I HAVE JUST BEEN THROUGH a gruuelling experience with our hosting company, technical people and course creators to make sure that EzyLearn continues to be the first choice for Bookkeeping and Marketing Courses.
Our servers are now twice as fast and have more storage so existing students should experience some nice and fast access speeds — unless you’re in an NBN area that drops out all the time (sorry Telstra, I love you BUT the access speed is no different from what it was over here in the NSW Lake Macquarie area!)
In case you weren’t aware, I was recently heavily involved in a renovation of an investment property in Newcastle (which I really enjoyed and has given us a whole lot of extra content from real world experiences with local tradies like electricians, plumbers, chippies, painters and more) but am now back on the tools (the internet and software tools, that is) and keen to continue improving every aspects of our courses for existing AND new students.
We’ve coming up to the crazy, silly season once again that is Christmas, and I thought I’d push our marketing up another notch to help those who want to learn more to improve their lives and businesses in 2018. I hope I’m not too early in thinking like this but it’s a great time to think about what’s important in life and go and get it.
New people, new experience and MORE new content
I’ve spoken with some fantastic people who’ve joined us in the accounting software space and they have some tremendous experience in the ERP (Enterprise resource planning) side of accounting — that is accounting software as used by mid size companies. From this, we’re going to share some great information, tips and experiences to help those businesses who either deal with larger companies as clients, or who are at the stage of ramping up their accounting as a mid size business.
IN LARGER COMPANIES a Needs Analysis can be a powerful tool for delving into a problem and coming up with a solution.
However, when it comes to Microsoft Excel Training, asking students to complete a needs analysis can be a complete waste of time.
Why? Because most students overestimate their skills — not because they’re being dishonest, but because they will have come across many terms before and, because they can use certain jargon in conversation, they tend to think they know how to do the associated skill.
When we put our training courses online, we realised that instead of wasting time doing needs analyses — which aren’t accurate most of the time, anyway — we could bundle all of our courses together and cover every skill level, for one low price.
Typical Excel Intermediate Course Scenario
As a Microsoft Excel Intermediate Trainer, one of the most awkward moments I remember when doing face-to-face training was when I started going through one of the very first exercises with a new group of students, only to realise that 40% of the people in the room had no idea what I was talking about.
It’s worse in a face-to-face group training environment because everyone else in the group will now be disadvantaged. When we used to conduct these classroom style Excel classes, we would ask people to go through and supplement their lack of knowledge by reading the Excel Beginners workbooks.
Online Excel courses are even better — you can get everyone to start from scratch and they can all be on the same page.
Bundling all pf our Excel courses together means businesses can save many hours of needs analysis and hundreds of dollars, by enrolling staff in our Excel training courses.
Besides, most students report that, even though they might do our training courses for the intermediate or advanced modules, they learned lots of skills from the beginner courses, too.
Everyone Learns Something in an Excel Beginners Course
Basic / Beginners’ Excel courses take students through the different tasks that are possible with spreadsheets, introduce commonly used terms and set the foundation for more advanced features, covered in the intermediate and advanced courses.
If you’re subscribed to this blog, then you’ll know that EzyLearn use to operate physical training centres before we moved all of our content online in 2006. In those early days, we did a lot of needs analysis for the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (now called Disability Employment Services).
Through this organisation we received Workcover students, who needed to brush up on their Excel skills before returning to work, and who often they had to change careers from physical work to more office type jobs.
Many students enrol in our courses only requiring a beginners’ level of training but proceed to the advanced modules by choice. This is because our online courses are built in a logical progression from basic to more advanced, building constantly on the new skills taught. Students also find that the Excel course content helps them in their everyday tasks and work, no matter what their field.
Thinking of investing in property? “Wannabe property investors” will find our Excel courses very helpful because they contain exercises to help you:
A lot of the time, however, people enrol in an Excel online training course or Xero online training course because they need to refresh a specific set of skills for their job, which means they don’t have the time to focus on other areas that don’t have an immediate relevance for their work.
Since then, however, a number of cloud-based accounting applications have entered the market — QuickBooks Online (now distributed by their US-based parent company Intuit), Reckon One, Saasu, Zoho, and so on.
Even though Xero was hailed as a breath of fresh air when it first entered the market, it is still a little more complicated to use when compared with other cloud accounting apps, like QuickBooks and Reckon One. For instance, the purchase orders feature is still hidden behind bills, when it could easily be access via a dropdown menu. But it’s not a major quibble.
Xero’s contact profile misses a beat
Although Xero allows you to assign customer numbers for your suppliers or customers in the contact profile, it doesn’t have the functionality to record customer numbers assigned by supplier or customer.
In our recent post about recommendations we suggested that you ask a friend, relative or colleague if they’ve ever had experience with a business you’re thinking of using — chances are, if your friends live locally they may well have; or if the business is a chain or franchise operating over a wide area.
Also ask other businesses
When seeking a professional recommendation you can also ask other businesses. Find out what their experiences have been, if any. Often businesses will have a relationship with each other even if it is not, at first, apparent.
For instance, a symbiotic relationship tends to exist between real estate agents and tradespeople. Agents will regularly draw up a list of preferred tradespeople that they work with and recommend to their tenants, landlords and vendors.
And there are plenty of tradespeople who do the same for real estate agents that they’ve had professional dealings with. There are plenty of other examples of these sorts of professional recommendations.
Beware professional bias
Of course, just as you should be wary of overly positive or negative ratings and reviews online, you should be likewise when soliciting professional reviews. If one business regularly referred work by another, even if they don’t think they’re a great business to deal with, neither party will necessarily say anything bad about each other.
In the end, when looking for a tradesperson, real estate agent or some other professional service, be sure to do all your research. Ask around for personal referrals, check them up online, and get in touch with each business directly to see which one is the best fit for you.
Real people, real locations
At EzyLearn we provide testimonials from our students, which include their full name and location, and why they chose EzyLearn to study in the first place. We also offer a money-back guarantee and free samples of our course content, so students know they can trust they’re making the right choice. Visit our website for more information and to see our wide range of courses.
ONLINE RATINGS AND REVIEWS ARE a great way to determine whether a business is trustworthy or whether they products and services they provide will suit your needs. TripAdvisor and Yelp have transformed the hospitality and accommodation industry, for example. And Airbnb is doing similar with short-term rentals.
While recently working on a home renovation in Newcastle, I came across a carpenter who had seven employees working for him. Jimmy the Chippy in Belmont has been in business nine years, has no website or online presence — but his business is booming.
How does he do it?
The old fashioned way! He does exceptional work for his customers and clients, who hire him again and again and refer him to friends, relatives, colleagues and so on. He also made a point of networking with local builders and plumbers in the area, who contact him when they have work to do, and refer him to other builders and plumbers as well.
Use word of mouth
If you’re looking locally, and the online ratings and reviews of the businesses you’re trying to decide between aren’t helping, asking a friend, relative or work colleague if they know any of the businesses.
If no one in your social network knows the business, you can also google an online forum like Whirlpool, where members frequently provide fair and balanced opinions of businesses they’ve dealt with — and if they don’t, they’re usually called out for it.
Testimonials are helpful, too
Real estate agents, accountants and many other businesses — EzyLearn included — use testimonials rather than ratings or reviews (except on Facebook), so you shouldn’t discount these just because they’ve been vetted before going online.
At EzyLearn we provide testimonials from our students, which include their full name and location, and why they chose EzyLearn to study in the first place. We ask each student whether it is ok to publish these beforehand. We also offer a money-back guarantee and free samples of our course content, so students know they can trust they’re making the right choice.
IT CAN BE DIFFICULT to tell whether online ratings and reviews are real or not. One easy way to get a pretty good idea of what’s real and what’s not is checking for a balance of positive and negative ratings and reviews that have been left by real people who’ve used their Gmail or Facebook account.
Reviews are better than ratings
If you’re a person who relies on ratings and reviews to make purchasing decisions, you’ll know you can’t really tell the trustworthiness of a businesses if it only asks customers to leave a rating (usually out of 4 or 5). Similarly it’s hard to tell what people really think of a business if they’ve only left ratings rather than reviews.
Businesses with a good mixture of ratings and reviews, where a customer has been able to leave a comment justifying the rating they gave the business, make it much easier to make a decision.
Check the content of reviews
You don’t need to read thousands of reviews for a business, but it helps to read a few of them to see what customers are saying. This also helps determine whether these reviews are truly independent or not.
What are reviewers actually commenting on, and if they’re negative, is there a pattern? Is a local restaurant consistently understaffed or does a plumber often fail to turn up on time? Are the complaints about things that would concern you or are they petty — a long queue at a cafe that still serves good food and coffee, for example.
Positive reviews provide useful information
If the reviews of a business are mostly positive, do they provide any useful information? Hundreds and hundreds of reviews that simply say “great” or “fantastic” don’t tell you enough about what customers thought were great or fantastic about that business.
People might have really liked something that doesn’t suit your needs. It is also a good indicator that they’re not entirely true or real reviews either.
At EzyLearn we provide testimonials from our students, which include their full name and location, and why they chose EzyLearn to study in the first place. We also offer a money-back guarantee and free samples of our course content, so students know they can trust they’re making the right choice.
If you’re in the financial position to buy your business premises outright, it may seem like a no-brainer to do this instead of getting a mortgage. However, there are some things you need to consider:
You’ll lose liquidity on the assets in your property, which means you won’t be able to tap into any equity in the property, unless you take out an equity loan against the property.
You’re tying all your cash to one asset class, which may limit your ability to make other investments and prevent your business from expanding. This could run counter to your reasons for making the property purchase in the first place.
You’re spreading the payments over many years, which ties you to paying down that asset for the foreseeable future.
You’re paying interest, which although it’s a tax deduction, will significantly inflate the price of the property.
Work out the best way in Excel
Using the data from your Xero accounting software package, Microsoft Excel can help you determine whether your business will be financially better off buying its premises outright or getting a mortgage.
The sales spiels of many of the notable online accounting software packages like QuickBooks, Wave Accounting, Outright, Kashoo, LessAccounting, Clearbooks and even Xero, claim that this feature will save you time and effort as it imports your bank transactions. The truth is, this is not foolproof and won’t work 100 percent of the time (even if it’s just a matter of not being able to get your software and your bank to “connect” just as your mobile phone connection inexplicably doesn’t work sometimes).
Therefore, always double check your bank transaction data has been imported accurately. This said, importing your bank statement into Xero (or whatever accounting software you use) is a really important step in the bookkeeping process that a lot of business owners forget or don’t know how to do. And the technology is only going to get better!
Using the correct format
To import your bank statement into Xero, you must ensure it’s in the correct format. Xero can only work with a CSV file of your bank statement. Depending on your bank, you might be able to download your bank statement as a CSV file from your internet banking, or you will have to create one from scratch.
Creating one from scratch isn’t too difficult. If your bank doesn’t give you the option of downloading a bank statement as a CSV file, you can create one yourself in Microsoft Excel.
You can download an Excel template from Xero. It includes the recommended fields and is already set up as a CSV file, so all you need to do is add in your data.
Setting rules for recurring transactions helps speed up the reconciliation process, which depending on the type of business you operate and how often you reconcile your account, can be the most time-consuming part of the process.
Importing your bank statement and creating rules for transactions that occur each week, month fortnight, year, etc, greatly speeds up this process.
No CSV? Use bank feeds
If your business has lots of expenses every week, and your bank doesn’t let you download your bank statement in a CSV format, you may find that manually creating one in Excel each month is too time consuming.
MICROSOFT EXCEL IS THE most widely used spreadsheet application in modern computing. That said, it’s also one of the more difficult programs of the Microsoft Office Suite to learn, which is why we recently updated the content of our Excel training courses.
A lot of people do our Excel training courses to help them “skill up” to find a job, find a position better suited to them, or develop their career path. However, Excel is a fantastic tool for small business owners as well.
But whether you use Excel to create a pivot table or a database, there are a few things you should do each time you open an Excel document. Here we present you with three:
1. Vertical align: always centre
Always align the text in the cells of your Excel spreadsheet to the centre, or the top in certain circumstances. But never, ever align it to the bottom. It’s hard on the eyes and, when you’re looking at lots and lots of data in lots and lots of cells, it becomes difficult to know which row, column, etc, you’re looking in. Centre alignment, always.
2. Build error-checking into formulas
There should never be an instance where one of your workbooks is showing a #DIV/0, #N/A, #REF, #NAME?, #NUM!, or #NULL! error. This is especially true if you’re sharing these workbooks with your business partners or accountant or whomever.
Seeing an error in a financial report may cause the reader to doubt the accuracy of the entire workbook, so ensure your workbooks remain error free by using the simple IFERROR() error-checking function in Excel.
3. Print preview your work
Again, if you intend to share workbooks with other people, you should always ensure that your Excel workbooks can be printed nicely and easily, even if you don’t intend to ever print the document yourself. This is easy enough to do via File > Print Preview and adjusting the print margins before sharing (or printing) the document.
However, judging by the number of times I’ve printed an Excel document only to collect 87 sheets of paper off my printer to read the contents one 4×4 table, the function is seldom used by anyone else but me!
The difference between the two boils down to price and functions: The more functions you need, the higher the price tag. Businesses that require high-level reporting and forecasting tools, such as a “scenarios” function that lets you determine the impact different business decisions would have on your cash flow, before you actually make them, would need to stump up, at a minimum, between $50 and $80 a month for this functionality.
Free expense and budgeting apps would suit most contractors and sole traders who don’t require complex forecasting and reporting tools, but who do need to see when money is coming in and when it’s going out, and whether there are deficiencies.
The ATO’s tax and superannuation app
Looking into the best expense and budgeting apps for small business, we came across the Australian Tax Office’s app, simply called ATO. It works on Windows phones, as well as iOs and Android devices, and it’s updated regularly by the ATO, so you know this isn’t just a passing fling.
If these features sound familiar, that’s because they’re all the features you’ll find in a basic cloud accounting program, with the notable exception of invoicing. Electronic invoicing is not something the ATO is particularly concerned with because it’s not a requirement. Invoicing, of course, is a requirement, but how you do it — in person, by snail mail, email, etc — isn’t.
Cloud accounting still best and easiest
If the ATO app introduced a simple way to invoice customers, we’d say it was definitely muscling in on QuickBooks and Xero’s territory, since both programs appeal to the small business owner, QuickBooks in particular.
In absence of that, the ATO app is a great tool for contractors and small business owners to use to keep track of their expenses and deductions, and especially to calculate their tax rates (so as to properly keep money aside for tax, rather than being hit with a tax bill you have to pay off). For contractors with a very simply business model, it’s even useful for lodging your tax return.
But otherwise, cloud accounting applications are still the best and easiest way for businesses to run an efficient, compliant business. At the end of the day, for many small business owners, they’re not drawn to Xero or QuickBooks because they want to stay compliant, it’s because they want to be able to easily invoice customers and track their income — compliance is just an added bonus.
Our online Xero training courses meet all skills levels for ONE LOW COST. We will show you how to record deductions, invoice customers, run financial reports, and lodge activity statements and tax returns. Visit our website for more information about our range of online accounting, media and general business courses.
What’s a cash flow app, if not a program that tracks your expenses and income and then tells you how much money you have left in the bank? That’s what FUTRLI and Spotlight, the apps we reviewed recently would do, and then also let you do other things, like create scenarios to determine the particular outcome of a business decision.
But there are other expense apps that sole traders and contractors can use for cash flow forecasting:
Pocketbook, the Australian personal finances app recently acquired by ASX-listed ZipMoney, is free to use, although a recent deal with 1300HomeLoans means it may analyse your spending data to make commercial suggestions around your personal finances. (For the record, I have been testing it for months and hasn’t been subject to any such suggestions.)
Pocketbook lets you connect your bank account to the app so it can import your income and transaction data. Once you get some initial housekeeping — categorising your expenses and income — out of the way, you can then set up a safety spend limit based on Pocketbook’s analysis of your spending vs. income.
Pocketbook also learns from your transaction history, meaning it can predict upcoming income and bills. It’s very nifty for contractors or freelancers who have more than one income source that doesn’t always run through your accounting software — if you’re working on your TFN and ABN, for instance.
This free app, by ASIC MoneySmart, lets you connect your bank account to the app, categorise your expenses, nominate a spending limit, and create expense reminders that can be sent to as text messages ahead of their due date.
Like Pocketbook (but without the commercial overtones), TrackMySpend will also learn from previous trends in your income and expense data to predict future income and expenses. Best of all, TrackMySpend can be exported as an Excel file or connected to your accounting software. The iOS app is a bit out of date, though, so it won’t work on more recent Apple devices.
If you didn’t know it already, the Australian Tax Office has its own mobile app. It allows you to access the ATO’s online services, lodge and track your tax return (yes, right from your mobile phone), work out key tax dates and access tools and calculators.
Its most handy functions: being able to enter your expenses (including a photo of receipts and bills), track mileage, and record your income. It’s not automated, but it does propagate that info directly into your tax return, so you don’t have to do it later. It also accurately calculates your tax liabilities.
The ATO app’s best function, however, is its “business performance calculator”, which, using the data you input, will give you an indication of your business’s ability to pay its debts, as well as a comparison of its performance based on the ATO’s “small business benchmarks” data. Over time, it’ll also show whether your business has improved or declined since you last used the tool.
Understanding your business’s cash flow is critical to its ongoing financial health, and to your ability to make sound business decisions. Use one of these tools in conjunction with your accounting software to ensure your business is running on all cylinders.
Our Xero training courses, which provide training in EVERY LEVEL for ONE LOW COST, will show you how to run financial reports, including cash flow statements that you can use to create forecasts in Excel. Visit our website for more information about our online training courses.
Are you in business as a bookkeeper, tradesperson, retailer, trainer or real estate agent and want to stand out from the crowd? We can teach you the online marketing techniques to help you do just this! Check out what’s included in our comprehensive Social Media and Digital Marketing online training courses.
This time we’re looking at other expense applications that not only integrate with Xero, but other platforms like MYOB and QuickBooks, too. (For the record, every transaction Expensify does with Xero, it also does with QuickBooks; and also for the record, we not only provide online training in Xero [all levels for one low cost] but MYOB and Quickbooks too.)
Xpenditure (QuickBooks, Xero, Fresh Books)
It’s a little more expensive than Expensify, but you also get a little more bang for your buck. From around $4 a month, you can scan 200 receipts per month, plus all of Xpenditure’s core features, such as expense rules, real time reporting, accounting integration, and mileage tracking. Speaking of which, Xpenditure tracks your mileage using Google Maps, which as discussed previously, isn’t the the most accurate way to do it.
However, it does calculate the estimated cost of each trip using the current “mileage rate” — or kilometre rate for Australians — set by the Tax Office. It’s mobile app, however, only has an average 1 star rating in the Australian Apple App Store, while it’s currently rates at 3.5 stars in the Google Play store, so it appears it’s best served on an Android platform.
Abacus (Xero, QuickBooks)
At $9 a month for up to 50 users, it’s on the pricier side for small businesses. And although Abacus lets you give your accountant or tax agent free access to your Expensify account, it doesn’t really make up for the higher price tag (we happen to think the point of an expense app is that you only need to give your accountant or tax agent access to your accounting software).
Yes, it includes all the standard features, such as receipt scanning, real time reporting, multi-level approval workflows, and automatic approvals — plus, an EzyLearn favourite: automatic direct deposits for reimbursing employees once an expense is approved — but features like mileage tracking are absent. It’s rated 4 stars on the Google Play app store, but unrated in the Apple App Store.
Squirrel Street (Xero, QuickBooks, MYOB)
Formerly known as Shoeboxed (they explain name change on their website), Squirrel Street is a rather expensive way to track your expenses and store your receipts. Plans start at $26.95 a month for 50 receipt uploads and 2-5 day turnaround, which explains the steep price: This is a software application that relies on manual labour, rather than machine learning, to import expense data. As a consequence, there’s no other features of note — no real time reporting, no expense reports, no automatic approvals.
There is also a “forever free” five document per month DIY plan available. Of course, they are an Australian owned and operated business, but it’s still not the best service for your dollar. It’s rated 4 stars on the Apple App Store and 4.5 stars on Google Play.
By keeping an eagle eye on your expenses using an expense app that integrates with your cloud accounting software, you’ll be able to see precisely where your business is most profitable and where it’s not so you can modify it accordingly.
But supposing, for whatever reason, you don’t want to use an Excel database as your pivot table’s data source? Well, there are some other options to create a pivot table without manually entering the information into Excel first. Here are a few more data sources that you can use to create a pivot table in Excel.
Office data connection files
The office data connection (ODC) file extension was created by Microsoft and contains properties to connect to and retrieve data from an external data source. It contains a connection string, data queries, authentication information and other settings. Microsoft recommends that you retrieve external data for your pivot tables and reports using ODC files.
External relational databases
If, for instance, you’re using another relational database program, like Microsoft Access or Filemaker Pro, you can also import data directly from these programs into your pivot table, rather than manually entering the data into an Excel worksheet. In the case of connecting data from an MS Access database, you can do this quite simply by selecting Access from the ‘data source’ dialog box. For all other external databases, you would select the ‘from other sources’ dialog box and follow the steps in the data connection wizard.
Using another pivot table
Each time that you create a new pivot table, Excel stores a copy of the data for the report in memory, and saves this storage area as part of the workbook file. To use one pivot table as the source for another, both must be in the same workbook. If the source pivot table is in a different workbook, copy the source to the workbook location where you want the new one to appear. Keep in mind that when you refresh the data in the new pivot table, Excel also updates the data in the source pivot table, and vice versa. When you group or un-group items, or create calculated fields or calculated items in one, both are affected.
Create a database in Excel first
The easiest and most efficient way to create a pivot table is to create a database in Excel first. Here, you can update and manage as much information about your business — including customer data and financial data — and then use that as a data source for a pivot table.