There are many software tools in the modern accountants’ armoury that were not available to the previous generation, such as e-mail and Cloud accounting.  One that has proven essential for modern, successful businesses is an efficient Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

(Some rights reserved by Viktor Hanacek)
(Some rights reserved by Viktor Hanacek)

CRM is exactly what it says; a process or methodology to manage relationships with existing and prospective customers.  It isn’t software driven and fundamentally it doesn’t require software more advanced than to record interactions with customers and remember key dates; a basic spreadsheet and email client could do the job.

As with many things, however, modern software has simplified and semi-automated processes that could otherwise be both time-consuming and cumbersome.  Many businesses have a computerised, centralised record-keeping system that all business users can access and update as and when they interact with a particular client.

An effective CRM system is virtually essential if your business has a sales force or a customer services team that operates remotely from the central office or each other.  One arm of the business needs to know what the other arm is doing or has done, not only to maintain internal processes but to maintain interactions with new and existing customers.

Traditionally, CRM is seen primarily as a marketing tool, acting as a central hub for mailing lists.  Computerised CRM is particularly good for this activity as it enables you to segment your contacts lists across a variety of classifications of your own choosing, ensuring that the right marketing messages get to their relevant recipients.  It also enables you to personalise the greetings and other information within a marketing message, which is now the expected norm from the recipient of any business communication.

However, reducing CRM to just a marketing or sales tool is short-sighted.  It can and should be integrated into other business systems and processes such as invoicing (easily done with modern cloud accounting software) and business alerts.  It can also be used to drive business intelligence reports, for example analysis of clients by size, business type, fee income or calculating the cost of customer service support by client (the number of interactions your business has with a client – and the business cost of those interactions – against the actual return you receive from them).

For the modern accountant, CRM can be a time-saving device that not only helps your business but can also help your clients’ businesses, for example by ensuring that you contact clients at appropriate junctures throughout their business year according to each client’s records, and it can also help semi-automate communications with your clients in a manner that is not too impersonal or broad for them.

Any form of intelligent, sensible automation will bring cost savings, and computerised CRM is a prime example of this.  As I have often highlighted in these columns, the speed of technological advance is making new technologies easier to use and more accessible, not least in terms of mobility and remote access though apps on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

All of this aside, there is another key reason why a business should make the effort to maintain a CRM system and that is data protection.  Under both the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts, all businesses and organisations have a legal duty to protect people’s information that they hold in a secure manner and, in certain circumstances, to make that information available upon request.  A robust CRM system will help to meet these obligations while also bringing the other benefits that I have already described.

If you do not yet have a form of CRM system for your business, start thinking about it now.  Not only will it bring efficiencies and help to ease business stresses, it will also give you peace of mind when it comes to managing and protecting your clients’ data.

For more information on technology that help with your accountancy services, please visit, call 01656 725800 or e-mail

Prelude Accounts can also be found on Twitter via @PreludeAccounts.

Computer passwordA key feature of using a computer as well as the internet is choosing a secure password to protect your information. There has been a lot of coverage in the media recently about the Heartbleed bug and how peoples’ online passwords have been hacked, so choosing secure passwords (and keeping them secure) has never been as important as it is today.

So what is a secure password, how do you choose one and how do you keep your accounts secure? Here are 7 tips that will go some way in protecting your information on your computer and on the internet.

1. Don’t use anything that is too simple or obvious

This might seem obvious itself, but research has shown that a lot of people still use easy-to-remember passwords as such as “Password”, “Password123” or their own name.

While chances are that you will never forget them, they are going to be the first one attempted by any individual or computer program that is trying to hack into your accounts.  Avoid such simple solutions at all costs.


2. Avoid using anything that people could readily identify with you

You may think you’re being clever, but don’t choose a password that has anything to do with your profession, personal life or hobbies.

You would be surprised about how much of this information is already publicly online, and the surging popularity of social media means that people are unwittingly revealing more and more about themselves to comparative strangers.

So if you were (for an example) an accountant, you shouldn’t choose “bookkeeping” as a password.  If you happen to be an accountant who is known to enjoy fishing, “salmon” or “trout” would also make for very bad passwords too.

Think very tangentially when it comes to choosing a password, especially if you feel the need to choose a dictionary word just so you can remember it (see below).


3. Use a mixture a letters, numbers and other characters as well varying capitalisation

Don’t just rely on words and letters for your password; don’t forget that you have a whole range of characters available to you via a QWERTY keyboard. Numerals and punctuation marks can be used when generating passwords, and you would be foolish not to do so.

Many computer progams and online sites also allow for case-sensitive passwords as well, so bear this in mind when choosing a new one.  Don’t be hampered by too literal thinking in this regard either; who says that the capitalisation has to be at the beginning of a word.

So Arcadia1954! is a stronger password than just Arcadia alone, but aRcaDiA!1954 would be securer still.


4. Avoid dictionary words

Going back to over-literal thinking when it comes to selecting passwords, why should you choose a dictionary word for your computer or online password?

The simple answer to this is that words are easier to remember than just an abstract series of characters.  Indeed, many online accounts and computer programs inadvertently encourage us to choose memorable words as passwords, as many of them offer security or clue questions to remind us of our passwords in the event that we forget them (i.e. “what was your first pet called?” and other such examples).

However, the hardest passwords to crack are the nonsensical ones.  A password such as YJ5£s2!is far more secure than SpotTheDog, but admittedly they are far harder to remember, especially if you have to recall different passwords for different progams or websites (see below).  If recall is not a strong point, you could always make a discreet written note somewhere to remind you but this would also compromise that password.

A halfway house solution to this is to use numbers instead of letters in your memorable password so you could have something like SwanseaThr33 rather than SwanseaThree or Swansea3.

Another solution is to use the first letters of a memorable phrase or sentence from a favourite book, movie, play or song. For example, fans of Shakespeare may want to choose IMBTFOL,PO. (”If music be the food of love, play on.”) or 2B0RnOT2b… (“To be or not to be…”).  Such a password is memorable for the user, but hard to crack for another individual or a malicious computer program.


5. Don’t use the same password for all your online accounts and computers

Ideally, you should use different passwords for all your different computer logins and website accounts, or at least as many different ones that you are capable of remembering.

The rationale for this is simple; if one of your accounts is compromised with a particular password, so will your other computer or online accounts that happen to share the same password.  This is because many people use their e-mail address as their login or username as part of the password process, so it doesn’t take a lot of effort for others to hack into your many accounts if they already have your e-mail address and have identified the one password you use for all of them.

Maintain as many different passwords for as many different computer accounts and logins as you think you are capable of managing.  The more passwords you have for all your different accounts, the securer you will be.


6. Make sure that you are logging into the correct, genuine site at all times

One common way in which passwords are compromised or obtained by malicious parties is by getting people to login in to fake websites that purport to be and look like the genuine articles.  This is known as Phishing.

These fake websites are often circulated via spam e-mail or via dodgy search engine results, so make sure you are on the correct website before putting in your details and hitting return or enter.

It can be very easy to fall foul of these scams, especially if you are not paying full attention to what you are doing.  However, you can protect yourself by always double-checking that you have the correct web address in the web browser of your computer when online, and/or by contacting the company directly via phone or official e-mail if you receive an e-mail that looks suspicious.


7. Don’t share your passwords with anyone else; change all your passwords on a monthly basis

Never share your passwords with anyone else, even family members, as this could compromise your security.  This is in case the trusted party (who you shared your password with) inadvertently uses in the aforementioned fake sites or leaves it around as a written note (to take just one example).

There will be some situations where you may have to share your password with a trusted and known third party, but please be sure to change that password to something new at the earliest opportunity.  Not only does this re-ensure your online or your computer’s security, it also absolves that trusted third party of any unwarranted suspicion in the event that something goes awry with that particular account.

As a matter of course, you should be changing all of your passwords on a monthly basis.  This will significantly minimise the risk of any of your online or computer accounts being compromised, although it can be a demanding undertaking if you have many computer or online accounts and if you have unique passwords for each one of them.

Probably the best thing to do is to strike a balance between how many different passwords you have and how often you change them, as that would be a pragmatic approach to maintaining your passwords’ security without it becoming a full blown task in itself.


If you follow the seven tips above, you will have significantly minimised the risks of your computer or online accounts being hacked.  However, no code is unbreakable and occasionally your passwords can be inadvertently or maliciously put in the public domain by a security failure at the website in question.  Such security breaches (for example, the aforementioned Heartbleed bug) often make the national news, but do keep an eye out for stories on sites like BBC News’ Technology pages or on technology websites such as Mashable, The Next Web or TechCrunch.

How To Use A Computer - What Is An OSWe have recently blogged about the efficiency and ease-of-use in managing your accounts online, using programs such Prelude Accounts, but it is easy to forget that many people are still not entirely comfortable either with using computers or with computer terminology.

In the first of a series of articles, I will explain some of the most common and fundamental terms used in modern computing that will hopefully demystify computers for those who are not in the know.

What does Operating System or OS mean?

An operating system (often abbreviated as ‘OS’) is the basic program that allows you to interact with a computer, such as putting documents or files in electronic folders and helping you choose which computer functions to open and run and which to close and shut.

In other words, an operating system makes it easier to use our computers. Readers of a certain age will recall a computer language called DOS (Disk Operating System), in which you had to type in commands to open computer programs and do other activities with your machine. DOS is an early form of operating system and is still in use today.

Operating Systems today are often characterised by having what is known as a ‘desktop’, which is a visual representation of all your files, folders and programs as icons. You open a file, folder or program either by moving a cursor over it with a mouse and clicking a mouse button or, in some very modern cases, touching the screen directly. Behind the main desktop, there are often different files and folders and files within folders that you can organise as you see fit or as your work dictates, just as you would with actual files and folders on an actual desktop or in a filing cabinet.

All modern computers require an operating system for everyday use, and there are many different versions out there. The most common is Microsoft Windows, which has now gone through 8 iterations, with Windows 8 being the most recent (not all Windows operating systems are known by a number; there were versions called Windows XP and Windows Vista along the way).

Windows is most commonly used on PCs, and versions appear on some smart phones and tablets as well. Computers made by Apple are known as Macs, and these use a completely different operating system known as iOS which, although vaguely similar in appearance and use to Windows, actually operates in its own unique way.

It is therefore important to know which operating system you have on your own computers and devices when buying software and computer programs, as you need to be sure that they are compatible with each other. Often software developers will create and sell two or more different versions of the same program so that people with different operating systems can use them.

A good analogy is with video cassettes in the early 1980s when you had two formats, VHS and BetaMax. Both recorded and played back film, but a video cassette designed for one of the two formats could not be used on a video player designed for the other format. So it is with modern computing.

Windows and iOS are the most widely used operating systems, but there are other operating systems available, probably the most notable of which is Linux. Linux is free to download and use but is favoured by more advanced computer users.

As I mentioned, modern mobile phones and tablets also use operating systems, including Windows and iOS. One of the most popular operating systems on mobile devices is Android by Google.

One advantage of using an online accounting system such as Prelude Accounts is that it sidesteps the issue of operating systems altogether by being run through your computer’s browser, which is a program used to view (or ‘surf’) and interact with the internet.

By using the browser and the internet, online cloud computing systems are not operating-system specific and can be used on a variety of devices. This is often referred to as being “platform independent”. You don’t store and run the program from your machine or device but you do so through the internet, which is hosted externally to your machine.

How To Use A Computer - Web BrowserThis is the second in a series of articles in which we explain some of the most common and fundamental terms used in modern computing.

We hope these articles will help people who are new to computing or who are still not entirely comfortable either with using computers or with computer terminology.In particular, we hope they will help people get the most out of Prelude Accounts, our online accounting software.

What is a Web Browser?

A web browser is a computer program that is used to view web pages that are hosted on the internet. It is primarily and almost exclusively used to access content that is not on your computer but stored elsewhere on the worldwide web.

To use a web browser, your computer must be connected to the internet and you must have a web browser installed. Most commercial computers you can buy will have a web browser pre-installed, along with an operating system. With PC computers, it is highly likely that the web browser available to you will be Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, whereas Apple Mac computers will favourApple’s own Safari.

Internet Explorer and Safari are not the only web browsers available. Many people choose to use third party web browsers, believing them to be superior in performance and inter-connectivity with other devices they may have connected to the internet. Two of the most popular web browsers areGoogle’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox.

What do I need to know about Web Browsers?

Web browsers are very useful tools with many features that you should familiarise yourself with if you are to make the most of them.

Arguably the most important thing to know about a web browser is the address bar (or URL bar),which is the long white box normally at the top of a web browser, into which you would type the web address of the web page that you want to visit. A web address is normally a series of words and characters strung together by full stops and punctuation that uniquely identifies a web page on the worldwide web.

Most web addresses begin with the prefix ‘http://www.’ and end with a suffix such as ‘.com’, ‘’ or ‘.org’. Web addresses can be created and purchased by individuals, and are often customised to reflect the branding and location of the company or organisation they represent. For example, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s main web site address is

Often, you will see the terms ‘web site’ and ‘web page’ used interchangeably. Indeed, I do so in this article once or twice. Generally, a web site consists of a collection of individual web pages, in the same way that a leaflet or brochure contains pages. Typically, a web site will have a home page (like the BBC one above, itself a web page) that contains a menu of links to help you navigate to the web addresses of other web pages in the site.

If you do not know the address of the web page you are looking for and do not know addresses of web sites that will cover the topics that interest you, there are special web sites called Search Engines that will help you find an appropriate web page. There are several popular search engines, but by far the most popular is Google (, followed by Bing ( and Yahoo! (

Search Engines have an empty white box that is similar to the address bar at the top of the browser, but instead of entering a web address, you type words and expressions that are relevant to what you are looking for (these are known as ‘search terms’). You then press the search icon (normally a magnifying glass), and the search engine will present you with a list of web pages that it has identified as being relevant to your search terms. This list is known as the ‘search results’ and all the items listed are ‘hyperlinked’, so you can view each specific web page by clicking on the underlined text or name of the web page in this list.

Note that Search Engines will search for content on the internet, not on your computer. If you are looking for files kept on your own computer, you must use a different search function connected with your operating system (the program that helps you interact with your computer).

One of the most useful features of a web browser is the ability to ‘bookmark’ web sites that you visit regularly or that you want to revisit on a later occasion. Once bookmarked, the user can simply click on the permanent link in the browser that has been created, which will then take the web browser straight to the bookmarked web page in question, without having to type the address again. You can also categorise and file bookmarks on your web browser, with the bookmark tabs or folders being listed horizontally under the address bar.

Unless you change the settings, most web browsers keep a detailed log of the web pages you have visited (known as your ‘History’), which is useful if you want to revisit a web page you have visited previously, but for which you cannot remember the web address.

Increasingly, computer programs are operated through web browsers rather than through your computer itself. This is to do with the fact that the programs are hosted and run through the internet, meaning that they can be accessed by many devices (not just one) and that your computer is not slowed down by having to store a computer program. It also means that different computers can use these programs regardless of their make or model or of their specifications (within reason).

Prelude Accounts (an online accounting software package) is one such program that is hosted and accessed through a web browser rather than kept (‘hosted’) and operated from your computer itself.