Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Debbie Lillard @Debbielillard Debbie is an internationally recognized expert on Home Organizing, featured on A&E’s Hoarders and HGTV’s Mission: Organization. Debbie runs Space to Spare, a professional organizing service which takes practical approach to simplifying your life and your business. She has three published books: Absolutely Organized (North Light Books 2008), Absolutely Organize Your Family (Betterway Home Books 2010) and A Mom’s Guide to Home Organization (Betterway Books, December 2012) For more information www.spacetospare.com
SmallBizLady: How do I get organized if I’m an un-organized person by nature?
Debbie Lillard: I find many small business owners are creative and this can appear to be unorganized. But if you can run a successful business, you can get organized. You just have to harness that creativity, put ideas into categories and create some routines and lists to help you function. You may never have a perfectly neat office but you can be functionally organized by following my method of C.P.R.
Categorize– whether you are talking about your desk, a closet or the whole office, start to put things in categories. Think big categories and literally make piles around the room. If one pile is too big, break it into sub-categories.
Purge – Toss whatever is outdated, no longer useful information, duplicate material or broken electronics. You’ll be surprised how much room this can make in an office. Get rid of all those bins & organizers that are not working for you. Keep the basics: a work table, filing drawers, a cabinet or closet for supplies, book shelves, and maybe one white board or bulletin board.
Re-arrange – When you are left with what you use, start to arrange the office into functional areas: equipment & supplies, filing, Action items (to do, to read, to call, to send). Put things where you naturally use them. Use bins or containers that you already have or purchase ones that are the right size for what you need. For Active files, find an upright file organizer that can stay on your desk or another table. Make sure you have one clear table top for spreading out the work at hand.
SmallBizLady: What are some tech tools that can help me stay organized?
Debbie Lillard: Most important is your schedule so use an on-line calendar like Yahoo or Google that you can access from your phone or computer. I like to print one off my computer each month or week for my family. Then I just need access to the one on my phone while I’m out at clients.
A scanner like Neat Desks or Fujitsu Snap Scan can eliminate mounds of paperwork by digitizing it. This works for receipts, documents, or business cards. You have to be neat about how you file these items on your computer because they are not tangible. Start with big category files, then break them down into subcategories if necessary. For example: Advertising with Print, Radio & TV as subcategories.
If you don’t want to do your own scanning, you can use a company called Shoeboxed.com to do your scanning for you. There’s a membership fee which coincides to how many pieces you will send them.
For all those wires, I like www.blue lounge.com. They make cable boxes and clips to keep all those wires straight! And they have functional charging stations for all your mobile devices.
I’m a big fan of the TO DO list so I recommend Toodledo. You can share the list, set reminders, repeat tasks, use the calendar app, import/export info from email, mobile devices, etc. For $15 a year you have an electronic organizer with multiple capabilities.
SmallBizLady: How do I keep my desk organized to get more work done?
Debbie Lillard: I believe all work is a process and if you think “assembly line” (and you’re right handed) you have your input on your left (To Do Pile) the workspace directly in front of you (computer) and then your output on your right (completed work that needs to go out). You can set this up on your desk if you have enough room, or have a little table to the right or left of you to create the space. If you are left-handed, you can just reverse the assembly line. It’s also efficient to have your trash can and shredder within reach of your desk chair so it doesn’t pile up on the floor. You can put a bin on top of your file cabinet for anything that needs to go in. Then file once a day to keep up.
I like a desk drawer for basic supplies that I use every day and a bulletin board I can look at for my big picture ideas for my business.
SmallBizLady: I know accounting is important to my business – how do I keep all these receipts and invoices straight?
Debbie Lillard: Again, think simply. You need to record income and expenses and deductions for your business. You can create hanging files for each to drop in all year and then tally them at the end of the year when you do your taxes.
If you do your books monthly, it makes sense to have a folder for each month and drop in both income & expenses. Any unusual expenses you should note right on the receipt what it is for. It also makes it simpler to track business expenses if you use one credit or debit card for that specific purpose. Have a separate one for personal expenses. For outstanding invoices, print them out and place in a pending folder so you or someone in your business can follow up with your customers for payment. Once payment is made, those invoices can go in the Income folder for that month. The paper is just the back up for what should be recorded in QuickBooks or a similar accounting system.
SmallBizLady: I’m making a good income from my business but keeping track of where all the money goes is difficult. What do you suggest?
Debbie Lillard: If your business is doing well enough, hire a bookkeeper but remember that as the business owner you still have to account for where money is spent so you need a system of checks & balances. By this I mean you have to plan a workflow between those who spend money in your business and the one who has to account for the money. Often bookkeepers find out about expenses after the fact and with little detail. A good practice is for the business owner to give written approval for WHO, HOW MUCH and WHAT is purchased for the business. That way when the bills come in or the receipt is given to the bookkeeper, there are no surprises. Even better, develop a budget and put that in your QuickBooks so you can pull reports at anytime of the year to see how you are doing with the budget.
SmallBizLady: How do I avoid the paper trap and only touch it one time?
Debbie Lillard: I believe incoming papers can all be sorted into 3 categories. Open the mail, trash the filler and the outside envelope and sort the insides into: TO DO, TO READ, or TO FILE. All other papers can be recycled or shredded. So you may have to touch it twice but the initial sort is crucial. Then move the piles to where you will take care of them. TO DO pile goes on your desk, TO READ pile goes to your favorite reading spot and TO FILE goes on top of the file cabinet until filing time. It may take 5-10 minutes a day to go through all your mail so I recommend you do it daily and make those quick decisions. If you let it sit, it gets overwhelming.
SmallBizLady: I go to a lot of conferences and come home with bags full of paper and business cards. What do I do with all this stuff?
Debbie Lillard: Treat this paper just like the mail (To DO, TO READ, TO FILE).Take business cards and decide if you want to connect with these people through social media first. Follow them, friend them, send an email. Then you can scan the cards or send them to Shoeboxed.com – whatever your system is. For the little giveaways decide, “Is this something I will use?” if not, toss it or give it away to your clients.
SmallBizLady: Most days I’m just putting out fires. How can I plan my time so I stay on top of everything?
Debbie Lillard: Your daily planner is a valuable tool. Whether it’s paper or electronic, start the day with a clear plan of your 6 most important things to do. I like Melinda’s idea of trying to get 5 big things done before 11 am. Then the rest of the day you can react to inquiries by phone, email or work on something less urgent.
It helps to have your business goals posted to remind you of your focus. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details, I find it helpful to look up from my desk every once in awhile and look at the big picture goals. For tasks that you never seem to get to, or those that you dread doing, consider hiring help like a virtual assistant. Taking minor/tedious tasks off your plate will free up time for more important and money making efforts.
SmallBizLady: Keeping up with existing customers is important but I never seem to have the time to devote to it. How can I carve out time for this?
Debbie Lillard: I’m sure you know that it’s easier to keep a client than it is to attract a new one so don’t forget to take care of these people. Regular communications and quick response is important. I know sometimes customer service is something you think about when your schedule is slow but by then it may be too late! A simple customer service plan may be:
Quarterly – put out a special offer to your clients.
Monthly – publish an e-newsletter.
Daily or weekly – Depending on the number of people in your contacts, try to call three clients a day or week and note your communication (left message, scheduled appointment, or call back in 2 months).
Finally, make sure you respond to emails and phone calls in 24 hours if a client is trying to contact you. These are all tasks for which you may want to hire help.
SmallBizLady: My office is so bad; I close the door and take my laptop somewhere else to work. How can I get my space in order so I can work there?
Debbie Lillard: This is a common story that I’ve seen. Usually it means that the office is full of old stuff that you don’t want to deal with and the laptop and whatever you take with you is more vital to the business at hand. So plan the time – probably 2-4 hours – to go through your office. Follow my C.P.R. process. Anything that is leaving the office, take out that day even if it goes in your car or garage until you can dispose of it. Then you’ll have the space to move items around. If you have a ton of office supplies, consider donating them to a school or charity. Put all of your remaining supplies in one place so you can see what you have and not over-purchase. Keep current bills, invoices and projects on top of your desk so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. If you run out of time, box up the old paperwork that you have to go through and mark it “go through.” Then when you have an hour or two you can pull the box out of the office and go through it. Sometimes just a change of venue makes it easy to tackle one box at a time. Only put back into the office what you absolutely need, want or love. If the office is dark, messy and dreary no one would want to be there so make it nice and inviting. New curtains, lighting, paint or a nice picture can do wonders for your attitude.
SmallBizLady: I work from home and have children, too. It seems like I’m always bouncing from one role to the other. How can I create boundaries between my job & home life?
Debbie Lillard: First establish your hours and let everyone know them. This includes family and clients/vendors. Don’t just try to work all the time or whenever you can fit it in. You can put these hours on your website if you have a service business. Then you have to create a routine by which you turn off one job when it’s time for the next. If you have a home office, clean off your desk at the end of the day and physically close the door. Only keep work related stuff in your office. Home stuff should be kept out to limit your visual distractions. Try not to think about work until you open the door the next morning. If you occasionally work outside the home, pick a spot on your drive home as a mental clue to start thinking about your home life. If you have something to do with your children one day, let work contacts know you are taking a full or at least half a day off. Appointments for family time are just as important as work and no one has to know the details, just that you will be unavailable at those times.
SmallBizLady: Being organized just seems to take too much time. Is it really worth the hassle?
Debbie Lillard: Yes! Because when you are organized you can get so much more done! You’ll find it easier to focus on the task at hand and simply find what you need when you need it. Organization can save you time, money and stress. The trick is to fold routines into your everyday life so you don’t have to keep taking a day or half day to “get organized.” Instead you can just be organized.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.