Category Archives: General

Configuring Email Read Receipt Options in Outlook

Microsoft Outlook allows you to configure options for how read receipt requests are handled. When you receive an email for which the sender has requested a read receipt you can configure Outlook to ignore the read receipt request, always automatically send a read receipt or ask you email by email whether to respond with a receipt or not.

To configure the read receipt options, choose the Options option in the Tools menu.

The, in the Outlook Options dialog, choose the Email Options … button near the top of the Preferences tab.

outlook-email-options

In the Options dialog, then press the Tracking Options … button.outlook-email-tracking-options

Finally, in the Tracking Options dialog, choose the desired option before pressing the OK button.

outlook-ask-for-read-receipt

For more Outlook tips, see Configuring the Default Email Account in Microsoft Outlook.

How to Fix a Hacked Website – Hacked by r00t3xpl0i7

Coming back to one of my WordPress blogs at the weekend I had a nasty surprise. The website was showing the page below indicating that the site had been hacked.

hackedwebsite

To try and see how this could have happened, I attempted to log into the wordpress admin account by going to the URL: www dot mydomain dot com/wp-admin/. What was really surprising was that I could not log in as admin even though the correct WordPress login page was still visible in the wp-admin subfolder.

Fortunately, I was able to log in to the cPanel for the site through the hosting company’s main website and using the File Manager in cPanel, I began to look for any suspicious files or changes.  As I was unable to log in to the WordPress site, I knew I also had to check the passwords in the WordPress MySQL database.

To correct the password, I opened up the WordPress MySQL database using PHPMyAdmin and looked at the admin password and email address in the wp_users table. I found that the email address wasn’t mine – it had been changed. I edited the email address back to mine using PHPMyAdmin and cleared the password field:

wordpress-wpusers

I then went back to the WordPress login page on my site (www dot mydomain dot com/wp-admin/) and clicked the Forgot password link and followed the instructions to set a new password. To be on the safe side I set a very strong password. Having done that I could then login OK to the WordPress control panel.

However at this point, the website was still showing the hacked page. Going back to File Manager in cPanel and looking through the PHP files, I found that the index.php of the WordPress theme (in the wp-content/themes/theme name/ folder had a very recent modified date. Opening up the index.php for viewing showed that the file had been overwritten and now contained PHP to show the hacked page. Unhacking the site was then easy – I logged into the WordPress control panel and switched themes – the site was then back fully functioning. To be on the safe side, I deleted the hacked theme in the WordPress control panel. At this point I’m assuming the hack was due to a weakness in the PHP for the WordPress theme as the password was pretty obscure. However, I’ll be monitoring the WordPress blog to see if the site goes down again.

Do I need an accountant?

We’re often asked by small businesses if they should employ an accountant. The answer often depends on the type of person you are and the type of business you’re running.

It’s a good idea to employ an accountant if your tax affairs are complex but many sole traders don’t necessarily need to go to the expense of an accountant. You can save yourself several hundred pounds per year if you’re organised and don’t mind doing a bit of research. It’s easier than you may think to get to grips with it using our practical tips.

1. Deciding Your Tax Year

If you are starting up and deciding on your tax year, it’s simpler and will save time filling out the paperwork, if you run your financial year in line with HMRC’s – 6th April to 5th April

2. Tax Return- DIY!

Tax returns can be much less daunting than they look. Particularly if your turnover is less than the £77,000 threshold, you can fill in the shorter version of the tax return.  (see http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/worksheets/sa210.pdf for more information on whether you are eligible for the shorter version)

It’s helpful to take a look at the form first so you know what kind of information you’ll need to supply. The forms can be downloaded at: https://www.gov.uk/self-assessment-forms-and-helpsheets

These guidance notes contain really helpful information for example, how to calculate your income and expenditure figures and what expenses are allowed: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/worksheets/sa103f-notes.pdf

Make sure you fill in any of the supplementary sheets that apply to you: “self employment” or “partnership” for example.

Even if you decide you want an accountant to submit your tax return, you can save on costs by preparing a draft of the form for them to check over.

3. Keeping Proper Records

Sorting out your expenses receipts

Make sure you keep all expenses receipts. If you’re organised you’ll file them straight away. If you’re like me, you’ll shove them all in a big pot to deal with later.

If your annual turnover is below £77,000 (as at 2013) you do not need to provide HMRC with a break down of the different types of expenses. You can just put a total figure on your tax return. So you can just go through the receipts and add them up. You don’t need to number them or type them up, you can just write down the total figure for the year’s expenditure.

Having said that, it can be handy to keep tabs on what you’re spending in different areas so if you are really pushed for time or if you have a large number of receipts, you could pay a book-keeper or admin assistant to do this for you.

If you use an accountant to do your tax return, you can still save money by providing them with this total figure instead of paying them to deal with your receipts.

Don’t forget to include expenses that you might not have paper receipts for such as direct debits and online purchases.

Keeping track of your sales

You should try to make a note of all your sales and other income as you go along. Invoices that you issue should be numbered.

You should include a note of other types of income and sales that may not be invoiced or go through the till such as: money paid into the business from personal funds or goods or services taken for you or your family or to pay someone in kind.

Know Where Things Are!

It really helps save time if you can keep the following together in one place, so you have it all at your fingertips when it comes to doing your year-end figures:

  • Receipts
  • Invoices
  • Bank & credit card statements
  • All correspondence from HMRC

HMRC provides more details about what records you need to keep: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa/rec-keep-self-emp.htm#4

4. Ask for help

Don’t forget you can ring HMRC and ask for help with record-keeping and filling in your tax return. And it’s free. Contacts are here: http://search2.hmrc.gov.uk/kb5/hmrc/contactus/view.page?record=OILdX1VAnlM

5. Get your money’s worth

If you do decide to use an accountant, it will increase your knowledge and understanding of your business if you ask them to explain how they have worked things out. Rather than leaving it all to the accountant, if you take ownership of your finances, you are likely to make wiser decisions and make more money in the long run. It may also give you more confidence to do your own tax returns in future years.

Good luck!

Love your work but hate the finance aspects?

If the work you do is something you’re passionate about then the business side of it can often take a back seat. I’ve worked with many owners of small businesses who work all the hours and are talented at what they do but don’t even know if their business is profitable.  Being ignorant about the financial performance of your business is risky and many small businesses fail as a result.

There are many reasons people stick their head in the sand including:

  • Fear and loathing of anything to do with “boring” business or finance
  • Lack of knowledge and unsure where to get help
  • Secretly know that the business isn’t making enough money but don’t want to give it up

There’s no reason why you can’t love your work AND be in control of the business side. You could start by getting to grips with whether your business is financially viable. It’s worth asking yourself why you want to run your business in the first place. What are your goals?

  • Do you need the business to make you a certain amount of money each month?
  • Do you just want to be your own boss?
  • Do you want to fulfil a long held aspiration?

Whether or not money is your first priority, it can only be helpful to know how much money you’re likely to make – or lose! This will help you decide longer term, whether running this business is right for you. To help you get to grips with the maths, we’ll use the example of Jane who is returning to work and is considering launching a cake-making business …

1. Estimate a realistic monthly figure for the sales of your product or services

For Jane, the number of cakes she thinks will sell multiplied by the amount she will charge per cake.

12 celebration cakes per month @ £45
70 simple cakes per month @ £4

Total = £820

2.Work out as accurately as possible, how much it will cost you to sell those products

This includes not only the cost of the product itself but a proportion of other associated costs such as electricity, premises, equipment and marketing. For Jane this means the cost of all the cake ingredients plus kitchen equipment, packaging, delivery and a proportion of her household fuel bills.

Cake ingredients = £220
Additional costs – £75

3. Subtract the product costs from the sales figure

Jane’s figures are £820 – £295 = £525

4. Work out the number of hours of your time you will spend on your business

For Jane this is 4 hours per day = 20 hours per week = 80 hours per month

5. Calculate your hourly wage

To do this, divide your figure in 3) by the number of hours in 4)

Jane’s is £525 divided by 80 = £6.56 per hour which is around the minimum wage mark.

Seeing your figures in this way, may prompt other ideas about how you can earn more from your business. For example, if there is only one of you doing the work such as with Jane’s business, there may be ways of maximising your time. Jane could invest in a bigger oven and time-saving kitchen equipment in order to increase the number of cakes she produces in the same number of hours. Or, you may be happy enough earning a minimal amount in exchange for the added benefits of being your own boss and being able to fit your work around family commitments.

Whatever your take on it, knowing your figures means you can make informed decisions about the business you love.

5 Tips for setting up your business

Once you have your killer idea for a product or service that will fill a proven gap in the market, you’ll need to go about setting up your business. Hopefully you’ll have done your business planning, if you need some tips on this, do look at our other post here. http://www.sliqtools.co.uk/blog/general/hands-up-who-likes-business-planning/

business-seedling

Here are 5 practical steps you’ll need to consider to actually get the show on the road:

1. Get the name right. Make sure it’s a name that sums up what you offer, either your product or what you want to be known for (your brand values).

There are some useful resources on this website: http://www.start.biz/business_names/

2. Register with Inland Revenue for your Tax and National Insurance payments. You can find more information about that, PAYE and importing & exporting here http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/startingup/

3. Assuming you already have the finance you need to start your business, you’ll need to keep track of your money. Regularly recording both the money going out (purchases or expenditure) and the money coming in (sales or income). You can hire a book-keeper to do this for you (if you’re the sort who likes to keep your receipts in a carrier bag and hand them over to someone else!). Or you can log them yourself in a spreadsheet or specialised software. Don’t forget, if your business issues invoices, SliQ Invoicing Plus is perfect for start-ups as it’s very quick to set up and simple to use.

4. Get yourself noticed. Think about who your likely customers are and the best methods of reaching them. Promotion could include the more traditional leaflets and local newspapers which would be effective for a local trades person for example. If you go the online / digital route, make sure your website appears high in the Search Engine rankings. You may need to hire a professional to advise you here. Regarding social media, it’s worth considering a training course or again, hiring a professional. There are some great tips on digital marketing here:

http://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/customer-acquisition-strategy/digital-marketing-no-budget/

5. Tap into one of the many sources of business advice just to make sure you have everything covered. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) http://www.fsb.org.uk/ and the Governments business support https://www.gov.uk/browse/business provide advice on all aspects of running a business.

For more business startup tips, read http://www.sliqtools.co.uk/blog/uncategorized/business-start-up-checklist/.

Human-Centered Design – An Introduction to Designing for Ease of Use

Designing products that are easy to use is not a simple exercise. After a number of years spent designing a range of PC and industrial products, my experience is that those products which appear the simplest, cleanest and easiest to use are, more often than not, the ones that took the most amount of effort to design and complete. Constructing a product that simply exposes every possible feature at once to the user is relatively easy. What’s more difficult is prioritising the user interface, making the most frequent and essential elements readily available while pushing the more advanced, less frequently used features into the background.

human-centred-design

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when beginning to design anything that is easy to use is the designer’s ego. Almost all designers, whatever their field, e.g.  software, mechanical, usually hold some sort of innate belief about what the user wants and what the best solution should be. This is a natural and essential requirement for any designer. Without the self-belief and initiative to construct a solution a designer would not be able to form an innovative solution for a user need. However, in any mature development process, the ultimate design of a product should not be allowed to rely on what may turn out to be a prejudice, personal desire or pet theory of the loudest or most assertive engineer (or manager) on the team.

One process that can be adopted in any development program is Human-Centred or User-Centred Design. For a process that has sounds rather complicated, it’s actually based on some very simple and low-tech ideas. To describe HCD, let’s break the development process into 3 distinct stages:-

1. Understand the user’s requirements for the product.

In particular try to gain an understanding of the user’s pain point or difficulties.

2. Innovate and design a solution for the user’s product requirements.

3. Test and evaluate the solution with users.

Take the lessons learned and go back to stage 1.

Repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 as required. Any development is a compromise and engineering judgement needs to be used to decide when the improvements are no longer worth the effort of repeating the cycle. HCD techniques come into play mainly in stages 2 and 3 giving the solution developers a set of techniques for presenting and evaluating solutions with users as well as techniques for prioritising evaluation results.

I opened this post by saying that designing for ease of use is not a simple exercise. Although there are only 3 steps listed above they all involve a lot of work, usually over a significant period of time. Adopting HCD techniques can help you increase the chances of a successful development. I’ll elaborate on the HCD techniques in a follow-up post.

Hands Up Who Likes Business Planning?

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://www.guardian.co.uk/small-business-network/2012/jul/06/business-plan-writing-tips

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

Windows 8 Tablets – Two Tablets for Different Users?

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/.

How to turn off a Windows 8 PC

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

Twitter email problem: Is your email address active?

Of late, we’ve been using Twitter more frequently but twitter keeps displaying a message saying that it is failing to send emails to us “Is your email address active? We’ve tried to send emails to … “.

twitter-email-address-not-active

However, the email address was fine and emails from other sources sent to that address were getting through OK. Investigating more into our twitter account showed that we’d missed several weeks of direct messages from followers. Missing notifications, especially direct messages from Twitter followers could be quite serious as we may have missed out the opportunity to follow up on leads and enquiries. A little experimentation showed that adding the twitter.com domain to the email/ firewall whitelist allowed the emails to come through properly. Quite why this worked I’m not sure but since adding *.twitter.com to the whitelist, I’ve continued to receive twitter email notifications about new followers, direct messages and so on.