Search Not Just Numbers

Thursday 26 February 2009

Access to Finance Functions - Should Project Managers Have It?

By Volker Bendel

"Nobody touches my accounts!" A statement often heard when planning implementations of integrated job costing and accounting solutions in organisations that previously ran separate systems for these. Finance teams are adamant that nobody outside of their team should be able to trigger any accounts postings.

What on first sight appears to be a valid concern by the finance department is nevertheless in many cases already being overtaken by reality in their current procedures.

It's not an issue where job managers generate job budgets or purchase orders, which don't create postings to the GL. But project managers often have the responsibility already to generate documents like sales invoices and send them out to their clients - rather than just drafting them - with the finance department then only recording those invoices in their financial software. The detail that these project managers don't actually have write access to the financial software doesn't alter the fact that the documents that they send out are legally binding documents and thus have to be recorded in the accounts. If a mistake has been made in any of those invoices, the wrong invoice still has to be recorded by the finance team and be corrected by generating a credit note and amended invoice.

Because of that reality in their current systems it would be paradox to introduce an integrated system with the purpose of streamlining the workflow and reducing the duplication of data entry, but then restrict the functionality job managers have access to, thus reversing these benefits. That is why many companies decide to give their project managers access to functions such as AR Invoicing, having put in place precautions to minimise the possibility for errors:

When the software is set up initially, accounts departments are able to construct the system in a way that postings to the accounts are under the complete control of the software and cannot be overwritten by project managers. Looking again at the example of a sales invoice, it is usually only a case of setting up a link to one GL account for the debit transactions (Accounts Receivables or Debtors) and - depending on the state - one or two for the credit postings (Sales Revenue and Tax*). If the integrated software does not give project managers the option to overwrite any of those codes, there is a good argument for them to be able to enter sales invoices.

If - in addition to the example of an AR invoice - users are also responsible for deciding which job related bought-in costs are covered by this invoice, there is not much to say against giving them access to this part of the accounts posting either. In many enterprises that use separate accounts- and job costing-systems the finance team will ask project managers anyway for details of what is and what is not yet covered by AR invoices (what stays in or comes out of WIP). Therefore again if project managers are restricted from overwriting the system controlled GL accounts for Work in Progress or Cost of Sales, letting them decide on a job level what should be transferred, will increase workflow with the risk of mispostings minimised.

There will of course always be individual cases of users who require - initial - handholding by the finance team and the finance team has to retain overall control and responsibility. There will always be human errors, but mistakes also happen within accounts departments AND mistakes can be corrected.

Companies that have given this kind of access to their project managers have all experienced an increase in work economy. Financial managers can spend more time managing finances rather than inputting data and project managers see an increase in their job responsibility and work satisfaction.

Summarising all the points outlined above, the answer to the question in the title has to be: It makes much sense when introducing an integrated job costing and accounting solution to give users outside of the finance department limited access to financial functions, if they have been laid out in the system and the system has been set up with a strict control over them.

*e.g. Sales Tax (US) / VAT (UK/Ireland) / GST (Australia/New Zealand/Canada)

© 2009 Volker Bendel - Volker Bendel is manager of the training department of Agency Software Worldwide, the producers of the "Paprika/Rebus" job costing software ( Originally from a legal background, he has several years experience in planning and implementing Job Costing and Accounting Software Systems in the Creative Industry. He has also delivered training courses in the UK, Europe, Dubai, the US, China and Australia. Prior to that he worked as a senior business consultant in Hong Kong and as a department manager of a design department in Hong Kong.

Article Source:

What can CRM do for my business?

by Derek Curtis of Bond Solutions

As someone who’s been involved in customer relationship management for a good few years now, the main questions I am asked by Financial Directors are “What can it do for my business?” and “How do I implement it with the least amount of fuss and without breaking the bank?”

It seems that everyone knows that keeping healthy relationships with customers and clients is imperative, but not many are too savvy on the best way to go about it. What is a common misconception is that CRM is a sales & marketing tool, if used correctly it is a Business management tool and can provide some precious information on the future shape of the business.
So, how can we look after our most important assets – the customers who ensure we stick around during this tough economic climate – while remaining cost effective, and more crucially, not targeting the wrong people.

These are my top 10 tips on how to make your CRM work for you:

Plan your implementation. You wouldn’t set off on a long journey in the car without knowing you had fuel in the car and it has oil, the tyres are inflated and most importantly where you are going. Similarly you should not set off on an important software implementation without knowing where you are going and what you are going to need to get there, hardware, people, connectivity etc. It’s a fact that starting off with the end goal in mind does pay dividends. So make sure you have defined your KPI’s you need from the system and monitor them.

People & Processes. All too often people think that CRM is about technology, the reality is nothing could be further from the truth as it is people who will make it work but the same people will hide behind the technology when things are not going so well! Correctly implemented CRM technology should make their job easier but take care that they are not bogged down by over complicated processes which the technology will only exaggerate. Keep it simple and make the technology work around their daily processes and it will be accepted by good people.

Financing. Explore the options available to you to finance the system. Clearly you will want to gain Return on Investment as soon as possible so consider leasing the software and services you are going to need from the vendor. Perhaps there is a rental model available which suits your business, known as Software as a Service (SaaS), whilst this does not suit everyone it may suit your own business model.

Choose your Vendor carefully. A common misconception is to build a bespoke system from scratch. However the larger vendors now have over 20 years experience in building and developing CRM systems, so use that experience. In most cases it will be possible to customise their systems to varying degrees so you can still bespoke the part of the system that you need to. There really is no need to re-invent the wheel. Pick a vendor with a track record and where CRM is a key focus of their business, not “something they also do”.

Choose your partner carefully. It is rare that companies have the in house skills to implement a CRM system themselves and at some stage will need outside help from an expert. That help may just be around training or may include full implementation assistance. This has a cost which can typically be 2 or even 3 times the cost of the software so you need to make sure you are working with a reliable partner who takes the time to understand your requirements. Ask for references, look at their past history, don’t just look at sales awards, that just means they have sold a lot of software but how many of their customers are loyal and satisfied?

Close the loop. For a full experience consider closing the loop and going for a full system where the CRM system integrates with the Finance system so that you have one view of your customer. Typically any business will have enquiries which turn in to quotes which hopefully turn into orders which are then fulfilled and invoiced and the money is collected. A system which can manage that process will pay dividends.

Fact – it's much easier to sell to existing customers than find new ones. They trusted to buy from you before so, in theory, should again. If you have a database of previous customers, it makes sense that sending a message to them about new services or products or additional products, has the potential to deliver some great sales. The key is in getting that message out as simply and as cost effectively as possible.

Build your database to your advantage. One of the key benefits of a CRM system is that it holds data on your existing customers. You would expect any basic CRM system to hold at least name, address and email, but where a good CRM system comes into its own is by holding information bespoke to your company. For instance, type of product bought, version number bought, type of product not bought. In this example it would consequently be easy to find the customer who had bought “product x, version number xx”. However, perhaps more importantly, it would be possible to find all the customers who had bought “product x” but not “product y”, or all the customers who had bought “product x, version xx” and now should upgrade to “product x, version xxx”. So give some thought to the structure of your database to make segmenting it easier in the future.

Make sure it's kept up-to-date. Don’t make it the responsibility of one person to keep it up-to-date – it's everyone's responsibility. So many times when speaking to companies I hear: “Our database person has not updated the database yet”. Your CRM system should be easy to update and everyone should be encouraged to update it, even incentivised to do so. Your database is probably your most valuable asset and why shouldn’t your employees be encouraged to look after it.

Use your CRM system to send out newsletters or regular messages. It's important that your customers know you are still there and sending out regular messages will help to self cleanse the data in your database. You will be surprised how many responses you get, give it a try!

Derek Curtis is Chief Executive of Bond Solutions, specialising in CRM and business systems and an FC Procurement supplier.

Twitter – What’s all the fuss about?

by Glen Feechan

Unless you have been trekking across the Sahara (without a mobile phone) for the last few months, you will almost certainly have come across the phenomenon that is Twitter. Every day the newspapers are full of stories about this latest social networking craze. Is it just that, or is there something genuinely important and groundbreaking about Twitter – and can there be a business opportunity?

Twitter seems to have really taken off in the UK when
Stephen Fry talked about his interest in it on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross back in January. Many use it for following celebrities, but it has many applications.

I have been experimenting with Twitter myself over the last couple of weeks, and thought you might find it useful if I let you know a little about my experiences, particularly from a business perspective.

What is Twitter?
Twitter allows users to have a profile (see mine
here) and post status updates of up to 140 characters at a time. Anyone else can choose to follow them and see these tweets on their Twitter homepage (or in third party software) - along with those of everyone else that they follow. You can reply to anyone’s tweets (visible to anyone else) or send a direct message to anyone that is following you (visible only to them). You can also 'retweet' someone else’s tweet (similar to forwarding an email) to your followers. This tends to be how news spreads very quickly on Twitter.
That’s Twitter in a nutshell, One of its strengths is its simplicity. It’s not until you get into it that you realise the potential.

My experiences
I had kept hearing about Twitter and had been encouraged to sign up by
Emily Coltman who I have worked with on our Pivot Table Videos. At first I couldn’t grasp the potential and didn’t sign up, but eventually did so at the end of January after hearing Stephen Fry talk about it (in the interview mentioned above).

Registering is very simple and there are no detailed profiles to complete, so you can be up and running in about 10 minutes.

I still did very little with it for a couple of weeks but had picked up about 25 followers anyway. When I started looking at it properly this rapidly increased to over 150 within a week.

I have significantly increased its usefulness with two free pieces of software.

Firstly, I have started using
Twitterfeed to automatically tweet new blog posts once I post them.
Secondly, I am using
Tweetdeck instead of the Twitter website to manage the incoming and outgoing tweets.

Tweetdeck allows you to view incoming tweets by groupings and to post tweets with shortened URLs, picture links, etc. all from one screen.

One of the most powerful uses I have found of Tweetdeck though, is the search facility. This allows you to set up an ongoing search of all tweets (whether or not you are currently following the tweeter) thereby allowing you to see comments from all over the world on your chosen subject.

I, for example, have a column looking at the term ‘pivot table’ or ‘pivot tables’ which shows me every tweet that uses these terms. Where I see someone struggling with pivot tables, if I have time available, I reply - offering to answer their questions. I also tweet a link to my free pivot table videos if I think it appropriate. I can also choose to follow these people to see how they get on. Very often they start following me if I have been helpful.

This facility alone allows anyone to determine what the world is saying about any particular subject at any one time. Think of the possibilities for market research, politics (many even claim that Twitter won the US election for
Barrack Obama), or even simply communicating with people with similar interests.

In a matter of weeks, I have found that Twitter has allowed me to reach a far wider audience with this blog and ezine. It has generated online training sales, and looks like generating real world consultancy and training opportunities. It has also been a lot of fun.

I would recommend anyone register and take a look. You could start by following me at

Friday 20 February 2009

SMEs turning to family in absence of bank credit

I have reproduced a press release below, that highlights just how the credit-crunch is affecting smaller businesses in the UK:


Confidence in ability to access bank lending drops from 73% to 6%

Over 540,000* SMEs across the UK are turning to family and friends for cash rather than the banks - six times as many as when polled in early 2008 - according to research from Close Invoice Finance, part of the FTSE 250 merchant banking group Close Brothers Group plc.

The survey of over 500 SME owners indicates they are having to rely on family and friends as bank funding dries up. Less than 6% of SMEs said they were confident their bank would extend them credit into 2009 compared to 73% of those polled last year.

David Thomson, Chief Executive Officer of Close Invoice Finance said: “The relationship between banks and SMEs has collapsed with severe repercussions for the sector as a whole. With banks now closing their doors to SMEs, owners are relying on friends and family for financial support, placing immense pressure on these most precious relationships.”

He continued: “As the recession takes hold, the adage ‘Cash is king’ has never been
so true. SMEs need to be far more creative in how they source working capital and deadly serious about tackling late payment.”

The central premise of invoice finance is that it allows companies to raise cash quickly and easily against their sales ledger, affording businesses a greater degree of
flexibility and control over their cash flow.

Despite the deterioration of the credit profile of many businesses, the fundamentals of factoring and invoice discounting haven’t changed. Close Invoice Finance is interested in the integrity of debt not the company balance sheet or rate of growth and therefore approach businesses in a very different way to traditional lenders who are focused on more obvious indicators of business success. Invoice finance can represent a lifeline to companies that have seen other forms of trade finance dry up.

Research findings are based on a survey of 505 UK SMEs commissioned by Close Invoice Finance and indexed against the findings of the first Small Business Finance Barometer completed in March 2008.

* Figure extrapolated from the BERR 2008 statistics that calculates 4.7million SMEs in total in the UK. Figures on the number of SMEs in the UK provided by Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

Tuesday 17 February 2009

UK Companies - Cut your overheads

Pretty much every business is looking to cut its overheads at the moment - often involving large job cuts. Where in many cases these cuts are necessary, there are often less painful ways to cut overheads.

Through my FC Procurement company we work with a group of suppliers across most overhead areas to minimise our clients' overheads. We don't charge our clients for this service, nor do we commit them to long term contracts. We do all of the work and the client gets the savings if he/she is happy with the service.

The savings can be big, for example a typical company spends 1% of its turnover on printed materials alone - and a similar amount on insurance.

If you would like to discuss what FC Procurement can do for your business (sorry, UK only), then please give Glen Feechan a call on 0845 6439693 or email

Free Excel 2007 Pivot Tables Video

Here is a sneak preview of my Introduction to Pivot Tables course, showing you how to create a pivot table in Excel 2007.

You can download the whole course for both Excel 2007 and Excel 2003, including manual, sample data and real world examples here.

This free video is now available here.

This video just scratches the surface. You can find out more and get the full course (in Excel 2003 and 2007 versions) here.

Friday 13 February 2009

Excel 2007 Pivot Tables Training Videos

My Introduction to Pivot Tables video training package has now been completely rewritten for Excel 2007, and what's more it is still available for the same low price and includes the Excel 2003 version free of charge.

Here is what a purchaser of the Excel 2003 version had to say:

"I bought a book on pivot tables from Amazon a number of years ago and I read 3 chapters but never obtained any knowledge on how to use pivot tables. Whereas with your video you were immediately presented with the knowledge of how to prepare pivot tables......Again many thanks for creating your presentation on pivot tables I certainly think it is very informative and well worth the money."

To immediately download your own copy for use throughout your organisation, click here.

How the delaying of taxes is working in practice

For those of you who are considering using the Government's Business Payment Support Service I thought you might find the following article useful, as it outlines the experience that Goodman Jones and their clients have had with it.

Please also add comments if you have had any experiences with the service yourself (good or bad).

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Finance Directors and Social Networking

I have recently been spending some time on social networking sites (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Ecademy) for both business and personal objectives.

The business case for me spending time on these sites, if I'm honest, ultimately comes down to their effect on the bottom line through sales generated through a greater network.

I am curious as to how those in a less sales-oriented role find these sites of use from a business point of view, if indeed they do.

Do you use these sites, and if so, why? What business benefits do you anticipate, or have you proven? All comments welcome.

Chocolate madness in the VAT office

I found the following blog article entertaining from my good friend Emily Coltman on her Videos and Accounting blog:

Chocolate madness in the VAT office

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Could the economy run without interest?

I caught part of an item on the Today Programme this morning with representatives of the Christian and Muslim faiths discussing an economy where usury was banned.

It got me thinking about the pros and cons and wondered what everyone else thought.

Most consumers I speak to, particularly recently, do not feel that their lives have been enriched by being able to borrow at interest rates.

You could argue that businesses need access to borrowing, and also that savers need to earn a return on their savings. However, if savers could not earn interest there may well be a great deal more equity funding available for businesses.

Just a few thoughts, but I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks. Please comment.