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Britains First Business Book Festival

This Friday sees Bournemouth host The Business Book Festival.

From the website:

Meet the UKs best selling business authors at the UKs first business book festival. Hear them speak; listen to their stories; seek their advice; buy their books.

Discover:

Whats new in enterprise thinking;
How to succeed in todays challenging times;
Inspiration, innovation and intelligence
The first UK Business Book festival has invited the countrys top business authors to come together and spend a day sharing their knowledge of how to make money and change the world.

And

– Hear great stories from entrepreneurs
– Get ideas that will save you money
– Network with the sharpest brains in the business world
– Learn how to publish your own business book
– Find the courage to do your own thing and succeed

The line up of authors that will be speaking is pretty impressive and I suspect that Brad Burton will be worth the 35 entry fee on his own.

Operating on the IYDAYDG (if you dont ask, you dont get) principle, I asked the organizers for a reduced price to pass on to readers of this blog. And they said yes 10.

To take advantage of this offer, register online here and order just the 10 Single Session ticket. Theres an Order Notes box on the checkout page type the word KashFlow in to that box and then when you collect your ticket on the day youll find out its been magically upgraded to the Full Attendance package.

There are two catches:
1) dont expect the free book voucher
2) you must register by Thursday, so get it done now.

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This entry was posted
on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 at 9:21 am and is filed under Uncategorized.
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The Support Dashboard

As our customer base as grown substantially this year, and continues to do so every month, so does the demand on our support team.

I needed a way to be able to closely monitor the current state of support without having to continuously log in to the support system.

So what we came up with is the Support Dashboard. This is displayed on a big LCD screen perched on top of a filing cabinet thats visible from everywhere in the office. Visitors to the office always comment on it.

support-dashboard

A green light means all is well.
An amber light means someone has been waiting for a reply to their support ticket for more than 30 minutes.
A red light means someone has been waiting more than an hour if it ever goes red then its all hands on deck until its green again.

As you can see in the photo, itscurrentlygreen. But when it goes amber or red it lists the ticket subject line, how long the customer has been waiting and who (if anyone) the ticket is assigned to.

For those that care about these things the support ticket system is eSupport from Kayako and the dashboard was magicd up by Tim using SQL Server Reporting Services. The choice of the Comic Sans font was also Tims. So please aim flames in his direction, not mine.

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This entry was posted
on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 at 11:24 am and is filed under Technology.
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Team Photo

I needed some head shots done of a couple of my co-directors to go on OrbitAccounts.com, a new product we launched yesterday.

It was one of those rare occasions when we actually had everyone in the office, so took the opportunity for a group photo (click for larger version).

team

L-R we have:
Shelley Sales
Sandile Lead Developer
Graham Account Manager
Dominique ber PA / General Manager
Les Sales
Efe Support
Kunal Sales
John Support Manager
Me The Boss
Tim Second Line Support and IT Manager
Mandeep Sales
Simone Exec PA andReceptionist
Big Tim CTO
Michelle – Sales Director
Shah Sales
Sam Sales

The photo was taken by Amanda Eatwell of AJE Photography. If you ever need any sort f photogrpahy work, shes the girl to go to. Very professional, very capable and not over price.

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This entry was posted
on Thursday, September 16th, 2010 at 1:51 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.
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Remove that Twitter badge from your website – Now!

I got asked last week why we dont have a Twitter badge on our website. I think the asker assumed it was an oversight.

It isnt.

As Ive written before, the purpose of the KashFlow website is to get potential customers to register to take a no-obligation, 60-day free trial of our accounting software.

So anything that distracts from this end goal, or doesnt move a website visitor towards it, is a Bad Thing.

Put another way, the website is a funnel, with the bottom of that funnel being the free-trial sign-up page.

Putting a badge on the website saying Follow us on Twitter would effectively be like getting a drill and putting a big hole in the side of the funnel for visitors to escape and maybe never return.

dj_tweetssa_tweet

My turn to make some assumptions. I assume s/he is talking about Twitter being a method of getting people to your site to buy your wares.

Yes, it is but why take someone from being on your site to another location in the hope of getting them back to your site???

brays_tweet

That argument has some merit. We do have a good community around KashFlow, and following us on Twitter is a way to be a part of that which is why we have a Twitter badge on our log out page.

But getting new trialists is ahigherpriority than getting newfollowers. Or to put it another way:

jw_tweet
So do you have a Twitter badge on your site? Are you losing sales because of it?

Semi-related post: Four Things You Probably Didnt Know About Twitter.

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This entry was posted
on Monday, September 20th, 2010 at 3:51 pm and is filed under Marketing.
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Your Vanity is Devaluing LinkedIn

vainI use Twitter every day. Anyone can follow me, and Ill follow anyone who looks interesting.

Facebook I use much less frequently and dont have (or want) many friends on there. Its more personal/family related, although I do have KashFlow RSS feeds plugged into it.

My problem is with LinkedIn. I find it a very useful network, but Iregularlyget connection requests from people I have very tenuous connections with or have never heard of:

– Twitter followers I have no interaction with, or just banter with
– KashFlow customers Ive never dealt with myself (theres nearly 10,000 of you now!)
– People I exchanged a few inconsequential words with at some event or another

You get the picture.

Ideally Id only connect on LinkedIn with people I know, worked with, done business with or would at least recognise if I bumped into them somewhere.

Theres two reasons I dont want to add other people.

Firstly, if they ask to be introduced to a genuine connection of mine, I cant tell the recipient of the intro anything at all about the requester. And if the requester turns out to be a muppet then it reflects badly on me.

Secondly is the same thing but in reverse. A genuine connection may see Im connected to John Random and want an intro. An intro via me to John Random isnt going to carry much weight as John hardly knows me Im just one of his 500+ connections. So again, a poor quality intro that John Random may not follow up reflects badly on me.

Adding tenuous connections seriously undermines LinkedIns usefulness.

I think its the whole race to get a high friend count that makes people want to add as many people as possible.

Am I missing something?
Do you have 500+ LinkedIn connections, most of whom you dont know from Adam? Why?
Would we all be better off without a published friend count, or is that an essential ingredient?

I am willing to have my mind changed on this, just as it was on the topic of Twitter badges

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This entry was posted
on Friday, September 24th, 2010 at 11:33 am and is filed under Ramblings.
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Mumpreneur – a good or a bad word to be using?

Theres a debate raging on Twitter now over the use of the word Mumpreneur as a name for a mother thats an entrepreneur

It started with a conversation between @EtcEtcOnline (Darren Leighfield) and @KellyCairns

Darren says its a ridiculous label and would put people off using the services of someone calling themselves a mumpreneur
Kelly disagrees, and lots of others agree with her arguments include the fact that it helps mumpreneurs identify each other.

I really cant decide what side of the argument I agree with.

Use the comments box below to share your thoughts, or tweet with the tag #mumpreneur

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This entry was posted
on Thursday, September 30th, 2010 at 12:43 pm and is filed under Ramblings.
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Dejargonificationing: Vendor Viability

Theres lots of jargon thrown around the world of business, and even more thrown around in IT. So the software business is drowning in it.

Im going to attempt to de-mystify some of the common phrases that are cropping up around the world of SaaS. Im starting with an easy target: vendor viability.

How viable is the vendor? In other words, is the company youre buying your software from going to be around in a years time? What about in five years time?

The barriers to entry in the software as a service world are very low. Any half decent web developer can put together a web application, make it available on a subscription basis and make a professional looking web site promoting it then lose interest or run out of money in a few months time

In the old world where you bought your software on a CD, this didnt matter too much. Youve got the software so if the company you bought it from disappears then you wont get support or upgrades, but you still have the software you bought and can continue using it (although even that isnt a given with some of the recent shenanigans).

With SaaS, its different. You access the software on the providers server so if the provider disappears, so does your access to the software (and your data).

One form of insurance against this happening is anescrow agreement. The software provider gives all of their code to a third party and if said provider goes out of business, the third party releases the software to previously agreed companies (usually key customers). So the theory is that you can set up your own servers to run the software. Fancy doing that? Unless youre a techie, I doubt it very much.

The reality is that there are no guarantees that any company thats around today will be around in a years time, never mind five. Having said that, there are steps you can take to minimise your chances of getting burnt:
– does the vendor have a sustainable business model? (hint: giving software away for free isnt sustainable)
– are they making profit or do they at least have good financial backers? (or better still, both)
– do they have many customers?
– are they growing?

To further hedge your bets, you need to make sure youre regularly getting your data from your SaaS provider in a format you can access without their software.

If youre reading this from the perspective of a SaaS start-up, then provide the functionality to provide these backups. And automate it so its one less thing for customers to worry about or have to remember to deal with. With KashFlow you can set the system to automatically and regularly email you a backup of your accounting data in a format that can be opened in a spreadsheet or imported directly into Sage.

A side note here; the vendor may well be here in 5 years. But will the product? In just the accounting software industry alone weve seen big companies (Microsoft, Iris, Intuit, etc) withdraw software products with very little notice. They can get a way with that with desktop software, but its not acceptable in the SaaSworld.

If there are any other pieces of jargon that you want busting, let me know using the comments below.

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This entry was posted
on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 at 12:06 pm and is filed under Cloud Computing / SaaS, Small Business, Technology.
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Multi-tenancy – what is it, why should you care?

diagramIm continuing on my jargon busting mission.

Todays target: multi-tenancy and its allegedly inferior sibling, single-tenancy

What do they mean, and why should you care? Ill try to answer the second part of that question first from the perspective of you being a SaaS startup, and then from the perspective of a Customer.

What is it?

Desktop software was designed to be installed on your computer and only accessed by you and therefore only contain your data. So you are the single tenant. The only person living in that application/database. This is single tenancy.

Software thats designed from the ground up for the web is designed to be used by lots of people. One application/database, but lots of people using it. (for the techies amongst you, I really do mean one database, not one instance of a SQL server but with multiple databases running in it). This is multi-tenancy.

It does seem that single-tenancy comes in two flavours: one set of code for the application (ie, one set of files serving the app), but multiple databases OR multiple sets of code as well as multiple databases. The former being only half as evil as the latter.

Why should you (a SaaS startup) care?

If youre not using the multi-tenancy model youre not getting even half of the benefits of operating a SaaS business model.

Would you rather have just one database/set of files to maintain, or one db/set of files for each individual user?

When it comes to support issues, do you want to have to consider whether or not the user has the most recent version of everything in their personal installation or would you rather everyone had the exact same thing?

When you have to roll out an upgrade, would you rather one single schema/file set to update or one for each individual customer.

And heres the biggie:infrastructure

So you can get lots of installations on one server. Lets be generous and assume one server can support 1000 instances of of your application and database. Customer 1001 is going to cost you a fortune as you will need to bring on a new server for it.

As your customer base grows the cost of your hardware (whetherleasing or buying) rockets, as does the time cost inmaintainingthem. With a multi-tenancy model you dont have this issue. Weve generated 100k+ revenue per month (thousands of users) from a single server costing 1k a month. You just cant do that with the single-tenancymodel.

Why should you (a customer) care?

Thats simple it costs the vendor a lot more to run a single-tenancy model. Guess who, ultimately, is going to cover that extra cost? And when you have support issues, youre going to get them resolved much faster (for all the reasons stated above) by a multi-tenancy vendor than a singe-tenancy one.

I didnt choose to rhyme, rhyming chose me

You will find lots of web-based applications that have a single-tenant arrangement. The supplier of the software has a whole list of reasons that they chose this model, but the truth is that they didnt choose it. They came up with the list of reasons AFTER having the model (or architecture as we like to call it) decided for them.

The most common reason that they have this model forced upon them is because they took a product designed at first for the desktop and have then shoe-horned it into working on the web. The company didnt know if this whole SaaS stuff would take off, it was a bit of a gamble. So to minimise the risk they decided not to write an application from scratch but instead use what they have.

A short-sighted and cheap way for them to dip their toes in the water.

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This entry was posted
on Thursday, October 7th, 2010 at 1:29 pm and is filed under Cloud Computing / SaaS, Programming, Technology.
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Introducing QuickSnap – Single-purpose iPhone app for KashFlow

qsWhen I talked about ouriPhone app, the one feature Id harp on about the most was the ability to take a snapshot of a receipt and get it into KashFlow in a few taps. So I could get out of a taxi or pay a bar bill and immediately have the scanned receipt in KashFlow.

The problem was that as the app does so much more than this, it was more taps/data entry than is ideal.

So in talking to the great iPhone developers we work with, we came up with a plan: a single-purpose app optimised specifically for getting receipts into KashFlow.

The result is QuickSnap, now available in the app store.

First, the set-up: Create a supplier in your KashFlow account, perhaps called Unprocessed Receipts. Then add a new nominal code (or Outgoing Type) , perhaps called Misc Expenses

Then fire up the app and in the settings screen you choose the supplier and code you just created and also enter your name. Your app is now configured for use.

When you fire up the app youll have the option to use an existing photo or shoot a new one.
You can then(optionally) enter a description for the receipt.
Tap to send to KashFlow and a new receipt is created against the selected supplier and code.
The description you entered is used as the description followed by your name in brackets so you can have multiple people using the app without back office confusion.
Your snapshot is attached to the receipt so when you are ready you can sit down and fill in the details.

Beautiful.

Note: when you tap to send to KashFlow, you get to chose the size of the image. Some users are reporting problems using the larger options. Let us know if you have this problem so we can get it fixed.

Note 2: Before you ask, no no plans to do a version of this or our main app for Android just yet. But we are getting a *lot* of requests, so may well do so at some point.

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This entry was posted
on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 at 9:35 am and is filed under Technology.
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Online bookkeeping programs

Below is a list of Online bookkeeping programs. I have used them all and my comments are below each link.

Xero is my personal favorite. I have my own practice accounts in Xero. Its reliable, its easy to use and it integrates with a lot of other SAAS applications from CRM packages like Sales force to POS systems.
Kashflow Just like Xero, Kashflow is beautifully simple to use. Based in the UK Kashflow is slightly easier for UK based businesses in terms of VAT reporting.
Outright Unlike the other packages Outright is completely free. It is very much US focused and only supports dollars.