Competition is Good for Consumers, Email Broadcast Service edition

Out of all the email broadcast services that serve the SMB market, MailChimp is #1. Here’s one unscientific measure from new web app directory Best Vendor, and something more reliable from Google Trends.

Generally, MailChimp’s stature is deserved. One of my clients uses them for a regular newsletter, and we’re all happy.

But any market leader needs antagonists at their heels, or they become fat and unresponsive to customers.

Which is why I was glad to see Campaign Monitor add an RSS-to-email feature last week. MailChimp has had this feature for a long time, and Feedburner for even longer. This new feature is a bit hobbled with the absence of dynamic subject lines, but we should expcet that to come soon.

I have long admired the Campaign Monitor user interface — which IMHO is still preferable to MailChimp’s — and it’s reassuring to see them continue to develop their product.

MailChimp will probably never look like Ma Bell, but healthy competition means that outcome is even more unlikely.

Sending Client-Billable Expenses From Expensify to QuickBooksOnline

Expensify is a very slick and lightweight service for handling business expense reports.

QuickBooks Online is the cloud/Saas version of QuickBooks. It’s not pretty, but rather is a safe choice with a large ecosystem of bookeepers who understand the QB way.

Expensify and QuickBooksOnline have for some time been able to talk to each other via an API. QuickBooksOnline sends customer and account data to Expensify, and Expensify sends individual expenses to QuickBooks Online (hereinafter QBO).

Yet that connection only covers situations where your company recognizes an expense on the Expense side of QBO’s general ledger.

What if your company needs to bill customers for its expenses? You can do this with regular installed-software QB (as detailed here) but not with QBO. The basic Expensify-QBO connection puts expenses into a liability account, and it should ideally go into an AR account.

The good people at Expensify tells me that they’re working on a solution.

Here’s the workaround, in abridged form. I am skipping some steps.

You’ll need to purchase a $20/month middleware app called Transaction Pro Importer, obtained from Intuit’s QBO app store. Plus, you will of course need to establish the data connection between Expensify and QBO.


1. In Expensify, prepare a CSV export format that resembles the following. You are mapping Expensify data to Transaction Pro Importer’s “Credit Card Charges” schema.



2. Still in Expensify, export your completed expense report to your customized CSV. It will look like this:


02/14/2012,"Small World Coffee (princeton)",21.00,
"Reimbursable Expenses:Meals-Reimb","zzz Test Customer",
"Crucial Meeting.","Credit Card","Princeton Meeting 14Feb2012",660287,1


3. Now in Transaction Pro Importer, upload the CSV file you created.



4. Still in Transaction Pro Importer, confirm your field mappings and select records for importing (shown below).



5. Go to QBO to see your expense transaction. Note that Billable is not checked, even though we tried to force that with “LineBillableStatus” set to 1. That’s an annoyance we’re working on fixing.



Note that this post is just an outline, not an exhaustive help document. If you’re clever enough to connect Expensify and QBO, then you can bash your way through the entire process with Transaction Pro Importer. Their detailed help is here.

Hat tip to Angela Yeager for her help.

Four Great Remote Training Tools

As more companies use web-based apps to power their sales and marketing campaigns, we have become acutely aware of the need for good user training.

This winter we have rolled out installations of Solve360 (a CRM), SugarSync, Expensify, QuickBooks and various Google products.

The canned help for these services is generally good, but usually not enough to fully engage everyone. Personalized handholding and troubleshooting goes a long way towards full user adoption — which is the key to a project’s success.

If we’re not on-site, these are the four tools we use most often to help coach individual users along the learning curve.

chrome-remote-desktopChrome Remote Desktop

This is a free add-on app for the Google Chrome browser, which allows someone to give total control of their computer to another person in a remote location.

This is most useful for a “tech support” situation, e.g. if someone is having trouble understanding where to click in a new app, or has gotten lost in a web-based app.

Making a connection is pretty simple. The user opens Chrome, goes to the Remote Desktop page, and initiates a sharing session. Chrome provides a unique twelve-digit code, and they repeat it to me over the phone. I punch that code into Chrome on my computer, and the connection is made through Google’s servers. I can now “see” the user’s desktop in my version of Chrome, control their mouse, and make keyboard entries.

The above startup sequence takes about ten seconds. Screen lag is very minimal. Security is good: the code expires after a few minutes, and an inactivity timeout closes a connection automatically.

Webinar tools like GotoMeeting and WebEx have a similar function to “give desktop control” to a remote person, but Remote Desktop is vastly easier for ad-hoc use.

meetingburner1Skype and MeetingBurner

On the other hand, I may want to show my screen to someone else.

Skype allows 1:1 screen-sharing, and doing so is pretty convenient if you’ve already established a Skype voice connection with the remote party. Also, the Skype IM window permits you to share chunks of text like URL’s or a set of bullet points. However, if Skype gives you a dodgy connection, the display lag can be significant.

MeetingBurner, at this writing, is the freshest entrant in the webinar world. I use this app when broadcasting my onscreen actions to more than one person, or to a non-Skype user. Startup of MeetingBurner consumes about a minute of the broadcaster’s time.

MeetingBurner has a free tier of service, and a paid tier that enables the recording of webinars.

The latest beta of the Skype program for Windows allows 1:many screen-sharing. Yet the more attendees you have, the more likely it is that someone doesn’t have Skype. Better to use MeetingBurner.


So far, we’ve covered how to train people remotely in real-time. To convey basic usage of a web app to a group of users, we use Screenr to build canned tutorials.
screenr_logoScreenr records a portion of my screen, plus a voiceover. The resulting video is available for viewing online by the user, and even plays well on iPhone/iPad. Private sceencasts (which might show proprietary information) are possbile with Screenr’s paid tier of service.

We find Screenr most useful for demos that introduce a new app, or brief “skills” videos that coach someone through a particular feature.

Since these screencasts are recorded live and can’t be edited, they should be brief and introduced as informal tools.