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Love your work but hate the finance aspects?

July 10th, 2013

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

May 17th, 2013

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

January 18th, 2013

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?

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/.

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

Twitter email problem: Is your email address active?

October 28th, 2012

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.

An Overview of the Template Editor in SliQ Invoicing Plus

October 4th, 2012

If you want easy-to-use, professional-looking invoices that are customised to suit your requirements, then look no further than SliQ Invoicing Plus.

Our handy template editor means you can create any style of invoice, to fit with the look of your business.

We have a range of fully adaptable styles, which can be used with different types of company logo. All you need to do is select the style of invoice or billing template, then add your logo. It really is that simple!

Our templates are not only useful for creating invoices, they can also be used for creating quotes, credit notes or statements.

To give you maximum flexibility, our billing software comes with a range of predefined invoice templates, so that your perfect invoice is only a click away. Simply select the invoice you prefer from the Template Setup tab. SliQ then shows you a preview of your selected template to help you decide which one is right for you. Then just click the Print Preview button to print an example invoice so you know what your documents will look like.

invoice-template-preview

Invoice Template Preview

Have it your way…

While all of SliQ’s templates are pre-designed with all the essential elements you may require from an invoice template, we also offer a helpful template editor, meaning you can fully customise your invoices as required. So if the templates don’t quite suit your preferences, they can be edited in a matter of minutes, using SliQ’s nifty invoice designer. Using the designer’s template editor, you can tweak the layout, change fonts and colours, as well as adding new labels and images to better suit your business.

Your invoices, credit notes and statements really can be completely bespoke. The templates are provided for use with and without a company logo, and a range of options are provided to customise the template, including a function to change the data columns, an option to add standard messages, plus the ability to alter the footer.

You can see some examples of the invoice templates provided with SliQ Invoicing on our website (http://www.sliqtools.co.uk/invoice-templates.aspx).

Already have a specific company style for your stationery? No problem. Simply use the template editor to make the SliQ templates match your other paperwork. Not only that, but with our easy-to-use editor you can even add extra bitmaps and logos, so if you need to add quality of trade accreditation logos or similar, it’s not a problem at all.

In fact, there are no limits to the range of invoices you can design! By using the template editor you can change the fonts, colours and layouts of items on templates, with the option of editing and saving as many different templates as you like. You can even configure the columns that appear on your templates, meaning you can add a date column to an invoice or show customer delivery addresses for invoices on a statement.

adjust-template-columns

And the great thing is, once you’ve designed your invoice, you can use our clever software to add even more fields to an invoice, and map fields to values from the SliQ database. This function allows you to include a payment summary table that shows all payments made against the invoice. And you can include a VAT (or tax) summary table showing total amounts charged on the invoice at different tax rates.

To recap, there are a whole host of benefits to using the SliQ Template Editor. These include:

1.    Function to change the fonts and colours used on a template
2.    Option to add new logos and bitmaps
3.    Option to add or delete labels and fields
4.    Ability to rearrange the positions of items on a template
5.    Function to change borders and fill colours of items.
6.    Tool to resize columns in tables
7.    Tool to add extra columns to tables – add an item code column to an invoice or a purchase order column to a statement.
8.    Function to change column headings
9.    Option to add boxes, e.g. add a signature box

Want to find out more? Why not download a free 30-day trial of SliQ Invoicing Plus which includes our invoice template editor. You don’t even need to register or make any payment up front, just go to our Downloads page, download and install one of our packages and you’ll be invoicing in style in no time!

You can also find out more about the template editor by reading the SliQ Help File online.

Seven Advantages of Using Desktop Invoicing Software

September 9th, 2012

These days the big move is toward online Software As A Service such as online accounting and online invoicing software. However, in a number of aspects, desktop software still holds a strong position. Here are 7 areas where desktop invoicing software can still beat online invoicing software:-

1. Desktop software is more mature with respect to online apps. Although RIA (Rich Internet Application) technology is advancing, traditional desktop software still allows far more sophisticated and powerful user interfaces to be created.

2. The costs of desktop software are usually less than those for online software. With an online software, the software vendor always has to charge on an ongoing basis for the cost of hosting the application. This usually means an ongoing monthly subscription to continue to use the online web application. With desktop software, although the initial cost of purchase can be higher the costs are usually a one-off except for occasional upgrades.

3. The speed of operation of desktop software is often greater than that of online invoicing software. Even though broadband speeds increase annually, many web applications have a spongy feel, making the user wait for new pages to be loaded.

4. Many online software enforce data and bandwidth limits whereas most desktop software are only limited by the size of your hard disk. Online vendors need to enforce price breaks since the cost of hosting their web applications rises as users need to store more data or use more processor time.

5. Although the best online invoicing applications have rock-solid security, many users would still prefer their financial data to be held on their own PCs, entirely under their own control.

6. Desktop software is always available for use. If you load it on a laptop or portable computer you can use the software while travelling. Online software is only as available as an internet connection, e.g. arranging for an internet connection while on holiday on a remote farm in Tuscany is not always easy.

7. As long as you have an internet connection on your PC, a desktop package can offer as many possibilities as an online system for things like emailing invoices and purchase orders.

Deciding between online and desktop invoicing is not a black or white decision, each system will has pros and cons. Often it’s the specific features of a particular software package that will make the decision. To try out a free trial of SliQ Invoicing to see if it suits you and your business, please visit our downloads page.

Windows OS Usage as Windows 8 approaches

September 3rd, 2012

With Windows 8 due out in late October this year, I thought I’d summarise some stats on existing OS usage.

As the picture below shows the most, Microsoft operating systems still dominate the desktop market in the UK with OS X being the main Mac OS in use at 11% of the market. I’ve also included iOS (iPad) for comparison. A good proportion of the people we encounter using OS X also run Windows (usually Windows 7) under some kind of virtualisation software such as Parallels or VMWare which tends to weaken the figure for OS X a little. Showing stats for the mobile market would give a total reverse of course, with Apple OSes dominating while Microsoft OSes take the minority share.

OSShare

The real success story in these figures for Microsoft is Windows 7 which has grown to half the market share in little more than 2 1/2 years where its predecessor Vista crept up to about 19% of the market in roughly the same time.

The latest news from Microsoft is that Windows 8 will be available as an upgrade for only £24.99 in the UK. What’s even more surprising is that the upgrade will be available to owners of Windows XP and Vista as well as Windows 7. This means that people who haven’t bought a Microsoft OS for nearly 12 years will be able to upgrade for a very small fee.

It’s exciting times for Microsoft OSes and developers over the next few months with Windows 8 and the new Microsoft Surface tablet being released. Personally, although my wife wanted an iPad for her birthday, I can’t wait to get my hands on a Surface tablet. There has been quite a lot of negative press about Windows 8, with a lot of complaints about the loss of the Start menu that has been a feature of every Microsoft Windows OS since Windows 95. As time has gone on though, I’ve now begun to think of the Windows Metro interface as the Start menu replacement and Windows 8 has begun to feel even quicker and more fluid than Windows 7.