“Invoicing? Ain’t no thang”: advice for small businesses

I never thought I’d catch myself clapping for glee about… software. I also never thought I’d do chair dances about getting coding right. But here we are. Having your own business does things to you. When you start out, you have to do the best with what you have. We’ve grown over the past eighteen months so we decided to start investing in systems to help our business run better. For us, that meant investing in a good time-tracking and invoicing programme.

Like everyone except accountants a lot of people, Sarah and I feel like this about accounts:

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(Source)

But we both feel like this about tax:

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(Source)

So we did the best we could, which at that stage was accounts in Excel, quotes and invoices in Word and us in between. This system was fine but it was pretty laborious and we were pretty certain that we were working far more hours than we had actually quoted for on most jobs. As we grew, we wanted accuracy and efficiency and so the search began.

I looked at loads of software with invoicing and time tracking functionality and Zoho came out tops for us. It had everything we wanted (and loads more), it was affordable and it had the perfect balance of automation and customisation.

Here are my top five favourite things about it:

1. Logical navigation

Each client has a profile which you assign projects to. You time tasks associated to each of these projects. For example:

Client: X

Project: Website rebuild

Tasks: Content editing, website design, SEO implementation.

2. Simple, easy time tracking

The time tracking is simple: you name the task and hit the timer. What if you forget? You can input it manually.

3. Beautiful, automated invoices

Once you’ve decided how you want to bill clients, set up and customised an initial invoice design from loads of templates, it just takes one click to generate an invoice for a client. It pulls through all of your information, all of their information, the project information, the tasks and their descriptions as well as their logged times and puts it into a beautiful, professional-looking design.

4. Super slick process

From there, you can email off the invoice from within the Zoho or save it as a PDF and send from your own email programme. Once the client has paid the invoice, you mark it as such and all of that information is fed through to your reports. You can even design and automate a thank you email, which also allows for a personal message to the client.

5. Information-packed reports

The thing I get the biggest kick out of is the reports. You can set a budget of hours that you’ve quoted the client for and see how many you’ve worked through at any point in the project. This gives you great control on your investment in a project so you can pull back and speak to the client when you can see that you’re going to need more hours or add more services when you’ve underworked a project. The financial reports let you see the growth of your business and that’s the most exciting thing of all.

WordCamp wisdom: 10 takeaways from the 2014 WordPress conference

I realise that it’s been a while since WordCamp – which we went to on 23 October – but we got so much out of the conference that I thought it was worth another quick blog post to share some of the nuggets of wisdom we came away with.

So – here are our 10 takeaways from WordCamp, some of which are from talks and others from our own observations:

  1. “It’s all well and good getting traffic to your website, but your site then needs to be good enough to convert that traffic into leads.” (Chantelle Bowyer)
  2. “Google Analytics help not just with marketing decisions but with business decisions too. There is no more guess work as the cold, hard facts are there.” (Chantelle Bowyer)
  3. “Focus on where the value lies. Speak to your customer – what do they actually need? Don’t give them any unnecessary fluff.” (Matt Cohen)
  4. “All innovation begins with vision. It’s what happens next that is critical.” (Matt Cohen quoting Eric Ries)
  5. Emma Jane Dicks and Code4CT are teaching young girls to code and changing perceptions about women in the IT world. Looking at the demographics of the WordCamp conference (95% male and white) it’s clear just how important the work is that they’re doing. Read more here: http://code4ct.com/
  6. “How a website it written is just as important as the design.” (Noel Tock). We couldn’t agree more with this point and believe that our words background and subsequent approach to website creation are what sets Pomegranite apart in the web development world.
  7. “The biggest compliment you can give WordPress is to just use what you need and leave everything else out. It’s a tool.” (Noel Tock) In other words – don’t blindly follow the theme. Rather focus on what your website actually needs.
  8. “You don’t realise how even educated web users use your interface. UX testing is crucial.” (Dave Perel)
  9. “People are not clicks. They aren’t conversion rates. You need to have a personal touch.” (Nick Haralambous)
  10. And my favourite of the day, something we all need to be reminded of sometimes: “It’s just a job, you do it to live. Not the other way around.” (Tomaz Zaman)

Why people leave your website

You’re in a crowded exhibition hall meeting lots of new people in your industry. What draws you to a person only to decide it might be a better idea to fake a bathroom break? What gets you hooked, makes you want to take a card, and place an order there and then?

Think of your website as one of these people in this room. In a sales environment, the aim is to attract attention to a product, generate interest and make a sale. Your website is your flyer, your yellow pages entry, your marketing pitch, your brochure, your voice online. The aims are similar. There are aspects of our websites that attract users but also aspects that repel them. It’s important to be aware of both.

Getting a user to your site is only the first step. Creating a site that makes them want to explore further is the next challenge – and the final goal? Converting that view into an interaction. The longer someone is on your site, the more likely they are to move further through the sale process.

There might be elements of your website that put users off and click that ‘x’ that you might not even be aware of. This handy infographic from the lovely folks at KISS metrics highlights some key points about what makes users leave a website.

Click to enlarge the infographic.

leave a website infographic

 

WordCamp 2014: A summary

Going to WordCamp was a bit of a last minute decision – but one I’m so glad we made.

Having worked on WordPress for about a year and a half now, we feel fairly comfortable with the platform, but we liked the idea of broadening our WordPress horizons somewhat and seeing what the frontrunners in our industry are up to. So we registered and went along not really knowing what to expect.

First impression: So many guys. So many guys in one room – in Cape Town. Seriously, I kept marvelling at the sheer number of them throughout the day. It was weird. But not entirely unpleasant. Let’s just say there is a reason they call it “bro-gramming”.

Coming from a words background, it really drove home the fact that we approach website creation so differently. We start with the story – how are you different from the competition? What picture do you want to paint of who you are and what you do in a way that sets you apart?

It was interesting to see that, while we are comfortable with WordPress, the hardcore coding side of things is not our strongpoint – and that’s ok. Because we have something to offer that is a lot less common in the “bro-gramming” scene: writing and communication skills. Having chatted to a few developers and speakers from the conference, it was exciting to see how we fit into this world and the role we would like to carve out for ourselves.

We found the talks really interesting and entertaining (nerd humour included), and, being women, felt the need to talk-all-about-it-and-how-inspired-we-felt after each one.

We took so much from the talks, in fact, that we’ll be running a series of blog posts over the next little while, as there is just too much to communicate all at once.

But we left the conference full of ideas and chuffed at the networking opportunities the day afforded us.

For now, here is a brief summary:

Organisation: Great – Liz especially loved the goodie bag and struggled to play it cool in the beginning. Thanks WooThemes!

Speakers: Awesome – especially Tomaž Zaman, Founder / CTO, Head of Product Development at Codeable.

MCs: Hilarious. Derick Watts & The Sunday Blues – you guys definitely added another dimension to the standard conference vibe.

Catering: Delicious. Sarah particularly loved the doughnuts. And popcorn. And muffins. And chicken kebabs.

Thanks WordCamp – I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again in 2015!

To see all the tweets from the conference and the nuggets of wisdom people took home, check out #wcct.

Liz and her hipster briefcase at the awesome venue - Greenpoint Stadium

Liz and her hipster briefcase at the awesome venue – Greenpoint Stadium