At lunchtime, I had a bit of a dilemma: eat the grapefruit, which was what I really wanted to eat, or eat some strawberries, which are more expensive and which spoil faster.

I felt slightly guilty about letting the strawberries potentially spoil, so I grabbed them.

But then I heard in my mind the words of my old University of Texas economics professor: “Sunk costs are forever sunk!”

That simple sentence means that if you’ve paid for something, that decision is done, and it should not emotionally effect the decisions you make now. I paid for the strawberries, and that’s not going to change, whether I eat them or not.

What’s my goal? A pleasant meal. The meal would be nicer with grapefruit rather than with strawberries, given my current mood. So I should not let the cost of the strawberries drive my decision.

We encounter this in small business all the time.

“I spent a fortune to hire that guy — I can’t fire him now!”

“We spent a lot for that machine. I don’t care that it’s worse than what we did before, we can’t afford to just stop using it.”

“We’ve invested years in that product…we’ve got to make it profitable.”

No. No. No.

Sunk costs are forever sunk. What we chose to do in the past — what we spent in the past — doesn’t matter now. What we choose to do now should be what will advance our goals now.

Oh and by the way, I put the strawberries back in the fridge and ate the grapefruit.

With the 2010 version, QuickBooks added a new feature called the Company Snapshot. It gives you a consolidated screen of most-important information about your company’s finances.

quickbooks company snapshot

There are bar graphs, pie charts, and key lists of accounts. Most of them are related to income/expense trends, comparative figures for current/last year, and most important A/R and A/P accounts. Good stuff to get a handle on the financial big picture at one look.

Intuit gives you some up-sell options, but they don’t seem too intrusive.

These bar graphs show trends for income and expense, and you can view different time frames. This is a simple but very important metric for small business owners and managers to follow — are sales going up, or not? Are we making a profit, or not? A lot of businesses fail for lack of such basic financial information, and QuickBooks makes it easy to grasp the trends here very quickly.

Another bar graph I like is Top Customers by Sales. Look at it and ask yourself how much attention you are giving to those accounts. They are not ones to be neglected…rather, they are the ones most likely to continue giving you substantial orders or contracts. Again, QuickBooks 2010 makes it easy to see it.

There are 3rd party solutions that do even more with the dashboard concept for QuickBooks, but the built-in Company Snapshot is a good approach for a lot of small businesses.

QuickBooks 2010 introduced something new: a suite of optional products/services that integrate into QuickBooks. There have been 3rd party solutions available for QuickBooks for years, but the difference here is that these new products/services live on the web.

They are accessible directly within the QuickBooks application, by clicking on the App Center button. You’ll see the Intuit Workplace App Center.

Almost all of these solutions are available to try for free for a limited time. Then there is a monthly subscription fee if you choose to continue using them.

There are currently three main categories of apps:

1. Professional Services apps. These include document, fax, and expense managers and other efficiency-enhancers for professional offices.

2. Financial Services apps. Add-ins for accountants, tax practioners and financial advisors.

3. Field Service apps. Route and vehicle tracking and more.

There are also project management apps, marketing and CRM apps, management reporting apps, and a nice inventory analysis app.

The suite of available solutions is growing all the time and with it, the possibility of making millions of offices more productive.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the last in the series.

* * *

Me: Email seems pretty low-tech these days, but studies indicate it still dominates business-to-business communications. Any ideas about how accountants and other professionals can do more with email to enhance their overall marketing?

Allison: I love email marketing and for most people, it’s still the choice of communication online (as opposed to social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn). It’s very inexpensive to sign up with an email marketing service (iContact and MailChimp are two I like) that offers slick newsletter templates.

Accountants and IT professionals have a wealth of information that their clients and potential clients are craving.  Send out a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter with tips or let them know about upcoming seminars you are presenting.  The important things to remember:

1. Be consistent with your email marketing – set up a schedule and stick to it.  Send out your newsletter every month or quarter, so your list expect.  You don’t want to have someone sign up and then not email them for months.

2. Give your list useful information – it’s not all about selling.

3. Build your own list – don’t buy it.  You’ll be much better off with a targeted list of people who have a real interest in what you have to say.

4. Put a newsletter sign up form on your website and considering giving a free report to anyone who signs up.  They’ll have an incentive to sign up and it gives them a taste of the great information you’ll be providing in your newsletter.

Me: Any final tips or ideas for us?

Allison: Have some patience!  Inbound marketing is a great way to build relationships, drive traffic to your site and gain new clients.  But it will take time.  Give yourself 3-4 months before you can expect to see some results.  Once you do, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your online presence.

Me: Thank you, Allison!

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the 3rd in the series.

* * *

Me: What do you think some reasonable goals would be for accounting or other professionals who have a presence in social media? How would you recognize a win?

Allison:  First, determine your reason(s) for getting involved in social media.  Examples might be: drive traffic to your site, network with other professionals or establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Second, dedicate 15 minutes a day to social media and decide where you want to get involved.  Remember, even though Facebook and Twitter are very popular right now, it might not be the first place you need to start (depending on your industry).  Perhaps you start by answering questions in forums where your potential clients are asking questions.  Check out the Intuit Community forum or the QuickBooksUsers forum.

Some of your goals can be measured concretely with Google Analytics.  You’ll be able to see the amount of traffic coming from other sites and forums to your website.   You can even set up goals within Analytics to see if that traffic converts.

There are also other kinds of wins – you find a great referral source or you become known as an expert in your field.  These are not as easily measured, but equally important to your long term success.

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

  • Next blog entry: How accountants can use email to enhance their marketing.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the 2nd in the series.

* * *

Me: Allison, your Twitter profile lists inbound marketing, pay-per-click, social media, and email marketing as areas you deal in. Are any of those more critical for professionals trying to expand or bolster their markets?

Allison: Everything works to a degree, but you shouldn’t rely on any one method to grow your online presence. Each of these techniques works in a different way:

Inbound marketing: The idea behind inbound marketing is that you are drawing visitors to your site instead of pushing out your sales message.  So you want to ensure your site is properly optimized to be found in search engines, get involved in social media and forums and consider starting a blog.  All of these tactics will start a flow of traffic to your site.

Pay-Per-Click: Work with a PPC specialist (or learn on your own) to run ads on Google AdWords or even Facebook (if it fits for your business).  It’s a quick way to drive traffic to your site.

Social Media: With all of the knowledge service professionals have, they should get out there and share it.  On LinkedIn, people ask questions on LinkedIn Answers.  Start answering questions that you have expertise in or create your own LinkedIn group.  Get involved on Twitter by sharing great articles and listening to what your potential clients need.

Email Marketing: A must for any business.  Again – you have knowledge that others would love to tap into.  Share your smarts with others in a newsletter.

  • Next blog entry: Social media goals for accounting and other professional firms.

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing for service professionals. Her answers are worth a few blog entries. Here’s the first in the series.

* * *

Me: Allison, first of all, how did you get involved in marketing consulting? What about it appeals to you?

Allison: I have been involved in internet marketing for 9 years now.  I love that it is an ever changing field – there is always a new software, website or company that makes marketing fun and exciting.

Working as a consultant, I have the opportunity to work with many different types of businesses in various industries.  I love helping a business grow their online presence and seeing the results that come from the work I put into it.

Me: Let’s talk about marketing for professionals – accountants and IT consultants particularly. I deal with these professional communities a lot. What are some of the marketing challenges that professionals in those areas typically wrestle with?

Allison: One of the most important thing service professionals can do is distinguish their services from others.  There are many IT professionals out there, but an IT professional who caters to cosmetic dentists is much more specialized.   When you develop a niche and cater to that niche, you’ll be sought out.

Another issue I see is that service professionals tend to be more formal in their online presentation.  Websites tend to be more like brochures when they should be more personal.

With blogs, forums and social media sites, you now have an opportunity to be more interactive and share your expertise with others.  It gives professionals a chance to have dialogue with potential clients before you even meet in person.

  • Next blog entry: Which marketing and social media channels work best for service professionals?

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

Folks want free support. There’s nothing wrong with wanting free. I want free. Everyone wants free!

But for QuickBooks, I think there are some particular reasons people want and often expect free support:

1. For most users, QuickBooks is pretty inexpensive software, and people want inexpensive (free!) support to go with it.

2. Free is quite attractive to small businesses or nonprofits who are struggling to keep their heads above water in a tough economy.

3. There’s often a do-it-yourself ethos with QuickBooks. I’m going to save money by doing it myself — it’s easy, right?! If you can write a check, you can do your own books with QuickBooks! And when you (almost) do it yourself, it’s supposed to be free.

To be sure, we have a free QuickBooks Forum where tens of thousands of questions and problems have been asked and answered. It’s free, no strings attached.

And Twitter is a place for limited free support. Limited, because it’s difficult to ask and answer questions in just 140 characters.

The Intuit Community is a free support resource.

Otherwise, support doesn’t come free. And there’s a good reason for that…the people providing the support have to make a living at what they do. Our forums are amazing because there are a lot of members who volunteer their time to help other people out. I am so impressed with the altruism of our members.

But if you want to talk to someone now to resolve your QuickBooks problem, whether it’s at QuickbooksUsers.com or elsewhere, well, that someone has to make a living. Don’t we all!

How do you feel about paying (or being paid) for software support?