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10 January 2012

Organization is Key to Small Business Success

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Small Business Mantra

When purchasing a home, you learn the real estate mantra is “location, location, location.” As a small business owner, you learn the mantra is “organization, organization, organization.” When you are the head (and sometimes the staff) of many different departments—Information Technology, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Human Resources (if you have employees), etc., you need to be organized. With only 24 precious hours in every day, you have to use your time wisely.

Calendar it!

One of the wonderful blessings of working predominantly alone from home is that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. However, with a completely blank slate each morning, I can lose a lot of daylight before I accomplish anything unless I have a plan for the day. Instead of coming up with a plan every morning, which can become tedious, I have a monthly “to-do” list that helps me to stay on track.

Document Your “To-Dos”

The way to accomplish every task on your list and retain your sanity is to be organized. First, list all the tasks that need to be completed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Next, assign each task a completion date. Using one of the free wall calendars I received over the holidays, I wrote each task into date-specific square(s) on the calendar. For example, I publish this blog every Tuesday morning. I like to start writing each blog a few days prior so my writing has a chance to ferment into a fine literary work vs. nonsensical drivel. Therefore, on the little Friday squares I have listed the task “Draft EV Blog” (written in black, as it is a reminder, not a hard deadline) to remind myself to begin writing next week’s blog. On the Tuesday calendar squares I have listed “Publish EV Blog” (written in red because it is a hard deadline).

High-Tech / Low-Tech Immaterial; Just do it

This low-tech approach works for me because I can carry that calendar around with me wherever I go and I have a sense of accomplishment when I mark off a completed task. Feel free to use an electronic calendaring mechanism or whatever method suits you. The format does not matter. The process of planning how you are going to complete your tasks by assigning specific due dates is what matters.

Time Management: Social Media and E-mail

Social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) and e-mail communication are both critically important in today’s business world but also have the potential to fritter away a great deal of your workday. Devising a plan of execution will save you a lot of time.

Social Media Neophyte

As a reader of my blog, you are aware that I dove into the social media ocean less than a year ago. When I first started tweeting and posting, I did not want to miss any important tweets or posts from others, and I was constantly trying to think of ways to engage people to communicate with me, so I spent a LOT of time on the various social media platforms. Over time I have found a routine that generally works for me, although I still find myself spending more time than I would like. Ideally, you should determine how much time you would like to spend on every platform daily, weekly, etc., and stick to a routine.

Scheduling Communication

I recommend utilizing scheduling software (e.g., Hootsuite, TweetDeck) for some of your tweets or posts, so you can document your ingenious 2 a.m. tweets and post them at a reasonable hour when people are actually likely to read your ingenuity. You may also want to publish numerous tweets with a theme (e.g., “quote of the day”) to be released over a period of time. It is more efficient to schedule those daily tweets in advance. However, I do not feel all of your tweets or posts should be scheduled. Both tweets and posts are supposed to be about the “now”. Observe life, ask for input, or share a quirk. “Being social” means sharing a little bit of your authentic self which includes writing some of your musings when those thoughts occur to you.

E-mail Responses

I generally read my e-mail throughout the day. However, unless the communiqué warrants an immediate response, I generally only reply to e-mails once or twice each day. By allocating time to respond to any messages received, I feel my overall time spent on the task is more efficient.

Office Hours

Especially if your company is headquartered in your home, you need to establish office hours, to avoid burnout. Although you may start work early, phones should not ring until you are open for business and should be silenced after closing time. Google Voice is a great tool to help you manage the timing of your incoming calls.

Responsive vs. Always Available

Even if your standard work hours do not include Saturday and Sunday, you may work weekends to get all of your work done. However, if your standard work hours do not include weekends you should not make yourself available to your clients/customers on weekends. Even if you read a business e-mail on Saturday morning, avoid responding until Monday unless it is urgent. You want to be responsive to the needs of your clients/customers, but not always immediately available. Most people understand the framework of a 40-hour work week, so present that framework to the world.

Schedule Notification

If your hours are standard (e.g., M–F, 9–5), you do not need to publish your work hours. However, if you choose non-standard work hours (e.g., W–Sa, 10 am–8 pm), then you should post those work hours on your website on your contact page.

Obviously, I cannot share with you every mechanism for becoming a more organized small business owner in one blog post, but I hope what I have shared has inspired you to apply some organization to your business. Organization is a process, not a destination.
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