A digitally organised business starts from finance

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To run a small business should not take longer than running your own client’s projects, otherwise, there is a problem somewhere!

The stress of the solopreneur

I am referring here to the dreadful end fo the month that so many business owners fear and are stressed about because they have to produce their invoices. tim-gouw-68319

Why are they stressed?

  • because they often have to work for clients (“working in their business”) and at the same time they need to collate the services and products they worked on into a justifiable note to each client.
  • this task should be a piece of cake!

An accounting portal to remove that stress

It has been years that I use an online accounting portal and a mobile app where I input each time I work on a task. At the end of each month, I just have to log in to my portal and generate an invoice for each client. All the tasks for that project and client are automatically added to the invoice, regardless of how many staff is adding timesheet for that project. Done!

A platform, workflow and ecosystem to improve daily tasks are what I enjoy to bring to my clients and therefore I applied it to my personal productivity and business for years.

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We use a few other Apps around to connect everything together and make reporting on work we have done while we walk in the park.

Two examples:

  • Our expenses are all recorded in Xpenditure so that very little input is entered manually (automatic OCR of receipts), an approval takes place and then send the expenses to our accounting portal.
  • Our holiday is entered via a SharePoint form and workflow approval

Not every portal is the right one for your business

Until this month I was using FreeAgent as it was included in the fees of my accountant. I really liked it for quasi 4 years, the usability is great, but after a while, I found the connexion to other  SAAS (Software as a Service) and add-ons were a bit limited, especially when the competition is providing so much extensibility and connectivity. My business activity increase also meant that we need advanced reporting and budgeting that FreeAgent doesn’t really provide.

So of I went and looked at a new portal. The world is talking about Xero so I had to check it out. I created a trial login, imported some contacts, add the first invoice and create some employees. timesheet xero

It is only when I tested the timesheet submission that I was shocked to see that there is currently no way to create a timesheet per client and project.

 

 

 

It seems that Timesheets in Xero is only a way for employees to be paid for their time (a sort of clocking system then!?) but no ability to add any notion of a project and forget about subsequent reporting on how much this project invoices as opposed to that other.

 

A bit of googling taught me that Xero has been working on a “project” extension and will roll it out in 2018, but really… if this is not the heart of your system then I am out of the picture.

Quickbook timesheet

My new accountant was advising me to go for QuickBooks and maybe because I wasn’t convinced of his technical ability to compare two packages I was doubting it, but having use QuickBooks trial for a few days, the bank feeds are easier to setup, and especially for my business: I can register all my staff and contractors to the timesheet, create projects and tasks and generate an invoice automatically again.

The timesheet input is clear and staff have to select which client for that task

As always with a lot of software package and SAAS in the market, the one that makes the most noise may not be the “best one” for your requirements since the notion “best” is relative. Xero might the best accounting portal for a business owner of a construction company because they have fix price on an end to end project, or a hairdresser shop, but not so best for a man-hour business services company like mine.

Nice to have the confirmation once again that comparing feature-to-feature and using a product in real life scenario is the “best” way to make a decision.

Note: this blog post is not endorsed by any of the portals I mentioned here and as always the views and opinions are personal.

 

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How to create two Shared Mailboxes with Same Alias at Different Domains in Office 365 

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Who would guess that some simple features in any email system including exchange on-prem can become a problem in Office 365, using the web UI.

Thanks to this blog article, I was able to find a solution to my requirement: have one email hello@domain1.com an hello@domain2.com, both managed by Office 365.

—>  Create Shared Mailboxes with Same Alias at Different Domains in Office 365 | Cogmotive Reports Blog

Work can be so much better than “work”

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A few months ago, I was training a client in Nintex and since we got to be on a friendly level I asked him how his work and and career prospective was pleasing him, he just said “well you know, work is work“. I was enraged! What the hell does it mean?! What’s the point of going to work if you don’t enjoy it a tiny bit ?!

He disliked most of what he did before the training subject I was giving him was only a small part of his daily tasks.  Granted, he also told me that he was only a few years to taking his retirement leave. 

This morning as I was leaving a new client’s meeting I reflected on this comment from the past, it has been haunting me for while because I wished not to ever be in that mindset. 

I am the lucky one, I love what I do because I take pride on explaining things to people, explaining how to can make their working day better. 

My best reward is when I see a smile on a user who suddenly realised how much time they will be able to save by using a better tool, how their job may change after their department site goes live, or a company director who can finally access his employees’s documents while travelling. 

I am a solution finder, I like to take a different perspective of a problem and consider an alternative view that may solve where others got stuck. I am no better than others, I just step back and reflect why we are trying to achieve that thing and it may come. 

As the years past it is never impossible that I think like that user and just wake daily for the only sake of reaching retirement day, but even if I had 20 days left to that, I certainly hope that I will make them to good use and get that smile of people’s face. 

Make everyday worth living for or something needs to change in that life. 

How I automate my business

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I used to have difficulties to explain to a friend or family member what I do. That “I develop sites, forms and workflows to help businesses perform better”. Sounds rather dull and evasive, right? Be honest! ;-)

Nowadays, workflows are not the privilege of only corporations, but small businesses too and certainly any individual, for their own benefit: avoid doing repetitive tasks.

And therefore, when I explain what I do, I now tend to say something like:

I make systems that help you to be more organised, with the tools you already have or didn’t know you could use.

Yes, we are talking either your computer, smartphone, activity tracker or even home light switches.
Depending on the tool used, the term ‘workflow’ is substituted with “rule“, “recipe“, “applet“, “process” or “flow“.

So, the quote “Workflow for Everyone” that Nintex used a few years back is moreover true today, and across a wider range of services. With Nintex Workflow Cloud, IFTTT, Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Fujitsu RunMyProcess and others, there are dozens of ways to automate your daily tasks, here are a few of the ones I use to automate the admin side of my work.

PRODUCTIVITY ENHANCEMENT (or “personal workflows”)

  • TIMESHEETS, EXPENSES and INVOICES

As a consultant, I may work on different projects and clients in a single week and cannot always pause to report on which I have been working on at the end of each. I use an online accounting portal that my accountant have full access to and each time I finish a work item I input the times in the mobile app, even for a 30 min task. At the end of each month, an invoice is automatically generated for each project that has hours spent, and the portal will send it to my client as a PDF, including an automatic reminder for late payment.
When a PaperBlade crew member claims an expense, they can use the mobile app to scan the receipt and enter the amount and description.  If it was related to a project it will automatically be added to the client invoice.
freeagentMobileAgent iPhone app for FreeAgent

  • BANK RECONCILIATION

Unlikbank-feedse a personal bank account, having a business means that every bank transaction is accountable for. After years of uploading statements to my accounting portal, I switched to one of the banks that can automatically and securely feed the transactions into my portal. This way I can reconcile and explain the operations from my mobile phone.
Click here to find which bank provides feed in the UK.

  • PROJECTS LIFECYCLE

Although SharePoint can do great things to improve productivity, its collaboration at item-level is not yet the best for small businesses. We needed a way to write a task, i.e. “create new site” and a developer to be able to ask any questions regarding that task, have the response in the task history, and move the task to the next stage until “done”. So we went for Asana.
asanaa
I have setup these automatisms:
– “when new project created, create a new task in accounting portal”
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– “when new item in Asana project [Support], create a new ticket in support portal”
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– “when new user is added to Asana, create a new contact in Office 365”
asana_to_office365

  • STREAMLINE CONTACTS MANAGEMENT

At PaperBlade we are proud to maintain a close relationship with our clients and it is important that they are kept up to date with our news. We run an opt-in mailing list with a link to unsubscribe easily.

– Each time a new contact is being created in our CRM a new entry is also created in our marketing list, using a Zap.
insightly_to_mailchimp
– When I add a new contact to Office 365 Outlook a new entry is added to the mailing list,
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– Each time a contact is added to our accounting portal a new contact is added to MailChimp.
freeagent_to_mailchimp

  • HOURS SPENT IN A LOCATION

I use two workplaces around London when not at clients, and one of them is limited to a number of hours per month on an honesty principle. I did not want to not know if I was over the hours and no way that I was going to remember or write down how many hours I have each month, so I used a simple workflow to log an entry each time I enter the location and each time I exit. It is then easy to have a repeated formula to total each hours per month.
IFTTT has an iOS App that can be triggered on a Geolocation, and write to a spreadsheet the time. The battery consumption isn’t too bad and I have used it for 8 months already.
iftt_geoloc_ios

Unfortunately, IFTTT does not offer to write directly into a SharePoint list or Excel Online but it would be quite easy to extend this using CSOM.

  • SAVE EMAIL ATTACHMENTS TO ONEDRIVE

Last but not least, if only one FLOW should be used, is to automatically save all attachments received in Inbox to your OneDrive.
Save_email_attachments_from_Outlook_com_to_OneDrive_for_Business___Microsoft_Flow.png

I hope for these tips to be useful to more people to automate their year in 2017, and I will post some more “personal” ones soon, from activity tracking (without a smart watch), sleep analysis to a few home automation that I use.

Please comment below with your own automatisms.

And Happy Productive Year to everyone!

François.

Microsoft and LinkedIn published free Office 365 training

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Microsoft and LinkedIn have created new training courses about various Office apps and services. The courses are available for free in the Office Training Center, and cover topics like how to use Outlook 2016 and Excel 2016.

 

Source: New Office training courses from LinkedIn Learning – Office Blogs

SharePoint is like a large commode

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“Site collection” and “Site”, I am lost !

… this is what I heard yesterday in a meeting.

To illustrate what it is and give my advice to the person who, I thought, was acting as the company’s SharePoint Administrator, I asked to see the Office 365 Admin Center and SharePoint Admin Center.

What was there: a dozen of size collections and all “pilot sites” that have been requested by a couple of teams to “play with SharePoint”, all of them where just under the Managed Path /Sites/ such as

No no, sir ! Let’s go back to basics and understand why you would like to use a few Site Collections in your environment and where to put the sites.

It has been a few years that I am avoiding technical jargon with my clients because the person who previously only had to be the SharePoint Administrator is now also the head of IT Support, the Infrastructure Manager and oh, may be also managing the 500 staff mobile phones, so I get that they don’t have to remember every systems’ ins and outs.

I used the old analogy that we used to use for Windows Folders:

Would you create a new drawer each time you have a new colours of socks to put together, or would you just find more space within that drawer to add the new item?

drawers

Image courtesy: http://www.noteborn.com

Site collection” would be your drawers, where you would put your “group of items’ in each one (granted, you may however have a very high commode of 20+ drawers, so build it wide!), and your “sites” would be your little compartments in each, to keep thing cleaner, neat and hum.. may be block access to some of them by having a little lock on it.

My user was happy with the explanation and actually was feeling sorry for the messy sites he created, not his fault I said, it’s not that obvious when the names are so similar.

Let’s demystify SharePoint and refer to it in plain English so that everybody gets it, shall we ?!

[Nintex Workflow] Add user to Site Collection Administrator group with REST API

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Helping people to automate their workplace is my passion and lucky for me I also get paid to do so !

This week I was finishing working with a partner to improve the (poor) automation steps required by Matter Center, which no-one can really complain because Microsoft made it open-source.
Matter Center documentation requires to create each client as a new site collection in PowerShell, but this is not quite possible if the users registering these new clients on a daily basis are regular Office 365 users and not SharePoint Administrators.Thanks to a few Nintex Workflows we managed to do all the configuration in the background.

Thanks to a few Nintex Workflows we managed to do all the configuration in the background.
Today’s post is not about the site collection creation so I will spare the details, but in summary and very high level, I developed 4 workflows, 1 CSOM Javascript to be executed on the browser, and 1 Nintex Form of course for submitting the new client on desktop or mobile.

Now this quick blog post is regarding the challenge that we had to add the user as a Site Collection Administrator of that newly created site collection.

Since there is no mention of the sort in https://community.nintex.com it may useful for someone, so here it is:

  1. Create a new Nintex workflow in an Office 365 site list.
  2. Download and Import the .NWP workflow file available here to replace the blank workflow
  3. Edit a few of the actions at the beginning of the workflow to set the variables (I never hard-code UserName and Password for instance, so you will see a few Lookup to a different list to get the value, which you can replace since they will be showing an error once imported into your list)

Note: In this workflow, the “user” I am adding to the Site Collection Administrators group is actually the “CreatedBy” of the list item, which may sound strange since the user running that workflow may be the CreatedBy. However this is NOT the case (refer to above point: we do not want all users to be SharePoint admins!), here is how you should sequence the workflow to start:
1) After the List Item is created, a first workflow (run by CreatedBy) i.e. called “Start and Call workflow 2” and in the workflow we just add a “Start Workflow”

2) then within that first workflow we just add a “Start Workflow” making sure that this action is bein executed in an “App Step” in order to use “elevated privilege”.

Nintex_Workflow_for_Office_365

3) finally all the actions are happening in Workflow2 (which you imported in step 2)

 

Hope this helps someone.

François.