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Footprints in the snow of a warped mind

Friday, February 16, 2007

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    # Friday, February 16, 2007

    Business start up advice downloadable PDF

    Friday, February 16, 2007 6:54:35 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    I’m still somewhat shocked at how well the series on business start up advice was received, I was expecting one or two hits on it but so far I’ve had over 1,000 visits to the article which is pretty shocking as this blog in its entirety was only getting that a year(ish)! I’ve also had some fantastic feedback which is very touching so those of you who have got in touch thanks!

    Ok, following the posting of my recent business start up advice mini series I was asked by a number of people to post it as a PDF which I’ve finally managed to do. It’s rather long I’m afraid weighing in at around 26 pages so it should keep you busy giving me time to write the additional articles!

    Download the PDF version of the complete business start up advice article here (27 printed pages including a 1 page feedback form - 189KB).

     

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    WowWee FlyTech DragonFly -awesome!

    Friday, February 16, 2007 6:49:41 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    I was planning on writing about this new gizmo that a friend of mine from the states Doug Setzer has got his hands on but then he asked me to and I didn’t really feel like it after that ;)

    The WowWee FlyTech DragonFly

    Just kidding, Doug’s bought a WowWee FlyTech DragonFly and I have to say it looks great fun. He’s written a review about the WowWee FlyTech DragonFly at www.mydragonfly.info which is worth checking out. As usual he’s pimped the site out with Google AdSense so before you start clicking on his adverts make sure you have a click on mine!!

    Now I’ve got to plan a trip over to the states so I can have a play with his WowWee FlyTech DragonFly...

     

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    WowWee FlyTech DragonFly -awesome!
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    CategoriesTags: General | Fun and Games | Random
    # Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    My first heads up (I think)

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007 6:28:29 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    Awesome, I had my first non-friend/family cross-blog comment the other day (very exciting stuff!) so I decided to check out the referring site and there, in all it's glory was a link to by blog! Seeing as one of the primary aims of this blog was to help others -even if it was just with simple information that other's may consider trivial- I'm over the moon! (Yep, it's the simple things in life that please me!)

    So thanks to -=DeathToSpam=- whoever you are that made my day :)

    If you don't believe me, check out the "Noteworthy Dev-Blogs" list at http://aspnyc.blogspot.com/ personally I don't feel I'm worthy enough to be listed next to Phil Winstanley and Scott Guthrie but it's certainly an honour!

    If you've linked to my blog I'd love to hear from you and see what you're saying.

     

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    My first heads up (I think)
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    CategoriesTags: Internet | Random
    # Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Importing/Referencing DLLs in Visual Studio

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007 8:03:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    A couple of people have got stuck on various lists/forums I’m on moving from ASP to ASP.Net and the differences there are, the one first major sticking point I had was referencing DLLs –so don’t worry you’re not the only one! So this is a really simple look at what you need to look at and how you reference DLLs –if you’ve ever added a DLL before you’ll probably find that this is too simplistic for you but read on anyway!
    Firstly, referencing a DLL is basically a way of including someone else’s code within your project (or a common codebase that you re-use), this also includes controls, useful/common functions or just additional functionality such as Crystal reports.
    Before you can use someone else’s code (i.e. Phil Whinstanley’s error reporting class) within your code you have to include a reference to the relevant DLL. The first thing I would do is create a folder somewhere that’s easily accessible to all machines that may need to reference the DLL i.e. “c:\Useful DLLs\”. Then, within this folder, I would create the following sub folders:

    • c:\Useful DLLs\.Net 1.1
    • c:\Useful DLLs\.Net 2.0
    • c:\Useful DLLs\.Net 3.0
    • c:\Useful DLLs\ASP.Net 1.1
    • c:\Useful DLLs\ASP.Net 2.0
    • c:\Useful DLLs\ASP.Net 3.0

    This is something that I’ve only recently started doing after having multiple releases for the same DLL. For each DLL place a copy within the relevant folder.
    Next, load your project within Visual Studio, right click the solution (this is the very top of the tree) and select “Add Reference":

    A window will then popup that looks something like this:

    Depending on what sort of reference this is, the majority of the time I would expect you’ll be needing to use the “Browse” tab –this allows you to navigate the FSO and find the DLL to reference (which should be somewhere in c:\useful dlls\). Once you’ve found it select the DLL and click Add.

    Your DLL is now referenced and you should be able to start using it straight away. Depending on what you need to do with it you’ll also need to add Page and/or Codebehind imports. To check that it has imported correctly, in Visual Studio 2003 you should be able to see it in the references folder or in Visual Studio 2005 you will need to click into the "Class View" tab of the Solution explorer:

    How do I identify the namespace?

    I had someone ask me a while ago why the his code was throwing a compilation error, it turned out that although he had named the DLL MyDLL, the namespaces within the DLL he wanted to reference was MyNamesapce so how can you identify the namespace?

    The easiest way to do this is to use something called the Object Explorer, this should list all the referenced DLLs for a given project and allow you to navigate the namespaces, classes and objects within the class. To open the Object Explorer click on the View menu and then “Object Explorer” within the “Windows” menu. Navigating the DLL is easy, you can either search through it using the search box at the top or alternatively navigate using the object tree.

    The best way to work out what declaration you need to add is to locate the object, method or control you plan on using either using the tree navigation or searching, then selecting it. Once selected you will notice the bottom pane of the Object Explorer will change and the namespace will be listed, this is what you need to add as your reference. If you need to enter the assembly name, you can identify this easily as it’s the name given to the top node of the tree –this should have a little grey icon next to it.

    If the DLL is adding a control to the page

    You’ll need to reference the namespace at the top of the page like this:

    <%@ Register TagPrefix="TSD" Namespace="TheSiteDoctor.WebControls" Assembly="TheSiteDoctor" %>

    You can use whatever prefix you like for the control, I tend to keep it between 2 and 4 characters in length for ease i.e. “TSD” but that’s up-to-you. Adding the control is done in the same way you add the standard controls:

    <TSD:SuggestionTypeRadioButtonList runat="server" ID="radCategories" CssClass="inputRadio" ValidationGroup="suggestion" />

    You’re all set :)

    If however this is a control set that you plan on re-using throughout the application I would opt to add a reference within the web.config, this means you don’t need to repeatidly add the reference for each page. To do this you’ll need to add the following to your web.config file:

    <system.web>
       <pages validateRequest="false">
         <controls>
           <add tagPrefix="TSD" namespace="TheSiteDoctor.WebControls" assembly="TheSiteDoctor" />
         </controls>
       </pages>
    </system.web>

    If the DLL is adding functionality to the codebehind or you want to use the control within the codebehind

    If you want to use the control or add the control to the page dynamically you will need to include a reference to the namespace within the codebehind –in the same way you do the System namespaces. This is really simple, at the top of the page you should see a few “using” statements or in VB “Imports”, you’ll just need to add the referenced DLLs namespace below (or above –or- in the middle!) of these others, as long as it’s with the other statements you’ll be fine. You can then reference the various methods and properties of the control.

    using TheSiteDoctor.WebControls;

    public partial class SuggestionsPage : System.Web.UI.Page
    {
        protected void btnAddEntry_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
        {
            int cat = radCategories.CategoryId;

            //Do something with it here...
        }
    }

    I hope that helps you getting started with this new way of importing common code, it’s fairly intuitive once you’ve done it once or twice, but those first few “Could not find xyz –Are you missing an Assembly or Reference” messages do drive you nuts ;)

     

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    # Saturday, February 10, 2007

    Automatically delete old IIS log files

    Saturday, February 10, 2007 4:23:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    This is a really useful little VBS script that I’ve been meaning to post for a while now (along with a couple of other little applications I’ve written for log file analysis). I don’t think I wrote this script but at the same time can’t recall where it came from.

    It basically traverses the FSO finding files with the designated extension and assuming the match the standard IIS date format, checks whether they’re older than x days, if they are deletes them. Running it is simple, place somewhere obvious on the server and just double click it. Alternatively if you want to read the output, run it from CMD. For safety’s sake, the first time you run it I would leave it just printing out the files that will be deleted.

    Personally I don’t schedule this script as although automation is great, I’ll probably have it delete the logs before I’ve had a chance to download them so what I tend to do is download the logs and then after that (or the next time I’m on RDC) I run it, I find that way I ensure I get all the log files i.e. if I go on holiday.

    I’ve got two other applications that I’ll post shortly, one outputs the location of the log files for each domain name within IIS and the other combines the log files into one for analysis –it also takes the exported file/folder locations and names the combined log files with the domain’s name –saves a ton of time!

    Download the VBS script as a ZIP file

    Option Explicit

    Dim intDaysOld, strObjTopFolderPath, strLogFIleSuffix, ObjFS, ObjTopFolder 
    Dim ObjDomainFolder, ObjW3SvcFolder, ObjSubFolder, ObjLogFile, ObjFile

    intDaysOld        = 5        'Number of days to retain on the server
    strObjTopFolderPath    = ""        'The location of your log files
    strLogFIleSuffix    = ".log"    'The suffix of your log files

    Set ObjFS = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
    Set ObjTopFolder = ObjFS.GetFolder(strObjTopFolderPath)

    For Each ObjDomainFolder in ObjTopFolder.SubFolders
    WScript.Echo("Folder: " & ObjDomainFolder.name)
        For Each ObjW3SvcFolder in ObjDomainFolder.SubFolders
            WScript.Echo("  Folder: " & ObjW3SvcFolder.name)
            Set ObjSubFolder = ObjFS.GetFolder(ObjW3SvcFolder)
                For each ObjLogFile in ObjSubFolder.files
                    Set ObjFile = ObjFS.GetFile(ObjLogFile)
                    If datediff("d",ObjFile.DateLastModified,Date()) > intDaysOld and lcase(right(ObjLogFile,4))=strLogFIleSuffix then
                        '*****************************************************
                        'DON'T UNCOMMENT THIS UNTIL YOU KNOW IT WORKS PROPERLY!!!
                        WScript.Echo("    Will delete " & ObjSubFolder.name & "\" & ObjFile.name)
                        'WScript.Echo("    Deleted " & ObjSubFolder.name & "\" & ObjFile.name)
                        'ObjFile.Delete
                        '*****************************************************
                    End If
                    Set ObjFile = nothing
                Next
            Set ObjSubFolder = nothing
        Next
    Next

    Set ObjTopFolder = nothing
    Set ObjFS = nothing
     

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    Automatically delete old IIS log files
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    CategoriesTags: IIS | Windows
    # Friday, February 09, 2007

    Some great software I use

    Friday, February 09, 2007 4:44:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    I was recently on the search for a new firewall after having so many people complain about it (and having a few issues myself). I asked a forum that was very happy to criticise ZoneAlarms what they recommended to use as people were quick to flame and not explain.

    Sadly, despite making very clear I wasn't interested in flaming, the majority of the responses I got back were still flames about ZoneAlarms but there were a couple of nice people who responded with useful suggestions. I thought as there seems to be very little advice about suitable firewall replacements to ZoneAlarms I would post what I've got installed as well as a couple of other useful programs in the process.

    Firstly let me explain why I feel the comment "If you've got a hardware firewall you don't need a software firewall" is a ridiculous statement. My reasoning dates back to Greek times -notably the Trojan war when seeking entrance to Troy, Odysseus had a large wooden horse (the sacred animal of Poseidon) made as a gift. As I'm sure everyone is aware, the horse was hollow and filled with a load of soldiers which popped out after the Trojans were done celebrating the end of the siege and let the rest of the army in through the front gates to slaughter all the drunk Trojans. Anyway, back to my point, yes you may have a hardware firewall that will stop nasty attackers getting in but what happens if you unwittingly invite one in? The likelihood is it'll invite a load more in after it which will end up crippling your computer. So for that reason I have a software firewall to monitor the traffic in and out on my machine.

    The software

    The first thing to note here is that all this software (at time of posting) is free -what can I say? I'm a cheapskate ;) The links are to the file download page so please let me know if they've broken since posting.

     

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    Some great software I use
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    CategoriesTags: Software
    # Thursday, February 08, 2007

    The Behemoth has arrived

    Thursday, February 08, 2007 6:14:19 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    Quite why I’m posting about my new mug I don’t know but hey why not –it’s all good for a laugh!

    Basically Stacey got me a new mug for Christmas and it’s put my last ones (largest “old” mug was ½ liter) to shame so much that I just had to write about it! This mug is awesome, I can make a cup of tea in the morning before I go into the office and it’ll keep me going until at least mid-morning.

    • The mug from the front
    • The mug from the above
    • Comparison of new and old from the front
    • Comparison of new and old from above

    The stats

    Height
    14cm
    Diameter
    12.5cm
    Circumference
    39cm
    Capacity
    1.2 Liters
    Teabags per brew
    2
    Time to drink
    15mins+

    As usual, this post is more just about fun than anything else ;)

     

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    The Behemoth has arrived
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    CategoriesTags: Fun and Games | Random | The Site Doctor
    # Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    WebDD -I was there, were you?

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007 12:00:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    What an awesome event, I was originally in two minds about going to the latest conference installment from Phil Winstanley, Dave Sussman (and all the other dedicated people involved with the other DDD events) but boy am I glad I went.

    This time I decided to take it to the next level and rather than driving down and back on the day I’d drive down the night before with Stacey and stay over in a local hotel. This worked really well, not only did it mean I was awake for all of the seminars but I could get some work down the next day too ;)

    Anyhow, back to the day, for once I had the foresight to choose the seminars I was going to attend before I arrived and decided not to attend all of Scott Guthrie’s talks mainly because of the following I knew he’d have but also because of the great alternatives available so here’s my breakdown of who I went to see and what I thought of their talk:

    Microformats - HTML to API (Glenn Jones)

    Read Glenn Jones' blog post about the day

    GlenN Jones (not Glen Jones as was listed in the schedule ;)) presented a very interesting talk on microformats, it’s not quite what I first thought it was (for some reason I thought it was some form of HTML applets but lets not go there!). Microformats are certainly something I’m going to look into in the future but as Julian Voelcker has pointed out quite how practical they are to use in a CMS situation I’m not sure.

    I think from an SEO point of view and also from an information sharing POV they’re very interesting and I’ll certainly be integrating them into various sites for testing purposes sooner rather than later (in fact if you check out my about me page they’ll be there with the new update coming soon … now I just need to re-work my tag output* using IISMods' URLRewrite).

    *Glenn pointed out that  when using the rel=”tag” attribute the last “word” in the associated URL should be the tag itself -something I didn’t know but will be sorted as atm it’s along the lines of “CategoryView,category,Business,Business%20Start-up%20Advice.aspx” etc which isn’t very useful.

    I think in principle microformats are a good idea for something like a blog or a semi-static site where the developer (or someone with knowledge of microformats) has control over the content but how you could role them out in a client managed site is a little more complicated and something that will need some more thought -do you offer buttons to insert the code markup for them? Can you offer nested content easily etc.

    The other thing about them I’m not too sure about is (miss)use of the abbr tag -again that was only something I picked up in the talk so may have missed the point, I’ll need to look into it further.

    Either way it was an interesting insight into a new concept that I’m going to support if I can :). Check out the main microformats site at: www.microformats.org

    Glenn Jones is also the developer behind the back network site that was used to link all the delegates together, it’s an interesting concept that once again promotes a social network on the internet which is all the rage at the moment but also allows you to interact with other delegates before the event -this is something I’d have done had I had more time before the event!

    Download the slides to the Microformats - HTML to API talk by Glenn Jones

    Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? (Bruce Lawson)

    Read Bruce Lawson's blog post about the day

    Making web sites accessible is something I’ve been interested in pretty much since I got involved with ASP.Net 1.1 and I get endlessly tired of hearing fellow ASP.Net developers complain that you can’t make web sites accessible using the ASP.Net platform -balls can’t you, ok it’s not something that comes out of the box and at times is a little awkward but a lot of it is just common sense and consideration.

    Bruce Lawson’s talk was a breath of fresh air, it was great to see someone having the courage that I’m yet to muster (well, more the time but hey) to convince my fellow developers to make their sites accessible.

    Why the hell shouldn’t your site be accessible to all? It’s not all about money, in my mind it’s just about being fair to others -following (as ever) Google’s moto of don’t be evil. I liked Bruce’s method of presentation as it was far more personal than the usual “you should care because it’s the law” or “you should care because you’re missing out on a ton of money”, when asking the question “who cares?” -using his words not mine- he said “rather than quoting facts and figures at you trying to convince you, -my mate Theresa does”. I think this in itself was a different method of engaging the audience and I certainly felt it worked.

    The talk wasn’t particularly in depth (which baring in mind the audience I expected) but I felt it was enough to plant the seed of interest with those that weren’t otherwise that aware or interested about accessibility. I hope that they’ll now actively encourage fellow developers to take action -not necessarily by redeveloping their past sites as many clients can’t afford this, but by giving some consideration to accessibility in future designs -i.e. DON’T use buttons for menu systems!

    I can’t hand on heart say all our sites are overly accessible but I’m learning and I feel each new site we’re involved in is that little bit more accessible. Bruce did share a very useful site called “Blind Webbers” where you can get in contact with screen reader users -I’ll certainly be checking that out with the new design for The Site Doctor, for others interested Bruce sent me the link: http://www.webaim.org/discussion/mail_message.php?id=9019. I’m thinking I’ll see what they think of Miss Mays adult store -could be a good introduction!!

    The point that made me laugh the most was his demonstration of using “Click Here” as link text, his demo was simple but effective -you can check it out on his site: http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2007/webdd-conference-slides-and-questions

    One thing I do need to think about is the order of elements on the page, i.e. at present this blog layout has the menu appearing before the content -mainly because that was the quickest way I could get the layout sorted, but I think I need to re-order it so the menu comes last -that said I do have a “Skip to content” link at the top -how effective it is I’ll let you know. Another thing I also want to pass by Bruce is image replacement techniques as I’ve tried a few now and I’d be interested to see how they perform on screen readers and the like.

    Download the slides for the Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? talk by Bruce Lawson

    Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility (Zhivko Dimitrov)

    Read Zhivko Dimitrov's blog post about the day

    Again, interested in making my sites as user friendly as possible I thought that this would be an interesting talk but it wasn’t quite as it was portrayed -instead he went into how they perform remote usability tests with a budget. None the less it was a fairly interesting talk.

    Zhivko is from Telerik and clearly has a fair amount of experience in usability testing, I was hoping he’d have some good ideas on how to offer usability testing on no budget but sadly he didn’t. There were a couple of interesting points raised however that I don’t think I would have thought of -firstly the re-use of testers, if you use a tester more than twice within a year they’ll start to know what you want them to say rather than what’s there. The other point raised was if you’re using remote testing, you loose the non-vocal indicators of frustration such as a furrowed brow or someone scratching their head.

    Zhivko’s opening demo however was a recording of a guy trying to find a grid component on their competitors site, despite the fact they spent a fair amount of time laughing at the guy in the background I thought this was a great example of a poorly designed site and how important it is to highlight your site’s calls-to-action which is something that I’ll have to remember while optimizing our newest SEO client for online poker The Rivercard -one of the issues we have already highlighted is that many of their download links are below the fold of the screen which reduces the chance the user will click the link.

    Download the slides from the Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility talk by Zhivko Dimitrov

    Connecting Design to Real Business Value (Brandon Schauer)

    Visit Brandon Schauer's blog

    As with Zhivko’s talk, this was another talk that wasn’t quite as it was portrayed by the title, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content. Brandon Schauer’s talk was more about business modeling and how analyzing the current business method can be improved with a little thinking (and design) -ok that’s obvious ;) but his methods were nice.

    I found the talk incredibly interesting -especially following my mini-series on business start-up advice, I thought this was a really well timed and interesting talk. Some of the ideas he offered were simple and to the point so you can apply them to any business, the issue I have with it though is whether I can apply it to any of my clients -I’d love to take the time to go through Miss Mays adult store and help them improve some of their business processes but they don’t have the money to invest and sadly neither do I.

    I do however think that I can apply some of the concepts he was talking about to an example business which in turn could then be a starting point to discuss business improvement with clients. This however will take a little time and I think Stacey will need to be involved as this is what she’s primarily trained in. Although I love developing and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from it (certainly not in the foreseeable future anyways) I am getting more and more interested in business analysis, it’s not something that I’ve really got any experience in yet (having only been in business for a few years) but perhaps one day it’s an alternative career path I can choose…

    Either way, Brandon’s talk was well worth seeing and if he’s ever at a future conference I attend I’ll certainly make the effort to see him talk.

    Download the slids from the Connecting Design to Real Business Value talk by Brandon Schauer

    WPF/E (Scott Guthrie)

    Visit Scott Guthrie's blog

    For the final talk I decided to watch Scott Guthrie’s talk about WPF/E and boy what a talk it was! I almost didn’t get in as we were hearded in like cows (which was most amusing I have to be honest), the woman stopped me right on the entrance -I think much to Julian Voelcker’s delight as he’d managed to get a seat. Luckily though the women on the doors (yes women -not burly bouncers!) took pity on us poor, desperate geeks in admiration of some Yank they didn’t know and let us line the sides of the auditorium -which meant I ended up getting a front row (floor) seat.

    The talk was one of those “look at what’s coming” type talks but with a twist, it was something that I can see being of real use -and more than that gave you the urge to try it out. WPF/E looks like a really exciting new technology -even if Julian does think it’s just the same as Flash. As I don’t particularly like flash I think this will be a nice introduction to our development arsenal. That and the possibilities are far greater than those offered by Flash -especially where data interaction is involved.

    Scott Guthrie did show an impressive demo of WPF/E which can be seen at www.vista.si -it’s one of those “wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing” moments, the site is basically a replica (working replica) of Windows Vista -but on the web. It even works with Firefox!

    The interesting point that I picked up on is their method of rolling out the WPF/E platform to users, rather than offering the usual Windows Update installer, it sounds as though it’s all going to be done in the same way the flash play is -a small (1.1MB IIRC) file will be downloaded the first time you visit a site that requires WPF/E and that’s it!

    I do have concerns over the accessibility of WPF/E but Scott Guthrie did assure us that later versions of WPF/E will be made more accessible. At the end of the day however, I guess it’s just the same situation as entirely flash sites -those that want to offer them, have to offer an accessible alternative (and as Bruce Lawson pointed out -NO, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE UGLY!).

    It was also nice to see Scott Guthrie talk as there are so many blog posts around the net talking about how they saw him, now I can say that I’ve seen him talk -somewhat sad but hey!

    The slides aren’t yet online but I’m sure Scott Guthrie will upload them to the Scott Guthrie's presentations page soon enough!

    In summary

    I always take a conference as a whole -there’s always going to be at least one talk which isn’t quite what you expected, if you can come away with at least one nugget of information that you didn’t have before -or- with a little of that zest for doing what you do back again it was well worth attending. In this case I got a real buzz out of most of the talks and have plenty of things to try out -now I just need to find the time!

    And if all that wasn’t enough to get your juices going and wanting to do some more development, I (I think for the first time ever) won something in the raffle -I was in the queue hoping for the book on accessibility by Bruce Lawson but actually won a years subscription to ComponentArt’s Web.UI component set -I’m well chuffed at that, now I just need to find somewhere to use them!! Oh, I shouldn't forget the free copy of Microsoft Expression Web we were given, and the T-Shirts and, and... :D

    I did get to meet up with a few people off the MsWebDev list but sadly not all -Mickey, I’ll have to say hi next time. The one thing that did amaze me was how long the lunch was, I don’t recall any of the DDD events being that long.

    If you went and you’ve not already done so, you should go and leave feedback on the event -it’s the only way they can improve it ;) so go leave your feedback on WebDD (http://webdd.co.uk/Feedback.aspx). Apparently you can also review it on the back network site (http://webdd.backnetwork.com/reviews/editreview.aspx

    If you missed out on WebDD 1, hopefully there’ll be a WebDD 2, I’ll post any news I have as soon as I have it -for my one blog reader that is :)

     

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    CategoriesTags: ASP.Net | Business | Design | General | The Site Doctor | WebDD
    # Sunday, February 04, 2007

    Finances (VAT, Accountants etc)

    Sunday, February 04, 2007 8:58:09 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

    Billing

    This is something that we’re in the process of re-working as we have a variety of billing periods ranging from ad-hoc to annual. This is fine as long as you have some method of determining which method a client requires.

    Stacey has devised a very good suggestion that should also avoid any complications with large annual invoices:

    • £0 - £300: Invoice Annually
    • £300 - £600: Invoice Bi-Annually
    • £600+: Invoice Monthly (£50+pm)

    There are a few reasons I like this method:

    1. You won’t upset your client by sending them a £500 invoice they’d forgotten about
    2. It keeps you in contact with larger payers more frequently
    3. For the larger invoices it reduces the impact to you if the client chooses not to pay
    4. £50pm+ is sufficient an amount to justify the 10 minutes admin a month

    Payment periods are important, make sure every invoice has a payment period on it but don’t expect your clients to adhere to it. You’ll learn what each particular client is like at paying as you build your client base but many will wait until the last payment date to pay, if at all until you start to bug them (see: Processes and Procedures about having a dedicated admin day). Having a shorter payment period (or “Payment Required on Receipt”) will allow you to start chasing the client sooner.

    What should your invoice look like?

    There are a lot of example invoices on Microsoft’s Template website [http://office.microsoft.com/templates/] but it’s simple, keep them simple (this is a nice example: Services invoice with hours and rate) and only contain the information you need. Have your designer design you a nice letterhead that you can use with your invoices, not only does it look more professional but it ensures your main contact details are contained on the invoice, if your letterhead is a little different you never know, they may pay it faster as it catches their eye!

    Again it depends on your particular line of business but I would suggest you have the following information on it at the minimum:

    • If the invoice isn't on your letterhead paper then make sure your address is shown
    • Their address –and if it’s a corporate client include a contact’s name to ensure it lands on the correct desk
    • An invoice reference (an auto-number should suffice but you could prefix this if you like)
    • If you have it, the purchase order number
    • The date your invoice was issued
    • The payment due date
    • A summary of the items included on the invoice including:
      • An SKU (if relevant) i.e. 1HOURDEV for 1 hour of development work
      • A narrative (description) of the item
      • Unit cost of the item
      • Quantity of the item
      • Line total
    • Total amounts –if you’re VAT registered, include the amount with VAT, without VAT and the VAT itself
    • Your payment terms (i.e. all invoices must be paid within 14 days)
    • You payment details –sounds crazy but I see so many invoices without bank details or even information on who to make the cheque out to anywhere. It’s so simple to place this information on the bottom of the invoice, why make it harder than it needs to be for your client to pay you? If it’s not there, they need to make contact with you (if you’re around), you then need to look up that information, they then… ok you get the idea ;)

    It’s obviously optional and up to you but I think it’s nice touch to thank the client for their business on or with i.e. on a complimentary slip the invoice (see: Client and Supplier Relations) –yes, I love my clients!

    Accounting

    I’m not an accountant myself but my (far) better half Stacey is a chartered management accountant with CIMA (an alternative to ACCA) and I ran this past her as I had concerns with it. Her response was rather than obtaining (expensive) textbooks that you’re unlikely to understand (I’ve seen them, I can understand them but they’re somewhat boring) the best thing you can do is read through the documentation from the Inland Revenue –mainly because as soon as that textbook is printed it’s out of date which can (obviously) have massive re-processions for you!

    There are many different accounting bodies and they all have their own specialities. It’s important to understand that a Chartered Management Accountant can’t necessarily help you with your tax return, in the same way a taxation specialist can’t necessarily help you with profitability analysis (whereas a Management Accountant can). One amusing ditty about Chartered Accountants (and I expect this covers other industries with multiple bodies) is that they all feel their chartering body is the most superior whereas they’re probably all much the same.

    It’s important to remember that it’s the same as your industry, it’s great that the client knows what you’re talking about but it’s highly unlikely they know as much as you.

    Again from Stacey, any accountant worth their money will save you more than they cost you, as with many things in business –recommendation is key, ask around friends and family or fellow businesses to find a reputable accountant and if at all possible get a few references.

    There are many accounting bodies out there (CIMA, ACCA, CIPFA to mention a few) but make sure when choosing your accountant that they are chartered in some way or another as this means they’re more likely to be up-to-date with their knowledge and to some extent being regulated. When you’re setting out, you should be able to have all your books done for under £500pa comfortably.

    VAT

    Should you go VAT registered or not?

    When setting up The Site Doctor, I chose not to go VAT registered on the basis that the majority of our start-up contracts would be non-VAT registered companies. As it turns out I was wrong as every man and his dog these days is VAT registered but more than that I feel that many businesses perceive non-VAT reg'd companies more fly-by-night.

    Most people (especially in business) expect companies to be VAT registered so it hasn't affected potential contracts and we have the added advantage that we can claim money back ;). Sadly, the only people that suffer are non-registered people and at the end of the day they're unlikely to have the money to justify you not going VAT registered.

    One thing to note if you’re setting up as a team is there is a limit on the turnover of the company at which point you are forced to be registered, this year (06/07) the limit was around £65k (refer to the Inland Revenue’s website [http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/]) so if there’s 3 of you in the team and you hope to take home £20kpa you’ll need to go registered straight away.

    You don’t need to be over the threshold to be registered as you can voluntarily register before you reach this threshold. There are a couple of benefits to voluntary registration that come to mind:

    • The perception of your company’s earnings is increased. When not registered, your clients will know you have a turnover lower than the current threshold. This is not a good start when approaching clients with a proposal near over this threshold.
    • By charging input tax to your clients, you can claim some money back, virtually ever purchase you make has VAT added to it which you can offset on your charges.

    One flipside however is the additional administration work.

    Once VAT registered

    Yes, a great tip and this is so easy to do if you've got access to internet banking through your bank, it also means you have a nice nest egg at the end of each year as Sean said -I did the same with my personal tax before going VAT registered.

    In the case of LloydsTSB they allow you to manage both accounts within the single login which makes it even easier, if you want to be really prepared, just halve each invoice, put one half in your savings account to cover VAT and Taxes etc and the other half is what you take home.

    Having a little money totting up on the side in this way allows you to have either: A nice little Christmas bonus (by this time you should know what your tax bill is going to be and you’ll have a reasonable idea of your Quarter 3 VAT return) -or- A tidy sum to invest into the business someway :)

    We recently registered for VAT and the official stance on claiming VAT back was:

    3 years on goods (hardware etc) as long as on the day of incorporation you still have the item, receipt and you've not sold it on.

    6 months of services (hosting, domains etc) as long as you have the paperwork.

    I was told that the Inland Revenue think nothing of start-ups and businesses in the IT sector to have a very low (or credit) first return (and if you're going registered from day one then the first few returns) due to the cost of setting up.

    For the latest up-to-date information check out the Inland Revenue’s website: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/

    I couldn’t agree more, when you’re small, set aside a day a week to input your expenses into a database and as long as you’ve got your invoice lists to hand totalling up your income isn’t hard, the form’s dead simple (see photo) so there’s no need to worry about that. I’ve even uploaded the MDB that we’re currently using as a stand-in while our accounting system is finalised.

    • Front page of a VAT Return
    • Rear page of a VAT Return

    While on the subject, in-house system development –choose it carefully, weigh up the costs of doing it yourself against buying an off-the-shelf solution. As a developer it’s all to easy to say “I’ll do it myself and save a few quid” –it’s not always the case, I’m only having ours custom built so I can tie it in with other areas of the business.

    Example Microsoft Access Accounting Database (21KB)

    Banking

    Whatever you do, make sure you have a separate business account, it portrays a more professional image for your company (payments to your company will be addressed to your company name rather than your personal name).

    Keeping up a pension is important, talk to your accountant about the options available to you. It’s also worth considering alternative pensions such as property investment. I know a few business owners that own the property the business operates within.

    That’s a fine tip, using a personal account for your company savings can indeed earn you an extra 3-4%pa which soon adds up. Make sure however it’s a separate personal account that you don’t tap into and don’t top-up with personal funds. That way you’ll make life a whole lot easier when calculating the business’ income from interest.

    LloydsTSB also offer an e-banking option which is exactly the same as all other accounts except electronic payments (debit cards, e-pay etc) are free, paying in cheques however still costs (and a little more IIRC). It’s a good account to have if you’re web savy and can do the majority of your banking online.

    Good point, the banks love you when you’re doing well however expect to be charged for your overdraft –many banks now charge a (reoccurring) annual charge of £50-100 for your overdraft facility, it may be a better (and cheaper) option to loan the business from your credit card if needed –taking advantage of the 0% period etc.

     

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