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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Which QuickBook version is right for you?

quickbooks_zps1b309b5fNot sure which QuickBook Version is right for you and your business?  There are some subtle differences and not-so-subtle differences that come into play with each version of QuickBooks.  Deciding which one is best for the needs of your company may not be as easy as finding the most affordable one.  Instead it may be finding the right one for your current business situation.  Before purchasing QuickBooks let’s examine the key points of each version and how it may or may not be a good fit for your company’s bookkeeping needs.

Some questions that may help you decide on which version might be best for you would include:

  • What kind of shop are you?   Mac or Windows?  This may make an easy decision to go with with the system with which you are most accustomed.
  • Do you need remote access or only work in the office?
  • Do you need a version that is industry specific or will standard features suffice?
  • Do you have many raw materials or numerous components to your inventory tracking that requires specialized features?

After considering these questions, you are ready to look at the main features of each version of QuickBooks.

  • QuickBooks for Mac – This is a different software package than all of the others.  All of the other versions of QuickBooks (not the Online version of course) run on Windows. QuickBooks Mac is built to use the user interface framework of a Mac, so the way you access different modules and sections of the software is very Mac-centric.
  • QuickBooks Online – For small businesses that rely on travel and do most of their business on-the-go, this is a great version for you.  This online service, along with being easily accessed remotely, has secure data back up of files.  There are five versions of online QuickBooks:  Online Simple Start
    Online Essentials
    Online Plus
    Online Essentials with Payroll
    Online Plus with Payroll
  • QuickBooks Pro – This is one of the more popular versions of QuickBooks.  It is reasonably priced and is known as the workhouse edition of QuickBooks. It contains all of the strong features any small business will need to track their company’s finances and when upgraded it allows up to three users to all access the same company file congruently.Some of the main features include: Track bills, expenses, and print checks.
    Track sales and customer accounts.
    Manage payroll.
    Create estimates, invoices, and reports.
    Accept credit cards (with a service).
    Batch invoicing.
    Track time and expenses for a specific client.
  • QuickBooks Premier – QuickBooks Premier offers features specific to your industry and offers increase inventory controls which you might need. If you deal with many raw materials or components to building a product which you then sell to end users, you may want to look at QuickBooks Premier.  QuickBooks Premier has all of the QuickBooks Pro features and adds a few of its own: Create a business plan
    Track balance sheet by class
    Forecast sales and expenses
    Industry specific reporting

 

 

QuickBook Tips for Novices

quickbooks_zps1b309b5fQuickBooks is an accounting software package developed and marketed by Intuit.  Small business owners can manage payroll, inventory and sales through this multifaceted software. Finances such as: monitoring expenses, creating invoices, tracking orders, keeping track of vendors/customers/employees and inventory becomes fairly simple with this program.  If you have just bought or downloaded QuickBooks and are a novice at accounting software, you may need some tips for getting started in the right direction.  There are hundreds (if not thousands) of Tips and Tricks pages on the internet.  It can get a bit overwhelming.  Here are some of the best pieces of advice we have found after analyzing many “How-To” sites.

  • Take a mental business inventory – Before starting to use QuickBooks write down all the things you will need such as payroll, vendor lists,  and invoices.  Having a good idea of the scope of your needs will help you when it comes time to start inputting your information.  Once you have determined the basic needs and volume of your business bookkeeping, then choose your QuickBooks program. (In our next blog we will be discussing the varied options and different QuickBook versions from which to choose.)
  • Learn how to use QuickBooks – QuickBooks has an excellent “interview” process for setting up a new company when you first start your software. There are also QuickBook tutorials and video lessons that you may want to partake in before you begin the program.  Even if you are fairly comfortable with bookkeeping, you may want to follow one of these lessons just to be sure you are setting up your company page, vendor pages, and employees pages correctly.  YouTube and Google have many to choose from including help for beginners all the way up to expert tips.  For quick and common questions as you are using QuickBooks, try using the Help Feature on the menu bar.  For more complicated problems you may want to contact a QuickBooks professional.
  • Learn the shortcuts – Every program has shortcuts that can make bookkeeping so much easier.  Here is a quick list of some favorites. Ctrl-I     Create invoice
    Ctrl-E     Edit transaction selected in register
    Ctrl-F     Find transaction
    Ctrl-J     Open Customer Center
    Ctrl-M     Memorize transaction or report
    Ctrl-N     New invoice, bill, check, or list item in context
    Ctrl-Q     QuickReport on transaction or list item
    Ctrl-T     Open memorized transaction list
    Ctrl-W     Write new check
  • Customize the Tool Bar and Right Click options – While QuickBooks comes with a default icon bar at the top of the screen, users can add, remove, or modify the icons to better suit work needs. In addition, QuickBooks makes extensive use of right-click menus everywhere in the program. Try right clicking instead of heading right for the toolbar icons and menus.
  • Use “Classes” and Exporting Tools – When you’re working with Preferences, make sure Classes is turned on (Edit | Preferences | Accounting | Company Preferences | Use class tracking). Additionally, Classes are your own way of categorizing elements of a business. Exporting  QuickBooks’ reports are highly customizable, but they don’t have Excel’s power to manipulate and format data and to run what-if scenarios. Users can easily export QuickBooks reports to Excel.

QuickBooks can be such a time saver and get your business finances organized, but you will need to take the time to learn the ins and outs of the software in order to use it efficiently. Here are some quick Resources to get you started.

25 Tips on Using QuickBooks Effectively

BrightHub – Learning QuickBooks

The What and Why of WISP

There are hundreds of acronyms in the world of business and technology.  It is overwhelming to keep up with all of them.  WISP or written information security program, is one that your business needs to stay on top of regardless of whether you are a small business owner or come from a large corporation.  WISP is a Written Information Security Plan.  What is this and what does it mean for your business?  Let’s take a closer look at this all important acronym WISP.

What is a WISP?

A Written Information Security Plan is a professionally written document that is meant to create administrative, technical and physical safeguards for customer’s private data.  The document discusses electronic and physical methods of accessing, collecting, storing, using, transmitting, protecting, and disposing of our customers’ non-public personal information.

About four years ago the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed  201 CMR 17.00. This regulation requires that: “Every person that owns or licenses personal information about a resident of the Commonwealth shall develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive information security program that is written in one or more readily accessible parts and contains administrative, technical, and physical safeguards…” In short, companies need to write this document to show that they have taken Due Care and Due Diligence to protect the confidentiality of a customers private information in order to comply with Massachusetts State Law.  If your company suffers a security breach and does not have a WISP, then things are probably not going to turn out well for you. The penalties can be severe. They can include hefty fines and penalties that require security changes at all levels. (Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation)

Components of a WISP

There are several main components of a WISP that are meant to safeguard consumers and spell out exactly the risks they are taking when entrusting personal information with the company in question.  WISPs usually carefully clarify the purpose and objectives of protecting private data.  In addition sections of a WISP explain:

  • The role of a data coordinator – The document explains the role of a designated employee(s) who will be responsible for implementing the security protocols, training employees on them, testing the security programs and evaluating the security measures regularly.
  • Internal Risks – A WISP should explain to consumers the internal threats to their personal information that exist including paper and electronic records being unlawfully used by employees.  Protocols for active and terminated employees should be discussed in this document.
  • External Risks – Companies must explain in this document what threats they have identified in regards to your personal data and steps they will take to protect against security breaches such as firewalls, double identification authentication, encryption, and software to protect against malware or viruses.
  • Notification Protocols – Companies must also explain how they will notify consumers in the event of a cyber attack and how they will attempt to rectify the situation.

Top Project Management Systems

If your business is like so many others, you probably have multiple projects in the works simultaneously.  How do you keep all team members informed?  How is the project broken down into manageable parts?  Every project you work on needs a timeline that includes calendars, a road map to completion, and a listing of sub-projects with the priority level of each one.  Finding the right Project Management System for your company may be just the right thing for your growing workload.  Let’s look at some of the top Project Management Systems and find out what makes them so successful.

Project management software has the capacity to help plan, organize, and manage resources for your entire team whether they operate remotely or in the office.  Depending upon the software that you choose, it can manage:  time allocation, budget resources, communication abilities, link project files, and make decision making easier when breaking down a project into smaller parts. Floow the links for more specifc tools for each system.

  • Basecamp – One of the more popular project management tools is Basecamp by 37Signals. This is a a company which believes that less is more, Basecamp focuses on communication between users to achieve optimum performance. It allows for work to be divvied up easily between the right members of a group.  When it comes to file sharing, Basecamp supports every popular file formats, ranging from word documents to images to any file type. When it comes to revisions, uploaded files with the same file name will not overwrite existing files, and the older file will be archived so that people can see what changes have been made. For uploaded images, users get to preview it first before downloading the file. For over 10 years, millions have relied on Basecamp to help them get their projects done on time, on budget, and on point.
  • Trello – Trello is fast, flexible, and even fun to use, and in minutes you’ll organize all of the components for your projects into columns and cards that are easy to drag around, add supporting details to, comment on, and assign from person to person on your team. You can create different boards for different projects, set due dates or times for each card or set of cards, and more.
  • Liquid Planner – This project management tool is easy to use and extremely customizable to your unique projects.  Liquid Planner is for businesses that need to stay disciplined in their planning and need a world class scheduling tool.  It’s amazing tracking features can help you monitor the project at each step.
  • Podio – Citrix Podio is the new way to organize, communicate and get work done. More than 500,000 organizations use Podio to run projects and company departments. This includes everyone from small growing companies using Podio to run their entire businesses to innovative teams in enterprises. Podio speeds communication and provides the transparency and accountability needed for efficient teamwork, by enabling people to organize and track work in one easy-to-use place.(Source: Review at Capterra)
  • Merlin – Merlin Project is the leading professional project management software for Mac OS X. Developed by project managers for project managers, Merlin truly delivers in meeting your professional requirements.Merlin is recognized globally not only by its customers but with numerous industry awards. Merlin stands apart as the most professional tool for projects of all kinds on the Apple Macintosh.

Boost Your Mobile Strategy

In 2008, Mary Meeker, an analyst at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, who annually reviews technology trends, predicted that “Mobile will overtake fixed Internet access by 2014.”  It is not hard to believe that the tipping point has finally arrived.  As of 2014, more people globally were using mobile devices than using a desktop equivalent.  In fact, if I was a betting person, I would wager that you are either reading this on your mobile device or, at the very least, have your mobile phone, tablet, or watch right with you currently.  The statistics are certainly in my favor with 1.6 billion mobile user globally.

Armed with this information, business owners and marketing specialists are no longer asking the question if  mobile advertising is important but rather how to understand consumer’s behavior on their mobile devices in order to formulate a successful mobile advertising strategy.  If your mobile strategy needs a boost, here are a few tips to help develop and strengthen your mobile marketing strategy.

  • Keyword strengthening – While most business people recognize this strategy as being in line with content management, it is just as important when dealing with mobile marketing.  Advice from Entrepreneur online includes making sure that, “you include the local area in conjunction with your keywords, since mobile customers are typically searching locally. Remember to keep your keyword phrases small, utilizing no more than three.”
  • Use special offers – With hundreds of apps and product/service emails being sent daily, it is important to catch the eye of your consumer.  Among the best ways to do this is including sales and special offers first on your mobile site. Then, Include an opt-in that allows your users to receive alerts when you have new offers.  This can help boost your response rates even further. They can always unsubscribe but chances are they will want to be made aware of special deals coming down the pike.
  • Include contact and links to maps – Given that so many people search their mobile devices for services and products, it is critical to include a mapping option and email/phone number options on your mobile site clearly displayed.  Last year 60% of shoppers report having searched deals on their mobile device while shopping on Black Friday.  If a consumer finds a better deal they can easily click on a mapping option and find their way to your establishment!
  • Integrate social media to your mobile site – According to First Data, an online payment system provider, 81 percent of smartphone users check social media to read reviews before making a purchase. Marketers who have integrated their mobile program with customer reviews and social media sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are reaping the rewards.
  • Design a smart site – Responsive design allows businesses to craft a site that allow for optimal viewing across a wide range of devices.  Make it easy for your customers to not only find you with important keywords, but also for them to navigate your mobile site regardless of the product they are using.

Cloud Computing Uses

The Cloud.  One of the biggest and most used buzzwords in the technology and business fields currently.  “Are we in the cloud?” “What is the cloud?” “Where is the cloud?”  Let’s break it down for you so “the cloud”  is at least somewhat understandable for the average business/computer user.

What is the cloud?

Technically, the cloud is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer. Don’t mistake this as being an amorphous mist floating above all of our businesses.  Instead, the reality is that is it actually a physical infrastructure – it is many computers housed in massive warehouses all over the world.

What does the cloud “do”?

The cloud allows users to store and access business files from anywhere rather than relying on a  hard drive at an office.  Just like homeowners have water piped to their house and pay for only what they use, the cloud is similar in that you pay for only how much you need to access and store.

How is the cloud used?

  • To reduce costs – The price of onsite hosting of your business computer information can be excessive especially considering the cost of the actual hardware.
  • To have universal access – cloud computing can allow remotely located employees to access applications and work via the internet.
  • To gain a technology advantage – According to PC Magazine, “some businesses are choosing to implement Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. There’s also Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where a business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And don’t forget the mighty Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where players like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Rackspace provide a backbone that can be “rented out” by other companies.” (Source: PC Magazine)
  • To have file storage and backup – the cloud offers the ability to store files with the ability to access and retrieve them from any web-enabled interface. Payment is only needed for the storage that is consumed and there are no concerns about daily maintenance.  Using the cloud data backup is much less time consuming and gives the assurance that security, availability nor capacity are issues.
  • To gain optimal speed and access to newest software – the cloud maintains up-to-date software and means that new IT resources are just a few short clicks away.

Data Security Part II Practical Tips

Our growing dependence on technology, whether at the office, home, or on our mobile devices, demands equal (if not greater) demands for data security.  While computers can be enormous time-savers and powerful business tools, they can also leave you, your family, and business open to cyber attacks aimed at gaining critical information.

Business  IT Department are busy keeping a vigilant eye on the latest trends in “cyber security,” but this responsibility lies not solely on the IT experts but on individuals as well.  This shared awareness means that safety measures must be taken by all family members and by every level of a company’s infrastructure.  Leaving yourself open to a data breach can be either unintentional or done knowingly.  Here are a few tips for non IT experts to follow on a daily basis to ensure the integrity of the data on your devices.

  • Password Management – Believe it or not users are still exercising poor use of password choices.  Statistics show that a hacker can access files within 12 seconds if a password is only 5 characters long.  The odds get even worse if the password is something personal to the owner.  Passwords should have two-factor authentication, be changed routinely, consist of varying number/characters and not be stored on the device.  Hard to believe that even in 2015, with cyber attacks up 400% from just a few years ago, that people still use the word “password”  as their password!
  • Keep your devices locked up – Never leave your laptop, phone, tablet or desktop open to outsiders.  This means that all computers should be carefully locked up from outside subcontractors/clients/competitors etc. (like office cleaning crews). They should not be out of your sight when traveling or bringing your devices to client meetings or other out-of-office events.
  • Keep current on updates – Make sure that all the existing security settings your computer comes with are turned on. With automatic updates your computer can scan regularly at the optimal level for viruses and spyware.  Stay current on spyware and antivirus programs by looking into add-on programs.  Bankrate made several suggestion in their latest article on data security.  The include:  Zone Alarm, Ad-Aware, or Spybot Search & Destroy.
  • Be wary of attachments or downloads – Never open or execute any e-mail attachment if you don’t know the person. Spam attacks are getting more polished and hard to identify.  Even forwarded messages from friends can contain dangerous URL.
  • Be careful when surfing publicly – It is inevitable that using your devices will happen in a public setting whether it is out at dinner with a client or at a coffee shop catching up on work.  While it is tempting to open and access files that are on remote computers, realize that you are also opening yourself to a major security risk and are depending on a third party for security.

For even more tips read more at the United States Computer Readiness Team website where they have an extensive resource list for all your data security questions.

Data Security – Part I Statistics

“Data breach.  We’ve been hacked!”  Two phrases that every IT department dreads hearing.  According to a recent study by IBM Security,  2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily.  That is an immense amount of information to protect from hackers, inside thefts, poor security protocols, and stolen or lost media. Data security, therefore, is a critical part of protecting data such as databases, applications or reports across business and personal environments.  How prevalent are security attacks?  Let’s investigate security statistics and who is commonly attacked.

Security by-the-numbers – The Global Security Report by Trustwave sheds light on the widespread and growing number of security breaches worldwide.

  • 71% of security breaches target small businesses – small businesses are usually the least equipped to protect against an attack. Most hackers will prey on the weak.
  • 69% of cyber attacks target retailers and restaurants – due to the large amount of sensitive credit card data that passes through these types of small businesses, they have become a prime target for profit seeking attackers.
  • 28,765 records are stolen on average per data breach – this statistic shows that businesses are storing more sensitive information than they should – more information than is safe.
  • USD40 million – This is the estimated cost in US dollars due to security breaches.

While small businesses are common targets for hackers and cyber criminals, large corporations are not immune to security attacks. For example here are some of the more recent data breaches just this year alone.

  • Anthem, the worlds second largest health insurer reported that the names, dates of birth, social security numbers, member ID’s, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and employment information of 80 million members was compromised.
  • Home Deport reported this year that malware was installed on cash register systems across 2,200 stores that siphoned credit card details of 56 million customers.  It is believed that Russian hackers are responsible.  It is possible that the hackers are the same group that attacked Target, Sally Beauty, and P.F. Changs.
  • Target investigators believe that data was stolen via software installed on computers.  The software was able to gather credit card information each time a credit card was swiped during a purchase.  It is believed that 40 million customers were effected.
  • Ebay, one of the largest online retailers reported one of the largest breaches this year with hackers using stolen credentials to access a database containing all user records.  145 million people were impacted.

Data security is a topic that all companies, large and small need to address.  Check back for tomorrow’s blog where we will continue our discussion of data security protection.

 

 

Planning Your Exit

 

“Know when to fold ’em, know when to hold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. . . “

images-11When I think about business exit strategies I think of the old Kenny Rogers song The Gambler. While Rogers is talking about playing cards and knowing when the right time is to get out of the game, he might as well be talking about business, because the concept is the same.

The reality is that there will come a time when every business owner needs to come up with a plan of how he/she will make an eventual exit.  The execution of a successful exit strategy could take many forms.  It could be as simple as handing over the reins to a family member or a hand-picked successor. Depending upon your business size, strength and success other exit strategies could be an IPO(Initial Public Offering)  or an acquisition with a competitor.  Unfortunately, exit strategies should also include plans for your demise,  illness or bankruptcy.  No matter what the exit direction may be, making a blueprint for the end is something every business owner should consider.

Most small business owners have spent countless hours focusing their energies on business survival and future growth not on an exit strategy that has some vague date and time stamped on it.  The reality is that every small business owner should have a game plan for exiting the business due to retirement, illness or merely passing on the torch.  Even if a business is in growth mode,  financial and legal plans should be in the works for anything unexpected happening.

The United States Small Business Administration (US SBA) has put together a great resource on preparing for an exit no matter the cause or eventual direction the company may take.  Read more on their page “Getting Out.” They suggest detailing each element of your exit including:

  • Financial Planning – Selling, dissolving or transferring the business takes a lot of paperwork.  The US SBA suggests keeping detailed financial records for years(up to 10 years) prior to a planned exit.
  • Human Resource Planning – What is going to happen to your loyal employees once you are no longer the leader of the company? Take into account their legal rights and needs prior to leaving.  Meet with a Human Resource Expert to handle employee coverage.
  • An Operations Plan – There should be contingencies put into place if a  transfer of ownership is taking place that will assure clients that the company will be keeping all of its legal and contractual obligations.
  • A Succession Plan – There are a number of legal, financial and estate issues that should be pre-planned. What will happen in the case of a sudden death or injury?  Who would take over?

Exiting a business is not usually as easy as closing the doors.   Before you embark on your exit strategy, be sure to engage your lawyer and even a business evaluation expert.  That way, you will be sure that you have explored all the options available to you.

 

Pricing Tips and Warnings

One of the major goals for small businesses just getting started or those revisiting a pricing strategy is to successfully make a profit.  Pricing refers to the process of setting a price for a product or service.  This strategy,  more than any other element of your marketing plan, will have the biggest impact on the amount of profit you make. Industry experts from the United States Small Business Administration and American Express Open Forum have several suggestions to consider when setting (or revisiting) your pricing strategy.

  1. Understand Costs – Small businesses should take the time to analyze their services/products total cost.  Many companies fail to evaluate all the components that need to go in to setting a price for profitability.  Here are some areas to consider when establishing a price range: cost of materials, cost of labor, salaries and benefits, overhead (taxes, rent, insurance, marketing and transportation), showroom or storage costs and credit card fees.
  2. Do a Competitive Analysis – Before setting a price for your products or services do an analysis of your closest competitors  including a list of their strengths and weaknesses both tangible and intangible.  Look at comparable pricing and the package that is involved.  If at all possible try to understand the reasoning behind the pricing.  How did they come to that number? Never assume that your competitor has the pricing right.  Be ready to explain the difference in pricing.  For example does your business offer better quality, customer service, value, experience or cost savings?  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your competition has done their homework and base your numbers off their research.
  3. Understand the Customer’s Needs – Not only should businesses evaluate their competitors but also the targeted consumer.  What are their needs?  For example analyze the customer that you have.  Do you offer intangible things like stability, reliability and experience?  Does your customer need something specific from you?  Tailoring yourself to those customers can add features that meet their needs and thus can be priced higher.
  4. Take Advantage of Tiered Pricing and Flexible Pricing – There are a multitude of options when it comes to structuring your pricing models.  Understand what the customer is willing to pay for the base product and then include add-ons and high value features.  Don’t get stuck in a pricing war as well.  If your consumer is willing to throw extra business your way in the form of referrals or partnerships then by all means use flexible pricing that will keep them loyal to your brand.

(Sources: U.S. Small Business Administration, Business Online, American Express Open Forum)