Monday 5 August 2013

Small business accounting software - for free

Free Bookkeeping software for SME's
Looking for suitable small business accounting software?

Save £400 a year with this free alternative.
For the past week we've been reviewing the popular free accounting software 'GnuCash' which is aimed at small businesses and is also suitable for maintaining personal accounts along with basic payroll.

-GnuCash for over 15 years has proven itself a viable free alternative to solutions such as 'Quickbooks small business' which currently costs £33.60 a month.

Our Criteria:

  • Free bookkeeping solution that:
    • Saves time & is easy to use
    • Helps see the financial health of the business
    • Automatic report generation
    • Reliable, with reconciliation 

Our findings

GnuCash is available from
  • GnuCash does more than basic accounting including:
    • Invoicing
    • Budgeting (cash flow forecasting)
    • Scheduled transactions
  • Can be challenging for people totally new to accounting, though the documentation is freely available and approachable. 
  • Surprisingly helpful at forecasting business heath (by using budgeting features) 
  • Easy to install & backup

Ease of use- simple bookkeeping software

We selected GnuCash as it performed well in all of the above tasks, there is a learning curve though if your new to basic accounting principles. It is encouraged to either read the accompanying book 'GnuCash 2.4 Small Business Accounting' or read their on-site documentation which is free. 

Easily visualise where your money is going / coming from

After your initial account set-up, which is handled with a step-by-step 'wizard setup', the accounting software really starts to shine with:
  • Profit & loss reports
  •  Expenses piecharts
  • Customisable reports / graphs
We found this to be invaluable for SME's to get the big picture on their outgoings, and identify where savings could be made.

Double-entry Bookkeeping is supported

GnuCash supports double-entry bookkeeping, meaning that transactions are automatically balanced for you. For example imagine two accounts: A "Current Account", and  a "Savings Account" if you were to transfer £50 from your current account to your savings, you would only need to enter one transaction from your current account and your savings account would automatically credited. 

The above is important to remember when first setting up your accounts with Gnu cash, if you have-multiple accounts then be careful not to enter transactions twice; you only need to enter one side of the transaction and GnuCash will credit/debit the receiving account for you. 

Getting set-up with GnuCash

GnuCash is compatible with both Windows, Mac (and Linux). The installer can be found on their website

Post installation tips

Setting up your first accounts in GnuCash using the accounts wizard is simple, simply select the accounts which most closely match your need. For most small business accounts simply:
  1.  Un-check 'personal accounts'
  2. Select 'Business Accounts'
This will cause GnuCash to set-up initial accounts for your business. If your continuing your accounts from Arpil, for example, enter in the 'opening balance' for these accounts and follow on from there. 

To move existing accounts to Gnu cash, Microsoft Money(TM) and Quicken imports are supported natively. 

However, for simpler accounts with fewer transactions it is just as practical to manually enter past transactions as this gives you full control over your accounts set-up.

Summary of Small Business accounting using GnuCash

With it's 15 years of history, GnuCash is arguably the best free accounting software for small businesses. SME's can save a lot of time and money by using GnuCash over proprietary alternatives costing over £400 with limited support. It supports all (and more) of the expected features a small business would expect. 

For support for GnuCash, feel free to post questions below- and we will follow-up with a reply, then accompanying article for further details. What would you like further clarification on?

For a basic video introduction to using GnuCash, Quentin Stafford-Fraser has recorded a 'GnuCash absolute basics'

Thursday 1 August 2013

Small business marketing - advertising on a budget

Blow your SME trumpet!
Here's how the conversation usually goes:

SME: "I need to get noticed online, how can I get a greater presence on the web?"

E-Marketer: "Have you heard of Facebook sponsored posts, or Google Adwords- we can ensure you're on the first page of Google. LinkedIn have just started promoted posts too, watch out don't miss that"...


-Click here to jump to saving money on SME marketing-

Before committing any budget to online marketing, consider cheaper, more sustainable forms of marketing- small business advertising can be done on a budget, it mostly revolves around people, building relationships and writing useful content for your target audience.

"Engage with people, talk about what your interests are.
Filling a twitter stream with artificial, or ‘sell, sell,sell’ tweets will only attract more of the same." - Entrepreneurs Thoughts 'No one will do your social media for you'

It's not necessary to be on all social media sites- it's impractical 

Whilst it's important to secure your business name on the popular social media (SM) sites to avoid impersonators of your brand- it's not relevant to be on every social media site.

SM sites are maturing into niches, spend time on those which better match your business, for example a business selling eye catching jewellery is better suited to dedicating time to sites like Pinterest, and Tumblr over a business selling consultancy services which would be better suited submitting articles to relevant news sites or journals.

-Remember 'place' from the 7Ps of marketing

Don't waste time and resources by spreading your efforts across multiple SM sites, identify the suitable social media platform (remembering 'place' the 7p's of marketing) for your service or product. It's better to choose one, and do it very well than spread efforts to thinly across multiple platforms.
SM is a two-way medium:
don't talk at people, talk with them.

Social Platform Niche
Pinterest Image driven, does your product / service produce eye catching imagery. Pinterest users are aspirational, 'pinnings' items they like, think are worth sharing, or plan to buy. For example, restaurants, jewellery shops and clothing flourish on Pinterest.
Twitter Rumours, news and gossip travels fast on Twitter- it is a very disposable medium therefore understand messages have a short shelf life (as does yesterdays news). Does your SME operate in PR, news, events or gossip sectors? Choose the platform which matches your Product and match this with the Place which you conduct your SM marketing.
Facebook Facebook's demographics began as predominantly students in America (Varenc MIT) but saw immense growth of the 55+ age bracket of 922% between 2009 - 2010 (istrategylabs 2010). To engage with Facebook, take part in popular Facebook groups related to your industry- 'info-graphics' work well on Faceook, as text simply isn't engaging enough to grab attention. 

Make genuine connections with real people

Traditionally marketing was an extremely passive activity whereby the receiver of your message could not easily engage or respond to your message. 
  • Welcome people's feedback (both negative & positive)
  • Encourage sharing*
  • Ask questions
*Especially true larger organisations who are not akin to the new sharing culture of the internet- rather than patrolling and guarding content on copyright  (images, text, video) promote sharing of this to benefit from exposure to a larger audience.

Save money with efficient marketing

Time investment

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" -John Wooden
Remember that on-line marketing is a two-way thing, ask questions, put forward your offerings but remember SM sites are not the place for blatant adverts. Instead, submit pictures of your craftsmanship-- a restaurant for example or debate the current fashion in clothing.
Take 3 minutes and jot down three topics, questions or phrases which relate to your SME that a customer might be interested in. Phrase them as a question and you've then completed the first step to creating interesting engaging posts.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Email newsletter templates- Free and professional

Read all about it: Stop wasting money on newsletters!
There has been a surge recently in the demand for email newsletter templates online.

The aim of this document:
  • Where to get free, professional email templates
  • Be free
  • Easy to manage & measure ROI
In this case, obviously the return on investment is the time taken to create, and send out your email newsletters.

-For this reason, it needs to be quick and easy.

Introducing MailChimp

Stop. We know your keen, insistent on using Microsoft outlook e-mail templates... but truthfully there are better offering available today which are free and miles more measurable than your average Outlook template.

Hold up- MailChimp isn't even free, is it?

So long as you don't intend to send more than 12,000 emails a month, MailChimp remains "free forever" with standadrd features including:
  • Drag and Drop editor for creating newsletter templates
  • Coupon Codes
  • Social Sharing

What about email newsletter templates

Free mobile friendly email templates
Your able to create stunning, free newsletter templates from within Mailchip.

Also there's a bonus:
Without getting too technical, MailChimp's newsletter templates are also 'mobile friendly' which means they'll also look great if your customers read their emails from their phone. This is important because if an email is 'too large' for their mobile, they are just going to delete it (after all, if it's not enticing enough that's what we all do).

It is a great time saver; the newsletter templates are professional looking, and you can automatically create one which matches the colour scheme of your website by giving Mailchimp your website address.

Why switch to Mailchimp over outlook

Beware of the MailChip mascot

  • It's easier to manage large mailing lists
  • Email newsletter templates are professional & mobile friendly
  • The interface is incredibly intuative
  • The support from Mailchip is next-to-none
  • It's free so long as you send less than 12,00 emails a month
  • Their mascot is a Chimp.

Remember to ASK permission- or risk getting blocked

We've all thrown junk mail from our letterbox straight in the bin, and for good reason- we never asked for it. The same principle holds true for email, except with email we can, and must, embrace the 'permission marketing' principle (a term popularised by marketing writer Seth Godin).

With email, we can filter out email for spam- and consider, do you want your brand to be associated with sending non-permissive marketing spiel? A customer which actively wants your offers, and news will welcome your messages. Don't fight the tide, else the technical robots of the web do have the power to penalise you for sending spam- it's a bit technical, but just know that your SME must ask permission before sending and there's nothing to worry about.

How to create effective e-mail newsletter campaigns from the get-go

Set out your aims as though you were the recipient, what would you want as a customer of your product or service?

Perhaps loyalty discounts? MailChip allows you to send special emails to 'groups' on your mailing list which can be used to send discounts to your most loyal customers.

Do you keep a record of your customers birthdays? If your a restaurant, why not give your them a pleasant surprise offering a free bottle of wine if they book you for the occasion?

Both of the above are personalised, relevant offers. As best as you can, craft your newsletter to be relevant to those to which you are sending. Perhaps they are new clients, do you have exclusive 'welcome' offerers to offer?

Track the effectiveness of your newsletter

There's little use in blindly sending an email to 1000 people. With Mailchimp you can experiment with different newsletter templates and content and review reports of:
  1. How many people actually opened my newsletter?
  2. Did anybody click a link in my newsletter
  3. Was the newsletter shared via social media?
Of course, this sounds like a lot of work- but the truth is much of these stats are automatically collected, and presented to you  for review. Take advantage of it, and your able to build more effective newsletters over time.

Do you use a service other than Mailchimp? Thus far we've found it to be the easiest, most professional offering for SME's especially given its £0 price tag.

Small Business Website - 5 critical questions

Five key questions to ask yourself before committing to a pay-per month or 'one-off' website service for your small business website.

More often than not with a little research you can can secure a near free small business website- without the monthly overhead.

Before we explore the 5 critical questions it's important to identify the expectations of what a website should do for your business. What do you want your business website to achieve?

By identifying this,  you can relate to why the critical questions are so important.

Generally a business website comes in two forms: e-commerce, and lead-generating websites. For example, a beauty clinic may not sell products on its' website but does want to 'sell' enquiries'.

Thus the high-level expected outcomes of a website for your typical business website include:

  • Attracting customers (think about what would attract you, as a customer)
  • Generating leads (ask yourself: How many leads do I expect a month?)
  • Generating sales (ask yourself: how many products do I expect to sell per month?)
It's very easy to over estimate your monthly sales; Google your main competitors reports to gauge their success (bare in mind this will be over-hyped).

"Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of taking a large market and multiply by 1 % and saying 'how hard could that be'...getting 1% of any market is not that easy". - Guy Kawasaki - The Top 10 Mistakes of Entrepreneurs (source)
Without routinely updated content, nobody will find your website!

1. Have a plan for content

This cannot be stressed enough- we see  evidence of this all to often; Clients whom focus to much on the design of their website, and forgetting what really gets customers there in the first place. Copy-writing for this reason is a growing business. Without this, your website becomes stale and loses it's footing on search engines. After all, nobody wants to be directed to a website with out date, stale information.

The reason copy is so important is simple- this is how people find your business on search engines. Customers do not find a new business by searching for 'professional looking design'. Instead, build your website around the topic areas your target market would be researching before making the commit to buy.

How to address content- practical steps you can take

Think from your customers perspective- what questions might they have before buying product or enquiring about your service? Your website needs to be one answering these questions. For example consider a local garage wanting to promote it's MOT servicing. Questions perspective customers might be asking include "Cost of MOT", and "Can I drive without an MOT". If your website answers the questions perspective customers are asking, your more likely to win their favour.

Free Book From Google
The process we're describing here is known as 'ZMOT' which sands for 'Zero Moment Of Truth' a term coined by a Google employee which is available as a free book and well worth the read. It explains the buying process of people on-line including the importance of content, and is especially useful for local businesses which target their surrounding areas. 

2. Secure your business name online

This is simple but easily forgotten: register your business name on all the various social media websites to secure ownership of them. This does not mean your business should be active on every social media site there is, but is does give you the opportunity to use your own name should you chose to do so in the future. 

A free tool to check if your business name is still available on all the social media sites at once, you can use services such as 'Knowem' to check your business name availability.  This also avoids the PR danger of a another person impersonating  your organisation on-line by using your business name.

3. Quality Photographs

Just like window shopping in the real world, we buy with our eyes. Don't go half-hat on your product photos. Simply ask yourself if you were the customer, would you appreciate a small, unclear picture? Probably not.
For less than £40 it's worth the investment for professional looking photographs.

What's more, it's increasingly easy to take your own professional product photographs;  Affordable  photo studio white boxes are available on-line. For example this photo-box (left) achieves professional looking photos for under £40.

4. Ability to update website yourself

It should never take a call to a company or web developer to be able to update your own website; today tools known as content management systems (CMS's) allow the average Joe to login, and edit the content on your own business website. The latter is vital, so your website can be kept up-to-date and relevant to your consumers.

'Wordpress' is the ubiquitous, free CMS most commonly used to day. Typically, a web development service will use Wordpress (which is free), and build a custom template over it to math your branding requirements. - Be cautious of web design services which try to sell Wordpress as their own creation, remember it is the design service you are paying for, and quotes should reflect that.

Whichever CMS your website uses, before committing, ensure this choice does not lock you into your supplier (vendor lock-in). The key question to ask is:
-Can I export by content in a common format (XML, csv, sql, latex, text)?
Without this ability your site would be locked into whatever proprietary content management system your supplier give you. With the ability to export data from your CMS in a common format, however, this give you freedom to move to another CMS in the future should you need to.

5 Content Strategy

"Lets start at the very begining, a very good place to start"- Sound of music

Is your content:

  1. Relevant to your business?
  2. Helpful?
  3. Does it include calls to action?
 After reading the book "Content Strategy for the web" by Kristina Halvorson, which largely promotes a change in attitude towards content for your website which useful resources (questionnaires, example spreadsheets) to better organise the management of content on your web site and beyond (social media is also content, lest we forget).

The problem, however, is quite simple-  we're often "too busy" or "cannot see the value" in content which leads to websites going stale, being lax in content quality. It's no more complicated than input = output. Invest in content, make it measurable by using free analytics tools (such as Google Analytics) and soon one can measure the effectiveness of your content.

Set yourself a goal today to either
  • Identify existing outdated content on your website
  • Draft an article which is relevant to your target market and helpful
People are very passive when it comes to reading content on the web, we scan we don't read. Bullet points and use of graphics is of paramount importance to keep engagement. Give your visitors an action to take else they will just leave. Typical calls to action are "Book now", "Don't miss out", and of course "click here".  All sound terribly rudimentary but not having at least some form of call to action will loose you leads.
Nielsen, J. (2009), Eyetracking heatmap. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from, Eyetracking

Research undertook by Worcester Polytechnic Institute found
"Generation Y may prefer pages that include a main large image, images of celebrities, little text, and a search feature." (Djamasbi, S. et al 2010)

The research, used eye tracking to gauge where visitors looked first, and which areas of the page won the most attention producing 'heat maps' of interest. Taking advantage of the findings that most people from western society begin their focus in the top left, and  only 'skim read' toward the right should be considered when placing important calls to action.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Free Project Management

By free project management software we mean a piece of software which will fulfil the following requirements:
  • Be truly free
  • Have a small learning curve
  • Be intuitive to use

Above all, it must help things get done.

Introducing Web2Project

After much research reviewing other project management offerings, time and time again we came across dead, or no longer maintained projects set to create ‘the best free project management app’. This is understandable, open source project management projects require a tight team of people working toward a common goal. The latter can be challenging in a paid working environment, let alone a non-paid project.

Web2Project is recommended as it has stood the test of time, rather it is a ‘fork’  (late 2007) of an older project called dotproject which is no longer maintained. A brief shot of Web2Projects features include:
  • Google / Apple iCal integration*
  • Create project tasks which depend on prior taks being complete
  • Tasks can be set budgets
  • Automatic Gantt Chart creation
  • Gauges actual project finish date based on completeness of tasks

*The calendar integration is not two-way in that only event created via Web2Project are pushed to your gmail calendar. For example an event cannot be added to your project calendar from Google calendar- although a solution to this is being looked into (as per Web2Project youtube interview Published on Jun 12, 2013)

Why Web2Project, what are it’s disadvantages

Right now Web2Project focuses on getting the job done, it works as a project management tool for small teams and larger enterprises. It “overkill” for a one person project according to the lead developer. That said, the ability to track progress of a large project can be a good motivator to give you that ‘big picture’ of where you are with a project.

Where Web2Project arguably falls down is its lack of design, which is currently stuck in the past. The default design is predominantly grey and blue, however a newer modern theme is on the way with the 3.0 release. To put this into perspective, however, it is very hard to fault Web2Project based on it’s core functionality. The design of a project management application should not be how pretty it is, it should be how well it helps your organisation get the job done. In essence, there are many free project management solutions available which look the part, but lack the years of tested development and features that web2project has under its belt.

A note on ‘Free’ project management software

Many offerings we review, and this is true for most applications, claim to be ‘free’ on the onset but after delving into the features of such tools, more often than not the ‘killer feature’ is often an add-on or an upgrade to a ‘pro version’.  In some cases it is baring on dishonestly when a solution is marketed as free, but then later the customer is told “it’s free apart from that feature” or “if you have x number of users you have to start paying”. There’s nothing wrong with these freemium models, but users looking for a free project management solution are looking for just that- don’t try to fool them.

Where to get web2Project

The installation of Web2Project is documented at:

Are you using another free project management solution, or currently using web2project? Post your experiences below.