What makes a good apprentice?

Scotland has access to a family of apprenticeships that allows employers to engage with flexible Foundation, Modern, and Graduate-level apprenticeship frameworks and during National Apprenticeship Week 2022 we want to highlight our experience of apprentices.

The Apprentice Store has been employing apprentices for 5 years and has assisted 17 apprentices with their apprenticeship in that time. We do not just employ apprentices, we have also supported 9 young people with their Foundation apprenticeship whilst they are still in school. The COVID pandemic has created some challenges for apprentices and employers alike in how to onboard, support, and develop at distance – we wish to share our experience of apprenticeships to assist people who are looking to be an apprentice as well as employers who are considering employing an apprentice.

So, what makes a good apprentice?

When you think about apprentices, it is typical to think of a young person, but apprentices can be over the age of 24 so our first piece of advice is you do not need to be young to be an apprentice. The reason apprentices are typically younger is apprenticeships offer a great framework to develop new skills, but they can also be used to retrain or upskill. Employers seek to employ young people to attract new staff into their business and develop skills specific to their business as they see value in developing staff through apprenticeships. Apprentices and employers are supported by a training company that is funded by Skills Development Scotland to cover the support, guidance, and training to achieve the SQA accredited qualification from the many apprenticeship frameworks that are available.

The commitment to learn, from our perspective, needs to be the most important objective for the apprentice as they will be given the opportunity to learn through work experience regardless of their age. This may seem obvious, but the employer and training provider need the apprentice to show progression, so it requires the apprentice to show commitment and improvement in skills and knowledge. We have found that young people are keen to learn and as they have so much that they can learn they will show the biggest change once they become confident in their ability. When the apprentice is older, they come with life skills and previous work experience and typically have a clearer vision of what they want to achieve and will develop at a faster pace.

Apprentices as part of a team

Our apprentices all want to feel part of a team and typically learn by doing rather than being told what to do and as result require a suitable support framework. We look to buddy an apprentice with a member of our team who is supported by an internal skills mentor in addition to their training provider coach. We passionately believe that this support framework gives our apprentices the opportunity to learn from different people who bring different support techniques, knowledge, and availability.

Apprentices need to be confident in asking questions when they do not understand something, we see this as a strength of character rather than a weakness and we continuously re-enforce this in our working practices and not just for our apprentices. We believe that this culture shows our team can learn from each other, regardless of their experience and position within the business as there is always an opportunity to expand your knowledge and understanding if you ask questions. We find that our staff gain an insight into the progress of their own skills development by being asked to explain something or support another member of staff in understanding something.

Applying for an apprenticeship

We do not believe that academic background and any work experience are critical to the success of an apprenticeship, but we do recognise that other employers may feel differently about this. We believe that investing in an apprentice that wants to learn will build confidence in their ability to succeed.

When an apprentice applies for any apprenticeship, we suggest that they should do the following:

  1. Research the organisation that they are applying for to show an interest and desire to join the team.
  2. Research how the apprenticeship will benefit your development and how this will assist the organisation with their goals.
  3. Customise your personal statement in your CV for the role and organisation that you are applying for based on the research.
  4. Ensure that your covering email is professionally written as failure to compose this well may exclude you from the next stage.
  5. Go prepared with some questions for the interview as this shows commitment as many people do not ask questions.
  6. When you get your apprenticeship that is when the work really starts as you are now earning, so you need to learn. Your employer can help you learn but you need to learn and remember what you have learnt.
  7. Speak to your training coach and your line manager about challenges and opportunities.
  8. Believe in yourself and your ability but listen to advice given to you.


Apprenticeships offer a fantastic opportunity for the apprentice to enter the workforce or reskill and for employers it allows them to invest in their future workforce. Investing in your new workforce is just as important as investing in your current workforce and apprenticeships allow for a culture of learning within an organisation.

Interested in apprenticeships and what you can do to apply or support one? Contact us at info@theapprenticestore.co.uk or call us on 01463 832459.

This blog was written by our Founding Director, David Massey.

Working with Xero

About Xero

Xero is a cloud-based accounting software best used for small to medium-sized businesses and is the website I use for the finances at The Apprentice Store. This accounting software is a great tool for upscaling businesses with currently over 3+ million subscribers using Xero for their financial tasks. Invoicing and billing are kept separate and is very easy to manage and can be set up to be automated which makes financing easier and a lot quicker. This software can even connect to company bank accounts allowing for a business snapshot that gives information and graphs about the business performance which are very clear and thorough.

Getting started

If you have never worked with Xero, it can be very daunting and it may feel like you will never understand a single aspect of the website.  However, with time and with a feature on Xero called demo company which allows the user to try the many features Xero offers on a fake company which gets you more comfortable on Xero and allows you to learn without possibly messing up the real business’s Xero account.  Xero even allows you to control and manage petty cash for the business by showing you the balance, showing you a graph of the balance through the previous months, and a record of everything purchased using petty cash with receipts attached.

Xero Features

One aspect of Xero that makes it very useful is there is an option to make repeating invoices. You can make it so that an invoice that you have created will be created again each month and sent to the client, this can all be done automatically saving you a lot of time.  It is very easy to update the repeating invoices if there are any changes to what is being billed.  If there are also any bills that you know will be repeating you can set up repeating bills that will be created automatically which again just adds to the speed and comfort Xero allows you to achieve.  There is also a reports system in Xero which creates a table for you in Xero where you can choose what rows to have, any grouping required or any filters needed, then you can export that table into Microsoft Excel where there are more ways to manipulate the data, for example creating pivot tables with the extracted data.

An example of when creating a report and exporting to excel could be useful is if you were needing to get a list of all clients who purchased a specific item in the last month:

  • First, you need to go to the “Accounting” tab and click on “Reports”.
Step one: Xero interface, click Accounting then Reports.
Xero INterface, showing the Reports page.
  • You are then given a large choice of reports, for this example we used “Receivable Invoice Detail”. Then you can decide the date range, which columns you are wanting to use and if you want to add any grouping/summarising.  After you decide that you can go to “Filter”, then “Description” and type in the specific item you are looking for.
Xero Interface. showing Receivable Invoice Detail.
  • Next you click “Update” and you should see the updated report.  From there you can click the “Export” button at the bottom of your report to either export to PDF or Excel.
Xero Interface, showing the excel spreadsheet exported report.

Additional Xero Features

Xero has a contact page where you can enter your client and suppliers’ details so they can be saved and easily accessed for assigning their bills/invoices, or if you are needing to contact any clients then their email address or phone number can be saved and easily accessed.  Xero also runs encrypted daily backups at multiple locations to ensure its user’s data is always safe and secure.  Using Xero to assist in financing makes a massive difference in time saving and accuracy of work. It feels safe using Xero thanks to its own personal authenticator app which adds another level of security to your account (to learn more about authenticator apps and multi-factor authentication click here).

In conclusion…

If you are looking to improve your finance experience Xero can be a great tool to use.  With many features like creating repeating invoices and automatically sending them, a dedicated reconciliation tab, and using/creating reports there could be something there to assist you in financing. At The Apprentice Store, I find this website provides the business with everything it needs to manage its finances.

Visit Xero to learn more about this cloud-based accounting software platform.

To learn about the IT services that The Apprentice Store offer get in touch at info@theapprenticestore.co.uk.

This blog was written by our Finance and Admin Apprentice, Donald Buchanan.

Why should you use a CRM System?

What is a CRM System?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and the basic reason for any business to use a CRM system is to help manage business communications. Still, Contact can be used instead of Customer to change the mindset to a business tool rather than a sales tool. The simple core of any CRM system is about maintaining a record of contact with people with who you communicate and the core of your communications is with your customer. There is a benefit to bringing all communication with customers, suppliers, and partners into a single view for your business. The system collects the flow of data within your business and displays the data all in one place.

The power of CRM Systems

Many CRM systems have the core records for Customer and Contact but we like to think of customers as Account to allow for flexibility in the relationships being tracked. The Account is the business, and you can store information about the business there. The stored information would include turnover, sector, size, website, address, and any other information that you feel appropriate. The Contact records are the people who you have contact with and they are associated with an Account or Accounts. The Contact record will hold information about the person, things like their email address, mobile number, and title as they are specific to the person. In the case of the Account, you may wish to store additional information specific to the person which may include linkages to other people in their or other businesses.

The real power of a CRM system is that you can keep a record of the calls, emails, meetings, and tasks that you have with your business Contacts and allow these to be shared within the team. CRM systems should fit naturally within your business processes with activities being filed against the person automatically to create a history of contact. CRM systems should allow activities to be forward planned so you do not forget that promised follow-up call. You should be able to assign tasks to different people within your team and keep track of their progress.

What CRM System works for you?

There are literally 1,000s of CRM systems on the market but which should you choose and why are there so many? The main challenge in implementing any CRM system into a business process is that these processes change from one business in one sector but also between sectors. Whilst there are common business processes like sales and support that businesses can follow across any sector; we find that every business has its own nuances of that process and some unique processes of its own. In addition to different processes, each sector and business will need to capture its own unique data. Managing this unique data can be made simpler as there are CRM systems for sectors, specific processes, and even for system integration so flexibility is key to any decision process when choosing a CRM system.

You may have also heard of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems. ERP systems are holistic data systems that typically include finance and manufacturing. The more popular choice for many businesses is to choose to keep the system to sales and support and as a result, just focus on CRM.

Integration of your CRM System

We often take recommendations from other businesses of what they use and whilst they may be in the same sector, their data systems and processes may be different and so the same CRM system may not work for your business. Another area where we find CRM system selection is becoming more challenging is integration with other data systems and more businesses are consuming cloud-based data services. To capitalise on the data sharing, the chosen CRM system must easily integrate with your existing or planned data systems.

We would advocate that you look for a CRM system that offers no less than 60% of your core functionalities with little implementation effort. The balance of your requirements will be met through either more complex implementation work in the CRM system or through you adapting your business processes to align with the CRM system. The level of implementation works will dictate the implementation cost and the delivery timescale. Keeping this in mind, you should choose a partner who can demonstrate knowledge and experience in your chosen CRM system, this is so they may assist with aligning your business and the new system.

Free and paid CRM Systems

Very good CRM systems are out there that offer free plans like SugarCRM, ZohoCRM, HubSpot-CRM, Capsule, Monday-CRM, and Freshworks-CRM. Nonetheless, these CRM systems usually come with restrictions on the number of contacts, users, or terms with the step up to the next level being high. In addition to the paid-for plans for the free services, you can choose CRM systems like Salesforce, Dynamics 365, NetSuite, Sage, and SAP. Whilst many would consider these being too expensive, they offer higher levels of customisation and easy integration. However, they do have more complex licensing models and as a result, may seem more expensive but this may not turn out to be the case.

Some CRM Systems that have been mentioned in the blog.

In conclusion

We advocate that CRM systems are not and should not be your business process. They should form a critical part of your business processes with you choosing how much of those processes that you want to be driven by the CRM system. We would suggest that the tighter your business processes are aligned and managed by the CRM system then the greater the efficiency you can achieve, this may compromise flexibility and will probably increase delivery and ongoing cost.

If you’re interested in talking about CRM systems or interested in how we can assist with a Dynamics 365 CRM system implementation, then please get in touch.

This blog was written by our Managing Director, David Massey.

The Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Introducing Multi-Factor Authentication

With an ever-increasing number of malicious attackers in the cyber world, industry standards and recommendations change more frequently than ever. Both corporate and consumer businesses need to look deeper into securing their data, that’s where Multi-Factor Authentication (referred to as MFA onwards) comes into action. MFA is a set of measures enabled to help users protect their accounts whether it be for banking accounts or documents or anything of value. A common form of MFA is a text message with a code sent to a mobile number which can then be entered on a computer or mobile device to confirm a login attempt. Other common methods are time-based codes for each account shown through an app (known as an authenticator app). Alternatively, biometrics such as fingerprints or voice/face recognition can also be used. A helpful feature of MFA is that, within a short period of time, using MFA once will allow the user to log in to valuable apps and documents without the need to use MFA every time. However, this will only work for a short period of time and eventually, the user will need to confirm a login attempt with MFA.

A white laptop showing a green skull and crossbones, two magnifying glasses highlight green fingerprints on the screen of the laptop.

MFA is important

Nowadays the majority of people use passwords or PIN combinations to guard their phones, computers or data. Whilst this provides security by narrowing access to people who know the password or PIN this often proves to be insufficient.  Frequently people be will use either a single or handful of passwords that they can remember across all their accounts. Security-wise this is a danger by itself as it would only take one or two accounts to be breached to get access to potentially everything that a user has access to. By enabling MFA there is always an additional factor for security.

Let’s say that a password is found out by a malicious actor and they attempt to log in, if text message codes were enabled, the owner of the account would receive a code on their phone. By seeing the code appear whilst knowing that no login attempt was made by them, it is a safe assumption that the password was compromised and should be changed. In the same scenario, if prompted to scan a fingerprint then the only way for the bad actor to gain access would be with the consent and participation of the account owner.

A stream of blue energy wrapping around a padlock and fingerprint icon. Someone’s hand is pressing on the fingerprint icon.

What we recommend

It is always highly advisable to prioritise password length over complexity, the more letters and characters in place, the more secure the password. With all that said there’s always a potential inconvenience to users when their usual behaviour of passwords with rememberable words or events is changed to lengthy and ambiguous characters. Increasing password length is always a good way to go, however, it is still a single line of defence, if it becomes known there are no other means of preventing access.

MFA helps end-users by providing more flexible criteria for creating passwords. They can use something they can reasonably remember and only have to spend a little more than a handful of seconds on going through the first login steps. With an example of time-based codes from an app, the user would just type their rememberable password of 12 or more characters, take their phone, open an authenticator app (e.g. Google Authenticator) and enter a short 6-8 digit code. As a result of spreading the login process across at least two methods of authentication, the user can use relatable passwords which they are a lot less likely to forget and can keep their accounts secure.

If you would like to know more about Multi-Factor Authentication, please contact us at info@theapprenticestore.co.uk or call us on +44(0)1463 572042.

This blog was written by Flynn Liepins, our IT Support Apprentice.

What is WordPress?

WordPress: an introduction

What do you think of when someone mentions WordPress? You may immediately think of how WordPress is an online website creator tool and you would be right! There is, however, more to this initial assumption, for example, WordPress is a CMS (Content Management System), which is a fancy way of saying WordPress allows you to create content that you can edit and publish. With WordPress, bloggers, article writers, and small businesses can easily create the content they want effectively.

When developing websites WordPress is one of the biggest tools used worldwide. It is a global tool that is used on around 37% of all websites on the internet. The biggest reason for this is WordPress is extremely easy to use, follow, and design. WordPress is the tool we use here at The Apprentice Store for our web development projects. We believe it offers the best price, functionality, and flexibility for our clients.

WordPress is a simple but extremely powerful tool, in fact, it is so easy you can set up a website in no time at all and have a fully operating website. With relative ease, WordPress allows all kinds of projects to be completed, be those of a small blog website to a fully functioning dynamic eCommerce store. WordPress gives you access to a one-stop shop for everything you will need to make a website from beginner to pro, all under one roof.

WordPress: the basics

Next, we will talk about the things which make up a WordPress Website the main things are as follow;

  1. The Theme
  2. Plugins
  3. Gutenberg Block Editor

Now this list can seem a bit daunting. This list is here to show you a few things you need to make a simple WordPress website.

The Theme

The theme is like the skin of your website, it is how it appears to your website’s visitors. Now there are tens of thousands of themes and they can vary from being free to rather pricey. However, most free themes offer a large amount of functionality which will be acceptable for most people. Neve is a prime example of an easy theme to use. This theme in the free version is excellent for simple to complex projects.


A plugin is a tool that adds extra functionality to our website, be that visually or functionality based. For example, we download a plugin that will give us a better search bar or a plugin that will give us extra functionality within your Gutenberg Editor (you can find this further down). Plugins are an easy stress-free way of adding some functionality and/or features to our website, often for free. Most plugins come in a free or pro version, however in most cases for a simple website the free version will offer you the functionality you need.

A stable plugin should on average be updated every month to three months at most. If for whatever reason a plugin hasn’t been updated in 5+ months, it is safe to assume this plugin is no longer being supported. This is important as updates don’t only give you new features, they fix security flaws. So the longer the plugin is left unsupported, the higher the risk there will be a security issue/flaw.

For example, if you were looking for a contact form plugin you would look to plugins like Contact Form by WPForms or Ninja Forms as they seem to have a large star rating and a relatively new update. Contact Form 7 does have a lot of installations but the last update was 3 weeks ago (as of writing this). Their star rating is also lower than both Contact Form by WPForms and Ninja Form.

Free vs Pro Plugins

Now with plugins, there can sometimes be 2 different versions of these plugins a free version and the pro version. The free version will be a plugin providing you with the basic version of what it offers. For example, let’s say a table builder. The free version will simply let you make a table and add text. However, the pro version of this plugin may allow you to embed videos and let you change the background colours. Another perk of going pro is it may offer better priority customer service for being a paying customer. Now in most cases, the free version of the plugins will be what you want. However, if you are considering buying a pro version please do your research first. Make sure the free version doesn’t offer what you essentially need.

The same rules can be applied to pro plugins when it comes to the regularity of updates.

(Please note: developers can be contacted via their contact information. If you don’t know when something is still being supported, you can contact them to discuss the matter)

Gutenberg Block Editor

This is possibly the easiest and most enjoyable part of a website this is where we design our content. WordPress changed the way their websites are designed by introducing the block system. For example, if you want to add text you would choose a paragraph block, an image will be an image block etcetera.

The Gutenberg block editor made website design a much more user-friendly process for those with near to no web development knowledge, making it a simple and easy process to begin your website.

It is so easy and simple to use, someone with no experience with WordPress would be able to tell what blocks do what. Below you can see an example of the Gutenberg block editor. Plugins that convert into blocks will appear here too, as you can see this image shows that Ninja Form is installed. Generally, these blocks are easy to understand and even easier to implement.

Should you require assistance with your WordPress website please feel free to contact us and we can answer any questions you have.

This blog was written by one of our Web Development Apprentices Ryan Mckenna.

A guide to Microsoft 365 licences

a guide to Microsoft 365 licencing

Microsoft 365 Licensing for Businesses

Microsoft 365 is a suite of cloud-based applications for your business. Microsoft offers a wide range of subscriptions to businesses, but it is sometimes hard to tell what is suitable for your needs. In this blog post, we’ll talk through the small business offerings, what’s included in them and why you would choose one over the other.

Note that Microsoft’s licensing changes over time. The information provided here is accurate at the time of writing (15th October 2021).

Microsoft 365 Business Basic

This is Microsoft’s entry-level offering. It grants you access to:

  • Business class email services with a custom domain (@yourcompany.com)
  • Office online applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more!)
  • 1TB (1024GB) of OneDrive storage per user
  • Access to SharePoint online
  • Full features of Microsoft Teams

There may be some jargon in there if you’re new to Microsoft 365, so here we’ll explain that a little more below. Feel free to scroll past this part if you’re already versed in the Microsoft cloud applications.

Office Online

Office applications such as Word and Excel can run in the browser. They are very similar to those you get on a desktop. There are some features that are unsupported, but light usage users can get by using these, so long as a sufficient Internet connection is in place.


Is effectively cloud storage like Dropbox, Box or Google Drive if you have ever used these services before. The data you store can be accessed via a web browser or through your file explorer if you have the data synchronisation client installed.


SharePoint is also cloud storage but with a focus on teamwork and collaboration. While you would typically use OneDrive for storing your own personal files, and ad-hoc sharing of files with others, SharePoint acts as a defined space for shared data. You could store all your shared data in one library, like a server file share. However, we encourage using the modern features of SharePoint such as sites, where you can have your own dedicated spaces for projects, departments, or teams but SharePoint does far more than file storage.

Now, this is defined, let’s look at some of Microsoft’s other offerings.

Microsoft 365 Business Standard

One step up, it includes all features from Business Basic with the addition of:

  • Desktop apps
  • Microsoft Bookings

The main difference is desktop apps. Users won’t experience the limitations of running apps like Word in a browser, they can now have it installed on their computer. In total, they can install it on up to 5 devices that the licensed user uses, such as other computers, phones or tablets.

Another feature in Standard is Microsoft Bookings. This is an online booking service that allows customers to book time with you through your website (once configured). It can then be managed through the bookings portal and your own Outlook calendar which is great for allowing people to book in your busy calendar to reduce emails to find a hole to align busy diaries.

Microsoft 365 Apps for Business

Perhaps you already have a server for your shared data, an email system you don’t want to change and all you want is the latest copy of Microsoft Office. This plan is for you, it only includes:

  • Desktop apps
  • 1TB (1024GB) of OneDrive storage per user


Here is a matrix to help you choose what small business license to buy.

LicenseDesktop AppsOnline AppsPersonal Cloud Storage (OneDrive)Shared Cloud Storage (SharePoint)Email Services (Exchange)
Microsoft 365 Business StandardXXXXX
Microsoft 365 Business Basic XXXX
Microsoft 365 Apps for Business XX  

If you have any questions, please contact us!

Matthew’s Blog – Meeting the Clients

The main event for this week was a session on Office 365 for the client that we most recently did an Office 365 migration for. I was quite heavily involved with this migration so I was looking forward to meeting all the people I had spoken with on the phone for the last couple months.

Office 365This client was based down in Edinburgh and we were heading down on the Wednesday morning, I had some time in the week before my course to prepare but David had also given me Monday and Tuesday as well. About half way through Monday, I thought I wouldn’t need to do any more. I felt I had gathered all the information they needed to know and could present it.

Matthew’s Blog – On the Road Again – A Trip to Orkney

It was a bit of an unusual start to this week, it definitely felt like it at least as I was getting up at 5am! The reason for this was a trip to Orkney to attend a business meeting with David. I’d never been to Orkney before and hadn’t been on a ferry in years so the 5am start didn’t really bother me all too much, I was looking forward to it.

Due to the amount of travelling on this day it was a good chance to talk about my job performance and generally all things Apprentice Store. Although my weaknesses were pointed out I’m glad they were as I know what I need to improve on and although there was a lot of deadtime in this day, I think the discussions we had were important for my development. It’s good to take an occasional break from the typical office environment, I found that it’s benefited me more than I thought.

Matthew’s Blog – Snail Mail to the Rescue!

The migration took place this week, our client could still access both old email and new email after we changed the mail flow so there was minimal disruption but I still felt the pressure to get things working properly. I had done all the necessary preparations but you never know what sort of problems could arise.

And a problem did arise, I was uploading email data to 365 from their server but found out that their connection couldn’t handle it. After a quick google search I found I could limit the bandwidth the upload command was using, this worked but it worked slowly. It was going to take 3 days at this rate, we’d be quicker posting the data!

Matthew’s Blog – Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
This week I was starting the work for my second Office 365 migration, this is for a far smaller company and we’re doing the service free of charge. This provides a great opportunity for me to take a bit more of a lead with my experience from the last migration.

I’ve learnt that IT requires a lot of planning so that was the first step, come up with a project plan. I used the one David had written for the last migration as a starting point and got to work. Now I had a rough idea of what I was doing I started to take action, using PowerShell to gather information about all the resources on our client’s server.

Matthew’s Blog – The Week of our First Migration

This week the Office 365 cutover migration I mentioned in an earlier blog post was taking place so that’s what most of my work was oriented around. So, for the first part of this week I was using a lot of Excel.

It quickly became clear to me, even though I had respect for Excel, that there is so much more to it. David taught me how to use PivotTables and lookups so that the data our client received could be interpreted within minutes rather than hours. We also wrote some Visual Basic code that scanned down a spreadsheet filled with Names, Usernames and passwords and sent an email to them.  I had always considered Excel a pretty boring piece of software used for finances and graphs but sending almost 100 emails in a matter of seconds? That’s actually pretty cool.

Matthew’s Blog – Office 365 Migration

This week we were focusing on data normalisation and preparing for an Office 365 migration, which is essentially taking their existing email system and putting it into the cloud. Oh yeah, Airan has got a PC to work on too however certain parts of the taskbar are frozen so we also had the task of troubleshooting this.

So, the data normalisation, we were working on the Apprentice Store database. I was still struggling with the whole concept of normalisation so a lot of time was spent simply just practising this. I did try to implement what I had learned into Access and I was semi-successful.