FreshBooks invoice management: it’s lovely

Back at the beginning of June, Katie Lee, who writes a technology blog on the Telegraph, recommended FreshBooks.

It’s a fully online mechanism for invoicing.  I enrolled a few days ago, and so far, I love it.

It allows me to manage invoicing for up to three clients for free, or upgrade to manage up to 25 clients for $19.99 per month.  There are levels after that (up to 5,000 clients), but I’m not quite there yet.

I can create all of my invoices—fully branded with my company logo—within the interface, log and track payments against each one, and easily see which invoices haven’t been paid; and it’s all supported by email notifications, with password protection for invoices where I deem it appropriate.

So when I need to raise an invoice, instead of sending an email with an attached Word document, the system now triggers an email containing a link (password protected or otherwise) to the invoice.

All in all, it’s a pleasing experience to create and send an invoice, and all of the calculations for VAT and the like are sorted for you.

It also manages time-tracking and expenses, but I’ve not got into that just yet.

Even though I’m signed up to the free package, I received a call from John in the support team a couple of days later, who talked me through a couple of the features I wasn’t so familiar with, and educated me on how to upload historic invoices and payments without the associated notifications being sent.  Lovely to get the one-to-one treatment when so much of the internet is commoditised at the detriment of service.

If you’re interested in using it, click here to find out more.  And if you then decide to sign up, please do so from here, as I’ll get a little kickback from them.  Which would be nice.

tweetare: the Latin conjugation

Present

tweeto: I tweet
tweetas: you tweet
tweetat: he/she tweets
tweetamus: we tweet
tweetatis: you tweet (pl.)
tweetant: they tweet

Future

tweetabo: I’ll tweet
tweetabis: you’ll tweet
tweetabit: he/she’ll tweet
tweetabimus: we’ll tweet
tweetabitis: you’ll tweet (pl.)
tweetabunt: they’ll tweet

Imperfect

tweetabam: I was tweeting
tweetabas: you were tweeting
tweetabat: he/she was tweeting
tweetabamus: we were tweeting
tweetabatis: you were tweeting
tweetabant: they were tweeting

Perfect

tweetavi: I tweeted
tweetavisti: you tweeted
tweetavit: he/she tweeted
tweetavimus: we tweeted
tweetavistis: you tweeted (pl.)
tweetaverunt: they tweeted

Future subjunctive

tweetavero: I shall have tweeted
tweetaveris: you shall have tweeted
tweetaverit: he/she shall have tweeted
tweetaverimus: we shall have tweeted
tweetaveritis: you shall have tweeted (pl.)
tweetaverint: they shall have tweeted

Pluperfect

tweetaveram: I’d tweeted
tweetaveras: you’d tweeted
tweetaverat: he/she had tweeted
tweetaveramus: we’d tweeted
tweetaveratis: you’d tweeted (pl.)
tweetaverant: they’d tweeted

Indicative

tweetare: tweet!

Managing my contacts in GMail

I find managing contacts in Google Mail a little frustrating, but the end result is worth the effort.

To set the scene, I use Google Mail to manage my own non-Google email through Google Apps.  I use it daily—for both work and personal purposes—and I love it.  But as I email new people, either in response to one of their emails, or as an unsolicited email from myself, the email addresses of those people are added as separate new contacts, without anything telling me.  This is not a complaint; merely a statement of fact.

Now there are two contact groups of interest: My Contacts and All ContactsMy Contacts contains all of the people whose contact entries I’ve had an active part in editing; All Contacts is all of those people plus the newly added ones.

So each month—or to be honest, a little less regularly than that—I find the newly added entries and tidy them up.  So if an entry is stored as an email address (johnny@bigcompany.com), I’ll put in their forename and surname and any additional pertinent details, so that they appear in the correct place alphabetically and so that I can find them via their name rather than just their email address.

Now this is the problem: there is no group in Google Contacts containing just those entries.  So to identify the records that I need to address (37 this evening), I have to export each of My Contacts and All Contacts and find mis-matches between the two files in Excel.

By the end of the task, the number of people in the two Google groups matches.  And I feel wonderfully clean again—I feel slightly sullied by having unorganised contacts in my database.  But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a group containing just the new entries, to save my exporting and matching in Excel?

Seth Godin vs. Tangential Ramblings

I met a good friend on Thursday for a ginger beer outside the Royal Festival Hall.  The weather was delightful and I enjoyed the company too.  The ginger beer: expensive, but fiery.

On talking of my blog, my friend said he liked it, and it was up there with that of Seth Godin on his reading list.  High praise indeed.

It’s probably not an endorsement of my content; more an observation that taste is, by its very nature, individual—or else an indictment of my friend’s taste.  Either way, it pleased me.  Hopefully there are more people out there who find my tangential ramblings enjoyable—maybe even those that rate them higher than Seth.

Anyone for agamama’s?

I walked past our local branch of Sheraton Law estate agents yesterday while embarking on a day out wandering the streets of London.

The “e” of Sheraton was hanging off.  And if I remember correctly, it has been for some time—months, not weeks or days.

Later in the day, I ate at the original Wagamama in Lexington Street, and couldn’t help but think that you would never see the W hanging off their sign.

All members of staff that I encountered seemed to care about my overall experience.  From the moment I walked through the front door and was greeted with smiles from the chefs upstairs, to the moment they acknowledged me again on my departure, everything was geared to ensuring my experience was one of quality.  Admittedly, my beer glass was dirty, but the profuse apology from the chap—not my server—who quickly replaced it more than made up for the initial issue.

I had the feeling that if the W was hanging off the signage at the front of the store, it would get lots of attention from the staff, regardless of whether the issue fell within their remit.  And if necessary, someone would get up on a ladder to address the issue before a strategic fix was found.

People form impressions and make judgments based on all sorts of aspects of a business, and it’s important that everyone within the business is sufficiently passionate about those impressions being good ones to have a sense of responsibility for issues being rectified, regardless of whether they are within their official remit.

All too often, there is fingerpointing within organisations, together with a culture that promotes such fingerpointing.  Departments blame other departments for failings, even to the end customer, while the brand suffers.

Do you work for Sheraton Law?  Or are you more of a Wagamamas employee?

Email composition: it sucks

As the internet has become more and more prolific and as technology has evolved, so applications have become richer.  Desktop applications can now do things I’m sure we once never dreamed of.  And slowly but surely, their browser-based younger siblings are becoming similarly powerful.

But there’s one application component that seems to have been left behind: email composition.

The GMail interface is famed and widely publicised for being the proverbial mutt’s nuts.  It’s quick, visually pleasing and rich in features.  But its main focus seems to be on providing an elegant intuitive interface for navigating and managing email—not on providing a rich interface for writing emails.  You can label emails with words and colours, search using a boastful array of criteria, and glide elegantly between emails that make up a conversation.  You can star things, mark things as spam, link off to calendar entries, attach documents, the list goes on.

But when it comes to crafting an email that is visually appealing, containing photos around which text can wrap, perhaps even multiple columns of text even, GMail sucks.  So, for the record, does Outlook.  (That is the limit of my modern-day email usage.  By modern day, I mean everything since my days at Warwick University in 1994–5, during which we used some system that Rob can probably tell you more about.  All I remember is that the terminals had big screens and it wasn’t Windows-based.  Oh—I did use Squirrel Mail for some time, but that was a bag of shit.  GMail for DOS, if you will.  Sorry, Rob.)

It may be that there are good email composition packages out there, and I just don’t know about them.  After all, lots of the marketing email I receive is all warm and lovely—from the likes of John Lewis, Streetcar and Expedia.  And I also don’t know whether (and if so, why?) the good composition packages are separate from the good email management packages.  Maybe it’s akin to web-page creation (the likes of Dreamweaver) vs. web-page surfing (Firefox and IE)—if so, I don’t think it should be.  Or maybe the plethora of email clients out there makes the creation of beautiful emails as difficult as creating web-pages that look good across the range of browsers.

Whatever the history, Google should focus as much on the functionality associated with email creation as it does on email management—to allow me to send emails as rich and as aesthetically pleasing as web-pages without resorting to creating them within an HTML editor.

Is that too much to ask?

My favourite iPhone apps

I love the concept, and indeed the reality of iPhone apps.  I’ve not downloaded that many—a friend sent me a screenshot from iTunes showing his plethora of apps which put mine to shame—but there are a dozen or so that I like, and one that I absolutely adore.  Read on.

Fizz Weather is great, giving a very human feel to the weather with words like nippy.  The latest update, however, includes a branded launch screen which gets in the way of the core functionality.

Mobile Fotos is a decent application for connecting to Flickr, both to browse your and your contacts’ photostreams and to upload photos directly.  The latest patch also allows video upload, which is very neat indeed.

WordPress is a fabulous application, allowing enough functionality to update and manage your WordPress site, posts, comments etc., while not overwhelming you with all of the functionality of the browser app.

National Rail is wonderful, putting the arrivals and departures boards of every station in the UK in the palm of your hand, and even showing you where each train is on its route.

Rise & Shine is a cute little app. giving you an all-night bedside clock that doesn’t hibernate.  Lovely.  (Complete with weather and temperature in an unconfigurable degrees Fahrenheit. #fail)

TV Guide is useful for knowing what’s on and what’s up next, without reaching for the more cumbersome TV remote.

Facebook is fine.  Richer than the BlackBerry equivalent, but not sufficiently rich to write home about.

Tweetie is my favourite Twitter application to date, having replaced Tweetdeck which I found buggy.

FlightControl is a strangely addictive game in which you play a very simplistic air traffic controller.  And it gets much more airtime on my iPhone than its iconic neighbour, Need for Speed Undercover.

But by far my favourite iPhone app. to date is Shazam.  It listens to a few seconds of background music and tells you what the song is—and only very very rarely does it fail.  If my daughter starts dancing to a track in Starbucks, I Shazam it (for free) and I’m one click away from buying it from iTunes.  If I like the music on an advert, I can find out what it is straight away.  I love it.  I absolutely love it.

Strategic public service delivery

I was chatting to my brother a few weeks ago, and our conversation broached the subject of government strategy—or more to the point, a strategy for centrally-provided public services.  And I had a similar discussion with my uncle last week.

Government strategy is flawed.  It is defined in part by annualised budgets, budgets that encourage full in-year spend—if you don’t spend everything, you can’t carry it over and your area will likely be seen as able to cope on a reduced budget next year.  And in part, strategy is defined by the four to five year periods between elections.

For many strands of government policy, the five-year terms aren’t sufficient to define and implement against a fundamental strategy.  Education, health, crime, the environment are all areas in which the strategic vision is necessarily long.  And while the day-to-day, year-to-year implementation of that strategy may vary, the long-term vision should be relatively fixed for periods of many years.

But the regularity of budget allocations and elections doesn’t currently allow for such visioning.

To address this, perhaps the big three political parties should get together to define overarching strategies for some of the key pillars for which central government is responsible: education, health, crime, the social environment, the global environment.

If the overarching strategies can be agreed and defined, or at least their less contentious facets, then opposition parties can focus their efforts (and heckling) on keeping the governing party honest with respect to delivery against those strategy.  And this will go some way towards breaking the four/five year cycle.

How to break the perverse behaviour brought about by the annual budget allocation is a subject for another day, and likely another blog.

Lost for words

Apologies for the relatively infrequent posts of late.  I’ve been pre-occupied with general life-related stuff, while also putting effort into kicking off my new business.

A few blog posts are in the offing, but nothing to share just yet.

Normal service will resume in the not-too-distant future.