Staying on top

At first you took baby steps. You created a business plan, set goals to provide the best product or service to an identified target market and maybe secured capital from an outside source.
When you began to figuratively walk, you focused on start-up activities: budget, marketing and development. There were long hours. You studied all aspects of entrepreneurship to ensure your business a healthy start and provide energy for growth.
Then, before you knew it, business boomed and you found yourself busier than you ever thought possible. Your inner voice communicates worry that may have eluded your early days in business.
How can you do it all? How will you keep up with more work and longer hours? Will you be able to provide the same quality, service and customer follow-up that led to your growth? Will the organizational systems you put in place at the outset continue to work?
Fear not. You may skin your knees a few times during your company’s growth, but with planning, you’ll jump up and run again without missing a beat. The key is to refocus on how to maintain control with physical and psychological organization as you grow.
To maximize your business’s escalation, develop routines with time and materials.
Since it takes time to create and organize business aspects, begin with the clock. That dial is more important than ever as you re-identify priorities. Divide your calendar into 30-minute increments and schedule time blocks. Don’t forget – if you have an appointment outside the office, plan for travel time.
Rework your schedule at the beginning of each week. Determine activities that require attention. Document contacts, the time for each project and, if there is more than one, identify which is timelier than another.
Planning is critical for organization, but if you have an assignment that requires months of preparation or research, exercise "back timing." That is, place the deadline for a project on your calendar.
Give yourself extra time with a lengthy job and record the deadline as two days before it is really due. That way, if there are any problems, you have time to correct and bring the work in on time.
Next, break a project down into individual tasks and schedule them in order of importance. Determine what can be delegated to others. Include deadline dates so anyone who assists you understands the time frame.
After tasks have been identified, schedule them as actual appointments in your calendar. Work backwards from the deadline date so that you visually see the timeline and progress that a project requires.
Scheduling in detail will help keep you focused, on schedule and avoid a last-minute rush that can hinder completion and quality.
When I work with businesses during expansion and growth, an important issue that is often overlooked is delegation. A business owner tries to do it all himself, and the concept of time management is lost.
Ask anyone who has operated a successful business – it’s OK to get help. You can’t do it alone and expect to maintain growth. Begin with someone part-time or outsource – but get assistance. Your business depends on your industry expertise; a trusted assistant is someone capable of completing mailings or other administrative activities.
During the reevaluation process, examine your workflow and filing systems. Can you find what you need when you need it? Really? If your systems work, great – just expand them to support your growth.
If you’re buried under piles of paper, it’s time to reassess and create a filing system that works best for your style of work. When a structure fails, things fall through the cracks. Missed deadlines and neglected opportunities make you appear unprofessional and will eventually cost you business and stunt your growth.
Office supply stores or your own collection of materials provide a variety of file options. Color-code if you have finite categories such as client files, reference files or financial papers. I always encourage the use of hanging files with interior folders so that when a folder is removed, the hanging space represents a place to logically return papers.
If creating and implementing office systems is difficult for you, get advice. Look to a professional organizer for tips, tools and solutions. You may also consider the selection of books and CDs available at retailers or specialty sites online.
The most important thing you can do for yourself and your evolving business is to create a solid, organized foundation and build upon it.

Barb Friedman is a professional organizer in Milwaukee. She offers individual consulting, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and is on the Web at www.organizeitbiz.com.

Feb. 6, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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