Are you truly organized?
By Anthony Noel
When it comes to doing business, there are basically two kinds of custom woodworkers: Those who recognize the importance of maintaining an organized, smooth-running office, and those who wouldn't know a filing cabinet if they tripped over one.
If you are in the first group, you can stop reading right here. While in some cases you may be a little too compulsive for your own good, believe me, this is one area where it is better to go all out than to settle for "close enough."
It is to those folks in the second group that this installment of "Management Strategies" is directed.
If there is one thing I have learned in my years of doing business, both on my own or for somebody else, it is that companies with organized offices, regardless of the business they are engaged in, run more efficiently and profitably than those without.
But what does "organized" mean?
Organization goes far beyond buying office supplies, lining them up on a printed woodgrain desk and calling the result an office. Just as you are not going to drive any nails with the claw end of the hammer, buying a filing cabinet is no guarantee that your paperwork will be organized - even if you do manage to avoid tripping over it.
Like woodworking tools, office supplies are only as good as the techniques you employ for using them, and office organization is as personal - and, believe it or not, creative - as the way you build furniture. Or cabinets. Or whatever it is you build.
Still, it is here, at the beginning of the office-organization process, that many of us stumble and never attempt to get up again. We are so concerned that our methods for writing proposals or keeping track of customers or doing purchasing or paying bills is "wrong" that we quit trying before we have even started.
The thing is, there is no "wrong" way! Your answer to one simple question will tell you immediately whether your office is adequately organized: "Can I find what I am looking for in five minutes or less?"
(If you cannot, that mountain of papers on your printed woodgrain desk might have something to do with it. If you can, didn't I tell you to stop reading nine paragraphs back?)
To reiterate, there IS NO WRONG WAY to organize your office. That is why it is YOUR office.
It should be noted, however, that there is a subgroup of the disorganized; we will call them the "don't wannas." They do not want to get organized on the business end of their companies because they think doing so somehow makes them less of a woodworker. In fact, the only thing it makes them is less money.
The common example of the "don't wanna" is the highly skilled artisan who sketches out a proposal on a napkin, versus the mediocre tradesperson who presents a detailed proposal. The mediocre tradesperson, some will tell you, has the edge. I am not so sure.
There are plenty of woodworkers whose local reputation is such that a quick sketch with the price scribbled on it is all their customers want. Maybe you are one of them. If so, you would be foolish to do more than you are already doing to sell your work. Stick with the napkins! But be sure to make yourself a copy, because if your customer wants to claim you quoted $1,000 less and you have no proof, guess who wins?
And that is my point. If you are not organized enough to find what you need in five minutes or less, you are not organized enough, period. More money has been lost by more small businesses due to sloppy (or worse, nonexistent) record-keeping than perhaps by any other means.
If you really care about the work you do, you should also care about how you get paid for it, your strategies for selling it, who your customers and vendors are and what your expenses are. And you should care about these things sufficiently to keep the information organized and easy to find.
In many columns I have preached the inter-relatedness of all aspects of a business. Purchasing is connected to cost accounting, cost accounting is connected to estimating, estimating is connected to sales, sales is connected to production, etc.
Well, an office is a little inter-related universe of its own. The Rolodex is connected to purchasing (and sales and banking and utilities); the file cabinet is connected to receivables (and payables and purchasing); the computer is connected to design (and estimating and cost accounting and contracts). Get the idea?
The right tools make the difference, just as sure as your jobs in the shop rely on the proper hand and machine tools. In the same way you determined how to outfit your shop, you get to decide how best to outfit your office in order to become more organized and thereby more profitable.
You cannot just run out and buy some office tools, though. Rather, AVOID buying any office tools until you decide what YOU need and how YOU want to organize YOUR office. Too many folks run to Staples, buy a bunch of stuff and try to make it work. If you wouldn't buy a useless tool for your shop, why would you do so for YOUR office?
Trust me, an office supply store is a beautiful thing. Inside you will find every conceivable type of product for creating, storing, filing and cataloging anything you want to, uh - create, store, file or catalog. And if they do not have it, they will get it for you. Maybe you will opt for cardboard file boxes instead of oak filing cabinets. As long as that works for you, fine. But you will not know what will work until you have pondered it, thinking about how you want your office to function.
So devise your system first, THEN look for the stuff you need to make it work. If you do not find it, keep looking. You will find it eventually. And even after your system is in place, do not be afraid to fine-tune and experiment.
Dichotomous as it may sound, getting your office organized may be one of the most creative things you will ever do.
Anthony Noel is a management consultant. Send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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