Small Business Success: Organization keeps your business running efficiently and maximizes your time
Running a small business can be a messy venture. An owner can feel like he’s suffocating in the never-ending flow of paperwork (and as high as I’ve seen it piled on some desks that could happen literally as well as figuratively). As a result, some small business owners put off the paperwork until it reaches a crisis situation.
I’ve worked with small businesses (and by small I mean usually 15 or fewer employees) for more than 16 years, primarily helping with their advertising needs. Along the way I found there are a number of key ingredients that most successful small businesses have that those who fail don't have. One of those ingredients is organization.
The burden of paperwork
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some small businesses fail simply because they didn’t stay organized. This seems especially true among craftsmen who want to focus on what they’re skilled at rather than on the boring behind-the-scenes stuff.
Face it, most people go into business for themselves because they enjoy what they’re doing – making or selling a product, providing a service, running a retail store. Few take on a small business because of a fondness for paperwork.
Most people starting a new business are stunned by the amount of paperwork involved. Some of it, especially the government forms, can seem almost unintelligible. I know from personal experience that it’s easier to shove things I don’t understand to the side than to work through them. But as much as these forms are a pain in the neck, they’re an even bigger pain if not dealt with properly.
Get some help to deal with the paperwork
Keeping track of government forms, quarterly and year-end taxes, payroll and expenses requires a lot of time. One way to organize is to hire someone who actually thrives on paperwork – an accountant. Initially this might seem like a frivolous expense – after all, you could fill in the forms yourself – but in the long run the time you save by letting a professional handle it, the assurance you have that it’ll be done right and on time, and the peace of mind of a less-cluttered desk will soon make it worth every dime.
Another option that works for some of the smallest businesses, those with just a few employees, is to bring a spouse into the company to handle the paperwork. This works best if the spouse doesn’t hold another job or only works part time. In many marriages, one spouse or the other possesses a much better head for the business end of things than the other.
Keep your work environment organized
Organization also means tracking your inventory and making timely orders for new supplies. If you’re a manufacturer, that means keeping plenty of parts on hand. If you’re in retail sales, you’ll need to keep the products your customers desire on the shelves. Failing to track inventory can mean that customers will turn to one of your competitors. There are software programs available to assist in tracking inventory.
Another aspect of organization is to maintain a good working environment. For example, if you have a home improvement store, you don’t want to stock the paint brushes on the opposite side of the store from the paint. If you’re a manufacturer, don’t keep your parts at the other end of the shop from the work station that uses them. This may seem like one of those Well, duh! common sense statements, but you’d be amazed how often I’ve visited stores and manufacturing plants that created extra work, not to mention headaches, for themselves because they didn’t take a few minutes to think of the best way to organize.
Sometimes this means bringing in an outside consultant to help you understand how you could operate more efficiently. For a retail store, this might be as simple as inviting a few friends do a little shopping and tell you what changes could enhance their shopping experience. Unless you have really wacky friends, their opinions will probably mirror those of your customers.
Organization takes discipline
Organization means discipline on your part. You need to take the time as the business owner to sit down and do the things you need to do. That’s often hard because no one pays you to sit at a desk and organize. This is especially true for craftsmen. Every hour behind a desk is an hour that you’re not making your product, which means no cash flow. But if done right, the time spent organizing will maximize your crafting hours.
Setting up specific times for certain tasks is one way business owners keep themselves disciplined. If it’s a weekly task, assign it to a specific day. By making it part of the routine you can schedule around it. For example, you may decide that every Thursday from 2 to 4 is when you’ll take inventory and write orders for new supplies. Then if you need to meet with someone on a Thursday, you know it’ll have to be before 2 or after 4. The same thing if it’s a daily task: Set the same time every day to accomplish it. For example, perhaps every morning from 9 to 10 is when you’ll respond to business e-mails and other correspondence. All other business activities will have to take place before or after that.
Daily to-do lists are also valuable, even if they’re just scratched onto the back of an old envelope. It helps organize your thoughts for all the tasks that have to be accomplished that day. I sometimes make my list for the next day at night before I go to bed. It helps me think through things in a relaxed manner rather than during the rush of the business day.
Time spent organizing will help you sleep better
While it can seem like organization will take time away from conducting your business, in the long run it will provide more time. It will maximize the hours you have by compacting tasks to a certain length of time rather than spread over an entire day or week. It will also maintain your level of professionalism because your business will run at peak efficiency.
And, believe it or not, organization will help you sleep better at night. Many a business owner has jolted awake in the middle of the night, suddenly realizing he or she didn’t file that form that was due last week or that he or she forgot to order critical supplies needed for the next day. Having a plan and set times to handle those issues will give you the reassurance that everything will get done when it should. It may not make you sleep like a baby, but at least it’ll be one less worry on your mind.