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.

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.

Plugins

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.

OneDrive

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

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

Summary

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 – 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!