Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ready - Set - Organize!

You’ve taken the plunge and decided to work from home. Good for you! Whether your business is centered on sales, service or product manufacturing, you need a place to work. What, a work environment!? Do I really need one? Why not just use the kitchen table? I have a laptop so I can work anywhere – right? While this may be true, the future success of your business isn’t motivated solely by your drive, determination or dedication; it’s also increased or decreased by how you organize and approach your business endeavors. Many challenges face entrepreneurs and small business owners, but having the right tools at your disposal shouldn’t be one of them and at the top of the list is appropriate workspace. You’ll need a place where you go when in the ‘work mode’. This might be a separate room or area within your home, or perhaps a converted garage or loft. Wherever it is, this is your professional office and you must run it as such. Let's face it, no one is going to respect your business if you don't! While working from home affords a great deal of flexibility to your schedule, that sometimes is taken to mean you really are not "at work". Along with getting the right equipment, having a home office means setting ground rules for when you are “at work” and, if you do not live alone, making sure everyone is aware of them. A computer is a vital component of any home office, as are a high output printer and fax machine/scanner, if possible. Older versions of software will do, however, if you’re connected to the internet, be prepared. Have up to date virus software and a back up system that includes your My Documents folder and, if you use Outlook, your .pst file. Don’t think it can’t happen to you -- at some point your computer will fail! Here’s a tip I learned the hard way: keep your serial numbers and registration codes for your software with the actual disks. If you download an application – burn it to disk and print out the registration code! ;) Next, you’ll need a reliable business phone. While a new landline run into your home office is best, when first starting out one has to consider cost. For start ups, a cell phone will do however, I do not recommend VoIP (Skype/Vonage) technology as it is simply too unreliable and may even raise security issues for your PC. Services such as Onebox (www.onebox.com) compliment any existing cell phone/plan by giving a businesses a professional “front” and toll free voicemail/fax system that can grow with their business. Unified messaging (as it is called) also gives you much more flexibility and control of how/when your calls are connected and allows you to keep the same number and printed materials, even if you change cell phones or plans. Last is a reliable internet connection. Yes, you can start with dial-up, but certainly make upgrading to DSL, Cable or other high speed connection a priority. Soon you will come to understand that your most precious commodity is time, so waiting for downloads or slow web pages to load will really add up. Now that you are armed to do business, you need to organize your workspace. This may take some creativity, but it truly is your space, so design and create an environment that is pleasing and comfortable for you. Remember, an office need not be sterile! A desk, a good, comfortable chair, adequate lighting and storage space for your supplies are essential. Plastic filing cabinets or wall mounted bins are inexpensive and will help keep your papers organized. Stackable bins help relieve clutter and make working with files easy. Make folders or notebooks for separate areas of your business; Orders, Sales, Receipts for Business Expenses, Research, Vendors, Client Billing, Promotional Materials … you get the idea. A wall or desk blotter/calendar will keep your ideas and thoughts, orders and/or appointments visible and up to date. And did I mention color?! Use color wherever you can to keep you organized – file folders, post its, paper clips and ink -- even software -- Outlook 2003 allows you to color code e-mail! Best is to keep the colors consistent – if you use green file folders for clients, then use green flags for client e-mails and a green pen on your calendar for client project work or deadlines. Let’s face it, if you start off organized, you’re a step ahead! Time is money. Don’t waste it looking for things you should have handy. Spend the time now putting in place the systems you need in your physical office to be organized and as your virtual business takes off, you’ll be thankful you did!

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