Thursday, 20 December 2012

Video: Creating a PO

Hi there,

I created this video to show how to select items from your item list and quickly create a PO for them.  It's a nice feature and represents one of the several user-driven improvements we've made to OfficeBooks over the past year.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Sneak Peak: Purchasing is getting a dashboard

As part of our ongoing effort to improve our purchase order management functionality, we're giving Purchasing its own dashboard.  Rather than the simple list of purchase orders, the purchasing dashboard will feature 3 information blocks at the top listing various "top 3" statistics about your purchasing activity.

As usual, we'll tweak this based on your feedback and then roll out the concept to Sales and Work Orders.

Here's a sneak peak at the PO Dashboard in its prototype stage:

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Live support fixed

Just a quick update for you.

We resolved an issue with the Live Support option that was causing trouble for some IE9 and Firefox users. So you should start to see Live Support available more often.

Meanwhile, we are hard at work on the next version of OfficeBooks which will feature more significant improvements to the Purchasing functions.

We'll keep you posted.

Gregg @ OfficeBooks

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Live support function is behaving badly!

Quick update from OfficeBooks Headquarters!

Turns out the live support feature we rolled out about a month ago is giving some users a headache.  It freezes some browsers up.

We're taking it offline today to work on it - so for now, support is available via email only.


Monday, 29 October 2012

OfficeBooks price increasing

On Mondays, we hold our regular team meeting at OfficeBooks.

This week, we decided to tackle a rather difficult issue - pricing.

From the start, we envisioned OfficeBooks as an "accessible" package, that all small businesses can afford.  But as we've worked to develop the application, we have come to learn that the total package (with work orders, sales, purchasing, and detailed inventory control) is worth way way more than we charge for it.  Our pricing strategy has kind of worked against us in some ways.  We frequently heard from prospective users that our price point was so far below the competition, that they didn't take us seriously.

Our metrics also suggest something we hadn't anticipated - people don't want the total package.  They just want one thing.  Some users want accounting, others want work orders, and others (most of our users) just want a purchasing tool.

In light of this - we've made some changes.

Starting November 1st, OfficeBooks pricing will increase to $179 a month.  We will also break out purchasing (purchase order management) as a standalone product priced at $19 a month.  In both cases, a discount will apply for users paying an annual rate.

The new pricing will not impact current paying users (your price will remain unchanged).

This is one of those tough business decisions you have to make every once in a while.  We're confident the new pricing still represents incredible value for a business management application.

On this topic especially - we would welcome your feedback.  Post a comment here, or email me directly

Thursday, 25 October 2012

More development updates!

This morning, we released another new version of OfficeBooks.

Changes you'll notice include a refined approach to purchasing.  Most users weren't catching on to the concept of releasing a purchase order, so they were only getting half the magic OfficeBooks has to offer.

To address this, and to make the overall process more simple, we've bundled the release process in with some other stuff that happens in the background (so you don't have to release POs anymore).

The changes also include a new button layout that is in-line with the typical workflow for PO generation (just follow the buttons from left to right).  We'll monitor user interaction with the new user interface and if the response is positive, we'll adopt similar approaches to button layouts on other stuff like sales and work orders.

Your comments are VERY valuable to us - so don't hesitate to get in touch with your thoughts.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sending quotations by email

Hi everyone -

A quick post with a development update.  Our latest release features the ability to send quotations by email.

To do this, simply create a sale, select your customer and add the items you want to quote, then click the "Email Quote" button.

Remember, a sale is just a quote until you click the "Release" button.

What else are we working on?

We're really beefing up the Request for Quote (RFQ) functionality.  Soon you will be able to send RFQs to multiple vendors and have them quote online.  OfficeBooks will help you identify the best vendor based on lowest price or shortest lead time.  The system will also alert you to vendor performance issues (on time delivery problems) so you don't keep placing orders with a vendor that doesn't deliver as promised.  You will even be able to post your RFQs for public bidding - your own personal tendering system!

Have a feature you want us to work on?  Post a comment, or drop us a line -

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dev update - September

Quick update for you on our development plans for September.

In the first part of the month, we deployed Live Chat support.  This has already proven to be quite popular.  If you need help, just click on the Live support tab (in the bottom right corner of your screen) and ask your question.

If it says we're offline, just ask your question anyway - we carry smartphones (who doesn't these days) and we will get back to you in a flash.

We have also done some minor tweaks to Tax Time Ready Accounting to allow for a broader range of accounting data to be exported.

If you run an inventory intensive business, you will appreciate the new "update from Excel" option for your inventory data.  This feature allows you to download your inventory data into a spreadsheet, update your on-hand quantities, and then upload the data back into OfficeBooks.  Pretty slick.

For the balance of the month, we'll be working on a feature that will send purchase orders to your suppliers directly from OfficeBooks (no need to download the PDF and attach it to an email).  Then we'll take that same approach and apply it to invoices and quotations.

Need a new feature?  Just write us or post a comment here.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Working with multiple inventory locations

Some OfficeBooks users have adopted a novel approach to managing multiple inventory locations.  It's a simple solution and works very well for businesses that distribute inventory.

The trick?  Add a suffix to item numbers to identify the inventory location.

Take a look at this example.  I can see that I have one re-wiring kit at warehouse 1 (WH1).
Use a suffix on your item numbers to indicate inventory locations

On the items list, I can filter by the item number for numbers containing "-WH1" to see only inventory at WareHouse1.
Filter by suffix to see inventory levels at a specific location

I can also filter by the main (non-suffixed) item number to see inventory levels at each location.

Filter by item number to see inventory levels across all your locations

Simple eh?  It's a nice solution for some businesses, but there are shortcomings to this approach for businesses that do manufacturing.  We're working on a more comprehensive solution.

Thoughts or comments?  Let us know!

Tax Time Ready Accounting

Last week, OfficeBooks released Tax Time Ready Accounting.

As we've said several times - accounting is for accountants.  We firmly believe that business owners and managers need to focus on building the business and avoid going down the DIY accounting path.

Tax Time Ready Accounting is all about gathering the data you need to give to your accountant.  As you conduct your day to day business in OfficeBooks, the system automatically compiles accounting data for you.  When the time is right - you simply export the data in MS Excel format, and hand it over to an accounting professional.  Better yet, since additional user accounts are free in OfficeBooks, just create an account for the accountant and let them login to fetch your data.

The OfficeBooks approach to accounting allows you to create a profit and loss report for any data range.  You can also export discrete types of financial data (like customer invoices or inventory value changes) for any date range.

We're very happy and excited to be able to offer Tax Time Ready Accounting to our users.  Let us know what you think!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Work more quickly with spreadsheets

Another quick development update for you.

Today the Tax Time Ready Accounting package moves to its test phase.  We'll be putting it through the wringer to identify bugs or points to improve.

One of the features we are particularly excited about is the miscellaneous entry interface.  It allows for quick data entry without going through a pop-up item selector.  It's more faster and more intuitive.   We expect to use a similar approach to simplify item selection in the sales, purchasing, and bill of materials interfaces.

Update your data with Excel
Data entry for cloud based applications can be tedious.  Tax Time Ready Accounting also includes our first implementation of the "update from Excel" feature.   When you need to make changes to several records at once, it just makes sense to work with a spreadsheet.

With the release of Tax Time Ready Accounting, you will be able to download your existing miscellaneous entries in MS Excel format, make changes, add new entries, and then upload the data back into OfficeBooks.

Taking into account feedback from users on this approach to data updates, we'll roll out the "update from Excel" functionality to inventory and contacts shortly.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Development Update

A quick update for you on our latest development efforts.

As you know, one of the greatest benefits of cloud based software is the ability to benefit from new features and updates without needing to buy the latest version.  You always have the latest version!

For the month of July, the bulk of our effort will be spent on Tax Time Ready Accounting.  This will be a simple, basic single entry accounting system for OfficeBooks.  The idea is to give companies the ability to output reports & data that can be handed over to an accountant so they can do their magic.  This approach is in keeping with our belief that accounting should be done by real accountants - not business owners or managers.

Next in line is support for multiple inventory locations.  This is a fairly common request from users, so we are going to bite the bullet and make it happen.  Multiple inventory locations are very helpful when you need to track what materials are available at you warehouses, jobsites, or service vehicles.  From a technical standpoint, it poses some development challenges - especially since we need to keep the OfficeBooks interface simple.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Cash is King

“Cash is King”, a very important person once said that to a group of us assembled at a business meeting in a large company where I was employed as a Cost Accounting Supervisor.  I rolled my eyes and thought this guy is full of hot air, as it turns out he wasn’t.  Well in some respects he was, but not when it came to his comments about cash.  I learned a few things, as the Financial Controller in a small high Tech company about the importance of positive cashflow that I would like to share with you.

When you run a small to medium business you focus on sales, attracting customers, bringing them on board, making the sale and shipping the product.  The sale is everything but it isn’t really.  The cash you collect from your customer is everything.  If for whatever reason your customer does not pay then the sale has no meaning.

There are things you can do to protect yourself against accounts receivable loss as we “bean counters” like to call it.  It does require a bit of effort upfront but the payoff is worth it in the end.  Decide how you want to manage your customers from a payment perspective.  Will they pay by credit card, Paypal, letter of credit or payment terms.  There is a cost to you if you take the credit card or Paypal option (often 1- 3% of the payment amount) but it is a 100% guaranteed payment.  Many customers will not choose this method to pay if they are buying large ticket items due to credit card limitations or the cash constraints of using Paypal.  Letters of Credit are very helpful in a situation where your customer is in a distant location and you are concerned that there is no certainty of payment by other means.  Letters of credit can be cumbersome and require some special in-house capabilities to ensure all the requirements of the letter are doable.  Commercial banks can be helpful to walk you through any knotholes you may encounter using the Letter of Credit option when there are no other options.

Payment terms have (net 30, 45, 60 days payment) been the most common method of payment used in the industrialized world in the past decades.  It can be very frustrating in some situations when you have in good faith offered a payment term of say Net 30 days and your customer still has not paid after 60 days.  There are several things you can do to avoid the pitfall of the dreaded accounts receivable write off.  Know your customer, not that their kids names are Fred, Harry and Jill but about their business.  When you receive a purchase order from a new customer ask for trade references and follow them up.  Look your customer up on the internet, are they a small business just established or large and have been around for many years.  If you have any concern about ability of your customer to pay, set a low credit limit, and stick to it.  Use a software package such as OfficeBooks to manage your invoicing, accounts receivable and outstanding payments.  The OfficeBooks dashboard shows at a glance the cash owed by customers.  A click of the mouse will reveal the details behind the number and which accounts require follow up.   Continuously monitor customers for payments extending beyond payment terms.   Follow up with your customer and keep an open and cordial dialogue to ensure your payments are received.  This is one of the more important activities in your business.  

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Really Simple Accounting

Hi everyone!

I’m just working through the process of documenting the high-level requirements for a very basic accounting/book-keeping function within OfficeBooks.  These are my thoughts.  I’d appreciate your input.

The Goal:  
To generate automated one-sided entries to a profit and loss statement (for business taxes)

So, we’d need to create an accounts list (initially a suggested list provided by OfficeBooks) that can be modified by the user (although some core accounts, like revenue, should be protected from deletion).  The account information would include:  account name, account description and account type (revenue, expense and, inventory)

Allow users to link contacts to an account.  All customer contacts would automatically default to revenue.  This could be changed by the user if they added another revenue type account.  For suppliers the user would choose from the drop down list, inventory should be the first account available to be chosen.
Revenues are added to the profit and loss at time of order shipment (it’s the most standard way of recognizing revenue), inventory and expenses are updated and added when purchase orders are received.  Retail and other vendor and customer tax accounts are updated through the sales order and purchase order process.

Vendor invoice prices that are different from the purchase order need to be dealt with on a case by case basis.  The purchase order would be updated to the payment amount by the user.
Inventory values would be driven by the purchase order amount on a first in, first out basis.  The cost should not be updated by the user on the inventory screen in order to be sure the integrity of the data is maintained.

Miscellaneous Entries, Credit Cards and Bank Statements
This can be handled one of two ways, the first is to stick all the receipts and bank statements into a folder and bring it to your accountant with the profit and loss statement you created above, or second create a miscellaneous entry capability.

The entry would be very similar to a journal entry (voucher) which would have a type (credit card, bank statement, cash…) and date as titles.

The journal should be in a table format allowing multiple lines of data entry.  The only information required would be account from the drop down menu and amount in the next column.  There could be as many entries as required in the single table for credit card, then a table (entry) for bank statement or cash.

The outstanding question is with respect to cost of goods sold.  It seems that if we have value in inventory and every time we ship something it goes as an item then we could add up each of the items by their cost to get cost of goods sold.  It is probably a lot more difficult from a programming perspective and may be difficult to attain.

There are also concerns around the ability to make a profit and loss statement but not a balance sheet which is part of the tax requirements in terms of stating cash position, asset values (inventory and capital) and parts of liabilities.

Friday, 27 April 2012

What is a Work Order?

Work orders from OfficeBooks
If you've been in business a long time, you can take some of the lingo for granted.  I can remember the moment during my first few weeks in a manufacturing environment when I realized "everything is an order".  We got purchase orders from our customers, so we created sales orders in our system, and the operations people created work orders to get the products built.  The supply chain group would issue their own purchase orders to our suppliers to get materials for the newly created work orders.  I'm guessing it's some vestige of post-war management.  In the military, if you want something done, you issue an order.

So - what are work orders?  There are several types, but they all generally fall into two categories: manufacturing work orders and service work orders.

Manufacturing work orders are used to get products built by your manufacturing group.   Generally speaking, it's a document that shows the employee the product to be built, the quantity to build, and the due date for completion.  The work order usually includes (or is accompanied by) a BOM (bill of materials) for the product.  The manufacturing staff can use the BOM to gather the required components from your inventory (a process called picking).

From a systems standpoint, work orders are a means of converting the inventories of components into inventories of finished goods (the product).  So when a work order is completed, the system removes the appropriate quantities of the components from inventory and adds the completed quantity of product to your inventory.

Service work orders are quite similar, but they tend to have no bill of materials (or a very simple bill of materials).  Service work orders are common for plumbing, electrical, or maintenance and repair operations. For example, the dispatcher at a plumbing company gets a call from a customer with no hot water.  She would issue a work order to one of the plumbers to go to check it out.

Service work orders are intended primarily to track your labor and link it to the associated invoice.  The plumber in the example would complete his hot water tank repair and get the customer to sign the work order document.  He'd then hand the work order back to the dispatcher when he returned to the office.

Systems like OfficeBooks can be used to issue both service work orders and manufacturing work orders.

I've created this sample work order using OfficeBooks.  You can also click here to download a sample work order in PDF format.
Sample Work Order from OfficeBooks

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Why Inventory Control Matters

It takes a while to learn some lessons in business.  Eventually I learned that inventory control is really important.  Inventory control is not sexy.  But inventory control can make or break your enterprise.  Here are my top 10 reasons why inventory control matters...

1.   Inventory = cash

Inventory is not a business expense, it is an investment.  When you are buying inventory, you are trading wealth in the form of cash for wealth in the form of stuff.  Inventory is not tax deductible.  To the tax man these two pictures look the same.

2.   Warning: Volume Discounts!

If we buy twice as many we get get a lower price.  But if we buy twice as many then we will have less cash in the bank, less cash to pay salaries, less cash to invest in new equipment and less cash for research & development and advertising.  What is the cost of this cash?  Think 30% per year.  If you can save 30% and use up the inventory within a year, then it might be a good idea.

3.   Bring inventory in too soon and your cash is all tied up

Timing is everything, you want the inventory to arrive just in time.  Items should be scheduled to arrive when they will be needed, not before, not after.  This minimizes the space used for inventory, this minimizes the cash tied up in inventory.  Often blanket orders can be placed with a supplier that enable you to get a volume price based on your annual requirement but with deliveries that can be scheduled though out the year.  Tie this together with 60 day payment terms and things are starting to look good. 

4.   Bring inventory in too late and you lose customers

A store with low inventory is not a good store.  A manufacturing operation without raw material is an operation that is running at a very low level of efficiency.  Ultimately customers will go elsewhere to find the products they need.  Because customers always want products RIGHT NOW!

5.   The tax man thinks inventory and profits are the same thing

Inventory is not an expense, it is an investment.  Your profit for the year, in the simplest terms possible, are as follows;
Profit = Sales - Purchases + Change in Inventory

The taxman and auditors take your change in inventory for the year very seriously.  This is why they want you to do a physical count at the end of every year.  If you use your inventory control system for all of your inventory transaction and your sales and purchasing then you will be in a great position at the end of the year to quickly verify your inventory (perhaps counting only the top 80% of the value, which often equals only 20% of the items).

6.   Don't increase inventory to cover up for a bad inventory control system

A poor inventory control system will eventually lead to angry customers waiting for products and this will lead to angry bosses. Fortunately, there is a handy quick fix, order piles of inventory so everything is always on hand.  Unfortunately this just burns up cash and wastes money.  A far better solution is to invest in a sensible inventory control program that keeps track of all your inventory, sales and purchases and lets you know when it is time to order something.  (OfficeBooks is a good choice for that).

7.   Turns, Turns, Turns

There is more than one way to measure inventory.  The first is value, what is the total value of all my inventory?  Simple.  This is a good number to know but it doesn't capture how well you are managing your inventory.  A more interesting number is turns.  Inventory turns are the number of times (usually per year) that your inventory is replaced.  Surprisingly it can be calculated by;
Inventory turns = cost of good sold / average inventory

So if the cost of everything I sold this year was $1M and my average inventory is $500,000 then my inventory turns are 2.  Our goal is to maximize this number.   If we can increase inventory turns to 2.5 then our average inventory has dropped $400,000 and we just put $100,000 into our bank account.  If your inventory turns are less than 1 then stuff is hanging around for over a year. 

8.   More ways to waste money; Holding Costs

There are hidden, insidious costs to inventory.  These are called holding costs.  These include; counting inventory, protecting inventory from theft and damage, insuring the inventory, storing inventory, moving inventory.   Inventory takes up expensive floor space, it must be counted by people, it must be protected from damage and very frequently it must be handled and moved to make room for more inventory.  Inventory in your facility can be damaged, dropped, scratched and stolen.  So you need to buy insurance for your inventory.


9.   Use computers to monitor inventory 

Computers are great at monitoring things, and inventory levels are easy for computers to monitor provided all of the sales orders, purchasing and work orders are done on the same computer system.  Setting inventory minimums (mins) and  economic order quantities (EOQs), allows computers to make good recommendations on what actions should be taken to keep the inventory at your target levels.  

10. Use people to think and take Action

I like to have a person in the inventory control loop.  People make good decisions if they have good data.  9 times out of 10 computers could correctly issue purchase orders and work orders without any human intervention but that 1 time out of 10 can really hurt.   Maybe there is bad data or information that the computer is unaware of.  That's why we designed OfficeBooks to be semi-automatic. The system 'flags' the user to buy things or make things.  The user is really just doing a sanity check before clicking the buy button.  Does this make sense?  Does this price seem sensible?  Do we really need this inventory?  Is the minimum set properly?  Can I put this on a blanket order?  People are creative and thoughtful.  Computers are fast.  Best to combine their talents.

Good Luck with your Inventory Control!

The Surprising Science of Motivation

Part of the magic of being an entrepreneur in this day and age is that you have access to a tremendous wealth of information and insight from people who know what they're doing.  The TED series of talks are a great resource  - and we think Daniel Pink's talk on motivation is excellent and worth your time.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

OfficeBooks Update

Welcome back to OfficeBooks.

The new UI for purchasing is now live!  Beyond the new look and feel, you will be excited to learn that we have integrated POs to QuickBooks online.   We will be adding Budget controls and PO approval chains shortly.  There is a pricing change for the purchasing package (now $49/month) to reflect the increased functionality. 

We will be extending the new UI to the Distribution package next.  We expect that to be released in early August.  Finally - the new UI should be released to cover the complete application by mid-September.

For frequent updates on OfficeBooks including new features and service updates, on Twitter.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Why ISO Implementations Fail

I'd venture to say most first attempts at ISO implementation fail.  I could be wrong - but that's been my experience.  In today's post, I'll review my thoughts on why these initial attempts tend to fail.

ISO is a framework for your quality management system (QMS).  There are other frameworks, but the world seems to have settled on ISO as the true standard.   Getting your business processes in line with the ISO standard helps ensure that you will execute against your business objectives and (equally important) be able to work smoothly with other ISO compliant companies (both customers and suppliers).  In other words - ISO is a good thing.  Unfortunately, poorly planned implementations tend to leave a bad impression on people.

So why do ISO implementations fail?  

#1 The single biggest reason is over documentation.  

You don't need procedures for every last thing you do.  Trying to document every single thing you do is a giant waste of time.  You will probably never get it done and you will unnecessarily disrupt working undocumented processes.    The standard has a prescribed minimum level of documentation which is very manageable.  ISO9001:2008 requires documented procedures for:
  • Control of documents
  • Control of records
  • Internal audit
  • Control of nonconforming product
  • Corrective action
  • Preventive action
You also need 3 governing documents:
  • Your Quality Manual
  • Your Quality Policy
  • Your Quality Objectives

Here's the cool thing - you can combine some of these procedures and documents.  Corrective and Preventative actions are often combined into a single procedure.    The three governing documents can all be lumped together into the Quality Manual.  So (from a documentation perspective) you can comply with the ISO standard with only six documents.

#2 Waiting too long

Newer small businesses are in the best position to implement ISO.  They have a relatively small number of employees, there are few existing procedures to adjust or tweak into compliance.  Their lack of process is a hurdle they need to overcome.

Big established businesses on the other hand face a range of challenges.  A large workforce is sure to have some stubborn members who will resist ISO implementation.  There will be a range of uncontrolled procedures already in place.  The task of communicating the plan throughout the organization is complicated by the organization's size and layers of middle management.  There are strategies to facilitate implementation for large organizations - but there's no escaping the "big job" ahead of you.

#3 Putting ISO ahead of your business

Your QMS should support your business, not hinder it.  Taking an existing (undocumented) procedure and disrupting it by creating a completely new documented procedure is just wrong.  If the existing procedure works - just document it.  Sometimes working undocumented procedures don't meet the requirements of the standard.  If that's the case, look for ways to bring the process in-line without tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

#4 Insular systems (failing to actually implement your work on the QMS)

Your Quality Management System and your Business Management System need to be one in the same.   In other words, you need to actually use your procedures.  Don't write them up and ignore them.   Remember, your goal is to improve your business.  Be earnest about it.

The ISO people have a very resource rich website.  I'd suggest you start by reading these documentation requirements for the 9001:2008 standard.

There are probably a few dozen other common reasons that ISO implementations go awry.  These reflect my own experience.  Want to share yours?  Leave a comment.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

CRM redefined - it's way more than software

Customer Relationship Management.  That's what CRM stands for.  There are several approaches to CRM.  Most CRM is driven by software that ties together records of all your interactions with customers.  With records all in one place, your team is able to deliver a consistent message and experience to your customers.

It's a good concept - and to be fair to the business people of yesteryear - it isn't a new idea.  Keeping track of your customers and their own particular needs has always been a basic requirement for business people.  Software has allowed businesses to adopt a more formal, systematic approach to tracking customer data and using it to optimize the revenue potential from each customer.

These days there are countless software solutions on the market for CRM.  In a bid to stand out, several of the CRM providers are introducing features to "leverage the social web".  At first glance, these features make sense.  If you have customers talking about you (good or bad) on Twitter or Facebook - you want to know about it and be able to respond if appropriate.  

But it gets creepy.  Several CRM packages now take your customer data and actively fetch their data from social networks for you.  The idea is that you can better connect with a customer if you know that they are fans of a certain sports team, or that they are politically active, or whatever.  The thing is, people are very perceptive and they respect authenticity.  You shouldn't fake a connection or a common interest.  Be genuine.

Building genuine relationships is intuitive for some people - not so much for others.  Here are a few basic tips :

  • Connections have two ends.  You need to identify a MUTUAL interest.  Asking a Canadian about their favourite NHL hockey team (they'll have one) is pointless if you don't follow the sport.  This is why most initial connections are superficial, but real.  We all care about the weather.  So talk about the weather.  It's a good start.
  • The more specific the connection, the more valuable it is.  Weather is super general, so it simply won't do the trick.  But chasing storms is a weird thrill hobby.  If you both chase storms - that's a strong connection.
  • Don't ask questions.  Volunteer information.  Let your contact make the connection.  There's a natural 3-step structure to most in-person or phone business conversations (it's different by email).  Typically you start with the basic greetings, then you have some casual conversation, then you deal with the meat of the issue, and you're done.  It's the casual conversation step that presents your opportunity to volunteer information.  Say something about what you did with your kids over the weekend.  Give them a tour of your facility and show them some stuff you're working on.  You're planting connection seeds.  
  • Be honest with yourself about your objectives.  You can pick and choose people with whom to connect.  It's okay to keep some people at the "talk about the weather" stage.

The cool thing is, genuine connections gain you influence in any relationship.  So approaching CRM strictly as "Customer Relationship Management" is narrow-minded.  Why restrict the approach to customers?   Imagine CRM as Contact Relationship Management - or ditch the C altogether.  Let's just approach the process as Relationship Management.  Having true, genuine, connections with staff and suppliers is at least as important as the connections you build with customers.  

What do you think?  Post a comment to let me know.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Public profiles for your business

We are very happy to announce the latest OfficeBooks feature - public profiles for your business.

Get your business on the web

You can now activate a public profile page for your company.  On the settings page, edit your Business profile.  There is a new tab called "Web Profile".  Jazz it up as you please (don't forget your logo), then click the Enable checkbox.   It's a good way to get your information out there for customers to find.  New OfficeBooks users will have their web profiles created for them automatically.

OfficeBooks isn't free anymore.  Beta testers excluded.
As we wrap up our beta test, we have decided to flick the switch and start charging for access to OfficeBooks (It's a great deal at $49 a month).  Active beta users will retain their free access to OfficeBooks.    Beta testers have done their part by sending feedback and bug reports - this is our way of saying thank you (and keep the feedback coming).

Are you lost?  Maybe we can help!
Running a company isn't always straightforward.  Unless you have a background in business, small details can trip you up.  If you need help figuring out what to do next, try asking us!  We would be honored to help mentor you along as you build your empire.  Just get in touch ( with your questions.

Your suggestions matter
  • Thanks to Shane in Louisiana for his detailed feedback this week about purchasing.  We agreed with your input and tweaked the PO list accordingly.
  • Thanks to Teresa in Alberta for her helpful input as we sorted through an invoicing mystery.  All better now.
Questions, comments, or concerns?  Don't hesitate to email me directly.  

Gregg Senechal -

Monday, 5 March 2012

5 Reasons to Hire an Accountant

Unless you are an accountant, accounting isn't your business - so why do it?  This post is an attempt to convince you to hire an accountant to manage your books.  You should always pay attention to your financial situation, but managing it directly is not likely the best use of your time.

Remember, accounting is a serious profession that simply can't be replaced with a $40 accounting package.  The notion that you are saving money by doing your own accounting is usually wrong.  For small businesses, your accountant needn't be a full-time employee.  You can find contract accountants who will do your month and year end books and prepare your taxes for very affordable fixed rates.

Why you should hire an accountant:

Reason 1: The opportunity cost
Every hour you spend muddling through accounting is an hour you aren't focused on your product or customers.  Could you be selling or creating something right now?  No business expert in the world will include "focus on the accounting" among their top-ten tips for executives.

Reason 2: You're doing it wrong
It's what you don't know that hurts you.  While everything seems to be working okay with your do-it-yourself accounting system, those dangerous unknown unknowns lurk in the details of your books.  They could save you money, they could cost you money.  Either way, you need to know - and accountants are more likely to know.

Reason 3: Accountants understand the law
We all know a few business owners who's lifestyle seems to be out of sync with the state of their business.  Everything is a business expense.  Everything is a tax write off.  Then the tax auditors show up.  Making mistakes here can damage both your personal and business finances.  Accountants can help you stay on the right side of the law - and still enjoy the maximum possible benefits of your position.

Reason 4: Accountants have standards and credentials
Since accountants belong to professional bodies, they adhere to national and international standards.  These standards ensure that your books can be interpreted easily by other accountants.  If your accountant wins the lottery and quits (or gets hit by a bus), your next accountant will be able to pick up where they left off.  The longer you go doing your own accounting, the longer it will take for an accountant to "sort things out" when you eventually hire one.

Reason 5: They'll help you get along better with the bank
Every business needs to foster a good relationship with its bank.  Accountants speak the same language as bankers, they know what motivates them.  Loans are an important element of a cash management strategy - you're going to need to deal with the bank.

It's fairly common for entrepreneurs to do their own accounting and delay getting an accountant. Our advice is to find an accountant as early as possible - remember reason 1.  Ask other business owners in your area who they use.  Find someone local who can get to know you and your business.  It will be one of the most important business relationships you develop.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

You asked for it: Custom record numbering

This morning we are testing our approach to custom numbering for purchase orders, sales orders (quotes), and invoices.

Custom numbering has been a common user request since we launched last September.  The approach we've adopted will allow you to identify records using your own numbering scheme and use that number instead of the OfficeBooks assigned number on PDF reports (like invoices or POs).

At first, this "Reference number" field will be entirely free form.  In a future release, we expect to offer some form of automation to allow you to "set and forget" your record numbers and have them follow an incrementation pattern you define.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Need help? Check out the OfficeBooks Help blog

The OfficeBooks Help Blog is our way of delivering up to date user support documents in a timely fashion.

There's a structured set of links to individual blog posts available after you login to OfficeBooks, but we update the blog (almost) everytime we get a new question from a user - so chances are pretty good the answer to your question is on the help blog.

We plan to release more walk-through tours to guide you through certain processes like creating invoices, bills of material and workflows.

If you get lost or confused about how to do something - just drop us a line.  We really like to help.

Manufacturing workflows in version 1.6!

Yesterday was a big day for OfficeBooks!  We released OfficeBooks version 1.6.  Here's an overview of what to expect:

Workflows on Bills of Material

We are really looking forward to your feedback on the new workflow feature.  Workflows are a way you can define the steps required to complete a manufacturing job (or service job).  You start by defining your work stations (check the Settings menu).  Work stations are things like an individual workbench, or equipment like a mill or a dicing machine.  You can also define tools.  Tools can be shared by multiple work stations.  When defining a bill of material, you will see a new section for your workflow.  We assign a default basic workflow - but feel free to change it.  You can drag steps up or down to match whatever your work flow will be.  

The Cool Bit
The cool bit is that you can also link components on the BOM to specific steps in your workflow.  This is a key step towards establishing a just in time approach to managing your inventory.  By default, all components on your bills of material will be tied to step 1 in your workflow.  To change the component to workflow link, just click the edit (pencil) icon and select a different workflow step using the drop-down menu.

Your suggestions matter
  • Thanks to Lisa in San Diego for the suggestion to add support for more decimal places on BOMs.  Done!
  • Thanks to Aaron in Wisconsin for the suggestion to add grains to the unit of measure list.  Done!
  • Thanks to Pam in Michigan and Kate in Italy for your comments regarding custom numbering of POs and Invoices.  We're working on a plan.
  • A big thanks to Ashley in Australia for all your feedback.  

What’s coming in version 1.7?
Version 1.7 is all about addressing user requests.  Expect small changes everywhere.  

Now is the time to let us know about changes you want made!  Just send us a note.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Work orders are about to get a boost

Central to any manufacturing information system is its work order component.  Work orders are the key record through which inventory is transacted from piece parts, to WIP, and then finished goods.

The OfficeBooks development team has set its sights on beefing up our work order component into a full fledged production management system.

OfficeBooks Beta version 1.6 will enable users to define work centers and manufacturing work flows.  These work flows will tie-in with your existing bill of materials to allow you to link inventory requirements to specific steps within a work flow.  This is very important for companies looking to implement a lean or quick response manufacturing system.

As we work on these improvements, your input is very important.  Don't be shy to get in touch by writing us at

Version 1.5 is out!

On Friday, we released OfficeBooks Beta version 1.5.

This release includes the most commonly requested feature from users - the ability to delete item records.  Deleting seems simple - but it's remarkably tricky to handle properly from a technical standpoint.  So we've taken a approach that enables you to de-activate items.   This effectively makes them disappear, but it avoids complications for records that have links to the item being de-activated.   Initial feedback on the item de-activation feature has been extremely positive. We're happy that you're happy.

We expect to introduce a similar method for de-activating contact records in February.