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Alternative VAT Number Checker to VIES - 14th January 2020

We had previously used VIES (the EU's website to check and verify VAT numbers); but have been experiencing service issue problems when trying too access their site. We suspect that this has something to do with Brexit.

We decided to search for an alternative and have found this site vatcheck.eu So far, we haven't had any problems with it and it is very quick and easy to use.

Whereas the VIES site required the user to enter their own VAT number in addition to the VAT number searched for, vatcheck.eu does not require the user to enter their own VAT number or any personal details whatsoever.

We hope that you find it useful.




Assuming that the UK Government gets 'Brexit Done', what's next for UK businesses? - 16th December 2019

Now that the people of the UK have elected a Conservative Government with a large majority most businesses in the UK and Europe are hoping that the period of uncertainty will come to an end.

This period has had a vastly detrimental effect across the UK economy, with reduced footfall in stores, reduced manufacturing orders and delays in construction projects. This has had fed itself in a downward spiral in that there has been reduced buying confidence from those workers affected by the downturn.

Traditional Christmas bonuses have been reduced or omitted altogether in some cases, which will leave the long period from the early, before Christmas payday to the end of January, a particularly hard period for workers to endure. We expect, therefore, that the Government will bring out a Budget Statement during January that will be ambitious and full of hope and cheer for many business and employees.

What would be a great gesture though would to be to increase the personal allowance for basic rate tax payers in the current tax year, giving many an instant bonus in order to promote spending and mark an end to austerity.

The Employment Allowance has been in existence for over five years now and, to a certain extent, is unfair in that many companies can claim the whole of the allowance in the first month of the tax year whereas, other employers having a large number of part-time staff may never get to claim the full allowance in any particular tax year and may not fully benefit from it. A farer system would reduce the amount available to larger companies and provide some greater benefit to employers for each employee they have that works over a specified number of weekly hours - perhaps 16 or 20 hours???

Many employees, I am sure, would be willing to accept a lowering of National Insurance Allowances to pay for increased budgets for the National Health Service, but not all. There will be some who will argue that the Government has promised extra funds for the National Health Service that will somehow be released upon leaving the EU. It would certainly be helpful if more funds were available for mental health, to reduce the extra strain placed upon the Police force and especially in Social Care - an area that most agree has been neglected and is now believed my many to be in crisis. However, the 'divorce bill' may mean that those funds are released over a longer period than previously publicised.

It will be interesting to see if the Government responds to criticism of the Universal Credit Scheme to make some effective and acceptable amendments. Both new and old MP's, fresh from canvassing must have received a great deal of feedback about the unfairness of the scheme in its current form and how it is actually creating more problems than it solves; putting many into debt straight away and putting them in a financial position that is virtually impossible to crawl out of. If the Government has listened to those constituents affected by the unfairness of the scheme, then surely some reform must take place, and soon, or the Government will risk losing the confidence of those voters who changed their voting habits to vote the Conservatives in with a large majority.


We have seen many companies set up in recent years purely to 'aid' other companies to obtain funds from the Research & Development Tax Refunds and taking a large percentage of tax reclaimed. It's a shame that more of the refunds are not going to the companies that have actually earned the right to reclaim the tax that they have paid in the first place. Perhaps, HMRC should look at making it easier for a company to understand the complexities of making a claim or reduce the complexity altogether. It may help companies to actually receive more of the funds that are rightfully theirs.

Many businesses will tell you that, as people move away from 'king cash' to increasingly rely on contactless, debit and credit cards, they want to see a real reduction in transaction fees. The fact that most banks charge a percentage of the value of the transaction rather than a fixed fee per transaction isn't fair on businesses, yet banks operate as a 'cartel' to largely operate the same sort of fees. Why should a bank have a percentage of a business's turnover?

You need the same level of security on the transaction whether it is £5 or £500 but the difference in bank fees can be between 10p and £10 per transaction! HMRC's VAT at least takes into account outgoing VAT as well as incoming, but banks are taking a percentage of a business's turnover regardless of whether the product is a 'loss-leader' or a 'cash-cow'.

For a system that appears to be completely automated, we believe that it is an unfair business practice. If banks themselves, or companies such as VISA were to make some voluntary changes to actively assist businesses with changes in transaction fees, then it may avert the need to make some regulatory changes are overdue in this area.

Staff here voted to remain in Europe, but after the past three years of uncertainty, we are relieved that Brexit will now finally go ahead. We believe that consumer and business confidence will increase slowly over the coming year but it may help if the Government also provides some sort of incentive for new start businesses to get off the ground and provide valuable technical support to them. (Not - 'Here's a leaflet on starting in business', but perhaps training sessions and one-to-one telephone assistance?) It would be a shame to think that the only help for a new business could come from a successful presentation on 'Dragon's Den'!





Is your e-mail safe? How can you protect your computer from hackers? - 1st October 2019


  • Ever had a suspicious e-mail?

  • Do you know someone that has been hacked?

  • How are you going to protect your computer from hackers?

"If your computer is wireless or does not use any antivirus software and is used not just by you, your email address and password is completely at risk." - (Wikihow 30/09/2019)

Firstly, if you are using wireless make sure that you use a WPA key on your wireless internet connection - it's best to have the latest version of security as, in reality, we are always at least one step behind the hackers.

You can add or change a WPA key in Windows 10 by:

  • Go to Settings → Network and Internet → Network and Sharing Center.

  • Click the “Wi-Fi” link to bring up the WiFi Status dialog

  • In the Wi-Fi status dialog, click “Wireless Properties”

  • This brings up the Wireless Network Properties dialog. Click the “Security” tab.

  • And your WPA key is in the “Network Security Key” field.

  • But you need to checkmark “Show Characters” to see it.

  • Your Windows 10 remembers this key

If a guest user wants to use your Internet on his or her device and asks for the WiFi WPA key, it is best to turn on your WiFi router’s guest access that uses a separate passphrase and give that instead. That way the guest WiFi is not able to access the local router access admin URL. And if his or her laptop gets stolen, the main WPA passphrase is not found on his or her laptop

Secondly, check your e-mail settings and set them for the level of security that you are prepared to accept. If you're using Microsoft Outlook, then:

  • Right-click on an e-mail in your Inbox

  • Junk

  • Junk E-mail Options

Use the radio buttons to select the level of security that you require.

We would recommend that all of your e-mail addresses have at the very least the 'Low' level of protection. Any e-mail addresses that are public or that you use for subscription services should be set to 'High'.

If you are particularly sensitive then you can set it on 'Safe-Lists Only' - but make sure that you have everyone's correct e-mail address correctly marked as being 'safe' on your list or you won't get any and won't send any either!

The bottom section of tick-boxes should also be completed. It makes sense to tick the Microsoft recommended settings to 'Disable Links...' and 'Warn...about suspicious domain names in e-mail addresses.'


Thirdly, get an antivirus software programme from a reputable source - do not respond to random e-mails (purporting to be from antivirus companies) with download links; research the antivirus companies out there and go directly to their web-site to purchase. There are some free ones out there, but if you're in business, you should really go for one that you buy - you'll need their support at some time on the future for sure. If you're a small business you can get overall control of the antivirus settings on your networked computers via a 'console' which you alone can have access to.


Lastly, use common sense. If it doesn't look right... if you at all suspicious of it... leave it be for a second or two... If you have antivirus on your computer and it is a 'dodgy' e-mail then give your antivirus a few moments to work - it may quarantine it straight away!

If the e-mail purports to be from a particular organisation and you're suspicious, contact them directly but don't use any of the contact details in the suspect e-mail.

Most charities do not send out requests directly, they invite you to go on their own web-site to make a donation so don't respond to an e-mail request purporting to be from a 'bona-fide' charity because your donation might be towards some hacker's holiday fund rather than to help a 'sick child'.

A couple of other points, it is well worth regularly checking your spam box just in case some legitimate e-mails fall into it by accident; and when you're sending e-mails to lots of people at once, it is a more secure practice to send them via the 'BCC' (the 'blind copy') field so that the recipient can't see all the others e-mail addresses.

Get safe on-line is: '...the UK’s leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety.

Their site is well worth a look to see if there is anything else you can do.

One final note, if you have lost money as a result of a phishing email, or via any other fraudulent activity then report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101. If you’ve experienced cybercrime, you can contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support and information.




The end of an era - Windows 7 is dying! - 13th August 2019

Windows 7 is no longer going to be supported by Microsoft with effect from 14th January 2020

For many businesses that is an enforced change and the choice is:

  • Buy new computers with a newer operating system - (either Windows 10 or macOS)

  • OR upgrade to Windows 10.


What will you do? The clock is ticking...

Economics come into play here - the cost of buying new hardware pales into insignificance when you consider the cost of new software and installation costs. It does significantly depend upon the amount of software directly installed on each machine. The current trend to migrate away from having software directly installed on desktop/laptop computers makes the decision to change over to newer computers to be far less important. The buying decision would place more emphasis on longevity and processing speed with very little local storage.

Some of the questions you should ask are - 'How old is the computer itself?' and 'How long do you consider it's useful life to be?' and 'If you weren't forced to change by the fact that Windows 7 is no longer being supported, when would you have planned to change your hardware?'

Accountants usually write down computer hardware over three years, but in practice they use their own computers for much longer than that. The fact is that it is simply not cost effective to change computer hardware every three years. The time lost to infrastructure changes alone makes it unviable as a general policy; however, it does depend on the type of hardware. If you're talking about laptops that may be 'pool laptops' (that is - grab one of the shelf and put it back when you've finished), you'll find that they get far more 'wear and tear' than say a desktop computer over the same period of time. Moreover, desktops usually have some components that are upgradeable (extra RAM or a new SSD drive can speed things up considerably) whereas laptops are not usually quite so adaptable.

Alternatively, the cost of upgrading to Windows 10 (which at the time of writing can still be done free without having to purchase Windows 10) is not just the time taken to upgrade; there are often hidden costs here too.

The fact that some of your (already installed) software programmes may suddenly ask you for your licence key - do you have that information available? It's fine if you do but, if you can't find it, you may have to purchase it again to install on an old computer.

If you purchased your computer with pre-installed software on it, do you have the licence keys for the software? If not, then it could be that you will need some sort of evidence that the software was pre-installed if you are to have any hope of continuing to use your software.

Did you keep the Invoice for your computer? That may be the only proof you have that the software came pre-installed.


We took the decision that upgrading to Windows 10 was the most cost-effective measure that we could do right now to ensure that we had continued support for our operating software from Microsoft.

Upgrading hardware to machines that were hardly any different in operation, with the prospect of having to buy lots of new software did not appear to be a good financial decision.




There are also useful guides on YouTube that can assist you to carry out the change. We found this one from Michael Cooper particularly useful (thanks Michael) and hope that you do too; just click on the image to go to the YouTube page.

Michael also gives some pointers as to how to get Windows 10 looking a bit more familiar with the installation of the Classic Windows Start Menu.

An important point to ensure before starting to upgrade is to ensure that you have the correct licence for Windows 7 and Michael can show you where to find this, what it should look like and, when you've upgraded, what the new Windows 10 licence looks like.

Upgrading your computer to Windows 10 can be done freely at the moment by getting the Download Tool from Microsoft (click on the Windows 10 icon to go directly to the page).

Oh - we forgot about the possibility of going over to use a Apple Mac computers...but then, so do most hard-working professionals.




   Assuming that we are already meeting our Government's Laws and Regulations, do we really need permission from others to sell products from a web-site in the UK? - 18th July 2019

Should we turn a 'blind eye' to the unethical practice of paying firms/people to approve our Internet site or products?
In a world where 'influencer's' earn a living solely by promoting a firms products, whether they are good or not, how can we trust their promotions?

What would you give to an 'influencer' to obtain promotion of your web-site or product?
Do you know if your web-site has a 'trust-mark' from any anti-virus software?

There was a TV advertising campaign last year by Barclay's Bank (no recommendation, there are plenty more banks out there!) and the adverts were basically implying that unless a particular web-site was an https:// , then it could not be trusted.

A message that seems a little strange coming from a bank - maybe it would have been better to have come from a Government body? Did the message that some web-sites may be untrustworthy if they haven't got a 'lock' make their products any better or safer, or their customer service any better?

Having a lock on a web-site usually means that the entity who owns and runs it has spent a little more money to obtain that green lock from someone. It also means that the site is encrypted, so the end user is less likely to be hacked, but it doesn't mean that the site is selling 'bona fide' products.

There are some software reviewers who, in action, are no different from the current flotilla of Facebook and Instagram 'influencer's' who will happily accept large sums of money in return for a product review.

Can you really trust the review that you read?

When you last looked at a review site for anything, did you stop to find out who paid for those reviews and how accurate they were?

We did a 'straw poll' here at the office and...yep!...we do exactly the same, look for reviews and hope that we can glean enough good and meaningful information about a product before we come to make a choice.

Amazon actively seek out people who buy things from their site in reasonable volumes to provide reviews. If you read those reviews, you often see that some provide great praise with very little substance. In the office, we are getting good at 'skimming over' those and gleaning good information from others - whether the review was good or bad.

We admittedly aim for products with reasonably large numbers of reviews so that we can be sure of gleaning enough information to purchase a product.

Have you ever used one of those 'trade person recommended' web-sites? Those that are supposedly reviewed by the people that the trade person has worked for?

Another 'straw poll' here at the office revealed that some of us had used certain sites and that because of poor quality work/service, in hind-sight, we believed that some of the reviews were probably fake. Indeed, one of us had posted a poor review for a trades person only to be targeted and abused by that same trades person and the review was taken down by the trades person!

We intend to launch a new product next year, and will do so on a new web-site. At that point, we will look at new ways of marketing it but it highly unlikely that we will pay someone a large sum of money to give it a favourable review.

  

There are organisations out there that you can pay a monthly fee to a get a star rating! Yet another way to pay to get people to trust your product! But does it make it any better? It makes the organisation supplying the rating a little richer though doesn't it...?

Google will take your money to put your web-site higher in the rankings shown to prospective customers regardless of merit.

We now use for "...Independent and unbiased search results with no user tracking."

They advertise as being hosted in the UK's greenest data centre, Custodian. We strive to have greener credentials so it was a 'no brainer' to use Mojeek for searching.

Straight away, we found that our web-site is listed on a unbiased search engine on page two where it was much lower down on google.

Going forward, I think that we should look towards asking our own customers to provide reviews; hopefully, our customers will see that we provide a good product that they value and service that is responsive and meets their needs.

We do have clients that have continued with us for a considerable number of years - our oldest began with us in March 2003 and are still using our time recording software (updated of course!).

We could end by submitting to the situation - "That's the way the World is!" Well we think that if you don't like something, that you should do your utmost to change it and get something that you do like!

We are forced to acknowledge that organisations such as Google and Microsoft wield an enormous amount of 'business muscle' and we are forced to comply with the way that they do business in order to do business at all. We have to use Google and Microsoft products to get ahead at all. We will continue to use their products where there products meet our business requirements. Google reCaptcha, for example, is now an essential part of our 'anti-robot strategy' and we would recommend it to any prospective web-site owner.

There are a multitude of businesses in the UK and throughout the world with similar views. We do not want to be exploited or exploit others; just provide good products without paying others unnecessarily for the privilege of doing so.

Now isn't that worth a green tick...?   





   Best Business Practice Forum from T. Bookman Limited - 6th April 2019

If you've ever thought of running an online business forum, have a re-think; why are you actually doing it?

We aimed to promote good business practice while having the opportunity to increase traffic to our web-sites by having links on the forum and having some articles that activity promoted our products.

What we hadn't bargained for was the sheer volume of traffic!
All of 'memberships', without exception, being those promoting gambling and porn web-sites, along with scammers and various hackers and low-life's.

Honestly, we couldn't have gotten any worse people wanting to join the forum if we had openly said - 'scammers, hackers and low-life's please join here and create as much havoc as you want!' NO - we're not inviting you to do that!

Let us tell you about our experience of setting up and running a Business Forum.

We have some ideas about what constitutes Best Business Practice within the company so the general consensus was that we should gear the forum towards that. An exchange of ideas about the best way to do business.

We used one of the forum designs provided free of charge by our web-hosting service - quite a good 'piece of kit' originally designed by FluxBB

We set up the web-site on a sub-domain and away we went with a couple or articles.

The first members to join were two people supposedly in South America who wanted solely to advertise their Essay Writing services. (Forum rules expressly banned members' promotion of commercial interests.)

The next lot came thick and fast and, over the first weekend we have over four hundred memberships! We quickly realised that these were not 'real memberships' but 'robots'! So we took steps to stop this.

We found a set of 'add-ons', provided by FluxBB that allowed us to not show the list of members (so that there was no commercial advantage to them being members - their promotional web-links would not be shown) and added a simple 'anti-bot' registration process.

The membership rate dropped considerably, but became more specialised. We noted that a significant number of e-mail addresses (each of which seemed to be a random jumble of letters) were linked to one web-host provider - all of them taking you to a grey-screen spelling out the domain and adding the words - 'Powered by VESTA' - a web-host provider.

It seemed too much of a coincidence for these to be from different people, but IP addresses varied so much that it appeared that if the perpetrator was just one person, he (or she) was somehow falsifying them. E-mail addresses were virtually unintelligible and bared no relation to user names. What was their aim? We didn't wait to find out - each one was banned upon discovery.

Following the problem of coming in to work Monday morning and finding significant numbers of such 'memberships', we then adopted a working policy of only allowing memberships during office hours.

Then thing became a little more sinister. Using outlook, gmail and similar e-mail addresses to attempt at looking legitimate, IP addresses did not match the countries that they were putting down so these were still banned.

During all this, any posts that had been added by members were solely for commercial gain and were deleted immediately upon discovery.

Then we got e-mail addresses that weren't to any registered domain so deleted them as well.

The 'last straw' for us was when we checked an e-mail address putting the domain into a search engine only to find that the domain was a direction to Malware!

Fortunately, we subscribe to a good anti-virus programme and all our computers are covered by it. The programme immediately flagged it up as 'Malware Detected!' and we decided that 'enough was enough'.

So, the forum was immediately locked to prevent any more new members; and, shortly afterward, the forum was taken down.

The exercise lasted approximately six weeks and we gained a lot of information about how unscrupulous people go about destroying the efforts of others to make the world a better place through greater understanding of the best way to do things.

Perhaps what we need is an 'invitation-only' business forum...Now there's a thought!


Now here's the invite! We've put a Best Business Practice Forum as a Facebook group...just click on the Facebook logo to go to that group and join up!





   Getting the best service - Web-Hosting - 19th November 2018

One web-hosting service is very much the same as another - right? (We're tempted to stick in an emoji here - which one would you use?)
We've moved a few times over the years from web-host to web-host; largely based upon the offer of better services. It is disappointing though when you are promised 99.9% reliability and don't get anywhere near that.

Have you ever logged on to your web-site to find that it's not available? You're paying to be available to prospective new and existing customers, but you're not available and your web-hosters haven't told you...!?
Wouldn't you be ever so slightly annoyed at paying for a service that isn't there?

We were promised good reliable service by Heart Internet and have not received it, nor have we received any offer of compensation for the times that our web-sites were unavailable and our e-mail out of action. We also began to notice a significant time lag between requesting access to our web-site and being presented with the web-page on screen. In fact it was so long that we got a brief message saying the web-site could not be accessed just before the index page came up. The speed had definitely slowed without any explanation from Heart Internet. Tickets raised when the web-site was unavailable resulted in the web-site being restored but with Heart Internet saying that they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Fix it first, then say everything is fine; they were beginning to sound like dodgy car mechanics! But, it was working; even though it was slow and the unavailable error message came up each time.

We then asked about setting up new users for MySQL databases because the instructions to do so in their Help Database didn't work. We used Heart Internet's Chat service and were told that we couldn't do that...!? We asked - why would you put instructions about setting up new users if it wasn't allowed? Taking a leaf out of the 'Politician's Handbook' they completely avoided answering the question.

For us, this unhelpful attitude and resulting poor service was enough to make us look for a new web-hosting provider. In the course of doing so, we found other blogs with damning reports about Heart Internet's service. The Register.co.uk is one and there are others.

We didn't plump for the first one we saw, some looked good, but when we asked questions they didn't actually answer them or attempt to clarify information available on their web-pages. One looked to be a reasonable price and service, but then charged an extra £10 per month (plus VAT) for the software to access the workings on the web-site.

We eventually settled on a company that offered SSD* drives (electronic hard-drives) rather than old HDD drives. All the stuff that we needed already to accommodate three web-sites and have lots of unlimited bits for very reasonable price!


*NB - Like a memory stick, there are no moving parts to an SSD. Rather, information is stored in microchips. Conversely, a hard disk drive uses a mechanical arm with a read/write head to move around and read information from the right location on a storage platter. This difference is what makes SSD so much faster.

In the process of moving over, even though our plan with Heart Internet didn't run out for five months and everything paid and up to date, Heart Internet put a block on our account and prevented us, or anyone else, from accessing our web-sites. Several hours later, after raising tickets, Chats online and telephone calls, our account access was eventually restored but the time we had arranged with our new web-hosters to effect the migration had passed.

We managed to rearrange and to get everything transferred over. E-mail needed to be re-set up and database access changed but it didn't take long to sort out.

We now have a site that we are proud of - giving a service that we, and our customers expect to have - reliable and responsive. Our new web-hosts have provided us with an excellent service and given us services that we didn't have before or were charged much more for.






   Keeping it all working - the importance of installing our updates - 19th June 2018

We were asked recently: "Is it really necessary to install these updates?"

We don't send updates out very often because we believe in the adage "If it ain't broke...don't fix it!" When we do send an update out, we've already come to the conclusion that it is quite important to do that.

So, when we become aware of clients entering or adjusting data in ways that will affect the integrity of that data we act to do our utmost to ensure that that doesn’t happen. The recent update is to try to ensure that you maintain data integrity.

Please make sure that you run the Check Data Routine regularly and back up your data regularly.




   The Importance of Windows Updates - 21st September 2017

Microsoft Update is the online extension of Windows that helps you keep your computer up-to-date.

Microsoft Update includes updates from Windows Update and from Office Update, in addition to updates for other Microsoft products and for third-party device drivers.

Use Microsoft Update to install updates for your computer’s operating system, software, and hardware.

We have been troubled by network administrators on a couple of occasions over the years; both times were due to the decision to delay, or avoid it altogether, using the Microsoft Windows Update Facility.

When you get a new computer, we strongly advise using Windows Updates immediately before installing any other software. There are valid reasons for this.

In the case of our Time Recording software, it is important that Windows Updates are regularly carried out because it uses Microsoft Office programmes and runs on the Microsoft Windows Operating System. If these supporting programmes are not maintained regularly and properly, it is possible that Time Recording may be adversely affected.

No software is perfect and this includes the Windows Operating System. After releasing a software to the public, manufacturers often come across situations where they find bugs which often result in their software crashing or create compatibility issues. Our software is Microsoft-Based so if there are any such issues reported, Microsoft software developers immediately go to work in order to fix these bugs. The fix is then released as a Windows Update.

A new computer will have a factory-installed Windows Operating System; there may have been many updates issued since that installation, so when your computer is first switched on, in needs updating to ensure that it has all the latest bug fixes.

We know that some of these bug fixes may actually result in creating problems in other software areas without Microsoft being aware at the time of the full impact the update has on another programme; however, Microsoft do maintain a good watch on what problems are occurring and do issue further bug fixes to correct any conflicts.

If an update causes problems today, then within a few days, an update is usually issued to fix it.

Many Network Administrators time the installation of updates via a programmed routine, usually at a time when their system is unlikely to be used - often in the middle of the night. They will put off the installation of Windows Updates on a new computer because they can, and do, set up the routine to run Windows Updates in the middle of the following night. So they take a chance - the chance that the Windows as installed on the computer is fairly-well up to date and proceed with installation of other software - including Time Recording. Then, when some software doesn't run properly, they call on that software provider with a demand that they fix the problem immediately!

A problem where software doesn't run correctly as it intended is not always a Windows Update problem, but we take great care to ensure that our software works on current systems. We test every bit of our software before it leaves our premises to ensure that it is working properly as intended.

Certainly, we would go so far as to state that if you already have our software installed on your network and it is running on every other computer on your system except the one you're working on, the problem is very unlikely to be with our software and is highly likely to be a problem with Windows Updates on that computer.

Network installation is not something we do, but if you ensure that your chosen network installer follows our procedures and runs Windows Update regularly, especially when setting up a new computer, then there should not be any problems with our software.

It is safe to allow windows update to get installed automatically, but if you are still not comfortable with installing windows update automatically, you can change the windows update settings to Notify before Installing. This will allow you to check the available updates before installing.

Practice safe computing by regularly using Windows Update.

 




   Opportunity Cost. To record or not to record...that is the question - from an original article published 16th October 2002

Some argue that the time captured through having a Time Recording system readily available doesn't always compensate the opportunity cost of recording it. Let’s have a look at the options…

Don't record your time...?  If you're not recording your time at all, then you have two options; you can either invoice a similar fee to the previous one for the particular job or agree a fixed fee based upon fees charged for similar work done for other clients. The information will be there, because it is a part of your accounting system that you have to maintain properly to satisfy regulatory bodies; i.e. an outside influence is forcing you to do it! If your firm doesn't feel the need to record the work done by its employees, do you have some method of recording when they are in attendance at work?

Not many professional firms require their employees to 'clock in and out'; but some professional firms, that don't record work done or record when employees are in attendance, suffer because of it. Some employees, of professional firms, fall into patterns of becoming late, or provide the excuse 'I'm working from home today'.

How do you know how much time has been lost if you don't record it?


Certainly, it is relatively easy to quantify the time taken to capture and process time worked. The cost of someone on an hourly charge-out rate of say £50.00 spending 15 minutes every day inputting their time will be in the region of £3,000 per annum; multiply this up by 20 staff and that is £60,000 in lost time! But is it lost time…? Staff are naturally focussing on productivity when they are recording the time they have taken to do a task; which, in itself, has to be a good thing.

Moreover, so the argument goes, it is pointless to record work undertaken on a fixed fee basis because nothing else can be billed.

Management of firms that don't record their time may have a feeling that some jobs are paying better than others, but won't know for sure how well or how badly they are doing on individual jobs. If their company is in profit, they will believe that they are doing well. They could possibly do better, but they don't know where the improvements need to be made.

How can you analyse the work done in the past to see where improvements need to be made if you aren't recording the work you do?

If you are recording the work you do, the cheapest option must be to record it in your diary. This may be OK if you're a one-man band and have only a couple of clients, but getting hold of all the diaries from twenty or so staff on a Monday morning can be a little fraught with difficulty.

Recording manually on bespoke Time-Sheets seems a better option, but there is still the difficulty of obtaining them from all your staff on time, so that the process of collating the information can begin.

How are such Time-Sheets to be designed? Should they be designed so that information can easily be obtained for payroll purposes, i.e. one person, one Time-Sheet? Or should they be designed with the purpose of collating them for billing - perhaps one Time-Sheet per job per person? With the former, manual collation of Time-Sheets for billing purposes is fraught with difficulty. If Time-Sheets are designed so that there is one sheet per person per job, then you may have several Time-Sheets for each person for any particular week and certainly several Time-Sheets per job. How would you know if one was missing?

So on to the use of computers….Those who believe that having a computer-based system on a single administrative computer is a good value option have a point, but it is not as clear cut as it seems...

Let's paint a picture of a small, but growing firm whose staff record their work on Time-Sheets and pass them over to an administrator early the following week for entry into the computer. Staff record their time manually, regardless of the individual charge-out rate, and take, on average 15 minutes per day. The actual time is dependent upon the type of work done, with some staff recording one job for the whole day, while others record a couple of dozen jobs in one day! These time-sheets are then passed to the administrator each week, who enters the time into the administration computer.

If you are not recording your time, there is no measurement of staff performance or how the amount of work needed to be done for an individual client can vary from year to year. The result is that you could be over-charging or under-charging clients and having over-worked staff or under-utilised staff.



Only one person can use it at a time; data entry of twenty or more Time-Sheets, with all the attendant records, takes a considerable period of time. These computer entries are usually checked against the original time-sheets for accuracy; all of which is additional time over and above the original manual recording of the time on time-sheets. Some computerised systems will be better than others in this regard; but note that there is an assumption that has been made here, and that is that individual staff members have recorded their time correctly, in unambiguous terms and legible writing. There are some professionals out there whose handwriting is not always very clear; titlehough, I believe this to be the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, mistakes are sometimes made and this is not always picked up straight away through comparison with the original data source, and sometimes the mistake isn't discovered at all! If the system is going to work properly, staff must have a responsibility for checking their own Time-Sheets.

If Time-Sheets are late in or not available, the whole Billing Process is delayed. Reports are then passed to management for billing, productivity assessment and performance analysis. It is important to note that, at this stage, you are a week behind with the information that you are going to use!

Another problem is that administrators count themselves lucky if they have the opportunity to receive training on the use of Time Recording programmes and often struggle to use the often complicated software. In such circumstances, adjusting incorrect postings can send stress levels through the roof! Not very good if that person is also the only member of staff who knows how to use the software!

Standalone computerised systems, can work well, if the Time-Sheets arrive on time, everything is clear and legible, and the correct checks are made to ensure that everything is posted as it was originally intended.

So Record Your Time On A Networked System? titlehough this is arguably the most expensive option in cash laid out up front, dependent upon the software, it can be a very cost effective option. Some software costs can be prohibitive in that there is the actual cost of buying and installing the software on every machine required, with price increasing with each users.

Another point to bear in mind is the cost of training each member of staff to use it, both in terms of paying an outside entity and the opportunity cost of the lost working time. If no training is given then, then the software needs to be very user-friendly with help screens readily available.

If a Time Recording programme is chosen for ease of use, so that staff can easily enter records, check their entries, and amend them if necessary. The time taken to learn how to do this, and how to print out the reports they need, should be, and is minimal. The real training should be for the administrator responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the Time Recording programme and perhaps for management who often need a greater range of reports and analysis of records.

A well designed Time Recording programme should assist the user in every regard. Help on any area should be available at the touch of a button.  Help screens should be clear and concise. Some software providers do not feel they are providing value for money unless their manual is at least 300 pages long! How many of your staff want to search through such documents? Do you have the time?

Another point to consider - Is the Networked Time Recording System 'live'? That is, can you record work done in the morning and use the information for billing in the afternoon? Do you have to stop recording work at any stage so that the administrator can carry out specific procedures? Can you obtain correct reports as at any historic date?

If you have a system that can provide such flexibility of use, then there are distinct cash-flow advantages. You can also subtly change the culture from one of a more laissez faire - "it'll be OK next week" to a more urgent one - "let's get the job done and bill it!"

Does the Networked Time Recording System provide management with the opportunity to - analyse work done in detail? - Compare effective hourly rates for each job? - See where improvements can be made? Or is it simply a programme to store and retrieve records? Even if you have such a Networked Time Recording System, mistakes can still be made. If you choose to bill before taking a controlled check of the time entered, that is billing clients before printing off weekly Time Sheets and checking them for record accuracy, then you may subsequently find errors in data entry and may miss the opportunity for charging for all of the work done.

It seems important then, for some periodic checks to be done before the Billing Process takes place. Staff should be encouraged to check the entries they've made immediately after posting them.

In conclusion, if you don't record work that you do, then you don't have enough control over your business. If you do record the work you do, and have people checking the records, then your business has the control it needs to move forward in a competitive marketplace.

If a firm does record work done, then periodic checks should be made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the records. Manual collation of Time-Sheets is very time consuming; checking them even more so.

Computerised collation on a Standalone System can speed up the process, but it is still comparatively slow, Time-Sheets may not always be available, may be ambiguous and have unclear or illegible writing. The Billing Process may also be delayed. In addition, some Computerised Systems do not make it easy for an administrator to adjust entries made.

The cheapest option must be to record it in your diary. Recording on bespoke Time-Sheets seems a better option, but there is still the difficulty of obtaining them from all your staff on time, so that the process of collating the information can begin.

Standalone systems can help in collating all that information for you, but as your firm grows, you will find it easier to use a networked system with individual members of staff entering the time the work and checking their own entries on the system. A 'Live' system is better in that you can record time in the morning; have up to the minute information and bill the work in the afternoon.

Networked Time Recording Systems should be chosen for ease of use, having the ability for employees to easily enter records, check and amend entries made as necessary. Team Leaders can use Networked Time Recording Systems as a powerful management tool and can not only check Team Records, but can play a major part in the Billing Process and make it happen more quickly after a job has been completed. Senior Management can also analyse work done so as to obtain better information about the performance of the firm as a whole and be able to quote accurately for new work.

TimeExpense network version is a cost-effective software package for firms having up to twenty-five users at any single point in time. The price you pay for the network version having two users is exactly the same as the price you pay for the network version with twenty-five users; there are no additional charges for any extra users up to a single-time user limit of twenty-five. Yes...reading between the lines, that means that you can have more than twenty-five users in total BUT only twenty-five on the system at any single point in time.



   A time recording system is more than the software - 6th July 2012

Time recording software is a tool that is used as a part of your whole time and billing system.

That system will include the internal procedures that your organisation has evolved over time to make the system work properly.

For example, a standalone computer is used to record the time worked for fifteen members of staff. Staff firstly record their time manually on paper and pass these time-sheets for one member of the administration staff to enter on the computer (usually a week later). When all the time has been entered and checked back to the time sheets, then an overall work in progress report is printed out for the firm as a whole (usually an aged work in progress report).

This report is passed to the financial manager who will use this report to indicate which individual client work in progress reports are needed to for billing purposes. This then goes back to the administrator who prints out the required client-centred work in progress reports and passes them back to the financial manager. The financial manager then indicates on each report what should be billed and provides the wording required on each invoice. The administrator draws up the invoice and uses information from the work in progress report and the invoice to enter billing information and so reduce the level of work in progress by the amount billed.

This process involves much more than the software itself, but software can be designed to make the process easier and quicker.

In the case of our Time Recording software, we have designed both standalone and networked systems that are 'real-time', that is - no closing off for any particular period and all reports are available as at any specified date or date range. So you can see what the work in progress figure for a client was last week or last month and compare it with today. If you are operating a network version, your staff can enter their time each day as and when required so that the information presented in the work in progress reports is always up to date.

The data-entry screens are all very similar and are designed for speed of entry while providing useful information about entries already made. As soon as a job has been completed you can invoice your time without waiting until next Monday for all the time-sheets to be posted! When the end of the month arrives, your staff can continue posting their time without any problem and you can obtain reports for the relevant month-end a couple of weeks later!

Client-centred work in progress reports can be printed quickly and easily by selecting the particular clients from lists on screen and clicking on the 'print' button.

We, at T. Bookman Limited, know how the complete work in progress system works and we've designed our Time Recording software to make things easier for you and provide you with the information that you need to run your business - whenever you want it!