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How to spring-clean your small business

Professional organizers say that for a small business

Professional organizers say that for a small business the difference between an exhausting day and an exhilarating one is how well organized things are. Files, they say, both real and virtual, can be helpful. Credit: Fotolia

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.

Burnham suggests giving your business a spring-cleaning overhaul; she offers these tips.

TACKLE THE INBOX

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, Burnham said, when it's better to check email at predetermined times, maybe every 15 minutes or four times throughout the workday. "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.

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 is 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.

Have one master calendar. It's easy to forget an appointment or task if you're trying to maintain several calendars, so choose one medium -- mobile device, planner or desk calendar -- and make sure every commitment is recorded there. If you plan digitally, you can even sync your calendar with others'.

Keep two to-do lists. Burnham 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. This arrangement is less overwhelming and forces her to identify what's most important every day.

A WORKSPACE THAT WORKS

You don't have to go all color-coordinated, Burnham says. Just make sure you have these items.

A shallow tray where you 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, just big enough to hold the office supplies you use on a daily basis. Put items you don't use daily in a nearby drawer or on a shelf.

Two to four filing 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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