29 August 2012

19 MOST COMMON BOOKKEEPING MISTAKES

Statistics reveal that about half of all new small businesses fail within the first five years. What is the main cause of small business failure? Poor financial management. For the small business owner bookkeeping is often a chore. It can often take many hours of time, which is why many owners do not keep their finances up to date on a monthly basis. Bookkeeping is your biggest weapon when it comes to business management and growth. Bookkeeping is essential for on-going record keeping, legal protection and accurate tax filing.

1) NO BOOKKEEPING SYSTEM
The biggest mistake made early on in a small business is not using a proper bookkeeping system. The business owner usually places the paperwork in a box, or uses Excel to make lists of income and expenses. It is easy to lose receipts or forget about small expenses. Unfortunately, before your tax returns can be done, someone has to draw up reports by sorting out this makeshift system. Maintaining accurate records on a monthly basis, along with a proper filing system, saves you time and money on your taxes. It can also provide the necessary documentation in the event that you are audited. With these reports only available at such a late stage, you cannot make fully-informed decisions in running your business in the best possible manner.

2) LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
Some business owners try to do the bookkeeping themselves, or they get their partner / family member / friend to do the books. Doing this is not always as cost-effective as you think. Accounting software promises proficiency with just a few clicks. However, unless you are familiar with general accounting principles, any accounting software can be frustrating. You often end up spending a lot of time trying to figure out where you went wrong. A bookkeeper with the knowledge and skills necessary to complete your books quickly and accurately is crucial to small business success. Although we all know that time is money, many business owners do not put enough value on their time. Leave the time-consuming task of bookkeeping to a bookkeeper. This saves you time, freeing you up to focus on growing your business.

3) IMPROPERLY CATERGORISED EXPENSES
Without knowledge of formal bookkeeping practices, this can become a problem. Accurately tracking income and expenses in the correct categories ensures proper measurement of profitability. Use general bookkeeping guidelines for standard categorisation. Follow generally accepted accounting practices. The Chart of Accounts is intended as a road map of all in and out transactions. Separate registers for each bank account and credit card, as well as properly classifying categories and sub-categories, make a big difference.

4) NOT RECONCILING ACCOUNTS
One of the key elements of good bookkeeping is to consistently reconcile the books with the bank statements, credit card statements and any other statements. Many businesses either fail to or improperly reconcile on a regular basis. A major benefit of reconciling the bank statement is ensuring that the cash on a company’s books equals the amount of cash shown by the bank. Reconciling your accounts every month also helps to minimise errors and identify potential issues.

5) SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNTS
It's critical that personal and business finances be kept separate at all times, regardless of size. If you are audited, you will need to provide complete records of business-related activities, separate from your personal expenses.

6) NO BACK-UPS
The heavy dependence on technology brings with it the chance that something could happen to your data. Data needs to be backed-up, and keep in different locations, to avoid potential losses. This is even more important if you are operating in a paperless environment.

7) SALES TAX
With many businesses not accounting correctly for sales tax is a common error in bookkeeping. Oversight in collection and reporting of sales taxes can result in significant fines and penalties. Incorrect data entry may result in a higher total sales amount and over-stated sales taxes due.

8) PETTY CASH MANAGEMENT
Business owners often operate with a small amount of petty cash, and many have little knowledge of how to track it. You need to have a system which allows you to track the cash kept on hand and what it is being used for. Keeping a petty cash lock box and obtaining receipts for all disbursements is necessary.

9) REIMBURSABLE EXPENSES
Many small business owners pay for expenses out of their personal funds. Failure to account for these reimbursable expenses can result in lost money and lost tax deductions.

10) ACCOUNTING METHOD
There are two accounting methods - cash and accrual. Cash accounting is based on the actual flow of cash in and out of a business, and is mostly used by sole proprietors and businesses with no inventory. Accrual accounting records income and expenses as they happen, and makes it easier to accurately match revenue to expenses. With cash accounting, the business might look profitable during months with few expenses and unprofitable during months with large expenses, with no way of really knowing the difference.

11) CREDIT CARDS AS AN EXPENSE
Making a payment to a credit card and recording it in an account called a credit card expense, is a very common error seen in small businesses. The proper way to record this is to set up the credit card as a liability account in your bookkeeping system and then record the payment from your bank account to the credit card. You should also record all the individual credit card transactions and reconcile the account. By entering the transactions from your credit card, you will always know how much you owe on your credit card, and you reconciling the account helps ensure all the charges were processed correctly.

12) PAYROLL
Another common mistake is recording payroll transactions as payroll expenses, and only the nett instead of gross. There are both tax liabilities and expenses with payroll transactions. By recording only the nett, you are producing inaccurate financial statements. The gross pay amount needs to be recorded as an expense and the employee payroll taxes as payroll tax liabilities. The distribution of payroll taxes consists of both liabilities (employee payroll taxes withheld from pay) and expenses (employer payroll taxes). If you are using a payroll service, those costs should be recorded as an expense.

13) DRAWINGS
Many business owners draw money out of the company in addition to their regular pay. Owners also often pay for personal items with their business accounts. These transactions are sometimes recorded as expenses, which again produce inaccurate financial statements. These should be set up in an equity account called Owners Drawings. If there are multiple owners, create an account for each one. Record all owner transactions into this account - owner contributions, owner drawings and personal transactions. Your accountant will thank you and you won't be affecting the profit and loss statement.

14) UNAPPLIED CREDITS
Paying twice is a common problem, particularly when a business has a large number of suppliers or more than one person is involved with the accounting function.

15) NEGATIVE INVENTORY
Not all businesses have inventory. A common mistake for those that do, is recording the sale of inventory to a customer before it’s received - the inventory is on the shelf but hasn’t been recorded in the accounting system.

16) INCORRECT BALANCES
Asset accounts should have debit balances, while liability accounts should have credit balances. Revenue accounts should have credit balances, while expense accounts should have debit balances. The most common causes of an incorrect balance is posting entries to the incorrect account, misclassifying accounts, and duplicating adjusting entries.

17) DATA ENTRY ERRORS
It’s easy to wreak havoc on your accounts by entering a R500 payment as R50, or transposing numbers. Double-check every entry. Little errors don’t go away, they just become bigger problems.

18) FILING
Establish, and use, a filing system for all paperwork. Establish a daily or weekly filing schedule.

19) COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR BOOKKEEPER
Keep your bookkeeper informed of finances. If you get a loan, provide the documentation. If you buy equipment, provide the documentation. If you take money from the petty cash box to go out to lunch, provide the documentation. A bookkeeper needs to know where the money goes, in order to record the information correctly.

01 August 2012

SAVING MONEY IN TOUGH BUSINESS TIMES

When times are tough, businesses often look at lay-offs and cutting marketing budgets. This is not always as effective as it sounds. Cutting costs anywhere that affects the service you deliver or the quality of your product, is not cost-effective. There are other options that can achieve savings. Implementing some of these may be a better choice in the long run, and you don't have to wait for tough times to start with them.

Reduced hours - Talk to employees about reducing hours. There are often employees who are willing to take a cut in salary, rather than losing the job. Cut back on overtime. Plan ahead to prevent situations in which employees must work overtime to complete their work. Use efficient / productive employees in these positions.

Bonuses - If your business cannot afford the annual cash bonuses, look at non-monetary incentives such as paid time off. Offer performance-based incentives instead of automatic increases. If employees meet or exceed expectations, everyone wins.

Short-term hiring - Instead of hiring permanent employees for short periods, try colleges and universities for interns who can work in exchange for work experience.

Business events - Cut back on costly team-building events. An alternative is to volunteer your time as a group to a worthy cause, helping others during tough times. If you take clients out to dinner, change to breakfast or lunch instead. These are lighter meals on the wallet too. Instead of expensive conferences, join networking groups that meet weekly or monthly.

Referral programme - Referrals are a low-cost method of getting new business. Implement a system, let employees and current clients know about it and what reward there is for referrals.

Go digital - Use e-mail wherever possible, instead of postage. Use YouTube for your adverts, product launches and demonstrations. Use pay-per-click advertising programmes. Use open source software instead of expensive software. Ditch the fax machine for e-mail. Use energy-saving settings on office computers. Use video conferencing. Send electronic invoices. Use toll-free phone numbers whenever possible. Consider using Internet phone services like Skype.

Share costs - Cut advertising costs by cross-promoting with a non-competing business and split the cost. A pizzeria could share a coupon with a video rental store, a hairdressing salon with a day spa, etc... If your business is located in a small mall, take out full page local adverts and split the cost with each advertising business.

Travel - If your employees need to travel often for business, make sure you have a standard booking procedure with one employee co-ordinating all travel to better control costs. Travel when fares are better. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are traditionally cheaper days to fly. Consider day trips to avoid hotel and car rental costs. If overnight stays are required, choose hotels that offer free airport shuttles and complimentary breakfasts, Wi-Fi, and are close to public transport.

Insurance - Check that policies are up to date. Insurers and brokers usually offer annual reviews that might show where you can lower your premiums. Combine different policies into a single policy package to reduce administration costs. Increase your deductible to reduce your premiums.

Company vehicles - Replace company vehicles with work-related fuel and mileage allowances. This reduces the number of vehicles you insure, and selling them creates extra cash flow. Consolidate deliveries to avoid sending out delivery trucks that aren't full.

Banking - Look at consolidating your debt into one large loan with a lower interest rate. Shop around for another bank to negotiate interest rates and transaction fees. Look at credit cards that offer better deals.

Cash flow - Give discounts for cash paid up front. Ask your suppliers for discounts on early payments or to extend your payables from 30 to 60 days.

Office supplies - Buy generic supplies whenever possible. Reduce paper waste by making a two-sided copy rule or a no-print policy for e-mail. Make frequently used documents accessible on an internal server to save reprinting each time they're updated. Send courier packages overnight rather than same-day, for better rates.

Equipment - Get at least three quotations when making purchases.

Debt collections - Concentrate on your creditors. Make thorough credit checks before opening credit accounts. Offer discounts for early payments.

Service - Hold onto your loyal clients by concentrating on superior service. Positive word-of-mouth soon spreads. In tough times especially, there's always competitors who are hungry for your customers.

30 July 2012

AIRLINES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

A mere 12 years ago, a tweet was a sound a bird made, tablets were something you swallowed when you were sick and a blackberry was a fruit you ate. No one had heard of social media, iPads, blogs, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Since then, social media has become the dynamic way of communication for personal and professional purposes. With its far reach and immediate response capability, it connects people from all over the world. On Twitter, problems are often solved in 140 characters.

Various airlines are using social media to build their brand and make customer service first class. They are using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs to interact with potential and existing customers, and to learn what these customers like and dislike.

Virgin America's Facebook page links you to search flights, check-in manager and check flight status, while also giving your news about the company. Delta uses YouTube extensively. Their safety video created so much interest that people dubbed the featured Flight Attendant "Deltalina". Delta also uses YouTube to post videos of their employees' favourite destinations.

Twitter is a popular medium for airlines and their customers. Passengers waiting in airports post what they are doing, eating and seeing. If customers are not happy or feel disappointed, they will tweet their experiences immediately. Airlines should be listening and taking action. Twitter is ideal for travel advisories, flight updates, pointing followers to interesting posts on other media, and letting customers know about special offers and competitions. Treat Twitter as one of your customer service platforms.

United Airlines has Twares, where every Wednesday and Thursday it offers a limited number of special fares for the upcoming weekend. These Twares are exclusively available to followers of their Twitter account, and are time sensitive.

JetBlue has a Cheeps programme similiar to United's. Most often on Tuesdays, JetBlue post their last-minute flight deals, for travel on Saturday, returning Monday or Tuesday. Cheeps are offered for a limited time. JetBlue's main Twitter account has over a million followers. The account is used for updating passengers on flight status / delays, sharing photos, sharing experiences, and general news from the airline. The airline is very active in responding to issues that its followers post.

Airlines should be blogging. Blog posts can be about your airline news, new aircraft, reviews, airport information, highlighting employee or department achievements, etc... The blog should connect to all your other social media.

Applications like TripIt announce people's travel intentions to their friends. These status updates are often integrated with social media sites like Facebook. An airline could integrate TripIt data with their frequent flyer database to create a list of their loyal customers and the destinations those customers are planning to visit. The airline can then send them a custom-tailored travel deal. Lufthansa's MySkyStatus allows people to share their location with their Facebook and Twitter friends during the flight.

Dutch airline KLM used social media to reward its customers for mentioning them via social media. The KLM Surprise Campaign involved close monitoring of social media channels by KLM staff. They looked for people who were waiting at airports for KLM flights and using social media while they did so. The staff then identified a particular customer and tried to find out as much about them as they could. Once they had enough information, they went out and bought a small, appropriate gift for that passenger and gave it to them before they left the airport. For example, a woman who was going hiking was given a watch that tracks distances and walking speed, and an elderly lady travelling alone was upgraded to First Class. KLM created a Web site and Twitter account dedicated to their campaign, joined Foursquare, and posted their video on their YouTube channel and the KLM Facebook Fan page. They only did this for 40 passengers, but the news spread quickly via social media and resulted in over 1 million views of their video on their YouTube channel.

At the recent SITA Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels, KLM announced that it employed 23 staff dedicated to address the social media demands of passengers. The team is based at Schiphol Airport. Someone tweeted at the airport that they were thirsty – one of the team saw the tweet and went to find them and hand over a bottle of water.

Qatar Airways used a social media photo contest, Reflections, through which the airline gave away Business and Economy Class air tickets and a total of 1.6 million Privilege Club Qmiles. Followers uploaded photos and invited their friends, families and followers to vote for their photos.

Mango was voted the Coolest Domestic Airline for third successive year in the Sunday Times Generation Next Brand Survey 2011. The annual poll measures brand consciousness and loyalty amongst South African youth. CEO Nico Bezuidenhout believes that the airline’s communication strategy, which includes a large social media component, has paid dividends. Mango uses a blog, Facebook and Twitter, and was the first South African domestic airline to embrace social media, initially on Facebook.

Social media carries risk and reward. When United Airlines refused to compensate Son of Maxwell band member Dave Caroll for damage caused to his US$3 500 guitar during a 2008 flight, he posted his frustration on-line. He made a video and posted it on YouTube. United lost 10 % of its share value during this period.  its brand was under attack. More than 8,4m people having seen the video so far. United did approach Dave directly and dealt with his issue, even changing some internal policies to ensure this never happened again. Dave later added another video that thanks United for the way they responded.

A notice on Korean Air’s Web site announcing the start of non-stop flights from Korea to Kenya sparked a flurry of angry Tweets and Facebook postings over the description of Kenyans as indigenous people full of "primitive energy". Kenyans expressed their anger on social media and pictures of the advert were quickly shared on Twitter. Kenyans also circulated contacts of the South Korean Embassy in Nairobi, encouraging people to call and e-mail to demand an apology.

An attempt to launch a competition on Twitter backfired for Australia’s Qantas Airlines. The airline offered a prize of a gift pack that included a pair of First Class pyjamas. Followers had to tweet their idea of a luxury experience along with the hashtag #QantasLuxury. Consumers seized the opportunity to share their complaints about the airline.

Letters, e-mails and phone calls can still get results for unhappy airline travellers, but more often than not, passengers are taking their frustrations on-line where they are loud, fast and public. Where airlines don't take care of their customers, bad publicity has become a part of daily operations. This infographic shows you how airlines allocate resources to social media.

Remember, social media is about building relationships, not bombarding people with ads.

24 July 2012

BOOKKEEPING TIPS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

There is an old saying, "If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed." Every business, whether big or small, must have a bookkeeping system in place as it is the only way know whether it is making a profit or loss. No matter how much your small business thrives, it can all go downhill without proper bookkeeping. Many small business owners find bookkeeping a daunting task that takes them away from running their business. They often leave this task to the weekends or evenings. Some pile every piece of paperwork into a box and come tax time, they dump these boxes with a bookkeeper. If you don't have time to do your bookkeeping every week at the least, rather employ a freelance bookkeeper and stay up to date with your money matters. By adopting a few basic procedures, you can save time, money and stress.

1. BANK ACCOUNT STATEMENTS
Request a statement with a month-end cut-off date. This makes it easier to record income and expenses, as well as saving time when reconciling. Don't file your bank statements away without reviewing them.

2. STORAGE BOXES FOR EACH NEW YEAR
Keep all your records for one year in one box. Label it with the year and contents on the outside of the box.

What to keep - and for how long (in South Africa):

Indefinitely:
Annual financial statements
Companies Act returns
Dividend schedules
Documentation on members' interests
Fixed asset registers
Insurance agreements
Memoranda and articles of association
Mining authorisations
Minute books
Participation and joint venture agreements
Payments made on behalf of personnel
Personnel benefits
Property ownership titles
Prospecting agreements
Register of company directors / officers
Register of directors' interests
Register of members
Special resolutions
Stop orders
Tax returns / assessments
Trust deeds

7 Years:
Appointment agreements (auditors, professional advisors, etc...)
Bank statements
Cashbooks
Cession / assignment agreements
Cheques and cheque requisitions
Confidentiality agreements
Creditors' invoices / statements
Deposit slips
Financial services / banking agreements
Fixed assets register
General financial files
Guarantees / surety
Journal reports
Leases
Loan agreements
Permits and authorisations
Petty cash vouchers
Sales invoices
Supply agreements
Vouchers

5 Years:
Employment contracts
General ledger reports
General personnel files (for 5 years after employment ceased)
Personnel loan records

4 Years:
Payrolls / salary and wage registers

3 Years:
Attendance registers
Creditors' ledger
Debtors' ledger
General records and correspondence
Increment schedules (personnel)
Leave forms
Offers of employment
Other internal financial documentation
Petty cash book
Vouchers journal

1 Year:
Cheque stubs (after annual audit)

3. FILING INVOICES
Start new file folders at the beginning of each year for all your invoices. It's not necessary to start a folder for each customer or vendor unless you do a large amount of business with them. Sales invoices must be in numerical order. Do not skip numbers and also file the invoices in this order. File all expenses paid by the business in a separate file. File paid invoices separate from unpaid invoices. Make copies of till slips, as the ink fades easily and makes the invoice unreadable, attach the original to the copy.

4. FROM PAPER SYSTEM TO COMPUTER PROGRAMME
If you're moving from a paper bookkeeping system to a computer programme, you will want to run both systems for a few months, until you are sure both systems come up with the same totals before dropping the paper system.

5. DEPOSIT CASH RIGHT AWAY
If you receive cash payments, deposit it the same day. This ensures that all income will be properly recorded.

6. MAINTAIN DAILY RECORDS
If you don't have time to do a little bookkeeping each day, when will you find time to record a month's or a year's worth of records? Have a system and use it daily to stay on track.

7. SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNTS
Separate personal accounts from business accounts, don?t mix the two - this includes credit cards.

8. PETTY CASH BOX
Keep a proper petty cash system whereby a set amount is in petty cash and each time money is taken out a petty cash slip is completed.

9. MONTH-END
By the middle of a month, at the very latest, you should have reports that show you what happened in the previous month. Your bookkeeper would be doing you a great service by having these reports ready within three business days of the end of each month.

05 July 2012

VERTICAL E-MAIL TEXT AND ONE LETTER PER LINE

If you receive e-mails with the body text showing vertically and one letter per line, these tips might help solve the problem:

Close your e-mail programme (Outlook and Windows Live seem to be the ones most affected) and Word.

1) For Windows7 / Vista users:
Go in to C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates
(replace USERNAME by your user name)

For Windows XP users:
Go in to c:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates
(replace USERNAME by your user name)

2) Delete or rename the files "Normal" and "NormalEmail".
3) Test your e-mail now with incoming messages.

This will fix your issue for new e-mails, not for existing ones.

Also check if the messed-up message displays a long display name for the e-mail address.
If there was a settings change on the sender's side, the e-mail address may now be an unverified address in your e-mail programme.

Another option: Select the entire document (Ctrl + A) and hit Ctrl + Q.  This will remove any formatting in it.

UPDATE: 06 July 2012 - Subscribers of Yahoo Groups are reporting this vertical text problem. Yahoo Groups recently changed their settings / format. If you receive your group messages in the Digest format and see vertical text, here is a solution:

Sign in to your Group with your Yahoo! ID
Under Edit Membership go to Step 3. Message Preference
Make sure you select Traditional 

02 July 2012

2012 SOUTH AFRICAN TAX FILING SEASON IS OPEN

Income tax filing season opened in South Africa on 01 July 2012. This tax year covers 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is encouraging electronic filing and is launching new methods. You can file via a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. You can also use a facility known as Help-You-eFile, which enables you to share with a SARS agent the browser window that displays your electronic return. The agent will talk you through completing your return. SARS plans to launch a mobisite from which you will be able to file your return using a mobile phone with Internet access. The new eFiling app will also be available soon. SARS has put together some videos that will be available on YouTube. Last year, more than 99% of the almost five million returns that were submitted were filed electronically.

SARS is no longer sending out paper returns. If you want to file a paper return, you must ask SARS to post a pre-populated return to you by calling the SARS Contact Centre on 0800 00 72 77, or you can visit a SARS branch and complete an Income Tax Return Request (ITRR) form.

Take note of the tax return deadlines, as failure to submit your return by the due date will result in high administrative penalties. Penalties start at R250 and are applied for each month you fail to meet the required deadline. SARS can appoint an agent, such as your employer, to collect the outstanding penalties and interest amounts from you and pay them over to SARS.

  • Friday, 28 September 2012: The deadline for taxpayers who submit paper tax returns by post or who deposit them into a drop-box at a SARS branch
  • Friday, 23 November 2012: The deadline for taxpayers who submit their returns electronically at a SARS branch or via eFiling.
  • Thursday, 31 January 2013: The deadline for provisional taxpayers who submit their income tax returns via eFiling.

SARS has issued the following guidelines on who should submit an income tax return:

If you are under 65 years of age and received an income of more than R59 750 from one or more sources, or if you received more than R120 000 from a single source of employment, during the year of assessment from 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

If you are between 65 and 74 years of age and received an income of more than R93 150 from one or more sources, or if you received more than R120 000 from a single source, during the year of assessment from 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

If you are 75 years and older and received more than R104 261 from one or more sources, or if you received more than R120 000 from a single source, during the year of assessment from 01 March 2011 to 29 February 2012.

If you earn less than R120 000 a year, you need to make sure you are not required to submit a return, because this exemption is qualified. Your salary must be from a single source and employee’s tax must have been deducted or withheld from the full amount.

If you earned a salary of less than R120 000 a year but, for example, incurred capital gains in excess of R20 000, you must still submit a return.

If you carried on any trade as a natural person and not in your capacity as an employee, you are expected to submit a return, even though your taxable income may be less than R120 000 for the year.

SARS has a tool to help you to determine if you need to submit a return. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, the tool will tell you that you are required to submit a return:

Did you conduct any trade in South Africa?
Did you receive an allowance, such as a travel, subsistence or office-bearer’s allowance?
Do you hold any funds or assets outside South Africa that have a value of more than R50 000?
Did you have a local capital gain/loss exceeding R20 000?
Did you receive any income or capital gain in a foreign currency?
Do you hold any rights in a controlled foreign company?
Did you receive an income tax return, or were you requested to submit an income tax return?

Get started as soon as possible. If you are due a refund, the sooner you file, the sooner you'll get your money. It is illegal to lie on your return by inflating your expenses or not declaring your correct income. Gather all your supporting documentation so that you have it on hand to file. Supporting documents may include:

Your IRP5 tax certificate from your employer.
An income tax certificate from your medical aid scheme.
A list and the receipts of medical expenses not covered by your medical aid scheme.
A tax certificate for your contributions towards a retirement annuity fund.
A detailed logbook specifying your business trips and travel costs for the period.

The secrets to a less stressed tax filing season:

1) Have a well-maintained filing system
Getting ready for taxes is so much easier when all of the information you need is properly filed and easily accessed. Put together a well-organised filing system this year if you don’t already have one in place.

2) Have a well-maintained bookkeeping system
Keep track of all of your invoices, deposits, cheques, statements, bank reconciliations, credit card receipts and inventory on a weekly basis. Use a computerised bookkeeping system instead of the shoebox method.

3) Make time in your weekly and monthly schedule for record-keeping and filing
Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference. Reconcile your bank statements monthly throughout the year.

30 June 2012

SOCIAL MEDIA HELP FIGHT CRIME IN SOUTH AFRICA

Social media is an integral part of the lives of many South Africans. Initially, many were concerned that social media could be used by perpetrators to get personal information about their potential victims. People still need to be vigilant in who they accept as friends, with what they post on their accounts, and their privacy settings. Although there have been a number of such cases in South Africa, often because the victim did not use adequate privacy settings, anti-crime South Africans have found a way to use social media to their advantage. Social media can be effective if the community and the security services work together. Twitter and Facebook are often trending with the details of a crime, especially hijackings. Twitter, especially, is very useful in getting important information out to the public as quickly as possible.

Earlier this week, a radio DJ's wife was shot in an attempted hijacking on Far East Bank Drive near the Gautrain's Marlboro station. When he received her call for help, he contacted the well-known tweeter Pigspotter who mobilised his contacts in the emergency services. The young woman is recovering in ICU after undergoing operations.

Also this week, a robbery suspect was arrested in Laudium, outside Pretoria, minutes after the anonymous SMS tip-off service, Crime Line posted three photographs of the wanted 36-year-old man on Facebook and Twitter. Within 15 minutes of posting the photos, Crime Line received a message on Facebook of the man's whereabouts. The suspect allegedly sneaked into a wedding reception at the local community centre, and stole a firearm and a phone which he took from a guest's handbag. The suspect has confessed to the crime. He sold the firearm for R550 and the phone for R700.

A Bryanston family, recently robbed at gunpoint in their home, managed to find the location of their stolen phone using the Apple app, Find My iPhone/iPad. This led to the arrest of the criminals. Just hours after the robbers made their getaway, the Police found them at a house in Tembisa after the family activated app. The police say the men have been linked to several other robberies in Douglasdale, Randburg and Bryanston. The app is used as a real-time GPS location-tracking device and users can watch on an iPhone or iPad as the location is pinpointed on a map. The person holding the device doesn't know they are being tracked.

In Cape Town, another iPad user took an hour to get his iPad back after it was stolen in a smash-and-grab on Nelson Mandela Boulevard. The man had stopped his car to answer his phone, when two youths robbed him. He phoned a friend, who accessed his internet account and tracked the iPad to a nearby flat. The iPad was retrieved, but the thieves were scared off by messages blaring from the device.

29 June 2012

SMALL BUSINESS AND SOCIAL MEDIA - ARE YOU THERE?

Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Google Plus, LinkedIn... social media is here to stay. Is your small business on-line? How can you use social media to grow your business?

Social media is one of the most effective marketing channels available to any business. It allows you to respond quickly to your customers, get direct feedback from them, and build customer relationships. A customer can make a positive comment about your business. That comment is seen by that customer's social media base. As a small business owner you reach a larger portion of your target market who are likely to spend time on social sites. Social media sites are perfect to interact with your customers.

How can a small business get started on social media? Like anything in business, jumping in without a plan will see social media taking up your valuable time. A Web Site Designer and a Social Media Manager can go a long way in making your on-line presence a success. The foundation is a business Web site or blog, which will be used as a central hub. Next, you need to create your social media accounts - Facebook and Twitter are the largest social media sites. Follow key people or other businesses in your field. Engage with them by commenting on their postings, asking questions or sharing their postings. Watch how they use their social media. Link your social media accounts to your Web site or blog.

The most difficult part for small business owners, who are often solo entrepreneurs, is keeping their social media active, current and fresh. Search engines provide their users with fresh and relevant content. To get noticed on-line you need to update regularly. A lack of fresh content doesn't leave a good impression with a potential customer. Business social media success doesn't happen overnight. You need to keep in touch with your base and adding quality content. If you are posting a number of messages and getting no response, consider whether the message is relevant to your target market. If a potential or existing customer takes the time to mention you or ask you a question on social media, you need to take the time to answer them. Social media is not about bragging about your latest product or service. It is about developing a community of people who are interested in what you have to say because it is entertaining, educational or enlightening. Respond to questions, offer ideas and advice, and take part in discussions. Social media is word of mouth advertising in the digital era.
As a Social Media Manager, my tasks can include:
  • Setting up Facebook pages
  • Researching relevant content
  • Writing and posting content (e.g. tweets, blogs, Facebook posts, LinkedIn profiles)
  • Edit / proofread content provided by clients
  • Monitoring comments, questions and complaints
  • Adding and monitoring user competitions

    22 June 2012

    A BETTER FILE SEARCHER

    Finding a lost file on your hard drive can take ages. Have you ever needed to find a file buried somewhere in your computer, or needed to find a specific string of text inside a file? FileSeek can do that - lightning fast. It is a small programme and easy to use. It doesn’t use background indexing, so when FileSeek is closed your computer’s performance won’t be affected. FileSeek is a turbo-charged search programme. You can search with specific keywords, formats and case sensitivity. FileSeek doesn't just look for file names, it also searches through the content of the files.

    TRACK YOUR STOLEN LAPTOP

    If your laptop is stolen or lost, you can use the free Prey programme to track your laptop. As soon as the thief turns on the laptop, Prey will try to broadcast its location, even if it isn't connected to the Internet it will try to find the nearest open hotspot. All you need to do is send the laptop a message from your phone or another computer. Prey also lets you take screenshots to see what's happening on the screen. You can hide personal information remotely, and activate the Webcam to take a photo of the thief.

    REPAIR AN INFECTED COMPUTER

    Sometimes, no matter what anti-virus programme you use, your computer might still pick up an infection. You can sometimes sort this out yourself by using the free AVG Rescue CD. It contains various anti-virus and anti-spyware tools. You can burn it to a CD or install it on a thumb drive. You can then boot your computer from your CD or thumb drive. The tools can be used to recover your system, clean the mess and get back to Windows.

    02 June 2012

    LANGUAGE ERRORS ON WEB SITES

    Nothing looks more off-putting and unprofessional than spelling mistakes on a Web site, especially when it is a business site. On-line chatting and texting has lowered the standards for grammar and spelling. A UK-based Web site entrepreneur and Director of the Just Say Please group, Charles Duncombe, told the BBC News that "an analysis of Web site figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut on-line sales in half." He measured the revenue per visitor to the Web site tightsplease.co.uk and found that revenue doubled after errors were corrected. Spelling is important to the credibility of a Web site. A business with errors on its Web site does not inspire trust in consumers. You can't rely on your spell-checker either - use a human Editor.

    The most common errors include:

    It’s or Its
    It’s is a contraction for "it is" while its is possessive.

    Than or Then
    Than is a preposition that compares things while then is an adverb that indicates a time.

    Effect or Affect
    Effect is a noun and affect is a verb. Effect can also be a verb when used with an object.
    If the word is preceded by "an" or "the" then it’s a noun and should be "effect".

    They’re, Their, or There
    They’re is a contraction of "they are".
    Their is a posessive.
    There is a location.

    Lose or Loose
    To lose means to misplace something, while loose means not tight.

    i.e. or e.g.
    These are abbreviations for "illud est" and "exempli gratia", which is Latin for "that is to say" and "for the sake of example" respectively.
    Use i.e. when you’re trying to expand on a phrase.
    Use e.g. when you are giving a specific example of a class of things.

    You're or Your
    You’re is a contraction of "you are" and your is a posessive.

    Accept or Except
    Accept is a verb that means to receive something willingly.
    Except is a verb that means to exclude something or leave something out.

    Capitalisation
    1. Use a capital letter for the personal pronoun I.
    2. Use a capital letter to begin a sentence or to begin speech.
    3. Use capital letters for many abbreviations and acronyms.
    4. Use a capital letter for days of the week, months of the year, holidays.
    5. Use a capital letter for countries, languages, nationalities, religions.
    6. Use a capital letter for people's names and titles.
    7. Use a capital letter for trade-marks and names of companies and other organisations.
    8. Use a capital letter for places and monuments.
    9. Use a capital letter for names ships, aircraft, trains and spacecraft.
    10. Use a capital letter for titles of books, poems, songs, plays, films.

    23 May 2012

    THE ART OF MARKETING

    A grocer put up a sign that read, "Eggplants: 25 cents each - 3 for a dollar"
    All day long, customers came in exclaiming, "Don't be ridiculous! I should get four eggplants for a dollar!"
    The grocer would capitulate and package four eggplants.
    The tailor next door watched this going on all day and finally asked the grocer, "Aren't you going to fix the mistake on your sign?"
    "What mistake?" the grocer asked, "Before I put up that sign, no one ever bought more than one eggplant."

    05 April 2012

    HOW TO CHANGE THUNDERBIRD'S DISPLAY FONT SIZE

    Mozilla Thunderbird's default display font size (not the e-mail text font) is rather small. This is the font used in the folder pane, message list pane, menus, and elsewhere in the user interface (UI). You can easily change it by downloading the Thunderbird add-on Theme Font & Size Changer. You can also use this add-on in Firefox. Once installed in Thunderbird, you will see the button in your Status Bar, or you can use the Tools menu.

    REMOVE THE SIGNATURE DASHES IN THUNDERBIRD

    I recently changed my e-mail programme to Mozilla Thunderbird, after more than 15 years of using Eudora. I'm quite happy with Mozilla Thunderbird so far, and have made two changes that make it easier for me. The first change was getting rid of the dash-dash-space entry that automatically appears above your signature.

    You can change the configuration settings to append a signature without the dashes.
    Open Mozilla Thunderbird.
    Open the Tools menu.
    Select Options, then select Advanced.
    Select Config Editor.
    A popup will appear warning you that making changes may void your warranty or affect the "security, stability and performance of this application."
    Click the "I'll be careful, I promise!" button to continue.
    Find the "mail.identity.default.suppress_signature_separator" entry and double-click it.
    This will change the entry from "false" to "true" and change the entry to boldface type.
    Close Config Editor, and you're done.

    Warning:
    Making changes to the configuration files can cause problems. Avoid changing any of the other entries while you are editing the signature settings.

    GET RID OF, OR OPEN, WINMAIL.DAT ATTACHMENTS

    I often receive e-mails with attachments named winmail.dat which don't open, no matter what I try. The sender insists they have sent me the correct attachments, yet I only see the winmail.dat attachment and no others. If you have the same problem, a solution is available...

    How to prevent winmail.dat attachments from being sent:
    The culprit seems to usually be the sender who uses Outlook e-mails in Rich Text Format (RTF). The formatting commands are then included in the winmail.dat file. Usually Outlook may also pack other file attachments inside the winmail.dat file, which explains why the sender says they have sent me the correct attachments but I don't see them. By preventing Outlook from sending RTF e-mails, you solve the problem.

    To prevent Outlook from attaching winmail.dat when you send an e-mail:
    Select Tools > Options from the menu.
    Go to the Mail Format tab.
    Under Compose in this message format: make sure either HTML or Plain Text is selected.
    Click Internet Format.
    Make sure either Convert to Plain Text format or Convert to HTML format is selected under When sending Outlook Rich Text messages to Internet recipients, use this format:
    Click OK.
    Click OK again.

    If after this, someone still receives winmail.dat attachments, you can reset the format for individual addresses:
    Search for that contact in your Outlook Contacts.
    Double-click the contact's e-mail address.
    Alternatively, click on that contact's e-mail address with the right mouse button and select Outlook Properties from the menu.
    Make sure either Let Outlook decide the best sending format or Send Plain Text only is selected under Internet format.
    Click OK.

    How to extract files from winmail.dat attachments without Outlook:
    If you receive winmail.dat attachments with embedded files, you can extract them using a winmail.dat decoder. I recommend the free and easy-to-use Winmail Opener.

    28 March 2012

    CLEAN YOUR COMPUTER

    Computers need spring cleaning too. Here is a collection of free programmes that can help:

    PC Decrapifier
    There's probably a lot of unwanted junk installed in your computer. You could go through and remove each programme individually, but that would take ages. PC Decrapifier detects and removes many common trial programmes. These are often installed by manufacturers when you buy your new computer.

    CCleaner
    Every time you use your computer, it leaves traces... your surfing history, temporary files and cookies. This digital debris eventually clutters your computer and over time, slows down your computer. CCleaner is a comprehensive cleaning programme that will help you remove this clutter. It can also clean out file fragments, uninstall old programmes, and modify which programmes run at startup. It lets you specify exactly what types of items it can delete. You can also choose to analyse your hard drive first and then preview everything that CCleaner can delete.

    CloneSpy
    Duplicate files waste space on your computer, especially if you have large photo or music collections. CloneSpy is a free programme that can find and delete duplicate files. It will find and report duplicates. It can delete duplicates automatically so rather choose to move them to a separate folder for you to review first before deleting. Any files in the Windows folder should be left alone. These could be system files that Windows needs to function. Restrict your duplicate searches to your personal folders.

    Duplicate Cleaner
    Another cleaner. Indicate which folder to search and it will list all the duplicate files. Any files in the Windows folder should be left alone. These could be system files that Windows needs to function. Restrict your duplicate searches to your personal folders.

    RESCUE A WET MOBILE PHONE

    Dropping a mobile phone into the toilet is quite common, especially for those people who keep their phone in their back pocket. You can rescue a wet mobile phone by acting quickly. After recovering your phone from the toilet, remove the battery, pat it dry and set it aside. Pat the phone dry. Remove the sim card. Immerse the phone in a container of uncooked rice overnight. Rotate the phone every hour until your go to sleep. This helps draw out any water in the phone. Next morning, put the phone back together again and it should be working again.

    RESIZE PHOTOS THE EASY WAY

    Most photo editors can resize photos, but usually one photo at a time. When you need to resize a whole lot of photos, check out Image Resizer. This free small programme  installs in most versions of Windows. Once installed, you right-click a photo or group of photos, and then select Resize Pictures. You will see a screen with pre-set image sizes. Click the Advanced button to enter a custom image size. The programme automatically makes a copy of the photo to resize, leaving the original as is.