Many companies have a difficult time
growing and operating because the owner or manager is not well organized.
I have seen too many small business owners who cannot compete effectively
because they fail to meet commitments or fail to maintain a balance of
functions within the operation of the company. How often have we done
business with a small company and they failed to meet promised deadlines,
often with an excuse that casts blame on others, but only after they have
to be reminded of what they promised? How often do we see companies go out
of business, or fail to meet their potential, because they have not
attended to the basic tasks of operating a business?
Getting Yourself Organized
I am often amazed by the number of times that a small
businessperson will make commitments to customers and then fail to follow
through, because they have simply forgotten that something was due to be
delivered. I have also seen many occasions where a business owner has not
had something in stock so they offer to order the item to keep their
customer returning and away from a competitor. The customer was told it
will be available in a week and when the customer returns a week later,
they are told the item has not arrived and the delay was caused by
problems with the supplier. A promise is made to follow up on the item
with the supplier and the customer leaves a little disappointed. The
storeowner then calls the supplier to order the item and the customer has
an additional wait before it arrives.
The problem is that business owners often forget to follow through on
commitments they have made and then must make up excuses when the customer
returns. Getting organized often means finding ways to remind us when we
need to take some kind of action on behalf of the business.
When I was in the corporate world, I had an administrative
assistant who maintained my schedule for me, reminded me of meetings I had
to attend, kept track of my calendar so I could get my work done,
generally endeavored to make sure my projects were on track, and let me
know when things were getting behind. As small business owners we are
usually responsible for doing all of these things ourselves and must find
a way to automate the reminder process.
Fortunately for us, Microsoft has provided us with a tool for
accomplishing our objective in getting ourselves organized in handling our
daily schedules. These tools are the task and calendar portions of
Microsoft Outlook that is included as part of the Microsoft Office suite.
Make no mistake about the version of the software. I am not referring to
Microsoft Outlook Express, which is included free in many computers sold
with the inexpensive versions of the product suite.
Think about the kinds of things you must do in your normal business
day. We often place regular orders to suppliers and might make these
orders on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. By creating a recurring task
in the Outlook Task Manager, we can arrange for the software to provide
reminders when we need to take some kind of action. I created a task for
office supplies that come up regularly and reminds me on a weekly basis to
go to the office supply store. Whenever I see something I am running low
on, I add it to the office supplies list in Outlook and I have my list of
supplies when the reminder pops up on Friday to remind me to go shopping
If you have several suppliers you order from on a regular basis,
create a task for each that reminds you to order from them. When the task
is created and the information box appears you will find a box on the
toolbar that says “recurrence” that can be used to make the task
automatically reoccur for you.
The recurrence menu allows you to set a
wide variety of options such as a specific day of the week or even a
something that must be done on other intervals. Do a little looking at the
recurrence menu and you will probably find an option that does what you
need. Whenever a customer asks for something from that vendor, you can
bring up that reminder from the task list and add it to the text portion
of the reminder so you will order the items when the reminder tells you to
place your order.
The Calendar Manager is also useful for either appointments that
arise and must be scheduled into your day, or for regular things that must
occur at specific times. This is useful for regularly scheduled meetings
or phone calls that must be done or for the occasional appointment.
Setting up a calendar option is similar to using the task option in that
they can occur once, or with repetition.
These tools and features allow ease of use, but they do not replace
the administrative assistant who managed my day. Using the “Outlook Today”
feature of newer versions of Outlook can simulate the job administrative
assistant. On my version of Outlook 2002, the “Outlook Today” feature
appears as an icon in the shortcut section and as a folder in the folders
list. By clicking on the “Outlook Today” button, I can see my day or week
at a glance.
start my day by looking at “Outlook Today” because I have
selected the option in the Outlook Today interface to have it start as my
startup option. From the Outlook Today interface, simply click on the
“Customize Outlook Today” button in the upper right of the Outlook Today
screen and you will find the customize options along with the option to
make it the startup option.
You may not be using an identical version of Outlook or you might
be using a different scheduling software package. Regardless of the
package you might be using, try to build your schedule around the software
to allow your personal computer to become a productivity aid and help you
to remember appointments and routine functions. If you don’t like to use
computers you can always do the same thing on paper with a daytimer.
Organizing your Business Structure
Large corporations are divided into separate business functions
that are each run by a specialist in that particular field. These
functions are kept separate, because they are different disciplines,
however, they must remain coordinated. The need to coordinate these formal
business functions is a problem in most large companies. People often
don’t share information or coordinate across department lines.
The small business does not have the communication problem, because
it is often the same person doing all of the functions, or none at all.
This might give the small business a communications advantage, but
introduces a new set of problems that cause the small business to operate
at a serious disadvantage.
There are two disadvantages for the small business in maintaining a
formal structure. The first is that the small businessperson might not
have the expertise needed in the different areas of business to perform
the functions. The second disadvantage is that most business owners tend
to either ignore the various functions, do only the ones they understand,
or blur them to the point where only the daily operational functions are
This portion of Organizing you Business focuses on ways the average
business owner or entrepreneur can look at their business and become
organized to avoid the pitfalls most business owners fall into. We are
going to talk about organizing the business as if it were a large
corporation, but on a small scale.
The basic functions that need to be addressed by the owner of a
small business are: Accounting and finance, Sales and Marketing, Research
and Development, Customer Sales and Service, and Operations. We will refer
to these as functional areas and we begin by making a list of the areas
important to your business. Different businesses will have slightly
different functional areas, but almost all will have some variations of
It might be tempting to think these are not important to your small
business. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why large
organizations employ a specialist in each area along with the
appropriately sized staff. Every company must have these functions in
place, but the small company often handles these functions as a crisis
Organize these functions so that there are five main functional
areas of support for your business. Once you have established your five
functional areas, associate each one to an individual workday in the week.
As an example, I have organized my business functions into Monday for
Planning, Tuesday for Sales and Marketing, Wednesday for customer service,
Thursday for operations, and Friday for Accounting and Finance.
Set aside an hour or two of your time each day for these functions
and put a reminder in your Outlook Task Manager to tell you each day which
discipline you should be working on. This will organize your week by
functional areas of the business and sticking to the schedule will prevent
any single area from being neglected.
When this idea is proposed to many businesspeople, their first
response is to suggest they are not familiar with each of the areas or
that they don’t know enough to set aside an hour or two devoted to each
discipline. My response is to head down to the bookstore and purchase
books that will help you learn about each of these areas. I have seen some
people educate themselves in each of these areas by purchasing the series
of books for dummies or beginners as a starting place for learning each
Armed with your books, your first task is to read and study the
topic of the day on those days you have assigned to that discipline.
Although your first weeks with the new organizational structure and
schedule will be spent in learning more about those areas, you will soon
transition to actually performing the functional tasks for each day. After
studying sales and marketing techniques, you should apply that learning in
a way that carries the knowledge into practice for the benefit of the
business. The same applies to each area.
After just a few weeks you should find yourself able to perform
these functions well enough to make an improvement in your business. One
word of caution is that you must also attend to your normal business
functions and not ignore the daily operation of the business. Over time
you will find the hours spent on this organized approach to running your
business may be less time than you spent handling the forgotten tasks and
your business will be better positioned to grow.
With your new organizational structure, you should consider putting
together an outside board of directors or advisory board. This is a small
advisory group that looks at your business and recommends ways to improve
or expand. This outside board can be a big improvement for focusing your
time in the right directions as your business becomes more effectively run
With your time organized and your business arranged around the
various functional areas, and an outside advisory board, you should see
improvement to your business right away as you let fewer things slip
through your fingers and your business becomes focused on stability or
growth. Spending an hour or two each day focusing on a specific functional
area will help you develop a stronger company in the long run and develop
additional business skills that you will benefit from as your business