Starting the Year Strong

Taking a high-level view of your business early in the year can help you set yourself up for a successful, profitable, and less stressful year. It’s all in the planning. Like good road map, a well-executed plan will take you where you want or need to go. But first, you must make the plan. Although goal setting is an important factor in your success, it is not the only piece of the puzzle.


You must also consider schedule, organization, procedures, and boundaries.


SCHEDULING
I have found setting a regular schedule has done wonders for keeping me focused and more efficient. I have a framework for my weeks that I try to adhere to while being flexible enough to accommodate variances when needed. Personally, I’ve found Monday’s are best for checking in with my team. Whether that means a group meeting or one-on-one meetings, or both on occasion. That way I have an idea of where everyone stands, what else might need to be scheduled, and can keep up on training and teamwork.


Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I focus on clients and potential clients. Whether that means meeting with people or digging in and working on a project for a client. Not that I won’t talk to my team, I am absolutely available to them, but I do my best when I block my time and get through big, important, high focus tasks as efficiently as possible.

Friday’s are all about working “on” the business. I meet with my marketing team, go over anything I’m supposed to take care of to keep the company running smoothly like reviewing contracts. I also take time to meet with my administrative assistant if needed to be sure she understands her tasks and to give her new assignments.

Whatever your business needs, try to divide your responsibilities and assign times during the week equal to the priority.


For example, if you need to make sales calls, figure out when is the best time to reach people, when you are at your most vibrant, when you will have the least interruptions, and make that your calling time.


ORGANIZATION
Running a business without good organization is a surefire way to run it into the ground. If you have no systems in place, don’t know where to find things, or generally operate in chaos, you’re unlikely to be able to sustain any kind of growth. When you are first starting out and things are relatively small it’s not a big deal necessarily, but eventually, trying to keep all the balls in the air will catch up with you if you don’t have good organization.


How you organize is an individual choice, some people are more digitally oriented, some still prefer paper. If you like paper, be sure it stays under control. A good filing system, that is followed by everyone, is paramount. If you prefer to organize digitally then find the system or systems that work best for you.

We are big proponents of Office 365, though some folks prefer Google. We keep our files organized in our OneDrive and have Outlook set up with client, vendor and other folders. We’ve also been extremely pleased with Trello to keep track of not only our client work, but also any company tasks too. Each person has their own Trello board which I have access to so I can check on any project or client status any time. I can also add tasks to any team members board cutting down on the necessity of communicating by email or phone.

I hear from a lot of people that they just don’t have time to keep up on the organization and they know where to find anything on their chaotic desks anytime they need it. Personally, I find this hard to believe. Taking the time to organize yourself will save you a tremendous amount of time and energy.

Adding time to your regular schedule to keep organized is important and worth it in the long run.

You might have to set aside a considerable block to get things cleaned up and reorganized into a working system, but once the system is in place then maintenance should be minimal if it’s done consistently.


PROCEDURES
Having well established procedures is a form of organization that will add efficiency and consistency to your business. Every business needs to establish how they do things. Whether that’s on-boarding new clients or knowing who is responsible for taking out the trash.

Procedures need to be established both for the production of your product or service, and for the operation of the business. For example, if you manufacture bicycles, you need to be sure you have all the parts on hand, you need to have the tools available and organized in a logical fashion and you need to know how many you need to produce when. Setting up a system and documenting the procedures you follow will help ensure that you have enough product on hand when needed, you are staffed efficiently for production runs, and you are making enough product to meet your sales demands.


Taking the time to figure out systems and writing up procedures will make producing your product or service duplicatable. As they say, no reason to reinvent the wheel every time.


The other huge benefit to having standardized procedures is that anyone can easily be trained to take over should staffing change or if someone needs to cover in an emergency. We, half-jokingly talk about what if someone gets hit by a bus? Would anyone else know how to do that person’s job? In most small businesses, we all must wear many hats thus cross training is paramount and is most easily accomplished when clear precise procedures exist.


BOUNDARIES
Last but not least, is having strong boundaries. Especially if you work from home. Having a schedule to follow will help you to know when to set boundaries with whom. Letting your phone or email dictate when you do what will definitely make you crazy. Learning to let phone calls go to voicemail, ignoring texts and turning off email notices is a huge first step.

Since blocking time is one of the most efficient ways to work, then you must be sure your time is uninterrupted. If you are in the habit of picking up your phone every time it dings, learn to set your alerts to the bare minimum required and don’t hesitate to mute your phone, turn it off or leave it in another room while you’re doing your big focus work.


Then, set aside time to respond to the messages you received during your focused time. I personally like to review and respond to my emails in the morning before I start on my blocked tasks. That way if anything needs my immediate attention, I can work it into my day or take care of it right then if it’s a quick easy answer. I try to avoid going down rabbit holes so if I think I will need a block of time, I put it on my schedule or on my Trello board, so I’ll remember to get to it later.

I also look over my email at the end of the day to be sure there are no urgent matters that I should attend to before closing. Depending on how much time I have, I may address the easy ones at that time, or I may flag them to be addressed in the morning. Once a week or so, I try to go through my entire inbox and get rid of anything that has since been addressed, thus keeping only matters that still need to be addressed in my inbox.

Strong boundaries about after hours are critical too. Most businesses I know do not need to answer customer inquiries after regular business hours. You set the expectations. If you are always picking up your phone or answering texts, even on your days off, then people will begin to expect that of you. If you refrain, getting back to people when you are working during your normal business hours, then they will realize that that is the best time to reach you and will stop bothering you on the weekends.


Not that you don’t need to be flexible occasionally, of course you do, but starting with healthy boundaries that allow you to stay focused when you need to will be enormously helpful.

Knowing that you have a schedule to guide you, being well organized, establishing procedures and setting strong boundaries are all important to running a successful business. When these four tenants are followed routinely and updated periodically, your business has a much better chance of thriving than if you live in chaos and let things happen willy-nilly.

Taking the time now, at the beginning of the year, to focus on each area, will give you a clear road map of how you are going to accomplish your goals for the year.

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