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28 May 2009

Testing the Waters, Toe by Toe - Which ERP system should I pick?

The second question in my mind, was around the accounting package for my business.

Having managed a couple of SMB Accounting Packages and having had to grapple with the complexities associated with them, I figured that I needed something that is really simple to use.

I certainly did not want to get mired in the complexities of managing a software application on site. Things like

1) Backing up the software application

2) Taking daily Server Snapshots for disaster recovery

3) Paying license fee for using the Software

4) Paying license fee for Users on the Servers

5) Paying for Terminal Server Licenses ( If I wanted remote access)

6) Paying for software upgrades

7) Paying for software management and support

etc. were aspects sometimes overlooked. I have seen people in various businesses going through this and tearing their hair out. The main point here is, it is hard to notice money flowing out in trickles.

Anyhow, I did not want to take this path when other options were available in the market. The solution for me was to find an application that sits on the cloud which would solve all the above issues at one go.

I was not sure how to go about finding one. As always, I started with a google search and it came up with a few applications. Figuring out how each of those apps work was taking a lot of time. I realised that if I go on like this, I will be researching forever and will not be able to reach anywhere.

I suppose one of the best (and the quickest) ways to learn is from others' experiences. So I decided to search for articles and blogs that talk about cloud computing and software-as-a-service.

I stumbled upon an article written by Brendan Lewis around "Accounting on a Cloud". The article really helped me to narrow down my search. I checked customer feedbacks on each of the software apps Brendan listed in his article and found Saasu to be the best fit for my requirements.

The best thing about Saasu was the ease of use & the simple layout. I figured out how to use the basic application in just a couple of days. I also did my BAS (Business Activity Statement) reporting in one minute.

I just had to run a report and it gave me all the totals and step-by-step instructions on which value goes to which column of the BAS statement.

Doing my BAS was a big deal for me as it was my first time. The other reason being, I have experienced first hand what happens when the accounting package fails to give correct BAS totals thereby forcing the accounts department to manually do the calculations!

In addition to all of this, the pricing of Saasu was phenomenal. They had a great pricing model where the cost was based on volume of transactions which was capped after a point. So worst case, I knew how much I would pay. Best case, I did not have to pay anything as it was free till a certain number of transactions per month.

Lastly, it was a web based application which followed the software-as-a-service model and I could access it anywhere and anytime I wanted. I would not need to worry about system crashes, changing backup tapes, renewing server licences, and so on...

Phew! Finally got that question answered!

Read Part Four - Business Structure

18 May 2009

Kangaroo Island - The hidden Gem of SA - Part 3

We decided that we will take it easy on the last day of our trip and checked out of the B&B at 9 in the morning. We headed towards Paul's Farm via Pardana. Had a quick Brekky there and continued our journey.

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By 11 AM we reached Paul's farm but it was closed. As we found out, there were two opening times - 12 PM and 3 PM. We were an hour early and decided to head towards Stokes Bay which was 10 minutes from there.

It appeared to be a tiny inlet of water and was filled with multi-coloured pebbles and beautiful stones. On one side of the inlet there were large rocks stacked high one upon the other in such a way that we could not see what was on the other side.

We walked over the pebbles for some time and then decided to do something else as there was nothing more to see. Suddenly we saw people coming through the gaps in between the rocks. We were curious to find out what was going on and decided to explore the place a bit more.

The path between the pile of rocks was magnificent. We were really excited, not knowing what to expect on the other side. We went deeper through this path (which was almost like walking through a cave).

The beach was amazing! It was really beautiful and had crystal clear water with white sand... We walked on the beach, soaking in the beauty of the place.

I also found an orange Starfish washed down by the waves. Had never seen an orange one before (except in the cartoons).

We lied down on the sand for some time, enjoying the sun and left for Paul's place just before 12 PM.

As we neared the place, we saw that the entrance to the farm was packed. There were 8 to 10 vehicles waiting to get in. At 12 PM, Paul arrived in his UTE to open the gates and we followed him into the farm. The cars were to be parked outside the farm and we had to get in by paying a modest entry fee.

The place was filled with animals. There were Kangaroos, Alpacas, Ducks, Hens, Sheeps & Peacocks walking amongst people. The animals seemed pretty friendly and used to being around people. First, there was an animal show and I got to carry a Roo in my arms. That was fun.

We were then taken to another area in the farm where we could see other kinds of animals. Emus, Deers, Ducks, Hens etc...were just a few of them and of course, more Kangaroos. We got to feed these animals too. I was a bit scared of the Emus as they were massive and looked none too friendly, to me!

Next, Paul said that he would bring out a "secret" creature from the small cabin and asked all the men whether they would like to volunteer their wives to hold the creature. Nykaj got excited and he wanted me to volunteer so he said that his wife is bold enough to eat a cobra's heart (I don't know how he came up with that! :) ). No one else came forward as the whole idea was to scare the lady in question, so Paul suggested that I do it to test my courage. I was asked to close my eyes. All the kids were screaming when Paul placed the creature in my hands. I opened my eyes and presto, a Marron!

From there, we went to another section of the farm where there was a Koala and couple of snakes on show. We got to carry the animals and take some pics.

Next we went to the area where birds were on show. I tried to get the birds to sit on my shoulder but they flew away and instead, went on to sit on Nykaj's shoulders. It seemed that the birds liked only men!

The entire show was really great! We had a fun time and by the time we got out, we were starving. We decided to go to Marron Cafe and have lunch.

The Cafe had its own label called Two Wheeler Creek. They also farmed freshwater crayfish – Marron. We went around the fish farm and saw how they farmed the Marrons.

Afterwards, we tasted a few of their Reds and ordered some Marron and wine to go with it. The food was delicious.

After lunch, we went to Kingscote and visited the Honey Farm and tasted some honey. We were tired by then and returned to Penneshaw before the sun set. Our Ferry arrived at 7.30 PM and we reached home by 11 PM.

We had a great time at Kangaroo Island. I would suggest whoever visits the place to spend at least 2 days to enjoy the beauty and the variety the place can offer. It is truely the hidden Gem of South Australia!

13 May 2009

Kangaroo Island - The hidden Gem of SA - Part 2

Next morning, we drove to the other end of KI which was about 175Km away from Penneshaw.

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On our way to Flinders Chase, we stopped at Pardana and had breakfast. Pardana was a small and extremely quiet town. We must have spotted a couple of tourists and three or four locals around. That's it. The rest of the area looked deserted and it felt a bit eerie.

We reached Flinders Chase in 2 hours and got Passes to enter the National Park. Our first stop was to see the New Zealand Fur Seals in their natural habitat. For the visitors to have a really close look at the seals, there was a wooden pathway that stretched out about 500 meters or so from the Cliffs.

The view that met our eyes was surreal. We must have spotted around 50-odd seals lying lazily all over the place. Some of them were hard to spot since it appeared as though they took on the same colour as the wet rocks.

After watching the seals for an hour from the deck, we moved on and then stopped at the Lighthouse.

The next stop was at Remarkable Rocks. And remarkable they really were... Massive granite boulders shaped by the forces of wind, sea spray and rain for the past 500 million years or so.

Next, we went to Andermel Marron Farm and Cafe to have lunch and afterwards, we headed towards Seal Bay to watch some Australian Sea Lions.

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The Seal Bay was a restricted area and we had to pay a fee to get to the beach and have a look at the seals at close range. It was a guided tour with 5 to 10 people in a single group. The guide gave a detailed description about the different families of seals, the behaviours of males and females etc etc...All Nat Geo stuff!

There were about 100-odd sea lions scattered around the beach. We ended up watching them for almost half an hour. They were lolling around on the beach. What a life! Or, so I thought.

But, as it turned out, these poor creatures have to go deep into the ocean searching for food, for 3 days at a stretch. If they do get back after managing to avoid the various predators in the ocean, they will sleep for the next 2 to 3 days and then, do it all over again. On second thoughts, not such a great life.

On our way back from the beach we spotted an Echinda.

It was almost 5 by the time we left Seal Bay. We had to get back to Penneshaw before it got too dark and 2 hours of driving were ahead of us. We were bone weary by the time we reached our B&B and dropped dead (well, almost) as soon as we finished our dinner.

Part 3 - coming soon!

11 May 2009

Kangaroo Island - The hidden Gem of SA

Kangaroo Island (KI) has been one of those places Nykaj and I have always wanted to visit but never got around to doing. We have heard from a lot of our friends that the place is almost surreal in its beauty. Finally, a week before Easter we decided to head off to KI.

As usual, planning our trip at the last minute meant that we were in the waiting list for both accomodation and Ferry Tickets. Luckily we scraped through and got everything booked. Every time something like this happen, I would think to myself that I should be a bit more organised in such matters, but I guess, last minute planning is a great catalyst to ignite our holiday and adventure spirit.

We started early and drove around 120 Kms to reach Cape Jervis. From there, we caught the 12.30 Sealink Ferry to KI and reached the Island at around 1.20PM.

We checked into our B&B, Sunset Retreat, in Penneshaw which was just 2 minutes away from the docking area. Gail ran the place and it was well kept. I think she and her husband have been living there since their retirement. Anyhow, after unloading our stuff, we had a quick chat with Gail and got a few ideas on how to plan our trip so as to make the most of our visit.

We were starving by then and stopped at Dudley Winery. We ordered our lunch and also did some wine tasting. We really liked their Shiraz and Merlot and ended up buying a few of those.

After that nice meal, we headed towards Kingscote which was 60Km from Penneshaw. We drove around Kingscote a bit and all of a sudden, spotted a few pelicans by the sea.

We parked the car and walked down to the beach. We were a bit wary of approaching the pelicans but managed to walk stealthily towards them and gingerly lowered ourselves to sit beside them. As it turned out, the pelicans were least bothered. So much for our caution.

The sun was about to set and the place looked beautiful. On one side, there was the vast blue Antarctic Ocean and on the other side, happy holiday makers having a BBQ on the beach with their friends and family. An idyllic setting.

After we left the beach, we managed to locate Kingscote IGA just as they were closing for the day, sped through the aisles of the supermarket; grabbed some chicken and pasta and checked out.

From there we headed towards Sunset Winery. Their Sparkling Shiraz was one of the best of its kind we have tasted. We stacked a few bottles in the car and suddenly realized that it was getting darker by the minute. We had to watch out for the Roos, so decided to call it a day and returned to the B&B.

07 May 2009

Testing the Waters, Toe by Toe - What business structure should I adopt?

The first question I had in mind was about my Business Structure. I had a basic understanding of this, all thanks to the Accounting Course I took during my MBA. There was only one problem; I did it 4 years ago!

So I needed a bit of a brush up. Since I wanted to bootstrap my business, going to an accountant at this "very early stage" was out of the question.

My first step was to find relevant free online resources and they were aplenty. I stuck to Govt. sites and while browsing through them, I stumbled upon DTED's (Department of Trade and Economic Development) web site. DTED is the South Australian Government's key economic development agency.

I was excited to see that DTED provided "Absolutely Free" training to people starting their own business. I went berserk and registered for all the available courses I thought would be of help to me. There were courses ranging from Accounting & Finance to Exporting for Beginners.

These courses were run normally from 5.30 PM and lasted 3 hours. The classes were facilitated by people who ran multiple businesses over the years and/or subject matter experts. I found this very useful as the training was relevant and comprehensive.

The other advantage was, the attendees were mainly Small and Medium Business owners. This meant that I was able to understand the common issues and possible solutions pertaining to the Small and Medium Businesses.

Coming back to where I started, I attended a course on Business Structure and it made all the concepts clearer. After the course, I was beginning to think that I should start as a sole trader and set up a company & trust once it makes sense to do so. However, after a few days, while I was discussing my plans with a couple of other Business Owners, they suggested that I should go for the company structure by buying a shelf company online.

They also talked about the Tax and Legal implications that I would need to consider. I got a bit confused. I realised that I really should consult an accountant after all, but I did not want to go to the one we already had!

I was not sure where to start as there were so many accountants in Adelaide. A situation similar to the one we encountered while searching for a builder for our home...

When I did the Business Structure course, I found that, in addition to training, the center also provided Free Mentoring. The mentors were volunteers and veteran business owners.

My mentor gave me the details of a few accountants but added that ultimately it is a personal choice and that I must feel comfortable talking to him/her. The other important aspect to consider was to see if the accountant was proactive in giving appropriate suggestions and updating the client with relevant information. The advice he gave me really made sense as I could relate to the "proactive" bit, with my current accountant!

A few days later I went for the "Understanding Business Finance" which was a follow-on to the "Business Structure" course. It was run by an Senior Accountant at BDO who gave the attendees a free 2-Hour consulting session.

I decided to make use of it as a part of my "finding an accountant" saga. Luckily, I was quite comfortable discussing things with him and he knew exactly what he was talking about. He gave me some good suggestions based on my circumstances and he also gave me a simple plan of action which really made sense.

Finally, that piece of the puzzle was solved!

Read Part 3 - Testing the Waters, Toe by Toe

05 May 2009

Testing the Waters, Toe by Toe

After winding up my full time job in Feb, I seriously started thinking about what business I should dive into. I had 4 or 5 ideas in my mind, ranging from Wine Export to an Online business.

I could not do everything at once even though I would have loved to. Thankfully, better sense prevailed. I did not want to spread myself too thin and increase the probability of failure.

Before I jumped into anything definite, I decided to set aside a few months as my "Thinking Time". The whole idea was to utilize this period to analyze what other businesses were doing, understand their pain points and hopefully, manage to avoid those pitfalls myself at a later stage.

In addition to the above analysis, I had to define the skeletal structure of my business. This part was very important to me as the very foundation of my business was going to be built upon it.

Aspects such as

What business structure should I adopt?

Which accounting package (ERP system) should I pick?

How should I manage the record keeping?

What Customer Relationship Management Tool should I use (CRM system)?

Do I start with a simple Direct Marketing Software?

How do I go about building my Web site?

Given the choice, should I go for an Opex or a Capex model?

How should I tackle Scalability from the beginning itself?

How do I go about getting my business plan done?

etc... were just a few of the basic questions that needed to be answered. I had to look at one question at a time even while deciding on the direction of my first step.

There was a mountain of work ahead of me and only so much time.

Read Part 2 - My Own Business - A leap of Faith