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Archive for November, 2012

Hands Up Who Likes Business Planning?

November 20th, 2012

business-planning

Do you find you don’t have time to do any business planning?  Are you too busy getting on with the actual business side of things, the things that get the income coming in? Or perhaps more honestly, you think that “planning” or “strategy” is:-

a) boring as heck?
b) a mystery?
c) irrelevant?

So What Is Business Planning?

START-UP PLANNING

Well there’s the start-up business plan which is your tool for setting out your initial goals and how you will achieve them. It takes a detailed look at your proposed business idea and how likely it is to succeed. It includes financial forecasts covering what money you see coming in and going out of your business. It usually covers a 3-5 year period. This video explains more about it – https://www.gov.uk/write-business-plan

ONGOING MONITORING & PLANNING

You’d be forgiven for thinking that “business planning” was only something to do when starting up rather than running a business. If you google “business planning” for example, a high proportion of articles will be about start-ups and creating you first  business plan.
But once you’re in business, it pays to refer back regularly to your original plan to see whether things are going according to plan, financially and in relation to your other goals.

If you aware that things are not going to plan, you can do what is necessary to address any issues before they become critical. Also unexpected changes can be positive developments. You may find a market for your audience that you hadn’t been aware of before. If you take the time to look at how these changes fit in with your overall goals, it will help you keep focussed.
In addition to regular monitoring of your cashflow, you might once a year, review your goals & make plans in the areas of finance, sales, marketing, HR, for example.

Setting measurable objectives for the year ahead makes it easier to monitor your performance. So rather than vague goals such as “increase sales” or “raise company profile” set specific and realistic targets such as % increase in sales, 3 articles in local paper, x number of facebook fans, reduce overdraft by x amount.

I’ve talked to several people who run small businesses over the years and I’m always amazed that planning is often so far down on their agenda or sometimes not on their radar at all!

If you applied that logic elsewhere it would seem a bit odd. For example, you don’t step out of your front door in the morning without an idea of where it is you’re going.

A while back I was working as Communications Officer for an organisation and had been asked to produce a Communications Strategy. I was talking to my boss one day about the importance of strategy and said “if you don’t have a strategy, you’re in the dark, a bit like trying to pack for a holiday without knowing where you’re going “. He said “Oh! I’d happily go with an empty suitcase!”.
That taught me a valuable lesson. To remember that not everyone has the same outlook on life, the same values or personality. Luckily for me, I like planning, I’m more of thinker than do-er, so it’s not a chore for me to spend time analysing and committing ideas to paper. But if you’re a do-er I can quite understand that you may well prefer to watch paint dry than sit down and write business forecasts.

If for whatever reason, you find yourself saying “no” to the task of business planning, at least be aware of how vulnerable that makes your business.  Lack of planning is often cited as one of the reasons for small business failure.  There’s plenty of guidance on planning out there. Here are a few sources of information to start you off:

http://fsb.cobwebinfo.com/report/item344/a-guide-to-business-planning/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/small-business-network/2012/jul/06/business-plan-writing-tips
http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/need_help/enterprise_programme/help_with_your_business_plan.aspx

For further business tips, check out our blog post on simple accounting tips.

Windows 8 Tablets – Two Tablets for Different Users?

November 18th, 2012

Tablet computers like the iPad are extremely convenient for mobile use, e.g. sending emails or browsing the internet. However they aren’t so handy for performing the kinds of task you might use a PC for, e.g. using Word or Excel. Personally, I love the iPad for browsing the internet but for data entry, e.g. using an application like Word or Excel, or even simple actions like copying and pasting text between web pages I much prefer using a PC.

Recently, Microsoft have released Windows 8 and at the same time a new Windows 8 tablet – the Microsoft Surface RT. At first glance the Microsoft RT seems like an ideal mix – a handy, touch-sensitive tablet like the iPad that will also run your familiar applications like Word, Excel (or even our own SliQTools applications :)). However, bear in mind that there is more than one form of the new tablet and you should make sure you are buying the correct version.

microsoft-surface

Microsoft Surface RT – an iPad-like device

The current release of the Surface is the Microsoft Surface RT.

The first thing to know is that the current Microsoft Surface – the Microsoft Surface RT – will NOT run the normal desktop applications you can run on Windows 7. The Surface RT is much more like an iPad than a laptop computer running Windows 7 and the Surface RT will only run the new tablet-like Windows Apps, purchased from the new Microsoft Windows Store. The new Windows 8 Apps are more like iPad apps than the normal programs we’ve all been running on Windows 7.

The exception to the “does not run old application rule” for the Surface RT is that it does comes preloaded with a special version of Microsoft Office 2013 specifically designed for the RT so you can work with your older Word and Excel documents on the new RT.

Microsoft Surface Pro – Laptop PC + iPad-like device in one

In the new year, Microsoft will release the Microsoft Surface Pro. This is the killer machine in my view. It will work like an iPad, with a touch-sensitive screen, run the new Windows 8 Apps from the Microsoft Windows store, but also run ALL your old programs that you were using on Windows 7, Vista, XP etc. The Surface Pro will cost more than an iPad but will double up as a laptop with a proper keyboard and mouse pad for effective data entry.

One clear area where the new Surface machines win out on over the iPad or Android tablets is in connectivity. The Surface machines come with USB ports,  microSD card slot, headphone, micro-HDMI, keyboard dock and charging ports as well as an in-built camera.

Conclusion

Information on the new Microsoft Surface and Windows 8 releases can be confusing. Make sure you know what you want to do with the Surface and that you are choosing the right version when you buy. Personally, I’m waiting for the Surface Pro to be released as the ability to browse the internet conveniently as I can with my iPad but also run my normal desktop apps means I’ll get the best of both worlds in terms of portability and flexibility.

For more Windows 8 topics, see http://www.sliqtools.co.uk/blog/windows-help/windows-8-how-to-set-live-mail-as-the-default-email-client/ and http://www.sliqtools.co.uk/blog/general/how-to-turn-off-a-windows-8-pc/.

Windows 8 – How to set Live Mail as the Default Email Client

November 8th, 2012

Some time ago I wrote a blog post about how to set Windows Live Mail as the default email client on Windows 7. Windows Live Mail is still present on Windows 8 but the procedure for setting it as the default program for sending mail via programs like SliQ Invoicing is different as Windows 8 has a new start menu. Here’s how to set Live Mail as the default:

Note: If you follow the instructions below and can’t find Windows Live Mail in the list of programs, read this blog post on how to download and install Windows Live Mail as part of Microsoft’s free Windows Essentials.

1. If you are in desktop mode in Windows 8, press the Windows key on your keyboard (which will switch Windows 8 to show the Start menu).

2. Then just start typing the word “default programs”. The Start menu will then list programs matching the text you are typing and should show the Default Programs app on the top left of the screen as follows:

search-results-default-programs-windows-8

3. Click on the Default Programs App.

Windows will then switch to desktop mode and show the Set Default Programs window.

set-windows-live-mail-default-windows-8

4. Make sure Windows Live Mail is selected in the list on the left and click the Set this program as default button (highlighted in the picture above).

Windows Live Mail should now be your default email program, so if you click on a file in Windows Explorer and right-click then email it, Windows Live Mail should be launched automatically.

For more email troubleshooting advice with SliQ Invoicing Plus, see http://www.sliqtools.co.uk/troubleshooting-email-problems.aspx

How to turn off a Windows 8 PC

November 1st, 2012

With Windows 7 or Vista, turning off a PC is simply a matter of clicking the Windows button on the left of the task bar and clicking the Shutdown button. Having just installed Windows 8, it took me a while to work out how to turn the PC off as there is no longer a Windows button and the Start menu is completely different. Here’s how to do it:

1. Bring up the Windows 8 Charms buttons (a strip of buttons arranged down the right of the screen) by moving your mouse cursor the very top right of the screen.

2. Click the Settings charm button.

3. In the Settings, click the Power button:

windows8turnpcoff

Problems running .Net 2.0 programs on Windows 8

November 1st, 2012

Unlike Windows 7,  a Windows 8 install does not always include .Net 3.X and .Net 2.X versions. I’ve upgraded a Windows 7 PC which already had the older versions of the .Net frameworks installed and the frameworks were preserved in Windows 8 but on a fresh install to a PC only .Net 4.5 was included.

Since .Net 2.0 is not always present on Windows 8, this makes it difficult to know whether older programs will run successfully. It turns out that support for .Net 2.0 and 3.5 is an optional part of Windows 8. Quite why they’re optional I don’t know. However, if you are trying to run an older program on Windows 8 and as soon as you try to run it, Windows says “XXX has stopped working”, the first thing I’d recommend checking is whether .Net 2.0 and 3.5 are included.

With earlier versions of Windows, you’d have to manually download and install the frameworks but Windows 8 includes a neat way of adding features like the .Net framework. For those unfamiliar with Windows 8 (which included me), finding the features dialog took some searching. Here’s how to find the dialog and turn on support for the older .Net 2.0 and .Net 3.5 frameworks:

1. Show the Windows 8 charms (a set of buttons down the right hand edge of the screen), by moving your mouse cursor into the very top right corner of the screen as shown in the following picture:

windows8charmsmousemovement

I must say this way of bringing up the charms didn’t feel very intuitive, especially as I had to move the mouse right to the very top of the screen rather than just to the right where the actual charms buttons appear.

2. Press the Search charm button to bring up the Search panel. Then click on the Settings button and type in Windows Features to the search box:

windows8search

Windows will then show the Settings items matching “windows Features” on the left of the screen.

3. Click on the Turn Windows Features On and Off button:

windows8turnwindowsfeaturesonandoff

Windows will then show the Windows Features dialog.

4. In the Windows Features dialog, make sure that the .Net Framework 3.5 (includes .Net 2.0 and 3.0) option is checked:

Windows8WindowsFeaturesDialog

5. Then click OK.

Windows 8 will then install the required files. At the end of the install, a reboot may be required. After the reboot, older programs needing .Net 2.0 or 3.0 etc. should run OK.