Setting up your own email

Setting up your own email is easy and makes you look like a professional.

Although there are lots of free email services like Gmail, Windows Live and Yahoo!, setting up a domain name and customised email address is much easier than it sounds and can be done by anyone who has a moderate level of computer literacy. If you can follow instructions, type and use a mouse – you can set up your own email.

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Online Accounts Software Compared

Online accounting software can make the freelancer’s life much simpler. We look at Saasu and Xero

As a freelancer, it’s tempting to focus completely on the business of your chosen profession be it writing, taking photos, designing or developing. But the cold, hard reality is that there are a bunch of business administration tasks that need your attention. One of those tasks managing your accounts. Until just a few years ago, that meant purchasing and installing fairly expensive software that was difficult to use. It wasn’t that the functionality was lacking. It’s just that the software was complex and looked like it had been designed by accountants for accountants.

Modern accounting software has evolved and, like many other applications, has moved to the cloud. There are several advantages with a cloud solution. Firstly, rather than having to export and send data files to your accountant, you can simply give them direct access to your data. Also, a cloud based solution means that you can hop from one computer to another without the need to instal anything – very handy if you move between client sites and computers. The other benefit is that when the software is enhanced, you get the benefit of those improvements instantly without having to manually update your software.

Of course, there are some other things to consider. Backing up your data remains your problem. Although most cloud providers do look after things well, it is important to make your owen backups up accounts, invoices and other important data. Also, cloud services tend to work on a subscription model so there’s an annual fee – something that can be avoided if you only buy your accounting software once every few years and don’t upgrade as new versions are released. This software distribution model is often called SaaS – Software as a Service.

A couple of good options for online accounting software are Saasu and Xero.

Saasu

Saasu has a simple user interface that makes it easy for business people to focus on their business, rather than admin, Saasu makes a tedious task less painful. Creating invoices, receiving payments, entering expenses and reconciling bank statements are all trivially easy. All of Saasu’s screens are clearly laid out. When you need to add a new piece of basic information, such as the contact details for client or a new expense category, you can do that while creating your transaction.

There are full payroll facilities that comply with Australian tax rules and Saasu is regularly updated. Completing a regular BAS becomes trivially easy as Saasu automatically creates a worksheet with all the data neatly presented.

Saasu can interface with banks so that transitional information can be downloaded directly from your accounts to Saasu. This makes statement reconciliation easy and reduces the potential for errors in your accounts.

We used Saasu from PCs and Macs using a variety of browsers without any problems. It works nicely on the iPad although the cash-flow graph doesn’t appear in Safari. There’s also an iPhone app that makes it easy to enter invoices, payments and expenses.

Saasu is free for up to 20 transactions per month. If you need more than that, there are monthly, quarterly and annual subscription options.

Xero

Xero provides a clear, one-screen snapshot of your business’s cash-flow and other activities.

Entering transactions is easy as all of the forms are neatly laid out and setting up recurring transactions is a snap. If you have clients that require regular statements, Xero makes it easy to create and send them with just a few clicks and there’s a simple pie chart that shows which clients owe the most money.

Regular tax reporting is very easy as Xero produces an activity statement report that lists the BAS form boxes and the amounts you need to fill in for the tax office. Other reports such as profit and loss and balance sheets are easy to produce.

Running a payroll is easy. You can create a pay run that completes payroll for all your staff in one go with customised payslips so that you maintain a totally professional appearance. All other forms and documents, such as statements and invoices, can be customised with your own logos.

One neat feature is that if your clients or suppliers use Xero, you can have statements automatically transferred from one Xero user to another, negating the need for sending separate email with attached invoices. Although its usefulness might be limited today, it’s smart way to get companies interested in Xero.

Xero offers an iPhone app as well as broad browser compatibility. There’s a free trial with paid options starting at $29 per month.

Online contact management – Rapportive

The advent of social media sites has led to an annoying problem – the fracturing of contact lists. Rapportive goes a long way to healing the fractures.

The advent of social media sites has led to an annoying problem. My contact list is now fractured. There are some people who I contact through Facebook, others that I communicate through via Twitter and others by email.

Until recently, I’d been using Safari as my main browser – it’s the default browser on Macs. However, I’ve found that the amount of screen space sacrificed to toolbars reduces the amount of actual content I can see on the screen. So, I’ve gone back to using Google’s Chrome browser. That’s gained back some valuable pixels – important as my laptop is an 11-inch MacBook Air. However, another benefit of going to Chrome is that the GMail plug-in Rapportive works.

Rapportive is able to look at a number of social media services and searches for information about the sender of an email. It then displays that information on the right side of the screen making it easy for me to call, email or message the person.

The neat thing about Rapportive is that it simplifies the task of connecting with someone from within my email.

Email is where I spend most of my time. I receive a lot of mail each day and the GMail window is basically open on my screen all the time. When I receive a message I can instantly access that person by email, Facebook if I’m connected to them through that, LinkedIn and Twitter. Their phone numbers are put there as well.

If I click on the phone number, this automatically pulls Skype up and uses that to place the call. It can also work with Google Chat.

It’s difficult to quantify the benefits that Rapportive offers but being able to get live status updates of my contacts without having to leave my email saves me lots of time – albeit in small chunks.

The tools of the freelance trade

Freelancers can be overwhelmed by all the different tools they can use. Here’s some information to help find a path through the confusion. Here’s a presentation I recently gave on some of my favourite tools.

I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking today with fellow freelancer Leslie Falkiner-Rose at the 2011 Freelance Conference today. Our session was called “The Set Up” and we spoke about the hardware, software and other tools we use in our businesses.

My part of the presentation was facilitated with a short slide deck that you can see below. I hope it’s of value to you.

 

A small business owner’s guide to using social media – Part 2

This post is continued from Part One of A small business owner’s guide to using social media by Phoebe Netto of Good Business Consulting

Just like society has golden rules and universal principles on how to interact with others, social media also has similar rules to operate by.

Social media is one of the greatest tools available to small-to-medium businesses and sole operators. You can communicate directly with your ideal clients without going through a ‘middle-man’ such as a journalist, advertisement or website.

When operating by the following rules, social media can deliver your message to new audiences, provide you with new connections, and act as a platform to share your expertise and thought-leadership:

(For the first three rules of social media use, click here).

4.        No yelling in the hallway (or on social media)

Would you ever walk into a room full of strangers and announce, “I can take your business to the next level at half the price”? No? Didn’t think so. So don’t do it on social media.

If you notice that someone on your social media platform asks for a recommendation or complains that they can’t find a good provider of a certain product or service, then sure – feel free to suggest a solution or offer to discuss offline with them. You might even land a nice piece of new business. The point is to be helpful, with brings me to my next point.

5.        Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you

Use social media to share, give value, help others, provide helpful information, collaborate, and create a reason for people to want to know more about you and what you do.

You can give value and at the same time promote your business by sharing links to your blog, provide thought leadership, expertise and helpful advice. This shows that you are passionate about your industry area and gives people a non-confrontational and subtle way to experience your knowledge.

Make sure you also share other people’s blog posts, links to useful website, spread great social media content (such as tweets) from others, and promote other businesses (if worthy of promotion). Remember, it’s not all about you!

6.        You have two ears and only one mouth for a reason

My mother always used to tell me this and she was right (as usual). Social media is not a forum for monologues. Those who do not interact or listen to what others are saying on social media will eventually find themselves very lonely (offline and online).

Worthless tweets and overactive robots cause more harm than good.

Instead interact with others by asking questions, offering advice and responding to other people’s online questions.

7.       All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Show your personality. People do business with people, not companies. So make sure show your personality so people can feel a connection.

Be sincere. You can’t fake relationships – even on social media. Put a smile on the faces of those who follow you.

When you follow these principles you are well on your way to building important connections with your ideal clients.

Phoebe Netto is the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a marketing and public relations consultancy for small-to-medium businesses.

Phoebe has a background in public relations and marketing, and takes these skills that are often reserved for big businesses with big budgets, and uses them to help good small businesses grow and meet their objectives.

www.goodbusiness.net.au (be sure to sign up for the Good Business Consulting newsletter and check out the blog while you’re there)

@Phoebe_Netto

phoebe@goodbusiness.net.au