Times are Tough out There

 

You can’t turn on the news without hearing it.  Unemployment up, spending down, cats and dogs living together…mass hysteria.  But seriously, things are definitely tougher out there for all kinds of business, not just the small ones.  The advantage that I see that small businesses have, much like those tricky prehistoric mammals, is the ability to quickly adapt to the climate.  Big business, like those overgrown lizards of prehistory, adapt slowly if at all.  (I was going to insert some jabs at a few of them here, but the list is too long to choose from.)  The point of all of this is to share some of the ways that I have seen small businesses SAVE MONEY.

1.  Cut out Ma Bell completely.  There are many options out there that can save you some serious money AND give you more options.  Skype is a great VOIP service that’s free to call from PC to PC (great if you have distributed employees or close partners) and just 2.95/month for 10,000 minutes to US and Canada (it’s 30 bucks for a year of inbound calls with a subscription, though).  You can buy a pretty sweet handset for about a hundred bucks that makes it so you don’t even need a computer to use it.  Gizmo5, and even Google Talk are other ways that you can stay connected (although not as slick as Skype).  Not only can you call in and out with these services, you can also do Conference calls, call forwarding, and voicemail.

2.  Free Financial Help.  Online financial services sites like Mint, GeoZeo, and Buxfer can help manage cash flow, notify you when balances are low and do budgeting and reporting for you.  The beauty of these services is that they’ll go get your transactions from your bank and attempt to classify them for you automatically.  It doesn’t always get them right, but it is very easy to correct and saves a ton of data entry.  You can even set them to send you an email or a text message with a summary of your status.

3.  Forget About Microsoft Office.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Excel and Outlook as much as the next guy, but the prices that you pay (between $200 and $600, depending on the version) to get it are outrageous.  Check out Google Docs, Google Calendar and Gmail.  They allow you to easily collaborate with others, you don’t have to install anything on your computer, and best of all, they’re free.  These tools probably aren’t a fit for everyone (browser crashing while you work is a pain), but you can get an awful lot of mileage out of them.

Obviously I’m a big on using technology to increase efficiency, cut down on overhead and hopefully help the bottom line.  What are you doing to save money in these tumultuous times?

New (or Re-Newed) Focus of this Blog

So I’ve been playing around with this blog thing for a couple of months now and have come to a realization.  I have the attention span of a gnat.  I had an idea that I’d like to help folks that were not technical learn to cope with technology for their businesses and their lives.  I have worked with (and been one myself) small business owners for many years and I’ve noticed that a lot of common ground there.  I thought that I would be able to put some things out there that would help.  I’m sure the 2 people that have read this blog have noticed that I’ve gone all over the board.  I’ve talked about Exchange, remote tools for administering servers, sharepoint and a bunch of other stuff. 

NO MORE, I say!

I am refocused on my objective of giving help, advice and tips to folks who need it, especially small business owners.  If either of you reading this have any questions or suggestions for problems you’d like help with, please post them here or you can email me at dave.purdon@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to respond.

Open EPS Files with Word

This one comes up every now and again.  How can I open EPS files?  These are files that are created by Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.  They are both great programs, but they’re very expensive.  Many times your printer (you know business cards, yellow page ads etc) will ask you for your logo or ad in this format or even send you a file to proof in this format.  So is there a free program that can do this?  Not exactly, but if you have Microsoft Word installed, you can place the file in a blank document.  Just open Word, then go to Insert > Picture, then browse to the EPS file and click on the Insert button.  Word will then convert the file and you’ll be able to see it.  Anyone know of another way (that’s actually free) to open EPS files?  I think the GIMP is supposed to, but the plug-in kept dying when I tried to open the file on my Vista machine.

Microsoft Finally Starts Protecting Me from Myself

And of course it bites me.  When setting up Distribution Groups in Exchange 2007, there is a silly option that is set by default that will prevent sending to that group from external sources.  I suppose it’s a security feature, making you manually enable that address to be accessed from unauthenticated users, but it can be a head scratcher if you’re not looking for it. 

The error you would get if you tried to send to this group from outside would look something like:

Delivery has failed to these recipients or distribution lists:

yourlist@yourdomain.com

Your message wasn’t delivered because of security policies. Microsoft Exchange will not try to redeliver this message for you. Please provide the following diagnostic text to your system administrator.

Sent by Microsoft Exchange Server 2007

Diagnostic information for administrators:

Generating server: yourdomain.com

yourlist@yourdomain.com

#550 5.7.1 RESOLVER.RST.AuthRequired; authentication required ##

….

Final-Recipient: rfc822;yourlist@yourdomain.com

Action: failed

Status: 5.7.1

Diagnostic-Code: smtp;550 5.7.1 RESOLVER.RST.AuthRequired; authentication required

X-Display-Name: yourlist@yourdomain.com

 

So, after you create the Group, right-click on it, then go to properties.  Click the Mail Flow Settings tab and it looks like this:

 image_4

Select Message Delivery Restrictions, then click the properties button and you’ll see:

image_6

Uncheck the box that says "Require that all senders are authenticated", and you should be good to go.

Five Technology Musts When Starting a Business

In today’s business landscape, there are things that you ignore at your peril. Technology is one of those things, like it or not, you must deal with at some level. In my experience, appropriate use of technology can save time and money, both of which are constantly in short supply when starting a business. Many will shy away because of the imagined costs, but there are some things that a small business can’t afford to do without—some of them are even free!

1. A PC or Laptop with Enough Horsepower

I have lost track of the number of times that a business owner has asked me, “Why does Quickbooks take so long to open on my computer?” or “Why is Word so slow?” Very often they are running the latest and greatest software from Intuit or Microsoft on what used to be the family PC which was purchased four or five years ago for the kids to do their homework on. That’s like putting a 300 pound jockey on a 10 year old race-horse. The horse may have been great in its day, but it wasn’t meant for that kind of abuse.

Look at the system requirements of the software that you use the most. It will have a line that says something like Recommended RAM: 512 MB. A good rule of thumb is to double that amount and then look for a system that has at least that much memory. Depending on the type of work you do, you may have other requirements for your computer shopping, but that will get you started in your search. Laptop vs. Desktop? That’s easy….will you ever need to work on it anywhere other than your desk? If you answered yes, then you need a laptop. If not, then save the thousand dollar or so difference for some of the other items in this list.

2. High-Speed Internet Access

With email, online ordering, online banking becoming so indispensable, you really have to justify NOT having a fast connection for your business. In general, you’ll pay less than $50 per month for a very good connection, in some areas you’ll pay less than $30.

3. Office Software

Office productivity software has come a long way over the decades. Microsoft Office allows you to create everything from ads to invoices to financial statements. The price tag has evolved also. Ranging from $150 all the way up to $600, purchasing Office, in spite of all its great features, can put a serious dent in the budget.

A couple of fairly solid alternatives exist, and they’re free! Google Docs is an online set of office tools including word processor and spreadsheet application. It’s fast, you don’t have to install anything to use it, and it is completely free. You don’t get nearly as many tools to work with as with Microsoft Word, but you can export to Word format and send them to clients, who will be none the wiser. OpenOffice.org is a free download which includes a word processor, spreadsheet application, presentation software (think PowerPoint), and even a database application. This software has been around the block a few times and has gotten better with each release. It’s definitely worth a look.

4. Accounting Software

It amazes me at how many business owners try to do without this essential tool. Intuit’s Quickbooks ($149 for Pro, $339 for Premier) is really the king of the hill in terms of ease of use and features. Sage Software’s Peachtree ($189 for Complete) is another contender, but many business people that I work with feel that it is more accountant-oriented and not as straightforward. Regardless of which way you go, get something! Your accountant will thank you.

5. A Web Site

Whether you’re a carpenter, a lawyer, or a restaurateur, you can’t escape the fact that the majority of potential customers will use the web to check you out before they give you a try. Your site needs to at least tell customers who you are, what you do and how to contact you. You can host a web site for as little as $4 per month. (Godaddy.com, 1and1.com) That just leaves the cost of having the site designed. It makes sense to have an actual designer do this for you, especially if you already have someone helping with things like your logo and letterhead. Alternatively, you can buy a simple template site for as little as $39. (www.templatesbox.com)

Armed with these tools, you can now market to more people, produce professional quotes and brochures, track your receivables and payables, and speedily surf the Web looking for your dream car in between. You don’t need to break the bank for a start-up technology budget. The advantages in efficiency and competitiveness certainly justify the modest expense.

SQL Server 2008 Setup – "The handle is invalid"

I was trying to set up a VM for a proof of concept with an all 2008 stack (i.e. Windows 2008 Server, SQL Server 2008, IIS7, and WSS with SP1).  Everything was going along just fine until I hit this beauty:

screen

"SQL Server Setup has encountered the following error:

The handle is invalid. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x0070006 (E_HANDLE))."

It took me a good long time and many combinations of Google searches to find this:

Found the problem.
This is a MSDN version so the product key is pidded but it is not enabled as read-only. So, when you’re presented with the product key dialog, you can muck it up.
To reproduce, simply select the "Specify a free edition" radio button without changing the shown PID, then reselect the "Enter the product key" radio button (again without changing the PID) and continue with the installation.
I expect this bug exists in all MSDN editions.

Posted by oj on 8/6/2008 at 3:28 PM

This worked great for me.

Thanks oj, where ever you are!

Giving a Great Demo is An Art

Some demos are ok….some are great.  I think that’s obvious enough.  It’s like having a good date vs. a great date.  When you’re on a date, there are tons of things you could talk about but what’s going to make the best impression?

The way I see it, if you’re a developer or a program/project manager, you have a lot invested in the product itself.  You know the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into creating this thing.  You know the emotional highs and lows that are behind every button, text box, and sort column.  It’s only human nature to want to talk about those things as if it were some sort of weird group therapy session.

The problem is that your audience, whether it’s your boss, the client, or whomever, doesn’t know about that stuff and more than likely doesn’t care.  They want to know about how the product is going to affect them.  So here’s my opinion of what goes into a great demo:

  1. Think it through beforehand if at all possible.  I pride myself on being fairly quick on my feet, but trying to field questions, click the right button (we all know that clicking the wrong button can lead to disaster in an unfinished piece of work), and smoothly move to the next talking point is too much to handle for most folks.
  2. The things you choose to talk about and spend time on should be the things that matter most to THEM, not you.  Think of the greatest date you’ve ever been on, and I bet there was significant amounts of that time spent talking about YOU or things you are interested in.  Let’s face it, we all think the world revolves around us.
  3. Do your best to read your audience and adjust your spiel as needed.  Item number one is valid, but you have to remember to be a little flexible.  I sat in on a demo where the presenter said to one of the major project stakeholders "Let me finish with this part" no less than 4 times.  That’s a huge red flag in my book.  Not everyone thinks of technology as fun or cool.  We have to make things as approachable as possible, even in the demo.

I Passed 70-630 and 70-631!

These are the first two of four Sharepoint exams.  I’ll be taking the other two next week (70-541 and 70-542).  These two are focused on the installation and configuration of both WSS 3.0 and MOSS 2007.  I was actually surprised at how much I knew before I even started studying.  I’d say if you work with Sharepoint in some form on a regular basis, you probably just need to brush up on some of the more esoteric things.  Network Load Balancing was something I don’t use in my day-to-day with Sharepoint, so I read up on it a bit.  If you are looking to take these tests, just follow the outline on the Microsoft Learning site.

Setting up WordPress on GoDaddy Economy Hosting

Setting up WordPress on my GoDaddy account was more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be.  I figured it would be a good place to start this blog.

1.  So first, you have to get yourself set up with GoDaddy.  I chose the Linux economy plan for 4.29/month.  After you go throught the Account Set-up wizard, it will tell you the status is “Pending” for a bit, and then after a few minutes, it will change to “Setup”.

2.  Click on the “Open” link under Control Panel on the Web Hosting Accounts.

3.  In the Hosting Control Center, click on Databases, then MySQL.

4.  Click the “Create Database” button, and then fill out the fields, taking note of the database name and password that you supply.

5.  The status on the Database page will say Pending for a bit, and then change to Setup.  Click the Open Manager Link that appears.

6.  Log in to the manager page that comes up with the username and password that you supplied in Step 4.

7.  Click on the “Databases” link, then take note of the IP address that appears near the top of the page.  It will look something like  “Server: 10.x.x.x”.

8.  Download the WordPress files from the site, extract them, and then rename the file wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php.

9.  Open the wp-config.php file with a text editor.  Change the lines that look like:

define(’DB_NAME’, ‘putyourdbnamehere’);    // The name of the database
define(’DB_USER’, ‘usernamehere’);     // Your MySQL username
define(’DB_PASSWORD’, ‘yourpasswordhere’); // …and password
define(’DB_HOST’, ‘localhost’);    // 99% chance you won’t need to change this value

On the fourth line, it says you probably won’t have to change it, but you actually need to set it to the IP address that we got in Step 7.

10.  Upload (FTP) the WordPress source files with the modified wp-config.php file to your account.  Filezilla is a good open source FTP package.  If you want the blog to appear at the root of your site, ie. http://yoursite.com, just copy the files to the root.  If you want it to be in another directory,  ie. http://yoursite.com/blog, you need to create it in your FTP client and then copy the files to that directory.

11.  Now you just need to open a browser window and point it to:  http://yoursite.com/wp-admin/install.php (or wherever you copied the files). 

12.  If all went as expected, you will be asked a few questions to set up your new blog.  If something is not right, it will tell you in a fairly specific way.