Financial Fitness Zone

How to spring-clean your small business

 

Professional organizer Jennifer Burnham tackles everything from hoarders' homes to estate sales, corporate headquarters to home-based offices.

The 31-year-old started her Charlotte, N.C.-based company, Pure & Simple Organizing, in 2010. She's often called on to help small-business owners, and as an entrepreneur herself, she's learned that small organizational issues can grow to be the difference between an exhausting day and an exhilarating one, a floundering business and a thriving one.

The Charlotte Observer spoke with Burnham about solutions for corralling emails, saving time and maintaining a workspace. Here are her tips for your business's spring-cleaning overhaul:

TACKLING THE INBOX: Burnham said corporate managers and business owners will often hire her to retrain employees — and themselves — on email maintenance, so they're able to spend more time on projects and less time on e-communication. Here are tips she shares with clients:

— Send fewer emails: "For every five emails you send, three come back," Burnham said. So identify times when a reply isn't necessary. Even just sending one last email that only says "thank you" can restart a conversation, she said. And if it's less time-consuming, just pick up the phone.

— Simplify your email folders: Less is more, Burnham said. Many people she works with have dozens of email folders, which can make for frantic and fruitless searching. She recommends clients have about six main folders and then sub-folders, which can be minimized.

— Turn off pop-up notifications: Burnham recommends that many of her clients adjust their settings so a window in the bottom of their screen doesn't notify them every time they get an email. Those real-time updates can interrupt your work flow, she said, when it's better to check at predetermined times, which could be every 15 minutes or four times throughout the workday as Burnham does. "Email is a tool to get your job done," she said. "It's not your job."

STREAMLINE TO SAVE TIME: Burnham says it's important that business owners don't waste time repeating the same steps unnecessarily. Here are some of her tips for shaving minutes that add up to hours and days:

— Create branded documents: Cheryl Luckett, a human-resources professional at a Fortune 500 company by day, hired Burnham in January to help her organize her side gig, an interior decorating business called Dwell by Cheryl.

Thanks to Burnham's help, Luckett now has documents with her logo that list her policies, process and pricing. Now, when prospective clients email Luckett, she's able to reply immediately with the documents attached, rather than type out the same information in the body of the email repeatedly. Burnham also recommends converting these documents into PDFs, so that the formatting isn't lost, no matter what operating system the recipient has.

Luckett says clients are regularly impressed with the speed of her reply, and the aesthetics and professionalism of the paperwork. As a small business owner, "you basically are your brand, and everything impacts your impression," Luckett said.

— Have one master calendar: It's easy to forget an appointment or task if you're trying to maintain several calendars, so Burnham tells clients to choose one medium — mobile device, planner or desk calendar — and make sure every commitment is recorded there. If you plan digitally (Burnham uses the free Google Calendar), you can even sync your calendar with others'.

Then don't be afraid to schedule everything that needs to get done, Burnham adds, whether it's blocking off time for administrative tasks or a reminder to take a lunch break.

— Keep two to-do lists: Burnham says she has one all-inclusive to-do list where she compiles every task she needs to do. Then, every day she looks at the list and pulls out the four most important tasks to accomplish that day and puts them on another list. This arrangement is less overwhelming and forces her to identify what's most important every day.

A WORKSPACE THAT WORKS: Burnham, who says she color-coordinated her crayons as a child, has a home office with matching boxes, notebooks and files, as well as a chalkboard-painted wall with her annual goals.

Doesn't sound like you? No problem. Just make sure you have these items, she says:

— A shallow tray: Burnham recommends that people have a bowl or tray where they put everything that needs action, including bills, mail and to-do lists. Her favorites are no more than an inch deep. "The deeper it is, the longer it takes you to go through it, and the more you put it off," she said.

— One desktop caddy: It should only be big enough to hold the office supplies you use on a daily basis, Burnham said, because desktop space is prime real estate for working. Put items you don't use daily in a nearby drawer or on a shelf.

— Two to four filing systems: Burnham recommends having separate systems — one for client information, another for business reference information (permits, zoning, lease agreements) and at least one more for tax documentation. Burnham organizes her receipts and mileage records in an accordion folder, divided by month.

Then name each file based on what will make for easiest retrieval. For example, if it's information on a loan, it's probably better to file it in a section called "loans" than a file marked with the lender's name.

"A filing system should be set up so that it's easy to retrieve, easy to find and easy to file," Burnham said. "If it's not easy, people won't do it."
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