Five Email Productivity Tips

February 21, 2013 · Posted in Time Management Tips · Comment 

Is email taking up too much time in your workday?    If you’re looking to spend less time on email, here are five quick items to test your existing knowledge and fine-tune your organizational skills.  We’ll talk specifically about Outlook®, but if you use another package, you may be able to find the same features there.

1. Folders

We all start with several default folders in our email software, such as our inbox, drafts, sent, and deleted email, but if that’s all you use, then this tip might save you time.  Consider creating additional folders to file or organize your email.

For example, under your inbox, you could have “hot,” “warm,” and “cold” folders for tasks that need to be done right now, in a few hours, and later today.  You may also want to create folders by clients, employees, business functions, products, vendors, important documents, or some combination of the above.

It’s especially useful to group certain emails together so you can work on a string all at once and not as they come in.  That way, you can minimize interruptions which can improve your focus throughout the day.

In Outlook, you can find the Folders command as a menu item with many tasks to choose from.

2. Rules

Once you’ve gotten those folders setup, you can create rules to automatically “file” emails that come in.  One great example is all those social media emails we all get.  Create a folder called “Social Media,” then create several rules to file those emails directly into that folder.  For example, all emails from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites you have profiles on can go straight into that folder to be read later.  It keeps your inbox much cleaner and lowers that feeling of overwhelm too.

Look for the task bar item, “Rules, Create Rule” to get started.

3. Signature Files

If you haven’t already, create a signature file that looks professional and does a little bit of marketing for you as well.   At a minimum, include your name, company name, phone and website address.  Consider a short description line about what your company offers, especially if it’s not clear from your company name.  Finally, include a very short description about the type of client you’re looking for, a complimentary offer you have, or a brief phrase to encourage referrals.

One more thing to consider:  include your full signature on both new emails and replies, just to make your phone number and contact information all that more accessible for prospects and clients.

To get started or to edit your existing signature, go to the File menu, choose Options, Mail, and then locate the Signatures button.

4. Multiple Email Addresses

A great way to cut down on overwhelm is to have at least two email addresses.  The second, extra email address can be for email you don’t need to read as often as your client and employee email.  Send that email to a completely separate box that you only open once or twice a week.  Assign those social media emails, list emails, meeting notice emails, and other subscription emails that just don’t need immediate attention.

You can also use multiple email addresses for special tasks such as hiring.  Direct applicants to send their resumes to the separate email account.  When you are ready to review the resumes, they will be all in one place with no other email clutter.

5. Categories

A further tool to sort and organize emails is the Categorize feature in Outlook located on the tool bar.  You can create categories to group emails that are all in one folder, such as your inbox.  Categories might include functions such as accounting or sales, clients or type of clients, urgency, employees, or another grouping that helps you keep related or similar emails together.

Bonus Tip:  That Distracting Bell

When new email comes in, does your computer interrupt you and make a sound?  Worse, do you stop what you are doing and read the new email?  If you do, you will get a huge productivity boost by simply turning off the automated send/receive email feature.  Instead, schedule the sending and receiving of your email manually two to three times a day.

In Outlook 2010, go to File, Options, Advanced, Send/Receive, and uncheck “Schedule an automatic Send/Receive every __ minutes.”  After you have changed this setting, no more email will come in until you manually click the Send/Receive toolbar button under the Send/Receive menu bar item, so you are now in total control of when you want to be interrupted by email.

You will be shocked how much more productive your day is by implementing this one bonus tip.

Try these tips to boost your productivity with email.

Five Places Where Spending More Pays Off

February 7, 2013 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips · Comment 

It’s generally a good idea to keep overhead costs low so that your business profits will be higher.  This is especially true with items that are easily commoditized and fairly standardized, such as utilities and rent.  But there are times when increasing expenses pays off nicely, and here are five areas to consider so you can reap the rewards.

Training

Whether it’s for you or your staff, good training can pay back for years to come.  Learning new skills, no matter what our crafts are, will keep our businesses from becoming stagnant.  Implementing what we learn will help us grow.

You might get training to increase the mastery of your chosen profession.  You might also want to consider general business skills, including technology, marketing, finance, and leadership.  Just about everyone can benefit from learning more about project management, communications, and negotiations, to name a few more.

You might also want to consider “human performance” skills such as public speaking.  Whatever you choose, training is always a great investment that pays back big dividends.

Tools

Without the right tools, the same task can take double the time.  It’s a great idea to provide your employees with the most powerful computers and software on the market.  The cost of labor outweighs the costs of the computers, so it makes sense to load employees up with the best tools you can.  An employee with a slow computer, through no fault of their own, is not giving you their best, and that will cost money in lost productivity.

The same thing goes for owners.  You can spend your time fighting with a machine or getting a ton of work done.  I’m pretty sure the latter is more profitable.

Accounting

The most successful companies we work with invest in accounting services in five areas: accounting technology, accurate bookkeeping, thorough reporting, tax minimization, and professional consulting.  When we see business owners cutting corners in any of these areas, it usually costs them more money in the long run to clean up the problems that result.

An up-to-date accounting system minimizes maintenance and troubleshooting costs.   Making sure the bookkeeping and reconciliations are done properly is essential for compliance reporting and decision-making.  A robust set of reports allows a business owner to make smart decisions about running their business, and minimizing taxes helps you keep more of what you make.

Since accountants see thousands of financial reports in their careers, they have developed an eye for opportunities that a business owner may not see.  Bringing an outside perspective into your business is a good investment that can help you discover great opportunities in your business.

Marketing

Whatever you do in your business, you are helping others.  You are sharing a skill you have that your clients either don’t have or don’t choose to do for themselves.   Being a best-kept secret doesn’t help you share your gifts and talents.

Marketing can help you get the word out to people who need your services but might not know about you.  Developing great marketing materials will help you communicate what you do as well as receive fair compensation for what you do.  It almost always makes sense to invest in this area of your business.

Employee Perks and Benefits

Keeping employees passionate about your vision and motivated to be productive is a continuing task.  One way to do that is to provide employee benefits and perks that make it attractive for employees to work for you.

There are many ways to invest in your employees.  Good health insurance, personal time off, extra vacation time, education reimbursement, flex time, and working from home are just a few of the many options you can choose from to enhance employees’ working environments.

Measuring the Payoff

We can help you measure your return in any of these areas; as always, please let us know how we can help.

Use QuickBooks’ Tools and Common Sense Procedures To Prevent Financial Fraud

February 1, 2013 · Posted in QuickBooks Help, QuickBooks Software, QuickBooks Training · Comment 
You work hard for your money. Strong internal controls can keep it from disappearing unnecessarily.
 
You trust your employees or you wouldn’t have hired them. That’s what everyone says as they watch a valued staff member being hauled off in handcuffs.But I trusted him.
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Whether your accounting tasks are done on one PC or you have multiple users working on different screens, it’s critical that you make use of all that QuickBooks offers in terms of internal controls. You’ll also need to establish some common-sense rules. 
 
First Stop: Audit Trail
 
An audit trail is very large report that displays every addition, deletion and modification of every transaction. In older versions of QuickBooks you could turn it on and off, but it’s permanently on now. 
 
Because of its size, you’ll probably have to use QuickBooks’ filtering tools to zero in on the user and/or date(s) you’re looking for. Go toReports | Accountant & Taxes | Audit Trail. Click Customize Report | Filtersto set up your search. 
 
Your audit trail won’t alert you when someone tries to enter a prohibited area, and it won’t detect changes to lists. Setting up permissions will help (Company | Set Up | Users and Passwords | Set Up Users), but you need more than that.

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Figure 1: Be especially careful when granting user access to areas that contain customer, vendor and employee information.

Run the Right Reports
 
Other QuickBooks features can help prevent fraud. Review these reports regularly: 
  • Closing Date Exception. Why were those changes necessary?
  • Voided/Deleted Transactions. Is there supporting documentation? Should you be reviewing these daily?
  • Expenses by Vendor Detail. Look for irregularities, especially multiple payments made to a vendor in a short period of time.
  • Check registers. Use the Balance Sheet for this. Go to Reports | Company &Financial | Balance Sheet Standard and customize the report for the correct period and — if necessary — for specific customers, vendors and/or jobs.

Adhere to Best Practices

You undoubtedly implement financial best practices in your personal life. You reconcile your accounts. You don’t give your online banking password to anyone. And you glance through your recently-posted transactions on your financial institutions’ websites. 

If your company is large enough that you have multiple accounting employees, you probably can’t be as hands-on as you are at home. But you can still set up internal control procedures.  

 

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Figure 2: Debit? Credit? Reverse the transaction? No one should be making General Journal entries but you. It’s easy to err here; talk to us before using this feature.

For example, if your company has grown to the point where you’re removed from the daily workflow, you may still want to have approval rights for some procedures, like bank balance adjustments, refunds and credits, printed checks (you should still be signing them), timesheets and expense reports.
 
It goes without saying that you should password-protect your QuickBooks company file and change the password regularly, even — and especially — if you’re the entire accounting department. And protect yourself forexternal fraud. We can do a review of your security procedures and make suggestions.
 
Reinforce the rules  
 

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Figure 3: Anyone in your company who has access to accounting data should have a background check.

Know who your employees are (consider running background checks) and, if you can, rotate the duties assigned to accounting staff. If you have only one person managing all of your bookkeeping work, conduct an even more thorough background search: credit, references, criminal activity, etc. 
Finally, make sure that all employees understand the definition and consequences of fraud. Let them know about the steps being taken to prevent it, but do some unannounced auditing on your own. Include a session on fraud in orientation and get current staff up in orientation and get current staff up to speed. Explain that this is necessary for their protection, too. Make it easy to report fraud anonymously, with no fear of repercussions. 
This may seem like a lot of extra tasks in your workday, but imagine the time you’ll lose tracking down fraudulent activity if it occurs. So spend a fraction of that time upfront.
If you have questions on this subject, or anything else Accounting or QuickBooks related, give us a call or email. We’re here to be your partner.

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