5 Tips for Running Your Business Efficiently

compter person

 

Most people think a professional organizer is a little like a house cleaner, but many of my clients run small businesses or have me come to their professional offices. In thirteen years I’ve seen a lot of these offices and have come up with 5 pieces of advice for how to run your small business or professional office efficiently. These stem from the common mistakes that I see business owners make over and over again.

 

  1. Have Job Descriptions for every employee – Even if your employees have been with you for many years. In fact, they can even help you develop the job description. Find out what they are doing day to day, then compare that with what you want them to be doing for your business. A lot of issues can be resolved with clear job descriptions. Plus, it makes it easier to do a six-month or annual review; compare their performance against the job expectations. And it makes it easier to replace an employee who quits or moves on.

2. Divide and conquer – Too many small businesses have workers who they expect to be the Jack or Jill of all trades. The “generalist” is often pulled in many directions and does not have time to put a lot of thought or effort into any one task. But if you have more than one employee or consultant, find out their forte, their specialty what they really enjoy and let them do it well. Then you as the business owner or principal can focus on what you do best. For many business owners, that is business development or sales. Let others run the day-to-day operations and only get involved if there’s a problem.

3. Avoid the threat of “the bosses wife.” – I know that may sound sexist but I’ve seen it many times. A man owns a business and the wife “helps out.” If her role is not defined, if she doesn’t have a title then the workers might feel she is only there to spy on them or to have her opinion heard on how things should run in the office. If she is a partner, give her that title and specific roles. If she is an employee, like anyone else she needs a clear job description.

4. Have a plan for Financials, Customer Service and Marketing your business and review it every 6 months. So many small business people get caught up in working in their business that they forget to plan and work on their business until it’s too late. And that usually happens when you lose a major client or your leads dry up. It is a constant cycle of managing the money, having a Customer Service plan and routine to keep your customers happy and then a Marketing plan to keep new clients coming in. Some basic software that can help with these tasks are: Quickbooks, Constant Contact, and Survey Monkey.

5. Hire Sub Contractors as needed – If your business is not lucrative enough or steady enough to employee people then consider hiring sub contractors on an “as needed” basis. With subcontractors, like employees you should have a written agreement which includes pay scale, confidentiality and insurance information if you have a job that requires them to carry insurance. With sub-contractors there is less pressure on the business owner to keep them busy a certain number of hours per week. But you have the ability to again “divide and conquer.” If you’re not good at bookkeeping or marketing, hire someone to do that for your business.

What do you find difficult about running your business efficiently?

Organize Your Home-Based Business

cover shotMany moms I know are trying to create that life balance with a home-based business. It’s a great idea, and I should know because I’ve tried a few! When my first child was young, I sold Mary Kay. That was a great way to go out in the evening, meet with other women and make a little extra money. I also got my own products at a discount, which saved money too. But I soon decided I did not want to be out at night when my kids were in school all day. And keeping inventory was becoming a problem. So I created my organizing business, which had no inventory, and the hours I work evolved every year as my children grew along with my client base. So here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help keep my business running smoothly. Keep in mind, that you’re never finished with this process, it’s more a “rinse & repeat.” You find what works well with your life as it is now and stick to the basics.

  1. Decide your hours – when the kids are small, working at night and on weekends might be a good idea if your spouse can take care of them while you’re out. When they are in full time school though, I found I wanted to work 9-4 so I could be there when they left and when they got home. Whatever works for your family – set the hours and stick to them. Take off your business hat when it’s time to be mom and vice versa.
  2. Create an office – Believe it or not I see people who work from home and drag their laptop all around the house, have paperwork everywhere and wonder why their business is not organized. Even if you have a small desk and 2-drawer file cabinet in the corner of a room, you can make it an office. I find it’s easier to concentrate on work when I sit there with everything I need at my fingertips.
  3. Keep a list of clients – From your first one to the person who calls you on the phone just to ask about your pricing. This will give you a list to go back to when business is slow. You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet or go to a Contact management system so you can send them information via email.
  4. Communicate regularly – Speaking of list of clients, what can you say to them? Well, a blog that goes out the same time each week, a monthly newsletter with some tips or news or an Evite for a special event. These are all ways to get in front of your customers over and over again. You never know what will spark their interest!
  5. Be easy to deal with – I see so many people caught up in logistics of running their business that they fail to just listen to what the customer needs and fulfill that need. Too much formality may scare some people off. Whether it has to do with payment, or scheduling or what type of work you are doing, try to be flexible and meet the customer’s needs.
  6. Use the phone! Given all the ways to communicate with people now, we often forget the phone. It is personal so that is key in a service-based business. Pick up the phone and check in with a no-pressure question that is specific to your client’s situation. When my appointment calendar is empty, I call it dialing for dollars. Just by making phone calls I will start booking with people who had been “meaning to call me.”
  7. Always look professional – in my business we get dirty but professional, and I always error on the side of being a little dressed up especially on my first meeting. As I get to know a client, I mirror their image and then step it up one notch. So if the client wears sweats, I might wear jeans and a casual top. If I’m working in an office of course I wear dress pants and a blouse.
  8. Share some personal info – but not too much! In a service business we get to know our customers pretty intimately. It’s good to share your own stories so they feel comfortable with you. But hesitate from giving too much information to where it becomes a discussion all about you. You are the professional; they are the clients so it’s really all about them.
  9. Say Thank You and ask for referrals – No surprise here but referrals are a big part of a small business. Many of us forget to ask for them! Make a point of this a few times a year and maybe offer an incentive to your clients for sending you their friends.
  10. Assess your financials monthly, quarterly and annually – When you love what you do and the checks are coming in, don’t forget to record them! Keeping track of your income & expenses may surprise you. You may be making less than you think or you might have peaks and valleys throughout the year. Use Excel or QuickBooks to track your money so you know what is worth doing over and where you may plan ahead for slow times of the year. Quarterly reports can help you predict the rest of the year and annual assessments can help you adjust your overall business plan.

What do you find hard about running your small business?

Relocating an Office – How to Organize It

Relocating an office. How to organize it2

Guest blog by: Ella Andrews

 

Changing offices can be a difficult and stressful transition to make. Organizing an office is a tough job, especially as it can affect the everyday efficiency of a business. Having some useful do’s and don’ts can transform the move into an easier transition.

 

 

1) Make sure you plan and don’t rush

Take your time. As mentioned before it is a difficult task and cannot take place in one day. Having patience and taking time towards the move can avoid missing any last minute details. Implementing an action plan, or a numbered checklist of duties allows you to anticipate and foresee possible issues that may arise. This will avoid any time-consuming blunders, and will make the move quicker and more efficient. Also, having a diary to keep track of how many days are left and what duties need to be fulfilled will improve the work pace.

2) Assessing Location

While considering location there are a few factors that need to be assessed. How much proximity is there to competitors? Also, how easily accessible is the office? How many modes of transportation are nearby to the office, such as bus stops and train stations? The office should not only rely on one mode of transport; this could limit the number of clients coming to the office, and eventually affect the office’s profits. How popular is this location? If clients have not heard of this location how will they get there? These are all factors that need to be considered.

3) A Fresh Start

While relocating offices, sorting out which documents and files should be kept and which should be thrown out is important. This will allow the move to require less storage space and will be a fresh beginning in the new office. Also, reviewing what equipment should be shifted in the new office is important, as some equipment may be damaged or not be of any use. Selling old equipment or machinery could help pay for some of the packing materials. Also, donating equipment could also be a way of getting rid of unwanted items, yet again giving the office a fresh start.

4) Packing Materials

The move will consist of fragile objects, having appropriate packing material could prevent any type of damage from occurring. Especially whilst moving you need to consider how durable the material is since it could be a long distance of travel. For instance, having plastic to wrap certain items like computers could prevent water damage from occurring. Marking and prioritising boxes of what needs to be unwrapped or opened first could help you to find objects quicker. For instance, marking the box that is carrying office stationery will avoid wasting any time and will help avoid confusion as to where certain things have been stored.

5) Removal companies

Making a list of quotes given by a  few good removal companies and comparing quotes would be a good option as it could save you some money. Also as well as having quotes, ensuring that the removal company is trustworthy and has a positive reputation is also necessary. Looking at a few customer reviews will give you an insight into which removal company you should choose. There are some removal companies that do not provide packing materials; therefore doing research into which companies provide the best service and offer a good quote is necessary.

 

6) Planning the office

The layout of the office is important, as factors such as Health and Safety need to be considered. Identifying where the electricity sockets are in the office and determining how the electrical wires are going to be placed, as this can avoid any trips or falls from occurring. In addition, testing out how strong the Internet connection is in the office could determine if using a router where it can be placed within the office.

 

 

Ella Andrews is dedicated writer and keen home improvement specialist. She gets inspiration by exploring new sources of information regarding household maintenance. Presently she writes mostly about office organizing. 

Organizing After a Business Conference

We’ve all been there. You go to a business conference and you accumulate great ideas, business contacts and therefore business cards, as well as free products. No matter how organized you are, it’s a little overwhelming to re-enter your real world with all this new-found stuff and excitement!

As I recently came back from such a conference, I wondered how many days (or hours) on average it takes my colleagues to unpack their suitcases and put away all their new items? So I decided to test myself, do it in a day and document the process I used. So here it is, for all you other entrepreneurs and business travelers:

1. Compile receipts – Obviously this was a business related trip so you’ll need to save receipts for tax purposes. While I traveled I put all receipts in a pocket in my wallet. When I paid cash and could not get a receipt I wrote myself a note and put it in the same place. I also use one credit card for business so the receipts will get dumped in that credit card’s file folder and will be compared to the next bill. I also totaled them up for my own curiosity about the cost of the trip.

2. Connect with Business Contacts – I put business cards in one spot in my travel bag as I collected them. I also made some notes on the back of each card as to why I was saving it. Some people were company representatives, some were board members in my same position from another city and others were just personal acquaintances who I spoke to because of a common interest. When I arrived home, I sorted them, connected with each on Twitter and Facebook and will write personal emails to those who I would like to keep in contact with. Business cards can get filed, or scanned and saved into your contacts list.

3. Review Your Notes – If you’re lucky enough to actually learn something from your conferences like I do each year at the NAPO National conference, you’ll want to review your notes, highlight the gems and then create an Action list for tasks that you want to start working on immediately. Some courses might have been informational but you’re not going to use that information right now, so you can file it in a reference folder. Other info may not be useful to you ever, so recycle it. The conference you attend might also like feedback so fill out the survey after you have looked over your notes.

4. Gather your freebies – What is it with expos and trade shows that makes you want to pick up every free item someone is giving away? I like to think I avoid that temptation being a minimalist at heart. But sometimes I take items for my kids (cheap souvenirs) or my clients. So divvy up the goodies and either toss the rest or use some as prizes the next time you speak somewhere. I know my clients are always excited about another canvas bin, Command hook or file folder!

5. Start Fresh! Going to a conference can open your eyes to new possibilities in your business. You can’t do it all and change everything, but decide what goals you would like to set or new avenues you want to pursue and incorporate them into your business goals. Post your action list right in front of your desk so you can see it daily. Add the day to day tasks into your planner that will help you reach those goals.

One thing I learned for my next conference is to pack a small bag with wheels. That will save my shoulders in the airport and walking around the expo!

What take-away do you have from your last business conference?

 

Summer Sanity Savers – Review

The first thing I like about this book is that it’s short and to the point. Because as a work-from-home mom of three, who has time to read a 200 page How To book?

Prerna offers some great ideas for how to streamline your workload , which really apply to all year, not just the summer. And she offers some great suggestions for delegating, simplifying and prioritizing all the other tasks that go along with being a mom and having a home to run.

I agree that when you delegate to other people, and give your kids responsibilities in the home your business will grow as a result. Years ago I hired a cleaning person to come twice a month so now I just have to straighten daily with the help of my family and do basic cleaning on the in-between weeks. Financially it makes sense too because I pay her less per hour than I make. Less time cleaning = more billable hours for me. And I don’t worry about when I’m going to clean the house.

There are several applications and helpful links that Prerna provides. Personally I’m going to visit Quick Notice and WWSGD to help grow my contact list automatically and create some Canned Responses to emails. I think these will be great time savers for my business.

I love the meal planner sheets because although I sometimes do this in my head, it helps to write it down so that my kids and husband can see the list and we can do a “first one home starts the dinner” kind of approach. In my case, I do not work from home every day, but rather run a business out of my home.

The parenting and activity ideas were also good for pre-school children but the one thing she doesn’t address is the coordination of schedules when your kids are older and more active.  When you have more than one child and throw part-time jobs, summer camps and having friends over into the mix, it gets nutty. The author admits that her husband also works from home and they coordinate their time with their daughter – which is nice and tidy but not a reality for many moms. If she thought the summer with one three-year-old was tough to work through – my life would look like a battlefield in comparison! (Maybe this will be covered in a sequel.)

Everything You Need to Know About Spring Cleaning & Organizing

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Organizing your home

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The ‘Working from Home’ mini eBundle will help you stay sane and productive when the kids are home and you need to work. It will also help you organize your direct sales business, and, along with an eClass, to learn about establishing office hours and a schedule that will help you run a family and a business. And, if you’re looking into starting a home business, or already run one, there’s an eBook about how to be a work at home mom.

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This mini eBundle will help all of us with meal planning and involving the kids in cleaning so we can work and live more efficiently. There’s also support here for the mothers of special needs children and those in the military to organize their homes even more efficiently than their military service.

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This eBundle will be available March 24th until April 7th for only $20. That’s a savings of $133! So hop over and buy it now!

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It’s not too late to get organized this year!

Every year around this time I receive calls of “help!” with regard to helping clients get their paperwork in order for taxes. Here are some basic filing tips that bear repeating:

Like Christmas, tax time comes the same each year so there’s no reason not to be ready for it. I know that circumstances change with homes, business, investments, etc. But if you have the usual numbers ready to go, getting the totals on your tax forms should not be that difficult.

  • First of all, ask your accountant what he/she needs and what back-up information you need to save. Don’t just give her/him everything that may be related to your taxes or everything you gave last year, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him what he wants and no more.
  • Now make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. You can make these actually hard copy folders or folders on your computer. Simply drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you have your own business or you travel for business, keep a mileage log in your car. Or use a mileage app. For every appointment write down the starting and ending mileage, total mileage and purpose of the trip. At the end of the calendar year, tally up the mileages and take your deduction allowed by the IRS. You can also use an app on your phone to do this.
  • Again, if you have business expenses for your work, use one credit card for only business purposes. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. Or you could make all medical payments on one credit card, and use those statements for the year so you don’t have to tally receipts. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Finally, once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this year’s, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

Words of Wisdom from Ben Franklin

Those who know me know that I love the Franklin planner system. It’s so logical, simple and tactile. It helps me start every day with a plan and priorities. When I need to juggle several schedules this is where I go to gain sanity. So as we celebrate the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, I was thinking about one of our favorite sons, Benjamin Franklin. The man did everything! He wrote, he governed, he invented – he created systems. Here are 5 of his most famous quotes and my comments on how they can help us structure our lives to be as productive as he. Well, almost as productive.

  1. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” So when deciding where to spend your business dollars, investing in your training or that of your workers is always a smart move. With regard to raising our own families, putting academic pursuits before social, monetary or leisure, is also prudent.
  2. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Try telling that to a teenager who is sleeping-in all summer! But seriously, I think we working women don’t put enough emphasis on sleep. It is essential to our well being. We need at least 8 hours every night and should be encouraging our children to get the same. Routine is the only way to do this. Go to bed the same time each night and wake up at the same time.  Try getting up a half hour earlier than usual, and write your list of the 6 most important things to do.  You will feel refreshed and productive.
  3. “Drive the business or it will drive thee.” I think I want to post this above my home office desk. How many times do we let our business drive our life? That’s why it’s important to have a business plan, a marketing plan and a daily routine, especially if you have your own business. Revisit these when things seem out of control or off track. Re-write them if necessary at the beginning of each year. Be proactive, not reactive.
  4. “Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to get leisure.” This is another way of saying, be productive with your work and earn your leisure time. First of all you won’t be able to afford the leisure you seek unless you are making money. And secondly for those who procrastinate or work with no plan, the work never seems to end. With daily goals you can finish when you’ve checked off the last item on your list. Then you can enjoy a daily leisure or a full fledged vacation with a clear mind.
  5. “If you know how to spend less than you get, then you have the philosopher’s stone.” How appropriate that I just looked at my company’s financials. The year is half over and I wanted to see how I was doing. Confession, I spent more than I saved – however not more than I earned! So it’s just a matter of re-allocating funds first into savings before spending.  How many people in this world keep spending without a glance at what they have made? How many are living on credit? Live within your means and set budgets to control your spending.

What other founding fathers have inspired the way you live or do business?

Could you use some Administrative Assistance?

One problem with being a solopreneur (and I’ve been one for nine years now) is we have no one to handle the administrative work.  With Secretaries Day approaching I am often reminded that I would love to be able to hire an administrative assistant.  Actually what I need is a scheduling secretary, but with three kids who are active and multiple clients every week, that person would have to follow me around and be inside my head at the same time.  Even more frustrating is that my accountant husband told me the income level I need in order to hire someone full time. Let’s just say I’m not there yet! So in the meantime I do it all: the writing, the scheduling, the social networking, the delivery of services, the invoicing and the promotion. Whew, I’m tired just typing this!

So what’s a control freak to do? Well, I’ve come up with interim solutions until I get to that income level where I can just hire someone to do my logistical work so I can concentrate on organizing, writing and speaking.

  • I have kids, so I’ve trained them.  This is not a sweat shop, but it’s not a free ride either. Since they were 5 years old, my kids have put away their toys, clothes and cleaned their places at the table.
  • I took the craziest time of day (4-6 pm) and delegated the duties. Someone walks the dog, another person sets the table, I make the dinner and we all sit down together for a family meal on most nights. After dinner my husband and I split the homework & clean up duties.
  • I realized I was spending half a day every week cleaning my house and that I could be making more money spending that half day working for a client. So I hired a cleaning person and although she comes every other week, I’m okay with that. If the house starts to look hideous in between I do a “quick clean.”
  • I hired someone to set up my social media connections. Last year I had an urgent need from my publisher to participate in a Twitter Party and I didn’t even have an account yet. I hired an old friend and had her do the set up and then give me a simple tutorial on how I could manage my Facebook, Twitter and Blog on a daily basis.
  • I hired someone to revamp my website and business cards to create a unique brand. Up until this year I’ve been maintaining my own website and functioning with basic white & blue business cards.  Now I have a style.
  • I’ve decided to swap services with a business coach. I need to build my business and she needs to get organized. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
  • I’ve agreed to teach someone how to become a professional organizer in exchange for helping me with some administrative work.

So you see there are alternatives when you can’t afford to hire a full time employee, and you can’t afford not to get some help. We all have our areas of expertise, admitting what you’re not good at is the first step, letting go of something you don’t need to handle is another. As a woman you may feel like you have to be Supermom with a great career and a perfect house.  Let your family pitch in, they will appreciate you even more. Be creative, make offers to other professionals and soon you’ll have a support team at home & at work that could take your business to the next level.