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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Link post – freelancing advice

There’s great advice for freelancers in lots of places. Here are a few of the favourite posts I’ve found in my reading this week.

One of the things I’ve not been very good at in the year since I started this blog has been linking to all of the great advice I’ve picked up through reading from a wide variety of experts. So, every week or so, I’ll be posting links to some the articles I’ve found most valuable.

Proofreading – An Essential Skill for ALL Freelancers (Freelance Switch): Whether you are a freelance web designer, writer or international mountain guide, you are likely to have a website, twitter account, LinkedIn profile and blog – and so you should. Without these tools, most of us would be lost.

Best and Worst Freelancing Advice of 2011 (The Savvy Freelancer): The bottom line is, you can find a lot of guidance for freelancing out there. What’s critical is your ability to sift through all the information that is available, and make a judgement call on which advice is good, and which is bad.

Investing in Your Writing Business (Get Paid to Write Online): Any business needs an investment, and a writing business is no exception.

What A Victorian Novelist Can Tell Modern Writers About Adapting To The Internet (The WM Freelance Writers Connection): What can a Victorian novelist tell modern American writers about adapting to the shift from the older print media and New York-centered publishing industry to the Wild West of writing for the internet — blogs, content mills, ebooks, self-publishing and social media?

8 Metrics Every Freelancer Should Measure at the End of the Year (FreelanceFolder): One of the best things you can do for your business – whether you’re a solo shop or a multi-national concern, is to stop at the end of the year and take a look at how things went.

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.