Business Tools

5 Essential GMail Tips for Business

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBase

I struggle to find a better and more user-friendly email client than GMail.

I like its almost instant search capabilities and the ease with which you can link new domain email addresses. To make the most of GMail I recommend the following five fabulous (almost) free plug-ins:

1. Rapportive

Rapportive is an excellent email business tool that instantly provides you with the social media profiles of each person who sends you an email to your inbox. Their Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and all other profiles appear in your sidebar alongside their email so you can instantly click to follow and connect with them.

2. WiseStamp

Looking for an email signature that not only lists your need-to-know contact details but also your social media profiles and latest feed updates? – this could be just the plug-in you need.

3. Boomerang

This is a fantastic tool that allows you to write emails now and schedule them for when you want them to be sent. It is intuitive in how it links to your calendar. Also brilliant in how it allows you to throw away messages into archive that you don’t need to action now but hurls them back at a time of your asking.

4. Awayfind (free trial)

Ever found yourself rushing around from meeting to meeting with no time to check email…..? And then you get to your next meeting or call and find you’re the only one there – if only, you’d checked your emails you would have found the cancellation email sent 20 mins before!

This is where Awayfind steps in. It allows you to specify individuals who may send you an email (your boss (both work and home!) or participants in your forthcoming meeting) and any emails that come from them are pushed to you say as text messages so you’re more likely to be notice them.

5. KeyRocket

Time is money – and the time you spend fumbling around with your mouse to switch from function to function within GMail is quickly reduced using KeyRocket. This nifty piece of free software sits quietly until it spots something you could have done far faster using a keyboard shortcut and then makes the suggestion for future reference in a box in the corner of the screen. Very neat.

 What are your essential GMail hacks and tips?

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Using Evernote and Penultimate to go paperless

Česky: Toto je ikona pro sociální síť. Je souč...

I am already a big fan of the Penultimate app on my iPad, so to hear that Evernote (probably my most used app) has acquired the company is great news.

Penultimate allows users to write notes in free-hand and has the look and feel of my tangible much loved moleskine notebook (well almost).

I wish my handwriting was neater to make best use of this app but I still find it to be a really useful means of quickly sketching out a diagram to help explain a problem and tease out solutions. In my experience the saying:

“A picture paints a thousand words”

is so true. A quick sketch using symbols and stick men can help depict a problem and allows for more creativity in solving the problem. Penultimate addresses this need beautifully so it is great to see them now joined up with Evernote.

Evernote is a fantastic application and I use it for pretty much everything in terms of a store for information that I might need at some point in the future.

The basic version is free (you can download it here) and it allows you to upload documents, take notes, forward emails, store business cards, recipes, pictures – you name it, it stores it.

The real benefits for me are twofold:

  1. I can retrieve information quickly and easily by typing into its search-bar as Evernote has the capacity to very cleverly “read” pdf or other format documents to find the text that I am looking for within my account.
  2. I can access my Evernote account from wherever I am as it is cloud based and therefore synchs across all devices.

If you are looking to go paperless, you could do a lot worse than consider Evernote for this purpose. From a personal perspective, I find this works really well as I can use my Epson SX435W to scan all my personal paperwork directly into my Evernote account – here’s how:

Using a Mac and an Epson scanner / printer you simply:

  1. Set up an Evernote account and download the free application to your Mac
  2. Set up the Epson SX435W to synch with your Mac wirelessly – follow the Epson instructions
  3. Put the paper into the Epson scanner
  4. Launch “Image Capture” (which comes as standard on most Macs)
  5. The first time you use Image Capture you will need to select the Epson scanner that it should locate over your wifi connection.
  6. In Image Capture select the “Scan to” drop down and select “Other”
  7. Then click on “Applications” in the left-hand bar of the Finder that launches
  8. Scroll down to find Evernote in Applications
  9. Job done!

To be able to locate my documents on the move is such a weight off my mind. I know where all of my important documents are and that they’ll be quick to find. I also add web-clippings using Evernote’s extension to Chrome and I can also upload interesting blog posts directly from my preferred RSS reader app (Reeder).

And its not just “boring business / finance related stuff” in which Evernote comes into its own – I also scan in stuff like my kids’ drawings, stories and notes just in case they perish or more likely get lost over time….

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iPad accountant: Best apps for professional services

iPad with on display keyboard
Image via Wikipedia

Its been some 3 months+ since my last post on using the iPad for accountancy work so where am I up to?

Firstly, I’m pleased to say that my iPad has not been consigned to the technology grave-yard cupboard. In fact, I am using the iPad more and more – largely due to the increased variety and improvement of applications or ‘apps’ for the iPad which get better and better.

Here are is an update of my latest favourite iPad apps for professional work:

iThoughtsHD (£4.99) – this is a fantastic mind mapping tool which is both intuitive to use and creates clear mind maps that can be exported to email PDF quickly and easily. For someone like me who loves using mindmaps but frequently gets frustrated with the neatness and look of my handwritten scrawls this is a great addition to the iPad. I use this on a daily basis for planning and brainstorming.

Note Taker HD ($4.99) – this app is a relatively new addition for me so I’m still getting to grips with it yet this app looks the best I’ve seen so far for making notes on the iPad. Again, my uptake has been slightly hindered by my messy handwriting yet the investment of a stylus may help (!?)

Dragon Dictation (free) – this app delivers (accurate!) dictated notes on the go which can quickly and easily be exported to email. There are certain issues over privacy of client data at this stage (as I understand the info is sent up into the cloud – not sure how secure? – before being transcribed on your iPad) but this is still a useful tool for quick recordings e.g. to-do lists, ideas etc. Fab for free!

Keynote (£4.99) – Although we currently use Microsoft Powerpoint in the office, Apple’s Keynote seems to cope well with importing Powerpoint slides. Slides can also be updated on the go using Keynote. Where this app really excels is in allowing for generic update slide packs to be carried around in your iPad ready to be fired up in seconds should the need or opportunity arise – after all, ideas can normally be better expressed using visual imagery and presentations simply look fantastic on the high-res iPad screen compared to in paper form.

Other recent uses for the iPad have included the ability to access realtime data on the go. I use it for Xero and for accessing LexisNexis (tax legislation, case-law and commentary) when I’m out and about (via 3G or wireless, if available).

My current thinking is that although the laptop will continue to be the central hub of productivity for the majority of professionals in the short-medium term, the iPad gives us a glimpse of the potential for having a mobile device capable of capturing and sharing ideas as well as providing a new level of creativity for those wishing to experiment and push the envelope.

How are you using the iPad in your accounting or other professional work?

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Using an iPad for accountancy work

The reaction of my work colleagues to my  iPad is still a mixture of “Wow, can I have a go” and “Steve, stop playing with it” or “have you found a use for it yet?”.  The latter is particularly intriguing as I can be busy writing (work!) notes on the iPad yet people automatically interpret it as “playing” rather than working – although, yes it is soooo much more fun working on an iPad!

As I mentioned in a previous post (see below), it is the strength and depth in availability and functionality of iPad applications that will hold the key to success of tablet devices such as the iPad in the workplace.

I am currently finding the following apps of most use day-to-day:

Notes – comes pre-installed on the iPad and provides a useful work journal that I use for internal meetings. Handy because you can email your notes around with action points immediately after the meeting rather than having to get typed up if handwritten.

Dropbox – great to synchronise files (in the cloud) between the laptop and the iPad – free.

Penultimate (£1.79) – nice to be able to sketch out points on an application which is much like a moleskine in look and style.

Osfoora HD – elegant, crisp and lightening fast Twitter application that is well worth the £2.39 price tag.

Reeder – a superb, clean and simple RSS reader which synchronises nicely with Google Reader accounts.

WordPress – free app that synchronises with WordPress blogs and allows you to compose and edit posts directly from the application (far simpler than trying to edit via Safari).

FT Mobile Edition – somehow the font and colour of the Financial Times newspaper is particularly pleasing at the start of the day. A great free app – although registration is required once you hit a monthly article limit.

Bloomberg – a superb free app to follow latest moves on the stock markets, indices, reports and podcasts.

I am looking forward to testing the Apple iWorks office applications and others over the next few weeks and will report back.

The iPad is already changing how I work now and how I can foresee work practices changing in the short to medium term. How long before laptops become a thing of the past?

iPad for accountants

Having promised myself that I would await version 2 of the iPad before succumbing, I found myself in the Apple store on launch day handing over my credit card with the following internal mind wrestle – my head saying “you don’t need this” and my heart laughing: “yes you do, look at it…it’s beautiful”! (Result: Apple win yet again!)

So what are my first impressions one week into owning an iPad?

Firstly, I should caveat the fact that this is my first ‘proper’ week of playing with it as I spent most of last week with my iPad largely out of action (see Getting Started with iPad tips below).

It is a quite brilliant device for consuming media such as video, books and online articles as the screen is unbelievably high res and responsive to touch. Zooming in and out on photos is amazing. I am just getting started with the 1,000s of apps.

Using an iPad for work in accountancy

Explaining difficult concepts in easy to follow and ideally entertaining ways is the key to building relationships with clients and identifying new opportunities. There is little doubt that the iPad will make a stunning tool for flicking through presentations alongside a client or prospect or as a light-weight note-taking tool for meetings etc.

The jury is still out as to how useful the iPad might be for day-to-day work in the office given most PSFs’ ongoing reliance on Excel, Word and the other usual Microsoft Office suspects. Dennis Howlett has already provided a good summary of the shortcomings of Apple’s Numbers yet seems equally enamoured with the device as a new business tool. Richard Messik also seems pretty smitten.

Lawyers are already busy experimenting with iPad applications for work practises (Peninsulawyer has some good summaries of latest experiences and tips, as does Jason Plant) and the overall consensus (hope?) so far seems to be that we have a fair way to go before it transforms the way we work today but that – with enough prompting and feedback – iPad applications will evolve to meet the needs of users and get us closer to a potential game-changer.

Given this, accountants, lawyers and other professionals need to be experimenting with the iPad and feeding practical business needs into the app development community so that the relevant apps can be built. Likewise, our clients will expect us to be adopting latest working practises and business tools, as will the bright young Gen Ys entering into our profession.

Seth Godin is already banging the drum for the ipad applications that he would like to see developed – his requested Fixing Meetings iPad app already gets my vote!

Post script – iPad teething problems and solutions:

Gettting started with iPad
Tip No.1: Never buy an iPad then disappear on holiday (like I did) without first ensuring you have your Macbook or pc with iTunes preinstalled and a wireless network to hand. Why? Because you need to sync your brand-spanking-new iPad with iTunes before it will activate. iTunes also needs to be connected to the Internet to sync. I happened to have my MacBook but no Internet connection – so I had to trudge around sunny Rhosneigr looking for a wireless connection. It literally takes 30 seconds to activate once you get connected – it was just the preceding 3 hours of locating a wireless hotspot that was the hindrance!

Tip No. 2: You also need to be online to active the 3G card (if you have a 3G model). I had activated my ipad via iTunes but had then disconnected before the option to download the “carrier” information had flashed up. This meant that every time I tried to get online via 3G it kept coming up with a “cellular network” error. Grrrr. Lesson learnt.