting again.

Dennis Howlett
has posted a quote from my ex-employer, Bob Harper at More, about accountants and marketing. Bob is truly passionate about marketing and he and Dennis both agree that often accountants don't do enough to market themselves in the right way.

But where I take issue with both of them is that Bob steers his customers to setting up a business in which they don't do the work, but hire others to do it.

That's the philosophy outlined in Michael Gerber's book, "The E-Myth Revisited". Gerber describes the three elements of everyone's personality - the Technician (who does the work), the Manager (who organises the work) and the Entrepreneur (who builds a business).

I have a one-woman business that builds videos and provides sub-contract accounting services. I actually do all of that. And I have no intention of taking on anyone else to do it. For one thing, employing people these days is a mare. For another, one thing that my paying customers love about my videos is my voice. So how would I replicate that if I didn't make the videos myself?

Besides which, I like doing accounts and making videos!

I also believe (at the risk of sounding like a stuck-up do-gooder) that it's not good for the human soul not to have work to do.

I've read the writing of my fellow Quakers, and am reminded of John Woolman's stand against slavery on the basis that it was not only bad for the slaves, but for the slave-owners, because owning slaves meant they didn't have to work, and nor did their children, and they became lazy and didn't work to their full potential.

So I'm going to keep doing the work myself. I know that means Bob and Dennis probably think I'm a Technician. But if I'm a Technician, I'm a happy one.

And Dennis - watch what you say about Chartered Accountants - we're not all stuffed shirts, you know!!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

New video: VLOOKUP in Excel 2007

Excel 2007 is full of formulae. I've only scratched the surface of them. But there are some that can really help make life easier for us accountants.

How many times have you compared one list of info to another and had to spend ages ticking items off on both lists?

If the lists are in Excel, you can combine them easily by using a vlookup formula.

Here's a video that shows how to do a simple vlookup.

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Excel wizard has a new spellbook

When it comes to Excel accounting wizardry, Glen Feechan is Merlin.

Back when I was in full-time employment, he helped me build a management accounting spreadsheet for my boss that produced neat, clean management accounts with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Now he's launching a new service called "Spreadsheets by E-mail".

For a fixed price, he will design and create a spreadsheet to your requirements.

If you're looking for a magic spreadsheet, but feel an inner "Ouch!" at the thought of building it yourself - I'd recommend giving this service a try.

On the road with an old computer

Phew. I am one exhausted screencaster.

I only heard on Monday that there was a place for me on ScotlandIS's SaaS event, taking place in Edinburgh that Thursday afternoon (yesterday).

Quick change of plans for the week to include a trip to Edinburgh, including making sure that Matt didn't need our one and only car.

But then I remembered I'd already booked to attend a Skype conference call demo of Pearl Software at 11am on the Thursday morning.

No problem, I thought. I'll take my laptop and Skype phone, find a hotel near Edinburgh with WiFi access and view the demo there. Then I'll go to the event in the afternoon.

So yesterday morning, I dropped Matt off at work and off I went. Gorgeous drive over the hills to Edinburgh in the sun. I love living in the North.

I got to the hotel, bought a WiFi voucher, set up my laptop in the hotel reception - and could I connect to the Web? Could I heck. When I tried to view the available wireless networks, the computer kept telling me, "An unexpected error has occurred." Reboot x 3. Still no luck. And it didn't tell me what the error was or how to fix it. Oh no. Just that there was one.

It was now 10.50 and I was panicking - and shouting at the computer!

At the reception desk was standing one of the hotel's systems team, whose badge read "David".

Hearing my yells, he came over and tried to get my laptop working, with no more luck than I'd had. So he not only lent me his laptop to attend the demo, but also downloaded Skype on it so I could take the conference call. What a kind man. David, if you're reading this, thanks again, and there's a box of chocs on its way to you.

The demo went really well. I was extremely impressed by the look and feel of Pearl. More on that soon.

Quick nip to the hotel bar for lunch (they burnt my toasted sandwich - black mark).

Then over to the SaaS event. I really enjoyed that (even though it was held in a building with no car parking and I ended up parking in worryingly close proximity to a pile of earth). Lots of friendly people, and some great presenters, including Roan from FreeAgent.

What perplexed some of the people I spoke to was that I'd come to the event when I'm not running a SaaS business myself. My reason was - because several of my customers sell SaaS. I wanted to get a more thorough understanding of their market. And it worked.

5.15 - on my way home in a glorious red sunset over the hills - steadily getting tireder. I stopped in Biggar for a delicious meal at The Elphinstone Hotel and a chat with Dennis Howlett on my mobile. Calling a number in Spain gobbled up my credit and we got cut off. The trials of pay-as-you-go mobiles.

By the time I got home (8.45) I was very sleepy. Almost certainly too sleepy to drive safely. But I got back with both me and the car in one piece.

Lessons learnt from yesterday:
  • Invest in either a new laptop or a Palm Treo - sharpish.
  • Do not phone abroad with only £10 credit on the mobile.
  • Going somewhere that would mean driving > 2 hours each way in one day = go by train!