The advice has been '...work from home where you can..' and that's fine, many of us have been able to do that - find a room or space in a room to work in and make that space as functional as you can get it. Multiply that by two, three or four and you're really struggling! Adapting your living space to allow your entire family to work from home is very difficult. Moreover, if you're on different shifts...it becomes very difficult and 'normal' life (whatever that is while we're in a global pandemic) has to be put on hold.
At the moment there are three of us working from home, two of us taking calls pretty continuously so they have to be in separate rooms; the third just has to as quiet as a Church mouse. Luckily, we started from a good place in that we already had a 'dedicated office space' already set up before the pandemic hit. The space was big enough to get another workstation sorted out so the obvious choice was to have one taking calls with the Church mouse and the other to go... hmmm...where exactly?
Internet reception was a major consideration for us as all three had to have it as an essential part of our work. Using a phone as a 'hotspot' wasn't a very good option really as speed was slow and it kept dropping out.
Our dedicated office space (outside the main home) required the Internet access to be available there so the third user had to be within wireless range of the router... So that's how the third user ended up working in the conservatory...!
In winter that's not the warmest place to work so we had to get another heater to keep the space warm; added to that is the fact that we've had to insulate one of the walls and roof to alleviate the heat loss and reduce our contribution to global warming.
When it gets around to the summer, I think that we'll probably have to have all the windows and doors open and trust that external noise doesn't impact on calls.
We've even had to do some changes to the pre-covid dedicated office space. The more hardy of us was able to endure badly fitting doors and windows with all associated draughts... but when we had to double-up, draughty doors and windows were not particularly a good thing. We looked at various secondary glazing and settled on the cheap option of 1mm thick plastic sheeting over the glazing and a thermal curtain over the door.
We also acquired another small oil-filled radiator to go near human legs to keep them warm and toasty.
We've accepted that all three of us could be working from home well into 2021 until the vacination programme includes all three of us; so we'll have to continue to re-evaluate our needs and adapt as necessary.
We count ourselves lucky that we do not live in a home that has been designed for open-plan living as we simply could not use the space for our current requirements.
We need space that is separate from each other to be able to function at work and be able to enjoy leisure activities without disturbing others as they work.
One thing that we are painfully aware of is that we all need better home design so that rooms can be multi-purposed. We were 'lucky' in a way that we were able to make some dedicated office space with the resources available to us - 'lucky' in the sense that we bought this specific property with a view to creating dedicated office space; not everyone has that option.
Many areas of this country are blanket-covered in extraordinarily out-dated houses; for example, the row upon row of terraced houses built originally as a two-up, two-down house with outside privvy, no damp-proof course, and poor road access.
We need better housing for all of us. Why don't we instigate a programme of public works to replace old poorly-designed housing with new homes that are heavily-insulated and have multi-functional rooms fit for the way we live today?
The economic 'fallout' of 'Brexit', Covid-19 and impact of global warming mean that we are going to have a lot of people who are unemployed. Getting us all to work on improving our housing and infrastructure would lift all our spirits.
That's a bit contentious, but we suspect that in the vast majority of cases the latter is true.
Most firm's get into the habit of giving staff 'free-reign' when it comes to booking holidays, but if you do you run the risk of your firm, or department, becoming unable to meet demand at peak times or unexpected high demand.
It's an area that is often missed with the result that all of a sudden your firm is under-staffed at a vital moment.
Planning for this eventuality is key - if you know when the 'choke' points are on your work-load time-line then you can plan accordingly. Incorporating available staffing levels at any point is key to managing your business effectively. If you have the knowledge staffing levels will be tight at any point, you can take on extra staff if the budget allows or take staff from elsewhere to complete the job in the allotted time.
If you know that you're going to have a peak demand at some point, you may find it necessary to request that your staff do not have holidays during this period.
It's not something that you can continue to do regularly though as you will, most likely, be in breach of the contract of employment with the employee concerned if you continually refuse to authorise an employee's holiday request. If you find yourself doing this often, then you should consider taking on more staff either in a permanent role or to cope with peak demand.
Try and put yourself 'in their shoes' just for a moment - isn't it likely that your employee will become a little bit unhappy if his or her holiday is continually refused. Keeping your staff happy at their work is important as long as they understand that you also need to keep your customers happy too and that means you need to deliver what your firm has promised to deliver and on time!
You may find some employee's don't really have the commitment to the firm and to delivering what the firm has promised to deliver, consequently they don't care much about leaving your firm short-staffed at critical times. Changing employees attitudes to work is a difficult thing to do; it's not impossible, but it is difficult. If it were easy, there would be a much lower turnover in managers in Premier League football.
One thing that we know here from the example of football managers is that however well you have performed in the past, whatever glories you've achieved as a team, it doesn't do to throw a football boot at anyones head!
There's a one-line quip in a well-known advertisement on English TV - 'No dramas!' - it's probably the best bit of advice we can give you here. If you can use a holiday planner in conjunction with your work-planning tools, you can avoid dramas with staff over holidays...with clients over failing to deliver...with superiors over poor departmental performance.
Now the selling bit...
Our new Office Support Software is something that can help you to eliminate dramas in your work-place. It has a holiday planner with a holiday request system to assist you to plan your work-load. Used in conjunction with the Work Planner, you can see the highs and lows of your work-load at a glance and plan staffing levels accordingly.
This is us - signing off with - "G'day - no dramas!"
Having just completed Beta testing on new software designed for the way things are right now, we know the importance of trying to plan for every eventuality.
Most city-based businesses have become dependent upon the 'office' - a place in an often centralised (but not always) and conveniently situated building. It was necessary for most, to have a centralised office - easy for clients and staff alike to get to. Having an office in the city was a sign that 'you've made it!' - success, it's great that we work in an office in 'the city', it's great that our solicitor or accountant has an office in 'the city' - there's a certain amount of 'kudos' there. The current situation makes things very different with personal contact with people outside of our 'bubble' being frought with danger.
It'll all be alright when we get a vaccine - things will get back to 'normal'. If coronavirus mutates and a new strain threatens out very existence, what then? Doesn't it make sense to make some big changes to the way that we do things, to adapt, to survive?
We have moved quickly in stores to protect front-line staff and some offices have adapted, but most offices and stores have problems with layout that need major changes. Some supermarkets have simply blocked off the bottom on aisles to force people to queue from a fixed point; they are going to have to re-design store layouts to allow free passage of customers from one aisle to the next. They are going to have to work out different systems that prevent the worst of us from invading the personal space of others.
Offices have 'choke points' where staff have to negotiate narrow 'corridors' (often corridors of office furniture), communal areas (including toilets) that are too small and present enormous hygiene concerns and often too many desks in a small area. Some offices simply cannot function with any degree of social distancing.
We have designed Internet-based software to help our clients to have a virtual office wherever they may be working from. As long as they have Internet access they can use our system to be connected to everyone else in their organisation - even if they're overseas!
The programme not only allows the recording of time, expenses and disbursements but also has within it a holiday planner so that everyone knows who is off on holiday and when.
In addition, there's also an internal email system (MyMail) that is totaly separate from an external email system and not accessible by anyone outside of the organisation.
A simplified Work Planning system can flag up to a member of staff that they have been chosen to coordinate other staff for a particular job. It has job cards that can moved under a different column to reflect the stage of the job as it moves from Due In, Ready to Start, In Pogress....right up to Completion. There is Job Timeline so that you can see what jobs are being updertaken and the length of time they are forecast to take.
An array of statistical graphs show the company's performance over time. A full Audit system shows who posted what, who altered what and when.
There are many features of the programme that can be accessed via a tablet or a mobile but for best results use a desk-top or a lap-top.
In designing our new Time and Fees Software, we've done out best to help people to have the tools to do their jobs and feel connected to everyone else in their organisation without the need to commute to a city-based office.
Firstly, there's the search engine that we've found that doesn't track you and provides good results:
This is their sales pitch:
Now a way to check VAT numbers!
This is their sales pitch:
A way to send big files securely
This is their sales pitch:
A way to find out who called me?
This is their sales pitch:
HMRC - Advisory Fuel Rates
This is their sales pitch:
Find out about Advisory Fuel Rates (AFR) for company car users, when you can use them, and how they're calculated.
HMRC - Tax agent toolkits
This is their sales pitch:
Use these toolkits if you’re a tax agent or adviser to help your clients avoid making mistakes on their returns.
HMRC - Calculate holiday entitlement
This is their sales pitch:
Use this tool to calculate holiday entitlement for:
HMRC - Business Income Manual
NB This is an HMRC internal manual.
This is their sales pitch:
Supplementary guidance on how to check tax calculations or work out the trading profits of a business for Self Assessment tax return.
Throughout the ages, people have mainly trusted what they can see, touch and feel. So how can we protect ourselves against something that we can't see?
What does this mean for the future of business?
We are fighting Covid-19 with the weapons available to us - separation, isolation, and fastidious hygiene. For the moment, until a vaccine is developed this is maybe all we can do to stay safe.
This may end up being just one round in the fight against viruses. We have long accepted that there is no cure for the 'common cold' - a virus that keeps mutating year on year. Our fight against 'flu' is similar with Public Health Bodies taking a gamble on a new flu vaccine each year, hoping that it will enable those who are inoculated to fight whatever strain of flu attacks them.
Most will be hoping that after a 'suitable period' we can all come out of our 'hiding places' and carry out just like we did before we became aware of Covid-19; but, can we simply just go back to the way things were?
As viruses adapt to our efforts to eliminate them, perhaps we will have to live differently in the future. Imagine yourself at some point later this year, meeting up with a friend for a meal at a restaurant or perhaps to view the latest cinema release; will you shake hands, hug, or will you 'elbow bump' and go back to a safe distance. If your friend coughs - how will this affect your state of mind? When you venture inside the restaurant or public house, will you be searching for visual clues as to their hygiene standards, for reassurances about cleanliness? Will you take to wearing disposable gloves and masks wherever you go?
When you go back to your normal place of work, how will you feel about the hygiene conditions there? How will you feel if you are forced to go within two metres of a colleague? How will you feel if your 'personal space' is violated?
Our current way of life has been turned on its head and we are going to have to take both business and personal lessons from this as we go forward into an uncertain future.
We have been asked to work from home where we can and we are going to have to do more work from isolated positions in the future.
The new tools we are using now to get our job done - video conferencing, Skype, and FaceTime are being used more as we try to carry on as much as we can. Good home broadband speeds become essential but there are gaping holes in our current broadband infrastructure and huge disparities between cities and outlying areas.
We have certainly had to adapt our home environment to become our work environment. We have saved time and money on the daily commute; giving us more time for either work or pleasure. Will we have to be even more flexible in the future? Will we have to work out of normal hours to video conference people on the other side of the planet? The normal cost of travel, accommodation and direct effects on our lives... catching that early morning flight - jet lag... that 'upset tummy'... can be avoided by working towards that video conference call at 3:00am our time!. Right now we have no choice due to 'lockdown rules' but when you weigh everything up, doesn't it make sense to do it?
Business have to think more about what they intend to do when the 'lockdown rules' cease. The entertainment industry is going to have to come up with new ideas and take a lead on keeping us all safe while enjoying ourselves.
Those of us who normally work in centralised offices are going to have to think more carefully about how we use those spaces in future; how we travel to them and what price we are prepared to pay to meet our business needs.
If we want our employees to work from home on a more regular basis, we are going to have to ensure that they have the tools to carry out their roles. As employees, we are going to have to plan more to have a suitable area of our home to work from.
Click Here for home office ideas from The Balance Small Business.
Whatever your ‘thing’ is – whether it be bookkeeping, accountancy, plumbing or electrical work, being self-employed means that in addition to the actual work (that, hopefully you enjoy doing – otherwise why are you doing it?) you have to actually ‘run the business’! You may be in the fortunate position to say that the business just runs it’s self…but does it really?
Are you recording all your time and expenditure incurred on any particular job? How does it compare with what you thought when you provided as estimate for the job? Sure, there are often things that your client didn’t tell you that add to your costs; the question is – do you know how much extra this has cost? It may be worth talking to the client before you start so that you have aired your thoughts about what the unknown areas are and how they could impact on your fee. If indeed your suspicions about possible problems are proved to be correct, can they assure you that they will be able to pay for your services? If you are worried about their assurances or their ability to pay for your services, think seriously about walking away before committing to the work. Better to walk away now rather than work without being paid in full for your services.
Recording the work that you do and recording your expenses for any one particular job can help you to recover your costs on each and every job. It can help you when you need to raise a tender for a similar job so that your profitability stays where you want it too.
Just have a think about this one for a second…when you’ve been out to see a prospective client and have discussed their requirements for the job…when you’ve been back to your ‘admin. office’ and have worked out a tender or quote…do you just post it out to them?
Why not arrange to meet them again and go through the elements of the job and the costs of those elements – bringing them ‘on-board’ at this stage may make it more likely that you’ll get the job and more likely that, should if any of the possible problem areas highlighted by you need addressing, that you’ll get paid for the work that you have done.
We sell time and fees recording software that can help you to record the work that you do for your clients, help you to be more efficient, and help you to be more profitable. It is easy to use, and can help you to recover all your costs and make a profit.
Click Here for more information about our Time Recording software.
We had previously used VIES (the EU's website to check and verify VAT numbers); but have been experiencing service issue problems when trying too access their site. We suspect that this has something to do with Brexit.
We decided to search for an alternative and have found this site vatcheck.eu So far, we haven't had any problems with it and it is very quick and easy to use.
Whereas the VIES site required the user to enter their own VAT number in addition to the VAT number searched for, vatcheck.eu does not require the user to enter their own VAT number or any personal details whatsoever.
We hope that you find it useful.
Now that the people of the UK have elected a Conservative Government with a large majority most businesses in the UK and Europe are hoping that the period of uncertainty will come to an end.
This period has had a vastly detrimental effect across the UK economy, with reduced footfall in stores, reduced manufacturing orders and delays in construction projects. This has had fed itself in a downward spiral in that there has been reduced buying confidence from those workers affected by the downturn.
Traditional Christmas bonuses have been reduced or omitted altogether in some cases, which will leave the long period from the early, before Christmas payday to the end of January, a particularly hard period for workers to endure. We expect, therefore, that the Government will bring out a Budget Statement during January that will be ambitious and full of hope and cheer for many business and employees.
What would be a great gesture though would to be to increase the personal allowance for basic rate tax payers in the current tax year, giving many an instant bonus in order to promote spending and mark an end to austerity.
The Employment Allowance has been in existence for over five years now and, to a certain extent, is unfair in that many companies can claim the whole of the allowance in the first month of the tax year whereas, other employers having a large number of part-time staff may never get to claim the full allowance in any particular tax year and may not fully benefit from it. A farer system would reduce the amount available to larger companies and provide some greater benefit to employers for each employee they have that works over a specified number of weekly hours - perhaps 16 or 20 hours???
Many employees, I am sure, would be willing to accept a lowering of National Insurance Allowances to pay for increased budgets for the National Health Service, but not all. There will be some who will argue that the Government has promised extra funds for the National Health Service that will somehow be released upon leaving the EU. It would certainly be helpful if more funds were available for mental health, to reduce the extra strain placed upon the Police force and especially in Social Care - an area that most agree has been neglected and is now believed my many to be in crisis. However, the 'divorce bill' may mean that those funds are released over a longer period than previously publicised.
It will be interesting to see if the Government responds to criticism of the Universal Credit Scheme to make some effective and acceptable amendments. Both new and old MP's, fresh from canvassing must have received a great deal of feedback about the unfairness of the scheme in its current form and how it is actually creating more problems than it solves; putting many into debt straight away and putting them in a financial position that is virtually impossible to crawl out of. If the Government has listened to those constituents affected by the unfairness of the scheme, then surely some reform must take place, and soon, or the Government will risk losing the confidence of those voters who changed their voting habits to vote the Conservatives in with a large majority.
We have seen many companies set up in recent years purely to 'aid' other companies to obtain funds from the Research & Development Tax Refunds and taking a large percentage of tax reclaimed. It's a shame that more of the refunds are not going to the companies that have actually earned the right to reclaim the tax that they have paid in the first place. Perhaps, HMRC should look at making it easier for a company to understand the complexities of making a claim or reduce the complexity altogether. It may help companies to actually receive more of the funds that are rightfully theirs.
Many businesses will tell you that, as people move away from 'king cash' to increasingly rely on contactless, debit and credit cards, they want to see a real reduction in transaction fees. The fact that most banks charge a percentage of the value of the transaction rather than a fixed fee per transaction isn't fair on businesses, yet banks operate as a 'cartel' to largely operate the same sort of fees. Why should a bank have a percentage of a business's turnover?
You need the same level of security on the transaction whether it is £5 or £500 but the difference in bank fees can be between 10p and £10 per transaction! HMRC's VAT at least takes into account outgoing VAT as well as incoming, but banks are taking a percentage of a business's turnover regardless of whether the product is a 'loss-leader' or a 'cash-cow'.
For a system that appears to be completely automated, we believe that it is an unfair business practice. If banks themselves, or companies such as VISA were to make some voluntary changes to actively assist businesses with changes in transaction fees, then it may avert the need to make some regulatory changes are overdue in this area.
Staff here voted to remain in Europe, but after the past three years of uncertainty, we are relieved that Brexit will now finally go ahead. We believe that consumer and business confidence will increase slowly over the coming year but it may help if the Government also provides some sort of incentive for new start businesses to get off the ground and provide valuable technical support to them. (Not - 'Here's a leaflet on starting in business', but perhaps training sessions and one-to-one telephone assistance?) It would be a shame to think that the only help for a new business could come from a successful presentation on 'Dragon's Den'!
"If your computer is wireless or does not use any antivirus software and is used not just by you, your email address and password is completely at risk." - (Wikihow 30/09/2019)
Firstly, if you are using wireless make sure that you use a WPA key on your wireless internet connection - it's best to have the latest version of security as, in reality, we are always at least one step behind the hackers.
You can add or change a WPA key in Windows 10 by:
If a guest user wants to use your Internet on his or her device and asks for the WiFi WPA key, it is best to turn on your WiFi router’s guest access that uses a separate passphrase and give that instead. That way the guest WiFi is not able to access the local router access admin URL. And if his or her laptop gets stolen, the main WPA passphrase is not found on his or her laptop
Secondly, check your e-mail settings and set them for the level of security that you are prepared to accept. If you're using Microsoft Outlook, then:
Use the radio buttons to select the level of security that you require.
We would recommend that all of your e-mail addresses have at the very least the 'Low' level of protection. Any e-mail addresses that are public or that you use for subscription services should be set to 'High'.
If you are particularly sensitive then you can set it on 'Safe-Lists Only' - but make sure that you have everyone's correct e-mail address correctly marked as being 'safe' on your list or you won't get any and won't send any either!
The bottom section of tick-boxes should also be completed. It makes sense to tick the Microsoft recommended settings to 'Disable Links...' and 'Warn...about suspicious domain names in e-mail addresses.'
Thirdly, get an antivirus software programme from a reputable source - do not respond to random e-mails (purporting to be from antivirus companies) with download links; research the antivirus companies out there and go directly to their web-site to purchase. There are some free ones out there, but if you're in business, you should really go for one that you buy - you'll need their support at some time on the future for sure. If you're a small business you can get overall control of the antivirus settings on your networked computers via a 'console' which you alone can have access to.
Lastly, use common sense. If it doesn't look right... if you at all suspicious of it... leave it be for a second or two... If you have antivirus on your computer and it is a 'dodgy' e-mail then give your antivirus a few moments to work - it may quarantine it straight away!
If the e-mail purports to be from a particular organisation and you're suspicious, contact them directly but don't use any of the contact details in the suspect e-mail.
Most charities do not send out requests directly, they invite you to go on their own web-site to make a donation so don't respond to an e-mail request purporting to be from a 'bona-fide' charity because your donation might be towards some hacker's holiday fund rather than to help a 'sick child'.
A couple of other points, it is well worth regularly checking your spam box just in case some legitimate e-mails fall into it by accident; and when you're sending e-mails to lots of people at once, it is a more secure practice to send them via the 'BCC' (the 'blind copy') field so that the recipient can't see all the others e-mail addresses.
Their site is well worth a look to see if there is anything else you can do.
One final note, if you have lost money as a result of a phishing email, or via any other fraudulent activity then report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101. If you’ve experienced cybercrime, you can contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support and information.
Economics come into play here - the cost of buying new hardware pales into insignificance when you consider the cost of new software and installation costs. It does significantly depend upon the amount of software directly installed on each machine. The current trend to migrate away from having software directly installed on desktop/laptop computers makes the decision to change over to newer computers to be far less important. The buying decision would place more emphasis on longevity and processing speed with very little local storage.
Some of the questions you should ask are - 'How old is the computer itself?' and 'How long do you consider it's useful life to be?' and 'If you weren't forced to change by the fact that Windows 7 is no longer being supported, when would you have planned to change your hardware?'
Accountants usually write down computer hardware over three years, but in practice they use their own computers for much longer than that. The fact is that it is simply not cost effective to change computer hardware every three years. The time lost to infrastructure changes alone makes it unviable as a general policy; however, it does depend on the type of hardware. If you're talking about laptops that may be 'pool laptops' (that is - grab one of the shelf and put it back when you've finished), you'll find that they get far more 'wear and tear' than say a desktop computer over the same period of time. Moreover, desktops usually have some components that are upgradeable (extra RAM or a new SSD drive can speed things up considerably) whereas laptops are not usually quite so adaptable.
Alternatively, the cost of upgrading to Windows 10 (which at the time of writing can still be done free without having to purchase Windows 10) is not just the time taken to upgrade; there are often hidden costs here too.
The fact that some of your (already installed) software programmes may suddenly ask you for your licence key - do you have that information available? It's fine if you do but, if you can't find it, you may have to purchase it again to install on an old computer.
If you purchased your computer with pre-installed software on it, do you have the licence keys for the software? If not, then it could be that you will need some sort of evidence that the software was pre-installed if you are to have any hope of continuing to use your software.
Did you keep the Invoice for your computer? That may be the only proof you have that the software came pre-installed.
We took the decision that upgrading to Windows 10 was the most cost-effective measure that we could do right now to ensure that we had continued support for our operating software from Microsoft.
Upgrading hardware to machines that were hardly any different in operation, with the prospect of having to buy lots of new software did not appear to be a good financial decision.
There are also useful guides on YouTube that can assist you to carry out the change. We found this one from Michael Cooper particularly useful (thanks Michael) and hope that you do too; just click on the image to go to the YouTube page.
Michael also gives some pointers as to how to get Windows 10 looking a bit more familiar with the installation of the Classic Windows Start Menu.
An important point to ensure before starting to upgrade is to ensure that you have the correct licence for Windows 7 and Michael can show you where to find this, what it should look like and, when you've upgraded, what the new Windows 10 licence looks like.
Oh - we forgot about the possibility of going over to use a Apple Mac computers...but then, so do most hard-working professionals.
There was a TV advertising campaign last year by Barclay's Bank (no recommendation, there are plenty more banks out there!) and the adverts were basically implying that unless a particular web-site was an https:// , then it could not be trusted.
A message that seems a little strange coming from a bank - maybe it would have been better to have come from a Government body? Did the message that some web-sites may be untrustworthy if they haven't got a 'lock' make their products any better or safer, or their customer service any better?
Having a lock on a web-site usually means that the entity who owns and runs it has spent a little more money to obtain that green lock from someone. It also means that the site is encrypted, so the end user is less likely to be hacked, but it doesn't mean that the site is selling 'bona fide' products.
There are some software reviewers who, in action, are no different from the current flotilla of Facebook and Instagram 'influencer's' who will happily accept large sums of money in return for a product review.
Can you really trust the review that you read?
When you last looked at a review site for anything, did you stop to find out who paid for those reviews and how accurate they were?
We did a 'straw poll' here at the office and...yep!...we do exactly the same, look for reviews and hope that we can glean enough good and meaningful information about a product before we come to make a choice.
Amazon actively seek out people who buy things from their site in reasonable volumes to provide reviews. If you read those reviews, you often see that some provide great praise with very little substance. In the office, we are getting good at 'skimming over' those and gleaning good information from others - whether the review was good or bad.
We admittedly aim for products with reasonably large numbers of reviews so that we can be sure of gleaning enough information to purchase a product.
Have you ever used one of those 'trade person recommended' web-sites? Those that are supposedly reviewed by the people that the trade person has worked for?
Another 'straw poll' here at the office revealed that some of us had used certain sites and that because of poor quality work/service, in hind-sight, we believed that some of the reviews were probably fake. Indeed, one of us had posted a poor review for a trades person only to be targeted and abused by that same trades person and the review was taken down by the trades person!
We intend to launch a new product next year, and will do so on a new web-site. At that point, we will look at new ways of marketing it but it highly unlikely that we will pay someone a large sum of money to give it a favourable review.
There are organisations out there that you can pay a monthly fee to a get a star rating! Yet another way to pay to get people to trust your product! But does it make it any better? It makes the organisation supplying the rating a little richer though doesn't it...?
Google will take your money to put your web-site higher in the rankings shown to prospective customers regardless of merit.
They advertise as being hosted in the UK's greenest data centre, Custodian. We strive to have greener credentials so it was a 'no brainer' to use Mojeek for searching.
Straight away, we found that our web-site is listed on a unbiased search engine on page two where it was much lower down on google.
Going forward, I think that we should look towards asking our own customers to provide reviews; hopefully, our customers will see that we provide a good product that they value and service that is responsive and meets their needs.
We do have clients that have continued with us for a considerable number of years - our oldest began with us in March 2003 and are still using our time recording software (updated of course!).
We could end by submitting to the situation - "That's the way the World is!" Well we think that if you don't like something, that you should do your utmost to change it and get something that you do like!
We are forced to acknowledge that organisations such as Google and Microsoft wield an enormous amount of 'business muscle' and we are forced to comply with the way that they do business in order to do business at all. We have to use Google and Microsoft products to get ahead at all. We will continue to use their products where there products meet our business requirements. Google reCaptcha, for example, is now an essential part of our 'anti-robot strategy' and we would recommend it to any prospective web-site owner.
There are a multitude of businesses in the UK and throughout the world with similar views. We do not want to be exploited or exploit others; just provide good products without paying others unnecessarily for the privilege of doing so.
Now isn't that worth a green tick...?
Honestly, we couldn't have gotten any worse people wanting to join the forum if we had openly said - 'scammers, hackers and low-life's please join here and create as much havoc as you want!' NO - we're not inviting you to do that!
Let us tell you about our experience of setting up and running a Business Forum.
We have some ideas about what constitutes Best Business Practice within the company so the general consensus was that we should gear the forum towards that. An exchange of ideas about the best way to do business.
We used one of the forum designs provided free of charge by our web-hosting service - quite a good 'piece of kit' originally designed by FluxBB
We set up the web-site on a sub-domain and away we went with a couple or articles.
The first members to join were two people supposedly in South America who wanted solely to advertise their Essay Writing services. (Forum rules expressly banned members' promotion of commercial interests.)
The next lot came thick and fast and, over the first weekend we have over four hundred memberships! We quickly realised that these were not 'real memberships' but 'robots'! So we took steps to stop this.
We found a set of 'add-ons', provided by FluxBB that allowed us to not show the list of members (so that there was no commercial advantage to them being members - their promotional web-links would not be shown) and added a simple 'anti-bot' registration process.
The membership rate dropped considerably, but became more specialised. We noted that a significant number of e-mail addresses (each of which seemed to be a random jumble of letters) were linked to one web-host provider - all of them taking you to a grey-screen spelling out the domain and adding the words - 'Powered by VESTA' - a web-host provider.
It seemed too much of a coincidence for these to be from different people, but IP addresses varied so much that it appeared that if the perpetrator was just one person, he (or she) was somehow falsifying them. E-mail addresses were virtually unintelligible and bared no relation to user names. What was their aim? We didn't wait to find out - each one was banned upon discovery.
Following the problem of coming in to work Monday morning and finding significant numbers of such 'memberships', we then adopted a working policy of only allowing memberships during office hours.
Then thing became a little more sinister. Using outlook, gmail and similar e-mail addresses to attempt at looking legitimate, IP addresses did not match the countries that they were putting down so these were still banned.
During all this, any posts that had been added by members were solely for commercial gain and were deleted immediately upon discovery.
Then we got e-mail addresses that weren't to any registered domain so deleted them as well.
The 'last straw' for us was when we checked an e-mail address putting the domain into a search engine only to find that the domain was a direction to Malware!
Fortunately, we subscribe to a good anti-virus programme and all our computers are covered by it. The programme immediately flagged it up as 'Malware Detected!' and we decided that 'enough was enough'.
So, the forum was immediately locked to prevent any more new members; and, shortly afterward, the forum was taken down.
The exercise lasted approximately six weeks and we gained a lot of information about how unscrupulous people go about destroying the efforts of others to make the world a better place through greater understanding of the best way to do things.
Perhaps what we need is an 'invitation-only' business forum...Now there's a thought!
We were promised good reliable service by Heart Internet and have not received it, nor have we received any offer of compensation for the times that our web-sites were unavailable and our e-mail out of action. We also began to notice a significant time lag between requesting access to our web-site and being presented with the web-page on screen. In fact it was so long that we got a brief message saying the web-site could not be accessed just before the index page came up. The speed had definitely slowed without any explanation from Heart Internet. Tickets raised when the web-site was unavailable resulted in the web-site being restored but with Heart Internet saying that they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Fix it first, then say everything is fine; they were beginning to sound like dodgy car mechanics! But, it was working; even though it was slow and the unavailable error message came up each time.
We then asked about setting up new users for MySQL databases because the instructions to do so in their Help Database didn't work. We used Heart Internet's Chat service and were told that we couldn't do that...!? We asked - why would you put instructions about setting up new users if it wasn't allowed? Taking a leaf out of the 'Politician's Handbook' they completely avoided answering the question.
For us, this unhelpful attitude and resulting poor service was enough to make us look for a new web-hosting provider. In the course of doing so, we found other blogs with damning reports about Heart Internet's service. The Register.co.uk is one and there are others.
We didn't plump for the first one we saw, some looked good, but when we asked questions they didn't actually answer them or attempt to clarify information available on their web-pages. One looked to be a reasonable price and service, but then charged an extra £10 per month (plus VAT) for the software to access the workings on the web-site.
We eventually settled on a company that offered SSD* drives (electronic hard-drives) rather than old HDD drives. All the stuff that we needed already to accommodate three web-sites and have lots of unlimited bits for very reasonable price!
*NB - Like a memory stick, there are no moving parts to an SSD. Rather, information is stored in microchips. Conversely, a hard disk drive uses a mechanical arm with a read/write head to move around and read information from the right location on a storage platter. This difference is what makes SSD so much faster.
In the process of moving over, even though our plan with Heart Internet didn't run out for five months and everything paid and up to date, Heart Internet put a block on our account and prevented us, or anyone else, from accessing our web-sites. Several hours later, after raising tickets, Chats online and telephone calls, our account access was eventually restored but the time we had arranged with our new web-hosters to effect the migration had passed.
We managed to rearrange and to get everything transferred over. E-mail needed to be re-set up and database access changed but it didn't take long to sort out.
We now have a site that we are proud of - giving a service that we, and our customers expect to have - reliable and responsive. Our new web-hosts have provided us with an excellent service and given us services that we didn't have before or were charged much more for.
We have been troubled by network administrators on a couple of occasions over the years; both times were due to the decision to delay, or avoid it altogether, using the Microsoft Windows Update Facility.
When you get a new computer, we strongly advise using Windows Updates immediately before installing any other software. There are valid reasons for this.
In the case of our Time Recording software, it is important that Windows Updates are regularly carried out because it uses Microsoft Office programmes and runs on the Microsoft Windows Operating System. If these supporting programmes are not maintained regularly and properly, it is possible that Time Recording may be adversely affected.
No software is perfect and this includes the Windows Operating System. After releasing a software to the public, manufacturers often come across situations where they find bugs which often result in their software crashing or create compatibility issues. Our software is Microsoft-Based so if there are any such issues reported, Microsoft software developers immediately go to work in order to fix these bugs. The fix is then released as a Windows Update.
A new computer will have a factory-installed Windows Operating System; there may have been many updates issued since that installation, so when your computer is first switched on, in needs updating to ensure that it has all the latest bug fixes.
We know that some of these bug fixes may actually result in creating problems in other software areas without Microsoft being aware at the time of the full impact the update has on another programme; however, Microsoft do maintain a good watch on what problems are occurring and do issue further bug fixes to correct any conflicts.
If an update causes problems today, then within a few days, an update is usually issued to fix it.
Many Network Administrators time the installation of updates via a programmed routine, usually at a time when their system is unlikely to be used - often in the middle of the night. They will put off the installation of Windows Updates on a new computer because they can, and do, set up the routine to run Windows Updates in the middle of the following night. So they take a chance - the chance that the Windows as installed on the computer is fairly-well up to date and proceed with installation of other software - including Time Recording. Then, when some software doesn't run properly, they call on that software provider with a demand that they fix the problem immediately!
A problem where software doesn't run correctly as it intended is not always a Windows Update problem, but we take great care to ensure that our software works on current systems. We test every bit of our software before it leaves our premises to ensure that it is working properly as intended.
Certainly, we would go so far as to state that if you already have our software installed on your network and it is running on every other computer on your system except the one you're working on, the problem is very unlikely to be with our software and is highly likely to be a problem with Windows Updates on that computer.
Network installation is not something we do, but if you ensure that your chosen network installer follows our procedures and runs Windows Update regularly, especially when setting up a new computer, then there should not be any problems with our software.
It is safe to allow windows update to get installed automatically, but if you are still not comfortable with installing windows update automatically, you can change the windows update settings to Notify before Installing. This will allow you to check the available updates before installing.
Practice safe computing by regularly using Windows Update.
Don't record your time...? If you're not recording your time at all, then you have two options; you can either invoice a similar fee to the previous one for the particular job or agree a fixed fee based upon fees charged for similar work done for other clients. The information will be there, because it is a part of your accounting system that you have to maintain properly to satisfy regulatory bodies; i.e. an outside influence is forcing you to do it! If your firm doesn't feel the need to record the work done by its employees, do you have some method of recording when they are in attendance at work?
Not many professional firms require their employees to 'clock in and out'; but some professional firms, that don't record work done or record when employees are in attendance, suffer because of it. Some employees, of professional firms, fall into patterns of becoming late, or provide the excuse 'I'm working from home today'.
How do you know how much time has been lost if you don't record it?
Certainly, it is relatively easy to quantify the time taken to capture and process time worked. The cost of someone on an hourly charge-out rate of say £50.00 spending 15 minutes every day inputting their time will be in the region of £3,000 per annum; multiply this up by 20 staff and that is £60,000 in lost time! But is it lost time…? Staff are naturally focussing on productivity when they are recording the time they have taken to do a task; which, in itself, has to be a good thing.
Moreover, so the argument goes, it is pointless to record work undertaken on a fixed fee basis because nothing else can be billed.
Management of firms that don't record their time may have a feeling that some jobs are paying better than others, but won't know for sure how well or how badly they are doing on individual jobs. If their company is in profit, they will believe that they are doing well. They could possibly do better, but they don't know where the improvements need to be made.
How can you analyse the work done in the past to see where improvements need to be made if you aren't recording the work you do?
If you are recording the work you do, the cheapest option must be to record it in your diary. This may be OK if you're a one-man band and have only a couple of clients, but getting hold of all the diaries from twenty or so staff on a Monday morning can be a little fraught with difficulty.
Recording manually on bespoke Time-Sheets seems a better option, but there is still the difficulty of obtaining them from all your staff on time, so that the process of collating the information can begin.
How are such Time-Sheets to be designed? Should they be designed so that information can easily be obtained for payroll purposes, i.e. one person, one Time-Sheet? Or should they be designed with the purpose of collating them for billing - perhaps one Time-Sheet per job per person? With the former, manual collation of Time-Sheets for billing purposes is fraught with difficulty. If Time-Sheets are designed so that there is one sheet per person per job, then you may have several Time-Sheets for each person for any particular week and certainly several Time-Sheets per job. How would you know if one was missing?
So on to the use of computers….Those who believe that having a computer-based system on a single administrative computer is a good value option have a point, but it is not as clear cut as it seems...
Let's paint a picture of a small, but growing firm whose staff record their work on Time-Sheets and pass them over to an administrator early the following week for entry into the computer. Staff record their time manually, regardless of the individual charge-out rate, and take, on average 15 minutes per day. The actual time is dependent upon the type of work done, with some staff recording one job for the whole day, while others record a couple of dozen jobs in one day! These time-sheets are then passed to the administrator each week, who enters the time into the administration computer.
If you are not recording your time, there is no measurement of staff performance or how the amount of work needed to be done for an individual client can vary from year to year. The result is that you could be over-charging or under-charging clients and having over-worked staff or under-utilised staff.
Only one person can use it at a time; data entry of twenty or more Time-Sheets, with all the attendant records, takes a considerable period of time. These computer entries are usually checked against the original time-sheets for accuracy; all of which is additional time over and above the original manual recording of the time on time-sheets. Some computerised systems will be better than others in this regard; but note that there is an assumption that has been made here, and that is that individual staff members have recorded their time correctly, in unambiguous terms and legible writing. There are some professionals out there whose handwriting is not always very clear; titlehough, I believe this to be the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, mistakes are sometimes made and this is not always picked up straight away through comparison with the original data source, and sometimes the mistake isn't discovered at all! If the system is going to work properly, staff must have a responsibility for checking their own Time-Sheets.
If Time-Sheets are late in or not available, the whole Billing Process is delayed. Reports are then passed to management for billing, productivity assessment and performance analysis. It is important to note that, at this stage, you are a week behind with the information that you are going to use!
Another problem is that administrators count themselves lucky if they have the opportunity to receive training on the use of Time Recording programmes and often struggle to use the often complicated software. In such circumstances, adjusting incorrect postings can send stress levels through the roof! Not very good if that person is also the only member of staff who knows how to use the software!
Standalone computerised systems, can work well, if the Time-Sheets arrive on time, everything is clear and legible, and the correct checks are made to ensure that everything is posted as it was originally intended.
So Record Your Time On A Networked System? titlehough this is arguably the most expensive option in cash laid out up front, dependent upon the software, it can be a very cost effective option. Some software costs can be prohibitive in that there is the actual cost of buying and installing the software on every machine required, with price increasing with each users.
Another point to bear in mind is the cost of training each member of staff to use it, both in terms of paying an outside entity and the opportunity cost of the lost working time. If no training is given then, then the software needs to be very user-friendly with help screens readily available.
If a Time Recording programme is chosen for ease of use, so that staff can easily enter records, check their entries, and amend them if necessary. The time taken to learn how to do this, and how to print out the reports they need, should be, and is minimal. The real training should be for the administrator responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the Time Recording programme and perhaps for management who often need a greater range of reports and analysis of records.
A well designed Time Recording programme should assist the user in every regard. Help on any area should be available at the touch of a button. Help screens should be clear and concise. Some software providers do not feel they are providing value for money unless their manual is at least 300 pages long! How many of your staff want to search through such documents? Do you have the time?
Another point to consider - Is the Networked Time Recording System 'live'? That is, can you record work done in the morning and use the information for billing in the afternoon? Do you have to stop recording work at any stage so that the administrator can carry out specific procedures? Can you obtain correct reports as at any historic date?
If you have a system that can provide such flexibility of use, then there are distinct cash-flow advantages. You can also subtly change the culture from one of a more laissez faire - "it'll be OK next week" to a more urgent one - "let's get the job done and bill it!"
Does the Networked Time Recording System provide management with the opportunity to - analyse work done in detail? - Compare effective hourly rates for each job? - See where improvements can be made? Or is it simply a programme to store and retrieve records? Even if you have such a Networked Time Recording System, mistakes can still be made. If you choose to bill before taking a controlled check of the time entered, that is billing clients before printing off weekly Time Sheets and checking them for record accuracy, then you may subsequently find errors in data entry and may miss the opportunity for charging for all of the work done.
It seems important then, for some periodic checks to be done before the Billing Process takes place. Staff should be encouraged to check the entries they've made immediately after posting them.
In conclusion, if you don't record work that you do, then you don't have enough control over your business. If you do record the work you do, and have people checking the records, then your business has the control it needs to move forward in a competitive marketplace.
If a firm does record work done, then periodic checks should be made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the records. Manual collation of Time-Sheets is very time consuming; checking them even more so.
Computerised collation on a Standalone System can speed up the process, but it is still comparatively slow, Time-Sheets may not always be available, may be ambiguous and have unclear or illegible writing. The Billing Process may also be delayed. In addition, some Computerised Systems do not make it easy for an administrator to adjust entries made.
The cheapest option must be to record it in your diary. Recording on bespoke Time-Sheets seems a better option, but there is still the difficulty of obtaining them from all your staff on time, so that the process of collating the information can begin.
Standalone systems can help in collating all that information for you, but as your firm grows, you will find it easier to use a networked system with individual members of staff entering the time the work and checking their own entries on the system. A 'Live' system is better in that you can record time in the morning; have up to the minute information and bill the work in the afternoon.
Networked Time Recording Systems should be chosen for ease of use, having the ability for employees to easily enter records, check and amend entries made as necessary. Team Leaders can use Networked Time Recording Systems as a powerful management tool and can not only check Team Records, but can play a major part in the Billing Process and make it happen more quickly after a job has been completed. Senior Management can also analyse work done so as to obtain better information about the performance of the firm as a whole and be able to quote accurately for new work.
TimeExpense network version is a cost-effective software package for firms having up to twenty-five users at any single point in time. The price you pay for the network version having two users is exactly the same as the price you pay for the network version with twenty-five users; there are no additional charges for any extra users up to a single-time user limit of twenty-five. Yes...reading between the lines, that means that you can have more than twenty-five users in total BUT only twenty-five on the system at any single point in time.
For example, a standalone computer is used to record the time worked for fifteen members of staff. Staff firstly record their time manually on paper and pass these time-sheets for one member of the administration staff to enter on the computer (usually a week later). When all the time has been entered and checked back to the time sheets, then an overall work in progress report is printed out for the firm as a whole (usually an aged work in progress report).
This report is passed to the financial manager who will use this report to indicate which individual client work in progress reports are needed to for billing purposes. This then goes back to the administrator who prints out the required client-centred work in progress reports and passes them back to the financial manager. The financial manager then indicates on each report what should be billed and provides the wording required on each invoice. The administrator draws up the invoice and uses information from the work in progress report and the invoice to enter billing information and so reduce the level of work in progress by the amount billed.
This process involves much more than the software itself, but software can be designed to make the process easier and quicker.
In the case of our Time Recording software, we have designed both standalone and networked systems that are 'real-time', that is - no closing off for any particular period and all reports are available as at any specified date or date range. So you can see what the work in progress figure for a client was last week or last month and compare it with today. If you are operating a network version, your staff can enter their time each day as and when required so that the information presented in the work in progress reports is always up to date.
The data-entry screens are all very similar and are designed for speed of entry while providing useful information about entries already made. As soon as a job has been completed you can invoice your time without waiting until next Monday for all the time-sheets to be posted! When the end of the month arrives, your staff can continue posting their time without any problem and you can obtain reports for the relevant month-end a couple of weeks later!
Client-centred work in progress reports can be printed quickly and easily by selecting the particular clients from lists on screen and clicking on the 'print' button.
We, at T. Bookman Limited, know how the complete work in progress system works and we've designed our Time Recording software to make things easier for you and provide you with the information that you need to run your business - whenever you want it!