Free Tools for Small Business

I just wanted to share a few of my useful vendors that make my job easier – from an accounting, time and task tracking, and taking payment point of view. I have tried a ton of them, some paid and some free, and settled on a few that make my life easier without a sticker shock, that balance features and functionality with that cost. Free is always better, obviously, but at some point you do need to pony up to the next level: some tools have per-transaction fees but are for the most part “free”.

So first off, accounting – I had been using Quickbooks for years, but the only problem with that is you need to either have the computer that quickbooks is on with you, and typically that one needs to be Windows based. There is Quickbooks for OSX, but I wasn’t willing to shell out the money (again) to switch to the Macbook I do web development work on. You also need to manually track payments and deposits, process payment manually, and good luck writing an invoice when it’s not with you.

Accounting

My colleague over at UFV, Anthony, told me about the online software package he uses – Wave. To give you an idea of what it does, take a look at the screenshot below. Everything you do on it is free – invoicing, tracking expenses, linking it to your bank account to monitor transactions, reporting, etc. It lets you invoice, receive payment, and track deposits all from your browser.

dashboard

Where you pay is when you want them to process payments online – yes you can send invoices and process them manually, but it’s so much easier when a client opens up the invoice, is presented with a payment option, and can enter in their credit card details right away. It takes about a week to set up payments, and requires your license to be scanned and business information to be sent over. After that, it’s smooth sailing, with about 2.9% per transaction and no monthly fee. If you want payroll options it is about $10 a month over and above that.

Task Tracking

If you have a problem with distributed work, where you’re not in a single office all day every day, hop on the Wunderlist bandwagon. It was so good that it was bought by Microsoft, but still does everything that made it famous before, for free.

all-devices@2x

It works on all devices, has grouping for types of tasks, task checklists, notes, options for reminders (including email reminders), collaboration with co-workers and colleagues, and an app on all platforms. Again, free.

Payments

squareKind of a big one – you want to get paid for your work, right? Well you definitely have the option of using Wave, but for other transactions where you want the person to sign, maybe swipe their card, and pay slightly less per transaction, I use Square. 2.65% per swipe, no monthly fees, and all you have to do is carry your phone with you – wait, you do that already! Awesome!

I mean, really – why are people paying an arm and a leg for merchant fees, a terminal, and another cell connection for one you take on the road with you, when you can just have the ease and simplicity of something that you just need an app for?

Anyways, it takes about a week to link to your bank account, but I use it pretty regularly when I just want to quickly process a card and most clients pay by cheque.

Banking

rbcYes, that’s right, you need a business bank account in some cases, especially if you register the business or incorporate. Wave, Paypal, and Square all allow you to use your name (and subsequently your personal bank account) as your business, but if you want to be a recognized business then you need to pay up the $100-odd dollars it takes to register and run a name search. Worth it!

In terms of business banking, RBC appears to have one of the better options around – Free. Find out more about their current campaign. I had originally started using their $6/month account, but then switched to their e-account, as you can basically do all of your online transactions at no cost. For cheque deposits it hurts the pocket as you pay a per transaction fee, so I now have both – $6/month for chequing, and free for savings (you can use the debit card anywhere for free, online transfers and transactions for free, etc). Just bring your registration papers with you and you’ll walk out with everything you need.

Call Direction (Phone Mailboxes)

I figured I would add this in as an afterthought, as I have quite a few clients set up on RingCentral using their 1-800 service. Basically, for $30/month, you get a virtual phone mailbox (pbx) system which will answer your calls and direct them to the right mailbox (press 1 for accounting, 2 for service, etc), as well as a host of other features. Call forwarding, screening, Area-code redirection (for instance, if you have multiple locations in different calling areas, person “a” in the 123-#### calling code area can reach store “a” and person “b” in the 321-#### can reach store “b” without a huge amount of effort and setup on your end. Voicemail to email too!

ringcentral

Congrats!

Well, there you have it: Your business is equipped to handle everything you need, at low-to-no monthly cost. Worth it!

 

Incorporation

You know, after getting slapped with a big tax bill and realizing I should have incorporated sooner, I am finally at a place which is awesome. I have a new company name, Infinus Technology, work with some great people, and the only person to be angry at when things don’t get done is myself. Since I’m pretty good at keeping account of my time and tasks, I can only hope that it carries over to growing the business – which has added four new clients in the past two months, and several websites. I have been getting Nicole to design things – as finding time is hard – and Bryan has been jumping in all over the place when I get called out to meetings or other client issues. Couldn’t do it without them. So incredibly lucky.

I’m the Fommy

Well, close enough anyways. I’m the father that does the job of a “stereotypical” mother. Because why not? Why should the moms get all the fun? I’m the one who drops the kids off every morning, and picks them up every afternoon – the first face they see in the morning and the last they see at night. I left my job two years ago to work from home and not only did it save us a ton of money but I got to spend 24 months with these guys:

Awesome day with the boys!

A photo posted by @thebrendancarr on

But that means I’m now in a state of flux – what to do next? Do I keep doing what I’m doing or go back to working a regular steady job and end up putting the oldest back in after school care?  I’ve had time to bring some more changes to Afterglow (including real time social streaming and an updated dashboard, plus more feeds via APIs)… and launch that email service… plus have been much more involved with the clients I do have, which they are much happier with. Time will tell!

 

What I’ve Learned from Blogging Moms

I do a lot of different things – some of it web related, some of it IT, and a lot of it is complicated stuff. I recently helped a high school friend move her blog from wordpress.com to a self-hosted environment at bluehost. Parenting From The Heart was an easy one – not a ridiculous amount of posts, only a few sidebar items, and I was able to get through it relatively quickly. Alana then started sending me referrals for other blogger mommies who wanted to do the same thing: go from WordPress hosting (or another platform) into their very own web space. Great! Almost a niche market!

blogging

When you move between platforms there’s the usual things you have to change, such as updating permalinks, making sure featured images are set, picking a new theme and setting it up, switching DNS, etc…. but then there’s the other things you don’t think about right away. Like connecting Jetpack and getting your subscribers transferred, or re-setting up widgets because they don’t come across manually. When the blog has been well established you sometimes have to break the database file into several parts to import several times. If it’s coming from Blogger you need to import all of the images, re-do some of the permalinks for social media sharing and shareaholic, and then teach them how to use it.

So here’s what I ran into: Blogging moms know their stuff. You seriously can’t train someone this quickly to pick up on WordPress – maybe it’s just the act of being a mom makes you unafraid to just try something, and if it doesn’t work or you break it, and you can’t figure it out, THEN you ask for help. I recently migrated someone from Blogger, and I took a few screenshots to show her how to edit posts and make sure that featured images were set. Before I knew it, she had set up the slider, re-done the menu, uploaded plugins that she needed, and just had some questions about the permalinks (which were different thanks to a Blogger->WordPress import). She had never used it before and thanks to several years of blogging, blew my expectations out of the water and did some of the work herself.

Needless to say, I’m fairly impressed – it almost makes me wonder if it’s worth it to hire a mommy blogger to help out with WordPress posts and managing sites, rather than someone who dedicates themselves to managing websites on a daily basis. The difference is, they use it themselves regularly, know what works from a marketing/SEO perspective, and know how to get social linked up in a way that can be monetized on. This is the kind of thing that it takes some people years to learn! Just some food for thought…

Milestones

So, I’ve been watching the registrations on transfermyemail.ca and find it interesting the countries that I’m seeing there. It has started being used in Argentina, the Philippines, Austria,  Nigeria, and the UK, apart from Canada and the USA.  The consistent story I hear with most users is that they’re moving from an old/slow/bad host to something newer and better, and either aren’t being given the support to migrate cPanel that they need, or they aren’t on cPanel and have no easy email migration path. PERFECT! This is exactly why I launched the site! Still free for now. Try it out!

Adventures in VPS Land

So, 24 hours of using Virpus, and here’s my review. I’ll be frank here, I use Ramnode, love Ramnode, and have nothing but good things to say about them. I also use Cirrus Tech to host a Windows VPS. But I’m not one to put all of my eggs in one basket, especially with so many businesses relying on my hosting, so I signed up with no expectations for one of the Virpus Linux Seattle-based VPS’s, adding cPanel.

Since signing up, I’ve been able to considerably drop the load from one of my main VPS’s through this new VPS.

It was provisioned instantly, but looks like the IP address wasn’t automatically registered in WHM/cPanel’s system (maybe because I did it after hours?), so I had to wait for that and run a few commands to both install and register WHM… no biggie, it’s self managed, you get what you pay for. After getting it all set up and running, I moved over about 25 sites and swapped DNS IPs to see what it would be like load-wise. Support was quick to respond, even after-hours (not quite as fast as Ramnode but still very prompt and courteous).

Seems very stable, speeds are good, and I ran some hard disk tests which were comparable with Ramnode – almost exactly on par.

The server virtualization technology in use is Xen – which has pros and cons, like me having to patch my own kernel if there are security vulnerabilities, but not having to request second level quotas to be enabled. Also Xen is more flexible from a memory perspective, whereas Ramnode bites the big one when the server gets overloaded by requests due to the technology used: I can expect my clamav, spamd, and mysql services to need to restart daily – thankfully they do this on their own.

Now, I’m a server admin and web developer by trade, so I tend to know my stuff, so don’t take my ease of setup and use as what your experience will be like, but as far as I’m concerned the cost vs the features is well worth it. None of my mission critical sites are on it at this point, until I give it some break in time, but I’d be quite happy setting up clients on here if it continues with this level of responsiveness.

How to transfer email accounts and messages between servers?

Moving emails to your new server should be relatively easy – if you want to transfer your email messages from one server to another, you can now do this with only your login details. No FTP transfers needed, and you don’t need to drag and drop between accounts in your mail program. It utilizes the IMAP protocol so it will sync everything for you directly without removing email from your old server.  It will transfer your entire email directory structure to the new server, including all sub folders that you select. You can now easily transfer emails from your previous host to your new host without any effort.

The script is finally complete, and you can find it here: http://brendancarr.ca/migrateemail/

Please note, it doesn’t actually transfer emails, but it will let you test the email transfer procedure itself and supports SSL so you can use it on Gmail.  Please feel free to contact me if you would like to utilize it.

brendan@carr.ca

PHP Best Practices

You know the worst part about focusing on function over form, and working mostly on your own? You neglect to make sure that your coding style is uniform, that you’re following best practices, and that your code is properly SPACED and INDENTED (one tab per level). A lot of times I don’t have to go back to the code or share it, so it just gets left the way it is – because it works.

I don’t even want to go into how many times I’ve had to go back over my code and space out variables inside of brackets, and move them from being in the function calls themselves to being declared outside of the function call. At the same time, you have to make sure you don’t copy extra variables – that is, instead of copying predefined variables to smaller-named variables, just use the predefined variables to keep memory usage down.

Following DRY princples (Don’t Repeat Yourself) is another one. When I am starting something from scratch, I’m famous for repeating procedures that could be condensed into a single function call, then called multiple times. At least when reviewing after the initial coding spree I will go back and condense and clean up, but it’s still not fun when you get into 1000s of lines of code. We iterate versions and find better ways to do things for a reason, I guess.

Ultimately, it’s up to the coder as to their own particular style, but realistically, if you train yourself to do it ahead of time rather than just powering through an evening getting the project completed and working (I’m guilty) as soon as possible, then you’ll save yourself time in the long run.

 

Updates!

Been a very interesting couple of weeks! I got married, have started blogging for MainWP (a software company that creates a management suite for WordPress developers such as myself), I created a basic extension using their framework on top of a plugin, all part of the tutorials here: http://blog.mainwp.com/creating-a-wordpress-plugin/, and am in the process of uploading a video tutorial for my friends over at www.laptopscreen.com for a Lenovo LCD screen I just replaced. The video is here – http://youtu.be/O-PfEaS7F78