Every Contact, Everywhere (Using Smartr Inbox)

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Customer Management, Google, Productivity, Workflow

I had heard about Xobni (“inbox” backwards, in case you were wondering about the name) through Twitter, and while such advice should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s not often that people enjoy a company’s product so much that they state it publicly. The task is simple, yet I had never before found an adequate solution: to keep all of one’s contacts from various email addresses and social media outlets in one easily accessible, cross-platform repository.

Cue Smartr Inbox, Xobni’s response to years of customer service requests and forum posts asking, “How do I sync X with Y and Z?” To start, there are a few things you should know:

1. For an email address’ contacts to be added, it must be accessible by Gmail. This means that the account must either be a Gmail account to begin with, or that you will need to set up Google Apps if it’s a domain address (e.g. john@doe.com).

2. Smartr is not meant to push contacts from one email account to another. Rather, as I’ll demonstrate, Smartr acts as a unique database for all contacts being collected from your multiple accounts.

3. You won’t have to go to Xobni’s website to check your email and have your aggregated contacts available. There is a Smartr extension/add-on for Chrome, Firefox, and any other browser you might use that will display a contacts list inside your Gmail.

Now let’s make it happen.

Step One: Go to Xobni.com and create an account (it’s free) using a Gmail address.

Step Two: Go to http://www.xobni.com/download/gmail to download the extension for your browser (the site will detect which one you’re using automatically).

Step Three: Login to your Gmail account and make sure that the Smartr window is appearing on the right side of your inbox. If not, try refreshing the page and/or restarting the browser.

Step Four: To add additional email and social networking accounts, scroll to the bottom of the Smartr window within Gmail and select ‘Add/Edit Accounts’

NOTE: From this page (https://www.xobni.com/account/xobni_cloud) you will be able to add social media accounts by entering your login information, however to add additional Gmail accounts you will have to log out of your current session and then log back in using the desired account. To reiterate, once you’ve got the Smartr extension installed on your browser, you should log into each Gmail account you want to add, then select ‘Add/Edit Accounts’ and then ‘Add a Gmail account’ on the Xobni Cloud page.

Step Five (optional iPhone integration): To utilize Smartr on your iPhone, download the Smartr Contacts app (free). The app will not only allow access to your aggregate contact list, but you can call, email, or SMS directly from the app making it essentially an upgraded version of the standard iPhone Address Book.

NOTE: To add your iPhone contacts to the Smartr database, select the gear icon in the top left of the app’s front page. Scroll down until you see ‘Push Contacts to Cloud’ and select it. Allow a few minutes for the database to update and your iPhone contacts will now appear within Smartr! Also check out our post about how to scan business cards with your iPhone.

How to Scan Business Cards and Set Google Calendar Follow-up Reminders (iPhone)

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Calendar & Scheduling, Google, Productivity, Workflow

By using the ScanBizCards Lite (read: free) app available for iPhone and Android, you can easily set up automatic reminders so you never forget to follow up on newly made connections. Here we’ll present a full walkthrough for the iPhone though the same app is available for Android and thus this process can probably be completed in a very similar fashion on any Android device.

1. Adding your Gmail account as an Exchange account
(note: also see this Google tutorial for more info)

To accomplish this you’ll want to navigate to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar > Add Account… > Exchange


Once you’re prompted to enter your account information, put your full Gmail address as both Email and Username e.g. info@financealpha.com as well your password in the password field

Next you’ll be prompted to input a server, here you’ll want to enter m.google.com


Don’t worry about the Domain field, you can leave that empty

2. Configuring your Gmail Exchange account for calendar sync

Once your Gmail account has been successfully added as an Exchange account, navigate to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar > Fetch New Data > Advanced > Exchange (or whatever name you have for the account) > select ‘Push

Next, navigate to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar > Default Calendar and change your default calendar to your Gmail Exchange account e.g. info@financealpha.com


3. Download the ScanBizCards Lite app (free) 

An app store search for ‘ScanBizCards’ will easily find the app, available for both iPhone and Android


4. Scan a business card using the ScanBizCards app

Open the app and select ‘Camera’ to scan using the iPhone’s built-in camera. Try to center the image and make sure that there are no shadows across the face of the business card if possible.

Once the scan is complete, you will have the option to manually fix any mistakes that the scanner might have made. Once all mistakes have been corrected, select ‘Add to Address Book’ then ‘Done’.

You will then be prompted with a number of options, select ‘Add Follow-Up Reminder’. Here you can set when and how you would like to be reminded to follow up with your new contact. When you have finished setting your reminder, select ‘Done’.

5. Calendar sync complete!

Your follow-up event will now be visible on both your iOS calendar and Gmail calendar (remember: only the calendar set as default will display the event). Changes made within either calendar will now be reflected in the other.

Accounting Solutions in the Cloud

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Accounting, Blog, Productivity, Thumbs up, Workflow

A quick Quora search for ‘accounting solution’ or ‘accounting tools’ will turn up a bevy of queries and responses all seeking to answer the same enigmatic question: What is the SaaS accounting solution for a small business?

The answer, as becomes quickly apparent while sorting through the most upvoted responses, is not unanimous. Quite often the best way to approach a potential change to a new software is to ask yourself whether this new solution will be more effective and efficient than your current solution — not whether this new software will singlehandedly perform all accounting functions effortlessly. Here then is a list of the best programs in the market right now, software that will provide a solid backbone for your accounting processes until the next great thing comes along or you outgrow your current services.

InDinero


Free; Plans start at $19.95/mo

Essentially InDinero is a financial advisor and visualizer. It downloads your bank records and organizes them in a number of ways to help better understand your company's finances.

Intacct

$25/user/mo base; Additional cost per application used

Intacct offers a cloud financial management and accounting system with a pay-as-you-go model for additional accounting tools

Kashoo

$9.95/mo

Double entry accounting that supports multiple currencies and integrates easily with FreshBooks.

LessAccounting


$30/mo

LessAccounting is lauded for its intuitive, easy-to-use UI good for small businesses.

Outright

 

Free; Plans start at $9.95/mo

From Quora, "[Outright is] great for sole proprietors/freelance workers who want to spend minimal time on bookkeeping."

QuickBooks Online


Plans start at $12.95/mo

QuickBooks is good for companies with a dedicated accountant familiar with the full capability of the application however because of the secondary market of supporting software it can easily be used for small business accounting.

Saasu



Plans start at $25/mo

Saasu has a ton of features, so many that one person on Quora called it, "quite hard to use," which means you should expect a learning curve.

WaveAccounting

 

Free

A full-featured application including double entry accounting and a price so cheap it's free for life.

Xero

 


Plans start at $19/mo

Xero requires a little technical knowledge like Quickbooks, but also integrates well with other web apps like Shoeboxed

Yendo

 


Free; Plans start at $9/mo

Yendo was recommended for a brand new business as its services are free for one user and upgradable as your business grows.

Integrate & Automate Social Sharing: WordPress to Twitter to Facebook

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Google, Productivity, Sales & Marketing, Thumbs up, WordPress, Workflow


This post will outline how to integrate your Twitter account to automatically update your business’ Facebook page and for WordPress users, how to integrate Twitter with your Dashboard to directly share your latest blog posts.

The first step is to create Twitter and Facebook accounts for your business. Business pages on Facebook are treated differenly from personal profiles so you’ll want to head over to facebook.com/pages to create yours. It’s advisable to sign up for both accounts with the same email address since they’ll be linked later on anyway.

Once you’ve got both accounts set up you’ll want to navigate to apps.facebook.com/twitter to allow your tweets to be shared as posts on your company’s wall. To accomplish this, hashtag #fb at the end of each tweet that you want to appear on the wall.

During the setup you should be led to your Twitter settings page (twitter.com/settings/profile) but in case you aren’t, you’ll want to scroll down to the Facebook settings and check the box that says ‘Allow Twitter to post to the wall of: my Facebook page: [Page Name]‘.

That takes care of sending your tweets to Facebook, but for WordPress users there’s a plugin that will allow you to tweet from within the dashboard, eliminating one more step and saving you a few clicks in the process.

Begin by downloading the Twitter Tools plugin and installing it. You’ll then have to register your site as an application on Twitter’s app registration page  which is as easy as copy-pasting a few serial keys. Once your WordPress and Twitter accounts are connected you’ll see that Twitter Tools offers a large number of configuation options under Settings in the Dashboard. I prefer the more ‘manual’ application of its functionality, however, so that’s what I’ll cover here.

Simply click ‘Tweet’ under Posts and you’ll be brought to a simple tweet platform within the dashboard. Here’s what I recommend from there:

1. Open your newly published article in a new tab and use the goo.gl URL shortener (or another if not using Chrome) to create a shortened version of your article’s URL.

2. Back on the tweet page, write the title of your article followed by the goo.gl URL and then the hashtag #fb (remember how we set up automatic integration earlier?)

Now you can easily share your posts via Twitter and Facebook without ever having to leave the WordPress backend UI. If you have a different setup that works for you let us know in the comments, convenience is king!

Wrangling Receipts – A Step To A Paperless Office

Written by Natasha Goncharova on . Posted in Accounting, Blog, Finance, Productivity, Thumbs up, Workflow

The question of how to file receipts at small businesses is a common one. In this case, small business owners and startup founders want to make sure there is an audit trail in case of an IRS audit. At Finance Alpha, we are big believers in paperless operations with access to paperless receipts being an integral part of a paperless office. These are our experiences with the services that provide receipt scanning and online receipt management.

1) Shoeboxed.com (http://shoeboxed.com/pricing)
   We give Shoeboxed preference over all other available services for their cost/benefit & value. We have been using Shoeboxed.com for over two years and have yet to be disappointed. We send them receipts of all shapes and forms, wrinkled and not, and somehow they are able to scan them all and make them available online.

For a $300 annual plan, we have no labor on our side other than to put all receipts in pre-paid envelopes. They prepay and track envelopes, and can mail back the physical receipts (for free) if the customer desires. Customers can also scan receipts with smart phones and email them to Shoeboxed on-the-go.

Their search can be improved, but it is not a deal breaker — you can always find the receipt you are searching for if it had been mailed to them and scanned.

It should be said that they do not scan anything but receipts and business cards. You have to use another service or a scanner at your home/office to scan other documents.

2) Expensify (http://expensify.com)
   Expensify goes hand in hand with shoeboxed. They are complementary services, not substitutes.

Expensify is more useful for expense report submissions / reimbursement record keeping, not for scanning all your receipts. Similarly to Shoeboxed, however, you can scan your receipts with the Expensify mobile app. Both Shoeboxed and Expensify are semi-integrated with Google apps (you can use one login to all of them) which allows you to have them available on your team members’ dashboards and saves time on receipts submission. Expensify has a beautiful, easy to use UI and it is simple to integrate this service within a small business or a startup.

3) Neat (http://store.neat.com)
   The Neat scanners look neat, but I have not been able to justify the price of these scanners (plus our labor to scan) when compared with the Shoeboxed.com pricing.

I once saw a Neat scanner being used at a doctor’s office to add a scanned copy of a patient’s card to the patient’s records so perhaps there is value in the Neat scanner if you perform such specific tasks regularly.

4) OfficeDrop (http://officedrop.com/pricing)
   OfficeDrop allows you to mail everything to them for processing. They are more expensive than Shoeboxed, and we have not used them as a result. (Note: Office Drop was formerly Pixily)

5) There are many apps that enable mobile phones to scan receipts. Here is an example: http://www.appbrain.com/search?q=receipts. If you are not using any of the options listed above, you will have to try different apps to see if any stick with your team to be diligent in scanning and e-mailing you all their receipts.

If all else fails, go with Shoeboxed.com! :)

Disclosure: I have no association with any of the services listed above other than that I use the first two on the list.

Google Apps: a Toolkit for Startups and Small Businesses

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Google, Productivity, Project Management, Thumbs up, Workflow

This is the first in a series of posts about Google Apps. We will be covering the most useful third party apps for operations management as well as cool ways to use Google Apps to facilitate collaboration and smooth operations flow. Stay tuned!

A recent post on Google’s Blog showed that 97% of Business Insider’s 20 Silicon Valley Startups to Watch from the last two years were running on Google Apps. As the post’s author Rich Rao notes, Silicon Valley isn’t the only place for tech startups but it does highlight the salient point: Google Apps allows you to “focus on your business, not on your IT.” Likewise Martin Melin found that after analyzing MX entries for 204 Y Combinator startups that 142 (almost 70%) are using Gmail and as he observes, “This does not consider the possibility of some startups using another MX that is forwarding into Google Apps, so the actual percentage could very well be higher than 70%.”

So why Google Apps? Beyond the fact that you can have fully integrated domain email for free up to ten people without the headache of managing your own email server and with Postini taking care of SPAM, the default features available in Google Apps have expanded since its inception. In addition to Gmail, Calendar, web based word processing, spreadsheets, and slide presentations, Google Documents now offers Drawing (a free-form image manipulation tool), Forms (a template builder for customer feedback), and sidebar comment trails in the event that want to leave a note outside of a document itself. The real value of these tools is not their functions, however, but the fact that they foster collaboration.

With your team:
Let’s say you’re working with your team on a new product or process. The ability to communicate and collaborate in real time using the Gmail chat function along with Drawing for visuals and a text document with a comment trail allows you to share ideas, visualize them, and solidify present and future goals all without time spent moving files back and forth. There is even a revision history function that will show you who has made changes, when, and allows you to restore any deleted items.

Gmail Chat

 

Google Drawing with Revision History

 

Google Document with Comments

With clients:
Similarly, if your clients are using Google Apps you can bring them in on the conversation rather than working to provide a model, getting their opinion, and going back to the drawing board. Not only will your client get the feeling of personal service, but will likely be able to provide a clear description of what they want in a shorter amount of time. Best of all, when the project is complete you can simply ‘un-share’ any documents your client may have had access to and privacy is restored.

What killed SohoOS for me

Written by Natasha Goncharova on . Posted in Admin Tools, Blog, Calendar & Scheduling, Customer Management, Document Management, Productivity, Project Management, Sales & Marketing, Thumbs down, Workflow

In a attempt to find an “all in one” solution for startups and small businesses operations management, after seeing so much praise given to SohoOS by TechCrunch, I gave it a try. Michael outlined some of the issues with the service in his post here.

These are the issues that killed the service for me:
1) It prompted me to bring all my contacts from Gmail, which I did, and then I could not find where my contacts were nor could I find how to delete them from the system!

2) There does not appear to be a way to close an account once you open one at SohoOS. On many web-based services, the option to close your account and how to is stated almost on every page or provided in the FAQ page, so that customers feel assured they can; this is not the case with SohoOS as of 1o/2011.

3)  The service states it is is free, however once you get through a hodgepodge of interfaces ‘thrown together’ to give a perception that a user can manage projects and invoicing with SohoOS  (below you can see an interface with the missing logo and less than optimal UI for adding a task), you soon come to a screen where SohoOS wants you to pay for SMS messages supposedly to communicate with your team members, and for documents from Docstock.

At the end I felt “cheated on”. My info was inside the system with no way to take it out or delete it with no trace (no way for SohoOS to use my contacts), and no value was provided within the project management and invoicing screen. After being promised something for free, I kept bumping into screens that were asking me to pay.

Adding a task to a project:

Pay for sending SMS:

SohoOS Docs — pay to use the documents from DocStoc:

 


SohoOS: “F” is for Beta

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Admin Tools, Blog, Calendar & Scheduling, Customer Management, Document Management, Productivity, Project Management, Sales & Marketing, Thumbs down, Workflow

Roi Carthy of TechCrunch posted an article recently after speaking with Eran Manor, SohoOS’s lead designer, that ended on the high note, “The thinking here is that providing [invoicing, billing features, CRM, inventory & project management] to a sufficient depth allows SohoOS to appeal to a larger userbase. With the US, UK, and the EU constituting 54% of the userbase, this is a smart move.”

Let’s get one thing straight: Users, “growing at a rate of 30% month-over-month,” doesn’t say anything about retention, satisfaction, or the utility of the service. Amid the hype I became one of the more than 400,000 users that their front page boasts, only to find that what is presented as a product in Beta is little more than a, “reverse engineered…iPad app”, it is a “service” that lures you in and then doesn’t let you out.

According to Carthy’s article, SohoOS has discovered that small businesses:

• Don’t consider accounting software a substitute for an accountant

• Don’t see accounting as the heart and soul of their businesses’ management activities.

To the first point, it seems unlikely that small businesses feel duped for using both an accountant and software programs programs.  An accounting program allows for day-to-day entries to be recorded so that when the time comes for tax filing an accountant can easily collect the necessary information.

To the second, accounting certainly isn’t the heart of business management but it is a necessary part.

This, I believe, is where SohoOS has lost sight of their audience. Carthy even praises SohoOS for, “focusing on several services that are key to the daily management of a small business,” rather than “the conventional wisdom, of ‘do one thing and do it well’.”

My criticism for SohoOS then is twofold:

1.       The result of trying to take on so many traditionally divided tasks is a cluttered interface that seems lost between invoicing features and priced-t0-sell business document templates.

2.       The term ‘Beta’ has fallen victim to semantic satiation and companies like SohoOS are to blame. Beta used to mean an essentially finished product that leaves room for rapid user-oriented change, but now simply means ‘something we’ve put together and are still working on defining’.

If a company doesn’t have a clearly defined vision of itself, there is no way that a customer can see future potential. Perhaps my cynicism toward the ‘do everything well’ model will turn out to be the mark of a dying philosophy but until a service like SohoOS pushes companies that ‘do one thing and do it well’ aside, I won’t be investing.

What’s on your keychain? Integrated Google Apps That Make Life Easy

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Accounting, Admin Tools, Blog, Customer Management, Document Management, Finance, Google, Productivity, Project Management, Workflow

This is the second in series of posts about Google Apps, to learn more about Google Apps for Business see our first post

The number of apps integrated with Google Apps has exploded recently and many are available for free or for a nominal fee (especially if you’re a small business using them among your team members).  At Finance Alpha our goal has been to find the best tools for intuitive and flexible collaboration, which has meant testing tools with a wide variety of intended uses and keeping an eye out for those that operate well in tandem across all members of a team.

These are the tools we have picked so far:

  Insightly: We ran across Insightly (insight.ly) while looking for an intuitive task manager integrated with Google Apps. Google’s own Tasks function has the advantage of being a proprietary and thus extremely integrated product, however we found that there wasn’t enough room for description within the tasks themselves and that tasks could not be easily shared or delegated. In the case of an ongoing task, Insightly allows you to add progress updates, assign a number of statuses (Not Started, Waiting, In Progress, Deferred, Completed), assign tasks to other team members with email notification, and can even act as a CRM. Integration with Google means that you can save an email transaction with a click of a button from Gmail into Insightly and the person’s contact information will automatically be saved in addition to the email exchange itself. Insightly is free up to 3 users and has plans starting at $29/month for more.

MindMeister: Ever heard of or used mind mapping? MindMeister is intended to allow you visualize one aspect of your life / project and its constituent parts. As an example, the standard Personal Tasks template shows how it might be helpful to conceptualize how your Home, Work, Car, Shopping, and Other personal tasks are related. Furthermore, individual nodes and tasks can be prioritized, tagged, flagged, highlighted, and even set up for email notification. Not only is MindMeister affordable ($9.99 per month for unlimited maps and users) but can easily be used for other purposes like project management and flowcharts. It is worth mentioning that like most great services, MindMeister is immediately comprehensible: whatever you think that button does, it does. We wrote earlier that we chose MindMeister over other flow chart tools.

Expensify: Expensify is already a brilliant tool for expense tracking that includes the ability to import credit card and bank records, create expense reports, upload receipts, and even integrate with Quickbooks. The service as a Google App (free for 2 users, $5 per user after that) seems little more than a convenient link from your Google account but nonetheless it saves you the extra login and makes Expensify more accessible if you want to use it from a mobile device.

GetHarvest: Harvest is powerful because it does one thing extremely well: time tracking. For employees Harvest presents a minimal, intuitive interface to quickly categorize and track time. On the accounting side, Harvest makes invoicing and report generation both instant and elegantly presented. A full business account (including unlimited users) is going to cost you $90 a month but if you’ve got a large team working on a variety of tasks, it simply can’t get any simpler.

Shoeboxed: Not unlike Expensify, the Google Apps extension of Shoeboxed is little more than the ability to log in from your Google account however this shouldn’t discount what a valuable tool it can be for your team. Shoeboxed allows you to send physical receipts, upload photos of receipts, and basically transmit any other record of a transaction to them for processing. In return you’ll have access to a clean record of your transactions perfect for substantiation in the case of an audit. Also, if you don’t import transactions from your bank into Quickbooks (or any other accounting software), Shoeboxed can help you there too. They offer prepaid envelopes in addition to receiving standard mail with just a little extra effort (you have to provide your email address on the outside and inside of the envelope). They’ll even dispose of your receipts safely or send them back to you if you’d rather hold on to the physical copies. The $300 annual price tag might seem high at first (includes 150 docs/month and 500 uploads) but the peace of mind it brings means never having to worry about providing a record of your transactions. Besides, who wants to sort receipts when you can mail them off in a crumpled ball?

Check out our example workflow of this process in flowchart form here

What third party apps integrated with Google Apps do you find most useful in your work flow? Let us know in the comments!

Thinking Outside the Box.net

Written by Michael Tauscher on . Posted in Blog, Google, Productivity, Project Management, Workflow

If nothing else the development team at Box.net is ambitious. Imagine taking the best parts of Google Docs, Adobe Reader, Dropbox, and your calendar and trying to merge them into a navigable, convenient interface. It’s a wonder the Swiss Army didn’t have a role in the project. Much like Google Docs, Box allows you to import, export, share, tag, and add tasks to documents among a number of other functions. Non-Google Docs files (Microsoft Office, text files) can be uploaded and then viewed in high resolution for better printing (à la Adobe Reader) which may be a response to the formatting issues that sometimes occur when copy pasting a Microsoft Office document into Google Docs.

Despite the appeal of Box’s all-in-one capability, however, the $15 per user per month cost (the highest among cloud content management / online storage services) seems a little pricey considering that you can achieve nearly the same functionality with other free or less expensive services. Online documents at Google Docs combined with file sharing at Dropbox can all be managed nearly as easily and for free for up to 10 people and $2GB per person.

Another important functionality missing from Box.net is real time collaboration — editors of the same document can not edit and comment on-the-go, and you can’t see the changes made in the document by peer editors — a function that works beautifully in Google Docs. Perhaps Box.net does have a place among large companies where a single interface is preferable to a number of smaller tools but for the small business Box seems overpriced and underpowered.

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