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Organizing Tips for Small Business Success

If you discovered the bottom line in your business depended on the organization in your office, your reaction could range from complete composure to sheer terror. Organization certainly has an effect on your bottom line ? and just as significantly ? on your peace of mind. For the small business or home office professional, effective organizing can mean the difference between business failure and success. For the 11.1 million workers who have their offices at home, organization skills can have a significant impact on their personal lives as well.

At no time in history has there been a greater need for getting organized. There are three major reasons for this:

(1) Information is accumulating at a faster rate every day. The speed of the microchip doubles every 18 months - with no end in sight. Every day we are bombarded with new opportunities and challenges. Having the right information at the right time can turn a prospect into a client, a disaster into an opportunity.

(2) Not only do we have more to organize, but the demand to organize it continually increases. Computers, fax machines, cellular phones, and on-line services enable us - and require us - to do more than ever before. If I can e-mail you a question in 20 seconds, why can't you respond with equal speed? And if you don't, I'll move on to your competition!

(3) Small businesses owners rarely have sufficient cash flow to administrative assistants to keep them organized, so they are faced with organizing themselves. Support staff that are available are given more and more responsibilities. Many entrepreneurs have no support staff. Streamlining procedures and eliminating unnecessary steps to minimize personnel time required to complete each task is essential.

Organizing effectively requires continually asking the questions: "Is this the best way to do this?" "Is this the best time?" "Are these the best people?" Let's look at six aspects of organizing any small office or home office:

1. People 2. Finances 3. Information 4. Things 5. Space 6. Time

Identifying the right person to do the right job is a key component to reaching your desired goals. That assumes, of course, that the desired goal is clearly defined and measurable! (If not, return to "Go!") If your company has a "staff of none," you have to wear a lot of hats. Outsourcing aspects of your business, from word processing, mailing, or bookkeeping to sales, marketing, or project management, is often very cost effective, and good organizing skills will significantly increase your ability to use that avenue. Using family members in your business can be a good strategy ? and tax deductible. (My children started doing my filing when they were 10 years old!)

Lack of capital is often cited as one of the biggest causes of failure in a small business. Great ideas and products without solid financial planning, and more importantly, effective execution of that plan, will never reach the marketplace. It's often easier to save money than to earn it ? keep those overhead expenses at a minimum. And it's cheaper to keep a client than to get a new one, so take good care of the ones you have (unless your client is expecting you to give an unrealistic discount because of longevity ? in which case you may be better off finding a new!)

Research shows that the average person spends 150 hours a year looking for misplaced information. Identify what information you need to provide the products and services your company offers. Take a proactive approach. Don't wait until the filing cabinets are too full to file, but there's no time to make decisions about what to throw away! A few hours with an organizing consultant before there is a problem can prevent weeks of grief later on.

Many offices are filled with things no one uses, while unnecessary time and energy is spent looking for things you really need. Identify a "Office Organizing Day" ? wear comfortable clothes and order pizza for lunch for everyone. (Give that old printer to a school or non-profit organization that doesn't have any ? and, as a bonus, write it off as a tax deduction!) Repeat the event annually as a good business practice.

Offices everywhere are getting smaller. Organizing space requires arranging things in such a way that everyone can easily use the right thing at the right time. The best source of additional space are often the walls. Bookshelves, open shelf filing systems, and workstations with "working walls" can be a major boon to the perennial space problem. If you're working at home, make sure your "home office" is a place you love.

Creative minds (a requirement for any successful business) always have more ideas than the physical body can carry out. Recognize that fact and spend time planning to identify the most crucial activities. Working smarter, not harder, is in the best interest of business and family. The carpenter's axiom - "Measure twice; saw once" - is good advice for any business.

My definition of organization is very simple: Does it work? Do you like it? And, if what you do effects other people (and it will if you plan to stay in business), "Does it work for everyone?"

How long will it take to get organized? It doesn't matter ? just start! The longer you wait to begin, the more time it will take, and the more difficult it will be. Remember that in any organizing process, things will sometimes feel worse before they feel better. To manage change is difficult. Human behavior is not like computer software, it cannot be installed. It has to be nurtured. It takes time to learn new behavior patterns. Forgive yourself when you miss the mark. The rewards of good organizing skills will be well worth your efforts!

? Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

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