Tech Tips

Use Your Scroll Wheel to Open A New Browser Tab
When you want to quickly open a link in a new tab, look to your mouse. After placing your cursor on the link, click down on your scroll wheel. It’ll automatically open the link in a new tab and save you from opening a new tab, copying the link location, and pasting it in your browser.

Use the Spacebar to Scroll Up and Down A Page
Using a scroll bar — or worse, arrow keys — to move up and down a web page is tedious. So why not move up and down a page more quickly using the spacebar? Tapping on the spacebar on a web page will allow you to quickly scroll down. If you want to go back up, hold Shift while you tap the spacebar.

Use “Site:” to Find Content On A Single Site
If you’re searching Google but don’t want to look for results in just any old website, try out the search engine’s “Site:” command. From within the Google Search box, type “site:” followed with no space by the site of your choosing. For instance, “” without the quotation marks. You can then add a query after the URL and press Enter. Google will then only display relevant results from the site of your choosing.


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My Love/Hate Relationship with Excel

I love Microsoft Excel.  Just ask anyone at Common Sense Solutions.  I whiz through worksheet works of art to show how I came up with answers while team members peer back at me frantically trying to keep up.  I can solve any problem with a spreadsheet.  I’ve even used a spreadsheet to keep track of all the major league baseball stadiums I’ve visited (36 so far, by the way, including some that have since been torn down, and only 7 left to see).

Why Do I Love Excel?

Excel makes my work easier.  There are so many features in this product to save time and more easily organize information for analysis.  There are wonderful tools for sorting, filtering and searching.  Combine these features with tables, pivot tables, look-ups, multi-column sorting, data links, etc. to reduce your number crunching time and increase your accuracy.

  • Formulas help.  Solve complex problems in a simpler way without a lot of manual effort.  There are so many formulas and operations in Excel — like finding sum, average, etc.  Excel is a great tool to solve analytical problems or apply mathematical functions on tables containing a lot of data.
  • Excel’s ability for quick graphic visualization makes my presentations more understandable to those viewers who aren’t as passionate about numbers the way I am.  You can easily create charts and graphs, including 3D graphs and pie charts.
  • Most software provides for exports into Excel or Excel-readable formats.  So I can export data and then add the sorts, filters, subtotals that I want.

Why Do I Hate Excel?

Here are a few of the reasons I dislike the idea of managing your company’s business with Excel:

  • Time waster.  It is extremely time consuming to create and maintain Excel spreadsheets.  In a database, data is more streamlined, takes up less space, and data entry is faster and more accurate.  Instead of wasting time looking for the correct spreadsheet locations, a database allows you to keep all that information in one place.  This means much higher efficiency, and a much smaller margin for error.
  • Data integrity.  For starters, databases have an important feature that Excel files don’t – it’s called data validation.  What that means is that a field (Excel cell) that is meant for a date only allows a date, or a Yes/No answer or maybe a dropdown list, thereby verifying the quality of information going in.  This lack of checks and balances that are required by a database program helps “garbage” data to accumulate in a spreadsheet.  Good software does some data validation, generates errors and inevitably asks, “Did you really mean to do this?”
  • Data history.  Even with cloud computing solutions, sharing spreadsheets among team members can be difficult — data can accidentally be over-written, deleted or changed. In the short term, this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but if the data’s important enough to record, it’s probably important enough to keep for historical purposes.  Since spreadsheets aren’t really designed to store history, companies can end up easily losing their historical data.  This makes it hard to spot trends over time and forecast for the future.  By using a database, you keep your data intact so you can refer to and evaluate it later.
  • Who’s got the data?  Because Excel spreadsheets are essentially meant for one user at a time, I’ve seen spreadsheets get emailed around, posing the problem of information getting lost in team members’ inboxes, with new data overwriting old data and never getting back to the original shared file.  Companies have no way of knowing how many duplicate files have been made, or where the file is being stored besides the “official” location.  Excel doesn’t offer a way to track all versions of a document floating around.  If asked, would you know how many versions of the same spreadsheet are in use in your company?  And where are they located?
  • There’s no going back.  If you try to exit without saving changes, Excel reminds you.  However, Excel won’t remind you to create a backup. Database programs typically are backed up, archived and more easily retrievable.  If you do store a lot of data in spread-sheets, remember — backup, backup, backup!
  • Limited Security.  You can password protect an Excel spreadsheet to keep unapproved people from gaining access to a file, but it doesn’t protect the data from those who have the password.  In Excel, there’s not a good way to track user access or changes.  People who have un-monitored access to the document can change, manipulate, and duplicate data with minimal oversight.  While these changes are generally good-intentioned, it leads to issues with data integrity and accountability.  Passwords offer initial protection from outside eyes, but a manager cannot review who has or has not seen/accessed the data.

If Not Excel, Then What?

More small businesses are seeing the value of good data for decision making in all areas of the business.  Excel is great as an analysis tool and should be part of your business system, but not the entire business system. Managing projects, sales, inventory, etc. requires something more sophisticated.  There are tons of great resources available that are specifically built for the job, the trick is to make sure you’re using the right tool to get the job done.

Using Excel as a database can get you into serious trouble — a database and a spreadsheet are not interchangeable tools. In the end, remember to love Excel for what it’s meant to do, and whatever database program you end up using, make sure it easily exports data to Excel.

Turn March Madness into Profit Pandemonium

If you’re a sports enthusiast, you’ve no doubt heard of March Madness, the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. It’s one of the biggest, most exciting and fun events in all of sports. But did you also know it’s projected that the loss of productivity in the opening week of March Madness could cost employers nearly $4 billion in lost revenue, and that each hour of the workday wasted on building brackets or watching games will cost employers $1.3 billion?

This year, we’re proposing that instead of putting time into March Madness, put time into an activity to make your business more productive that we’re calling, “Profit Pandemonium”.

What is Profit Pandemonium?
Profit Pandemonium is our challenge to a business owner to make their business more profitable and efficient. You can’t change everything at once, so take a look at all the parts of your business (your teams) and determine which ones can provide you the biggest return on your investment bets.

How Do You Play Profit Pandemonium?
Start by defining profit opportunities that are critical to the success of your organization — let’s call them ‘Teams’. These Teams already exist throughout your organization (accounting, estimating, job costing, field communication, service delivery, etc).

Next, determine which teams are ‘winners’. For purposes of this game, let’s define winners as those teams that can produce the biggest margins. I like visuals, so I am going to use the sports bracketing system to compete my teams against each other to determine winners in the profit department (my sample brackets are below). The biggest profit makers move on to the next bracket. Eliminations at each round will produce finalists, or two ‘top qualifiers’. Place your bets (both money & time) on these finalists.


Are Your Top Qualifiers Really A Winning Team?
Just because you have a top qualifying team doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing at maximum peak performance. In the tournament world, to improve you can conduct team training, introduce new plays or sharpen old ones, or replace non-performing players or coaches by signing on new talent. In the business world, this translates into training, process improvement, new management or technology improvements. Since our expertise is technology, that’s what we’ll focus now.

For each of your teams, do you have systems in place to win the game of Profit Pandemonium? We’ve compiled a list of the most popular software used by contractors. Understanding what exists goes a long way in making informed decisions and improving performance.

Bracket 1 – Sales
Estimating: Spreadsheets rule for many companies, and they can get quite elaborate. With multiple users, many variations of estimating spreadsheets get created, making updates for material and labor costs or target margins hard to manage. Look for a database driven estimating system so every person estimating is using the same costs and markups. Also, make sure that the final estimate be-comes the job budget, without re-keying.

CRM: A good CRM system allows you to track, manage and nurture your prospects from the first time you contact them to when they accept your bid and beyond. It should provide a history of quotes, allowing you to see your “sweet spots” for winning profitable deals and where you are probably wasting your time. Ideally, CRM should be integrated with the rest of your business critical software so all the data you need will always be at your fingertips.

Bracket 2 – Project Management
Project Management: A strong project management suite gives you a full set of tools, including document management, resource man-agement and scheduling. How much of your project management is being done via email and spreadsheets today?

Purchasing: No one likes surprises at any time on a job, especially at the end. A good purchasing system gives you control of the committed costs on your jobs, and matches invoices to vendor quotes. Improved purchasing can’t help but improve the bottom line.

Bracket 3 – Job Cost
Job Costing: Job costing is the heartbeat of a contractor’s office, essential if you want to ensure a profit on every job. Good software tells at a glance where each job stands in terms of estimated vs. actual costs, percent complete, cash flow, over/under billing and most important, profitability. The more closely monitored the job, the more profitable the project.

Field to Office Collaboration: Streamlined communication and collaboration with mobile solutions keeps everyone in the office and the field on the same page.
You should see big benefits by:

• Accessing reports on demand
• Tracking field productivity daily
• Streamlining payroll time collection & processing
• Creating field logs & purchase orders on the fly
• Identifying & communicating change orders daily

Bracket 4 – Service and Tool tracking
Service Management: If you do service work, how efficient is your dispatch, work order processing and billing? Profitability increases when service work is billed accurately, daily.

Tool & Equipment Tracking: Good tool & equipment tracking software should allow for tracking all equipment and tools used on your jobs to make sure your jobs are realizing their true cost.
What would the benefit be of:

• Having both status and location tracking
• Tracking tools never returned from jobs
• Avoiding tool “hoarding” on jobs
• Making sure equipment is maintained

Tips for Playing Profit Pandemonium
Looking for an experienced coach to help you with your picks? We’ve got you covered with 25+ years of experience helping companies pick the right software to maximize their profits. We have many success stories to guide you as you fill out your brackets and produce a winning team.

Are You Ransomware Ready?

When it comes to cyber threats, you’ve got a lot to look out for, from Trojans to Worms. But we’ve got some more bad news. Ransom-ware attacks are on the rise. In 2017 alone, ransomware attacks rose a whopping 250%, with those attacks hitting the U.S. the hardest.

What is Ransomware? A type of malicious software, Ransomware encrypts critical data on a PC, desktop or mobile device and blocks access to those files by the data’s owner. Aptly named, Ransomware requires a ransom be paid, typically in Bitcoins, to the attacker in order to regain access to the files.

Ransomware Attacks in Recent History — On average, small businesses lose over $100k per ransomware incident as a result of down-time. Below are a few attacks to hit in recent years and how much they are estimated to have caused in damages.

• CryptoWall – $325M
• CryptoLocker – $30M
• Petya/NotPetya – $1.2B
• WannaCry – $4B

Advanced Persistent Threat — Cybercriminals typically use an advanced persistent attack to target larger organizations, often with the objective of soliciting financial information. This type of attack can be executed over a long period of time and is difficult to detect.

Backdoor Trojan — A backdoor Trojan allows cybercriminals to take control of a system without permission. Posing as a legitimate program, a Trojan often spreads though phishing campaigns that fool users into accessing malware through everyday activities such as clicking links. Once the Trojan is installed, it opens a “backdoor” to allow the malicious party access to the infected device.

Distributed Denial of Service Attack — A DDoS attack is meant to prevent users from accessing specific systems or URLs online. In this attack, a cybercriminal will flood a website with large quantities of information requests, which look like legitimate requests from multiple sources, which essentially renders the site inaccessible to legitimate users while under attack.

Flooding — In this security attack, hackers will send a large amount of data to a server or web location. The result is a break in the systems proper operation, due to a utilization of all resources on the victim machine, crippling its processing power.

Social Engineering — Social engineering uses psychological manipulation to persuade users to perform actions or reveal sensitive information. Lies, bribes, extortion and impersonation are often used in this type of attack. This is often considered the most effective attack vector.

SQL Injection — SQL Injection is an attack where the attacker uses a web application to access data or execute “true” statements on a database. Captured data could be anything contained within the database even if encrypted. By doing this, attackers can impersonate identities, modify or delete data or completely take control of an entire database.

Worm — A worm is an attack that has the ability to spread itself indefinitely and self-replicate. By exploiting Operating System (OS) vulnerabilities. This replication happens automatically and does not need human activity in order to spread.


With so many cyber threats out there, what can you do to avoid being “threat popular”? Here are some of the critical components every small business should have in place.

Next Generation Firewall — Perimeter defense against any potential attack, Next-Gen Firewalls are designed to block unauthorized access to your computer system or network giving you granular control over inbound and outbound traffic.

Endpoint Protection — More than your traditional Anti-Virus, modern endpoint protection technologies provide behavior based protections, sandboxing, forensic analysis and more to help combat modern threats.

Privileged Access Management — In an age of cloud computing and SaaS services, management of access is critical — whether it be a simple password solution or full blown identity management with Privileged Access Management — protection and control of credentials is essential.

File Level Backup — A good file sync and share tool is more than just a way for your team to collaborate on the go. It’s a vital component to your organization’s security strategy. With file level back-up, you can ensure that even in the event of a site wide disaster, your team can maintain anytime access to their critical files.

Server Level Backup — Your last line of defense in a site wide disaster, backup and disaster recovery solutions allow you to recover at the systems level. An absolutely necessary piece of your organizational infrastructure, backup and disaster recovery delivers peace of mind that your systems will always be recoverable, even when disaster strikes.


1 – AO Kaspersky Lab (2017): It Threat Evolution Q1 2017
2 – CNN (2017) Why Ransomware Cost Small Businesses Big Money

6 Tips to Keeping Your Data Safe

Do you sleep well at night knowing all your company data is secure and safe? If you do, you might be kidding yourself as each day hackers find new ways to infect systems to get to your data.

It only takes one time for your data to be hacked or released to someone that will use it against you and your clients, which obviously carries a substantial risk to your company.

Here are 6 areas that can help keep your data secure.

1. Employee Access. It is essential to put limits on employee access to company data. Computers and servers with password protection will ensure this, but remember to change passwords and access rights when members of staff leave your company - particularly if you store data in the cloud. Having a password policy in place is essential for keeping your data secure.

2. Security Software. You should have firewalls and anti-virus protection on all devices used by your company. Also, employ encryption protocols to make it difficult for them to view the data if they do breach your security. All Windows computers now come with BitLocker, which is a full disk encryption feature that should be considered.

3. Updates. It is essential to keep all your devices up to date with updates. This includes the operating systems and the soft-ware installed on them. Usually all updates released have security updates included in them which is critical to keeping your data secure. For mobile devices this can also be handled by a mobile device management system like Microsoft Intune.

4. Remote Wiping. With more mobile devices being used by companies, the concern of those devices being lost or stolen is a large risk. Remote wiping software can delete data and potentially stop this issue. Apple offers a remote wipe function as standard (provided devices are signed up to iCloud) and Google offers a similar solution via the Google Apps Device Policy app. Office 365 also offers a solution with Intune which is a mobile device management application that can wipe devices.

5. Choose A Reliable Cloud Provider. If you store much data in the cloud, make sure you choose a reputable and secure solution. Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Apple all offer leading security for their cloud solutions, and you can purchase more storage when necessary. If you would prefer to keep your data on your own private servers, choose a well-known hosting provider.

6. Make Sure You Have Cyber Liability insurance Coverage. We’re not affiliated with any insurance carriers, but often clients will request that we help them fill out the questionnaires for cyber insurance coverage, which is generally relatively inexpensive coverage.

ERP? It’s Greek to Me!

What is ERP and How to Buy One …

ERP (Enterprise Resources Planning) software isn’t something new, it’s been around for quite some time.  An ERP solution encom-passes technology that manages all of a company’s business critical operations.  For a contractor, this functionality typically includes estimating, project management, accounting, service and scheduling, field operations, human resources, sales, inventory and more. That’s a lot to cover under one software umbrella!

A few ERP programs have all or most of the functionality required.  The other alternative – a point solution – handles only one aspect of the business, such as estimating. The number of choices can get confusing, and we talk to many people who just don’t know what the best solution is for them.

I recommend if you are looking for new business software, start with the following steps. I call it the DART process.

1. Define your business goals and current needs.  Seems obvious, right? However, you’d be surprised how many people miss this critical first step and jump right into shopping. In order to make a good decision on new software, what are your drivers and compelling events?  The more detailed and defined your answers are, the better your chances of finding the right system. As part of this step, define the current issues, bottlenecks, and problems you have with your current processes and systems.  Using this list will provide a great tool in mapping your existing needs to a new ERP system.

2. Assess your budget.  Systems vary in cost and functionality, so it’s important to realistically understand what you can spend.  We’ve been in the room when people fall in love with that perfect $50,000 solution, and share their disappointment when they can’t do it because they have a $10,000 budget. Keep in mind that with today’s cloud solutions you can reduce the upfront investment significantly allowing for more buying power, but that purchase will cost more over the long run.  When assessing your budget, look at not only the up-front investment for the new solution, but the cost savings by implementing the new system as well. Understanding your return on investment will help quantify the financial impact and may even justify a bigger budget.

3. Resources Required. Once you have determined your project and budget, you will need to understand the impact on internal resources required to implement a new system.  Who will be your internal project manager? Who will be using the software?  Who will be the stakeholders of this project? For the project to be successful, it is important to get agreement and buy in from the top down on what the goals are, and provide direction and assistance to those employees participating to make it a success.  It is also very important to understand how the new system will affect everyone and how much time the team needs to spend for the project to be successful.  If employees already have a heavy workload, they might resist spending more hours on a new system unless they fully understand the benefit to the company and to them individually as well.

4. Timeline. What are the compelling events driving your company’s go-live date?  There are many considerations on the best and worst times to implement a system such as peak season, holiday and summer hours, or month end or quarter end.  You don’t want to implement a new system during your busy season if you can avoid it.  Sometimes you can’t avoid scheduling is-sues, but planning for them in advance goes a long way to a stress-free implementation.

Now you are finally ready to start talking to vendors and shopping for a new system.  Armed with the information you have collect-ed in the above steps, comparing the features and functionality of software to meet your needs should be easier.  We know that making a decision on which software to choose to run your business is a critical one. If done correctly, the next system you buy should be the last system your company ever needs to buy.

If you start down the DART process and find you have a lot of questions, that’s okay – it’s complicated and not something you do on a regular basis.  But we do! For the last 25 years, we’ve helped businesses find and implement new software.  So if you’re thinking about new software to improve your business in 2019, give us a call.

Estimates and Budgets

During the course of each year as we talk to clients and prospects, the subject of estimates, and the conversion of those estimates to a budget will often come up. We’re always surprised to find out that the common practice within that company is to rekey a detailed budget into backend accounting software. We’re surprised because there are better alternatives.

One option – How about an estimating system? The biggest drawback to using Excel for estimating is a lack of standardization. We’ve seen many firms where each estimator has their own spreadsheet and the way they calculate labor and material may be different from another estimator who works for the same company. If one spreadsheet is used across the company, users can face issues when using Excel in a multi-user environment, making it tough to get everyone on the same page.

While Excel is good at performing calculations, there is plenty of room for human error. For example, you’ll need to build formulas into the spreadsheet, and these formulas can easily be altered, either on purpose or by mistake. Mistakes in formulas can cause drastic discrepancies in your numbers, and it can be difficult to pinpoint where the mistake is coming from.
One estimating system that might work for you is Pro-Est, a product that integrates with many construction accounting programs. Pro-Est is now all cloud-based, includes both on-screen takeoff and estimating databases, and can automate the creation of a budget. You can create a new job AND import the budget right from within Pro-Est.

If you already have an estimating system. Many estimating programs are industry specific. The programs available for electrical contractors, for example, won’t really work for an excavator, and vice versa. Once you have trained your estimators and have your estimating database set up, there aren’t many compelling reasons to change.

It is rare, however, that any of those systems can’t create an output file in Excel or comma delimited (csv) format that will have the estimate summary. That estimate summary can almost always be mapped with a data import tool to allow you to import each final estimate to the budget – no rekeying should be necessary.

Even if spreadsheets are still the answer. Excel is versatile and flexible, allowing for custom formulas to make calculations. One of Excel’s biggest selling points is its ability to com-pute complex mathematical formulas quickly and accurately. Excel also offers a variety of functions and formats for data that allow the user to input repetitive data with minimal effort. We’ve seen some monster estimating spreadsheets!

No matter how large your Excel file is, or how many tabs are used to come up with the final estimate, we can usually map that estimate into a budget import file format.

The bottom line. If any of these options look like they may be a fit for you, give us a call. We’re happy to help arrange a demo of Pro-Est, show you how to map your current spread-sheet for budget import, or help create a custom import. We’ve even created custom im-port applications for those rare instances in which the estimating program is not returning results that map the way you want to your estimate.

Shiny New Gadget of the Month

Clocky, the alarm clock that runs away.  Never Oversleep Again!

You can snooze once but then Clocky will jump off of your nightstand, and run around beeping, determined to get you out of bed.


Clocky is the fun and crazy alarm clock on wheels. He jumps from a 3-foot high nightstand, and then off he runs in different directions every day.
You can set your own snooze time and control how long your snooze lasts. The next time you hit snooze, Clocky rolls into action. Don’t want to snooze at all? You can disable the snooze completely and when your alarm goes off, Clocky will waste no time leaping into action forcing you to get up and out of bed.

Clocky is perfect for anyone who has trouble waking up in the morning or just needs a little (or a lot) of help getting out of bed.



By now, most of us have realized that the IRS is not going to call you and demand money over the phone. Microsoft, Dell, HP etc. will not call you to inform you that your PC is infected.

The latest twist to come out of the ever-vigilant counter culture of nefarious scammers is to impersonate your boss and ask you to purchase iTunes gift cards. They usually email you posing as your boss, owner, CEO or other easily identified leader of your organization. The emails attempt to get you to think that he/she is in a very important meeting and must have iTunes gift cards as soon as possible to give as gifts to a very important new client. Here is a sample of an email I received recently:

I am in a meeting right now. I need you to run an errand for me at any Walmart,CVS,Target,Walgreens or Best Buy near you. I need iTunes gift cards to send out to a client today as thanksgiving gift. Confirm if you can handle this?

A lot of folks don’t want to run afoul of the boss, so they oblige and purchase the cards. The scammer instructs them to take pictures of the card numbers and email them to him. By the time he gets the numbers, your money is gone!

A couple of common sense ways to detect this fraud:

First, check the email address and headers (check with your IT support folks if you don’t know how to see the full headers). This will let you see where the email actually originated. Most of the time, it won’t even be your supervisor’s email address. If it is, call him/her. Chances are, the email account has been hacked.

Second, call your boss. If you can’t get through with a phone call, send a fresh email to his/her company email address. The scammers will probably tell you it’s their private email address. It is, it’s just not your boss’s email address.

Third, has your company ever used iTunes cards as gifts to clients? Chances are, it is not a part of your corporate gift strategy.

If you do give in and purchase the cards, what can you do?

Apple will sometimes reimburse you, contact them along with local authorities and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at You may not get your money back, but you have learned a valuable lesson.

The best way to avoid these types of scams is education. Ask your IT company to come onsite and give employees training. It’s necessary to educate them on security protocols and keep them updated on scams, malware, phishing and all the threats that are waiting for them on the Internet.

For more information, reach out to Common Sense Solutions. We can help keep you safe.


-Written by Marty Hooper of CSS

Managing all the moving pieces of your service team can be a headache

Managing all the moving pieces of your service team can be a headache.

Use the ComputerEase Service Management module and make those headaches go away!
This module easily allows you to:

  • Track work orders
  • Attach purchase orders for work completed
  • Set markups
  • Import hours worked to payroll
  • Automatically schedule preventative maintenance work orders for service to be performed on a monthly/quarterly/bi-annual/annual basis
  • Generate contract billings automatically for monthly/quarterly/yearly invoicing
  • Assign contracts to a piece of equipment to track service maintenance schedules
  • Generate reports to track contract renewals, billings, history, and other detailed information.
  • Determine profitability by site, tech, work order, customer, etc.
  • Use the dispatch board to enter/edit, assign, print, and manage work orders for scheduling

The best part is that Service Management is fully integrated with Accounts Receivable, General Ledger, and FieldEase.