How-To: Keep Your Inbox from Taking Over Your Life

The computer age is great. Tasks that used to take days now take seconds, information is always there at the touch of a button, and businesses can extend their realm of marketability beyond their local walls and into the annals of cyberspace. With all of these positives, though, it must be said that there are some negatives that come with it.


If you are an office manager, you may consider email to be one of those negatives. Perhaps you treat going to your inbox as if it were a life sentence. How many spam messages will I get today, you think with a sigh. Then there is the matter of simply sorting through the good ones. Which ones demand your immediate attention and which ones can be ignored until later? Which ones are just the latest forward from one of your coworkers? If you are finding that you are spending too much of every day sifting through your email, this article is for you. We’ve devised a simple set of ways for you to get your inbox organized and turn your email back into a positive.


Folder Creation


The first step toward making your inbox a place of calm and peace is to create some folders. If you have ever done this with your internet bookmarks, you may already know how much easier they can make finding something (especially if you’re a bookmark packrat). Why not try the same thing with your email? A lot of people are not even aware of the many things their Outlook can do. This is a shame, because while Microsoft may not be the perfect company, they really have loaded their email program with a lot of features that probably go unused by ninety percent of their users. If you’re one of them–do one thing before go any further. Take an hour or so and just explore your email. Just play around with it. See what it can do. Chances are, you’ll be surprised by what you find.


Ok, time to get back on track with folder creation. Let’s say you want all of your client’s emails in one folder, all of your employee’s emails to go to another folder, and then your boss’s emails to go in a third folder. You can of course go on and on, but we will stop there for the sake of brevity, and since we have little way of knowing how you specifically want to separate your email categories. To do this, just go under File and click the New Folder icon. Label it something easy like “Clients” or “Boss”. No sense getting creative here and then creating an extra level of confusion for yourself when you go to retrieve your mail. Do this again and again for each of the various categories you want to make.


Directing Email Traffic


Once you have your folders in place, you may be wondering if you are going to have to copy and paste each email into the correct folder when they are received. Of course not, that would just be adding several extra steps and creating even more inbox confusion. What we want is to make your email life a little easier. So here’s the next step. You are going to create rules for each of your folders. This is done through the Outlook program and it can easily be set up to distribute your emails to the appropriate folders. You can set it up to go by subject line, or by the sender. This way, if your boss sends you an urgent message, it will go straight to the Boss folder you created, and you’ll know you need to take a look at that email and address it before getting to your other folders and any new messages you have in there. You’ll still have an alert in the main system itself that will tell you when you’ve received new emails and to what folder you should look to find them.


The Real Inbox


Now that you have sorted out your email inbox, what to do about the one on your desk, piling up with papers from every which way? Well, there are some simple steps you can take to clear that out and make it less of a burden as well. 3M and Rolodex offer a variety of products you may never have heard of that can help you get organized in a hurry. Take the time to find a good online office supply shop and browse their selection of merchandise to find excellent tools you can use to clean up the clutter.

Making Your Database Work for You

For reasons unkown, decades after this information has been possible to collate by computer, many offices refuse to make use of a simple databases to effectively manage their business. Perhaps you are one of these people. Maybe you see other companies figure out complicated results from surveys they take, from sales promotions they did, and you’re not quite sure how they did it. Maybe you think it was through some superior technology that you do not have access to. But nothing could be further from the truth.


The fact is, they are just taking advantage of this decades old technology called the computer database and then crunching the numbers they find inside. Running a successful office means keeping track of information. If you are not doing so, you are not living up to your full potential. A database can keep all of your business contacts together, so that you can access them at the click of a button. A database can hold all of the information about your last advertising campaign and reveal to you how effective it was in obtaining new business. A database can tell you which of the items you sell is the most profitable for your company.


Advertising Campaigns


One of the best uses of a database is for your multiple advertising campaigns. With an efficient and well put together database, you can access, collate, and compare information in ways you might never have thought of. Only then will you truly be able to get a sense of what has been working for your company and what hasn’t.


You don’t want to spend your time and money running an unsuccessful ad campaign over again, that part is self evident. However, what may be just as important: you don’t want to cut off an ad campaign that might have worked if it were not for other factors. That is why it is so important to keep and store information about every aspect of your campaigns. It is amazing sometimes how one little change or variance in wording can completely turn your ad campaign around. If your ad campaigns are more in the direction of marketing and referrals, you can do the same sort of thing with a database. You will be able to research what works and what has not. What sort of variables might you be able to implement that would increase your referral rate, and so on.


Contacts and Customers


There are too many great ways to keep all of your contact information in today’s digital world to still be trudging along the old way. Is there anything inherently wrong with the old way. No, but when there’s a quantifiably better way, why not put it to use? A lot of people are hesitant to bring new technologies (no matter how basic) into their lives or their workplace. And it’s true, there usually will be a learning curve.

Often there will be a period of a week or a month where you wonder why you switched. After that, it will be smooth sailing. You just have to force yourself to accept the changes and get over that little hump. Soon enough, you will be wondering how you ever got along without it. By stuffing all of your contacts and customers into a clean database, you’ll be able to organize them in any fashion you want, create hyperlinks between related contacts, easily duplicate contact information that falls under more than one category, and much more.


Accounting


Though the uses for a good database are practically endless, we will just take a quick look at accounting management and leave it at that. A database can do wonders in the area of your office finances. Keep track of all of your billing and receiving information, organize your debts and credits, keep your payroll together, and plenty of other things. The limitations are strictly with your own imagination.


Like we said, there are a hundred more ways to use a database, if not more. If you take a look around your office, you can probably come up with more ways without even blinking an eye. Keep in mind that not all of these databases need be electronically based. A good notebook by Universal or Ampad can give you same results in a more portable fashion. Give a try in one area of your office management, and it’s very possible you’ll find it wise to implement it in many others.

Reining In the Overpaid & Underperforming CEO

Corporate governance expert Nell Minow explains the relationship between outlandish severance packages and the risky financial instruments linked to subprime mortgages.

The boards of directors of Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and other financial institutions may have contributed to their massive subprime mortgage–related write-offs by creating compensation packages for their chief executive officers that didn’t punish them for failure, says Nell Minow, editor-in-chief of The Corporate Library, an independent research firm that rates governance practices. In fact, this approach to their compensation encouraged them to take undue risks, she says.

These CEOs were guaranteed outsized exit and separation packages, regardless of how they or their firms performed. And now that many of them have been shown the door, there is little hope that shareholders or directors could “claw back” any of that pay, Minow says. One important solution, she argues, is for more companies to adopt rules specifying that to be elected, directors must receive a majority of shareholder votes cast, rather than a plurality as is typically the case now (indeed, currently even if a large number of shareholders abstain, a director can be elected with just a few affirming votes). This would raise the prospect that directors could more easily be ousted by dissatisfied shareholders if they grant overly generous compensation packages. William J. Holstein, a contributor to strategy+business, talked to Minow in late January 2008 about her attempts to refashion the relationship between boards, shareholders, and top executives.

Interview Transcript  (S+B Journal and Mr. Nell Minow)
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

S+B: In what ways were the boards responsible for the current debacle in the financial-services sector?

MINOW: There were a couple of precipitating factors. One is that the boards weren’t paying enough attention. They weren’t asking the right questions. And the other is that they were creating executive compensation plans that had the effect of pouring gas on the fire.

You can see how it worked by looking at it in hindsight. All of the CEOs who failed got paid very well. Therefore, the pay plans had very perverse incentives. Yes, the CEOs did receive incentive compensation, but incentive to do what? If the incentive was to essentially offload risks — which is what happened, because the CEOs were pushing much of the risk off to shareholders — then this is what you get.

S+B: It seems that the vast majority of U.S. companies have more independent boards and more effective governance than they used to. So what went wrong in the financial sector?

MINOW: Generally speaking, yes, there have been tremendous improvements. Boards are doing a much better job than they did a few years ago. They’re providing much more diligent oversight. But in the financial-services sector, I don’t think there has been much improvement. In the very first set of corporate governance grades that we at The Corporate Library issued in 2003, Citigroup was dead last, even though Institutional Shareholder Services (another governance ranking agency) was giving them top marks. On paper, Citigroup looked like it had wonderful corporate governance policies. But on the two issues we thought were most important, the board failed abysmally. One was pay for performance — their approach was awful — and the other was how the board responded to the analyst scandal (in which Wall Street firms were found to have falsified positive research about companies in an effort to win investment banking business). Citigroup was the only company in which the CEO was personally involved in one of the most outrageous conflicts of interest and one of the most outrageous breaches of ethics of that period: the incident involving analyst Jack Grubman. [According to investigators, in 2000, Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill asked Grubman, the company’s top telecommunications analyst, to raise his rating of AT&T; after Grubman complied, Citigroup won a US$45 million assignment to help underwrite a share sale in AT&T’s wireless unit.] As a result of his personal involvement, Weill was restricted in his ability to meet with his analysts without an attorney present. And yet the board did not impose any sanctions on him. That is the definition of a bad board. They didn’t know how to respond when the CEO failed.

S+B: What could the boards of financial-services firms have done to help avoid situations like the subprime meltdown?

MINOW: You can’t do better than what Warren Buffett said to the people at Salomon Brothers many years ago: “If you lose money for us, we will be forgiving. If you lose reputation for us, we will be ruthless.” You make the situation clear by stating your intentions and you back them up in the design of your compensation program. If there’s any suggestion of bad behavior, the money goes back to the company. That’s the only fair and credible way. Any CEO who won’t come in on that basis is somebody you don’t want to bet on because he is not willing to bet on himself. The moral of the story is that you get what you pay for. If you tell the CEO he’s going to get paid tremendously for short-term gains even if he has an “après moi, le deluge” philosophy, then he’s going to go for it.

S+B: Are you now going to push more intensively for reforms in CEO compensation?

MINOW: I don’t know how much more intense I can get. I’ve been pushing for a long time. But I’ll continue. I’m enthusiastic because now it’s like a perfect storm; three different forces for positive change are coming together at the same time. One is majority voting. I think that’s going to be very powerful as it gets widespread adoption. Right now, under the law, a director who is unopposed can get elected with one vote because voters have only two options: to affirm a candidate or not to vote at all. Thus, it’s not very meaningful to withhold a vote. But as companies adopt the rule that a director must receive a majority of the votes cast in order to win, directors will know they can be voted out if there are a lot of abstentions. Second, the broker vote change will eventually go through so that actual shareholders, or beneficial holders, will vote for directors. (Currently, in many cases, large brokerages hold shares for individual investors and vote on their behalf without consulting with their clients; frequently, they join management in supporting their board slate and opposing shareholder resolutions.) Third, mutual funds and money managers now must disclose which way they voted on board appointments and resolutions under a ruling by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

We do a “naughty and nice” list every year of who votes for shareholder value and who does not. So that will put pressure on mutual funds to vote more thoughtfully. One way or another, votes are going to become much more meaningful. If compensation committees start getting voted out for signing off on outrageous pay packages, then I think boards will start to do a better job.

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted by Strategy and Business Magazine (S+B Publications), courtesy of Booz, Allen, and Hamilton. Special thanks to Edward C. Landry and  William J. Holstein.  Reproduction of this article in any form is prohibited.

Three Simple Steps to Maximize Productivity


Running an office or a business means turning your office systems into a well oiled machine. To do otherwise means to lose productivity and thus lose money along the way. As running a business these days means taking every shortcut and advantage that comes along, you cannot afford to be behind the times in any aspect of your management strategy.


If you are not sure what we mean by office systems, or what it would mean to your company to improve them, here is just a sampling of the ways you can improve functions around the office in regards to the way things are run, and in regards to your employees.


With an efficient and smooth office system running, you will be able to find your contact information at the touch of a button, or at the flip of a file. No time should be wasted hunting down misplaced Rolodex cards or running around the office trying to find out who has what information on your clients, customers, or vendors. You will be able to get right back to clients when they need important information, or have a request for your business. You can submit proposals with lightning speed. Keep all of your projects on track, and don’t waste a minute with helter skelter scrambling at the last minute. Finally, you’ll be able to keep a close watch on your advertising campaigns.


All of this is essential to the office manager, and we are sure you agree. In order to maximize these systems, however, you will need to take some steps. This article is about providing those steps to you in an easy to implement manner. The important thing is that you start as soon as possible, as every wasted day doing things the old way is another handful of dollars down the drain, something few businesses can afford.


First Step: Find the Problems


In every twelve step program, the first step is admitting you have a problem. You have done this simply by seeking out this article and reading along. Now you need to pinpoint where those problems lie. It’s not good enough to simply say, “We’d like to be more efficient.” Without a concise description of the problem, there can be no solution. It would be like going to the doctor and just telling him, “Something hurts.” You have to get a little more specific if you want to find the problem.


In order to do this, you need to take a close look at every aspect of your office systems. How quickly are you able to get back to clients when they have a proposal or a request? Could that time be cut in half? How would that affect your bottom line? Take a look at your employees and see if there is any wasted effort or time going into tasks that could be automated or at least made more efficient. Make sure everyone is working the hours they are scheduled to work. If you need help in this area, there is software such as the ATRx Secure Punchin that can ensure each employee can only clock in for themselves. Do this with every aspect of your office until you come up with a healthy, specific list of things to be improved.


Second Step: Weed Out Administrative Time Wasting


A major blockade to the running of a successful business is spending too much time with meaningless administrative tasks. Yes, they need to be done, but is it cutting into the time you could be making sales calls and generating money for the company? The answer is undoubtedly yes, but administrative activities are an unfortunately necessary evil. However, there are many things you can do to make these tasks easier and more automated. Find out what these things are and implement them as soon as possible. There are some things only a human can do, and you should concentrate on those things.


Third Step: Delegate Authority


Many office managers and executives find it a sign of weakness to hand out work to their employees that they could do themselves. Actually, the opposite is true. Your talents are needed in the supervisory field, and that is where they should be put to use. Don’t hesitate to give away your more expendable tasks to those under you. That is, after all, what they’re being paid to do.

The Four Greatest Applications of Virtual Technology

The modern world has given us a variety of tools to use in both our everyday life and our business life. It seems like every day brings us a new application or piece of technology we can put to work for us. Some of it sounds too good to be true, but it is amazing how many things are possible today, and how many more things will be possible tomorrow.


With this in mind, we thought it would be fun to take a look at the four greatest applications of virtual technology. Each of these applications can be used to shoot your business to the next level if you haven’t already implemented them. Even if they don’t mean an entirely new system of profits, they will undoubtedly make your life easier in one way or another. If you have not heard of these applications, or if you have and have not yet been convinced of their usefulness, read on and we shall convince you otherwise.


#1. The Blogosphere


You may be tired of hearing the word “blog”, and if you are, we can’t really blame you. But there is a reason this word has caught on so fast and a reason so many people have turned to it as a means of expression. Not only is it the domain of many who wish to get their personal feelings out on to the Web, but it has become a powerful marketing tool for companies and businesses.


If you have not started a company blog, you could be missing out on a key element in attracting future business. If you are not sure what to blog about, simply take a look at your company. What do you do? What business are you in? You will want to blog about topics that mean something to your customers. You can then either run the blog on your company website, or put it out on one of the major internet blogging channels with a link back to your website or the phone number of your office.


The concept is tremendously powerful in its simplicity. Potential customers surf the web looking for topics that interest them, and they come across your blog. If it is well written and attractive, it will entice the surfer to become a customer of your company.


#2. Online Appointment Books


For every old style way of doing things, there seems to be a virtual upgrade. Some of these upgrades are superfluous, but online appointment books are not one of them. With an online appointment book, you can keep fast track of your deadlines and meetings, and even have them open to interactivity with your assistant or even your clients. Have a way to schedule meetings and appointments, and then plug in a way that the online appointment book alerts you to new entries. It is much more efficient than the old way.


#3. Virtual Conferencing


If your company has not brought virtual conferencing into the system, you really are missing out. There is no further need for expensive trips across the state or country in order to have meetings with your important clients, attend trainings, or visit with partners. With virtual conferencing, you don’t have to go any further than your desk to be in touch with anyone in the country or the world.

In order to do it right, you need a high speed internet account and you will need to shell out the money to provide the right equipment for your own company and the companies you wish to have contact with. In the long run, however, this method of contact could save you thousands and thousands of dollars. Not to mention, it simply makes your company look better to be on the cutting edge of new technologies, and causes your customers to instill trust that your business is headed in the right direction and is ready for the new millennium.


#4. Virtual PC Connectivity


Of all the virtual applications, this may be the greatest. We’re not here to promote specific companies, but there now exists a way for you to access your office computer from home, and vice versa. This new technology allows you to get on your home desktop, log in to a system, and then be able to do everything with your office computer that you could do if you were actually at the office. The implications of this are grand. No more late nights at the office, burning the midnight oil. Now, taking your work home with you is easier than ever before. With security being an issue, make sure you invest in a quality piece of computer software lock, such as those programs made by Kensington.

How-To: Use Spreadsheets to Organize Your Office

Let’s make this as simple as possible: if you are not using a spreadsheet to help manage your office or business, you are making a huge mistake. We understand that the thought of a spreadsheet–the thought of even turning on Microsoft Excel–makes you want to curl up in a ball in the corner and start gently sucking on your thumb. Well, enough of that crying! Spreadsheets are nothing to be afraid of! In fact, after you are initiated into all the power they possess, you will wonder why you didn’t make friends with the green monster long ago! Without further ado, let’s talk a bit about all the things a spreadsheet system can do to make your office more organized and your life happier.

Organizing Your Tasks


And here you thought spreadsheets were only good for crunching numbers! Absolutely not. Spreadsheets can be used for a variety of functions that have nothing to do with accounting or budgets. Making a “to-do” list is just one of the great things a spreadsheet can help you with. You might still be stuck in the old ways of making a “things to do” list. Sticking little post-it notes all over the place, or filling a notebook up with items to be done.

There is a better way. All you have to do is use the first row to make headings that spell out all the tasks you need to get done. You can then use the columns to organize and separate these tasks into categories, orders of importance, and so on. In this way, the list becomes interactive and gives you a lot more freedom to manage things in an efficient way. Of course, if you still want some handy ways to keep little notes for yourself, Fellowes makes some very interesting monitor organizers that can help keep you from swamping your computer area with notes.

Keep Track of Your Passwords

Are you one of those people who has a hundred different passwords for different sites on the internet, and various programs you use on your desktop? If so, a spreadsheet can be an easy way to keep track of all those passwords. Even if you are a person that tries to basically use the same username and password for everything, you will likely run into problems with trying to implement this.

Certain sites require certain combinations of numbers and letters, some have length requirements, and with all of these variations, you are likely to have at least a few different passwords and usernames out there. Create a spreadsheet and use the headings to write Website (or software program title), Username, and Password and then your information will be there for you when you need it.

You can even password protect your spreadsheet, so that prying eyes won’t have access to all of your sensitive information. Of course, then the catch-22 arrives. Where will you store the password for your spreadsheet? But that opens up a field of paradox we are not quite ready to delve into, so let’s just move on, shall we?

Marketing

A spreadsheet can also be a great way for you to keep track of customer data. Perhaps you have been thinking about sending out a mailing list, either through snail mail or through email. These lists can be a superb way to drive traffic to your website, and increase business for your office. Using a spreadsheet, you can keep easy track of all of your customers’ information, such as their mailing address, the type of product they’ve bought from you in the past, and their email info. With modern spreadsheets, you can even create hyperlinks, so that it will be possible for you to open up and send email directly from a click of your spreadsheet!

If you have been afraid to open up your spreadsheet program because of the mathematical connotations, be afraid no more. What we have talked about is only a small sample of the things you can do with these powerful processors. Take the time to play with your spreadsheet program today, and you’ll find that they aren’t as complicated as you might have thought. If you have trouble, there are plenty of tutorials on the web that will help you get the basics down pat. Once you’ve achieved this, you’ll be able to use your spreadsheet program to do just about anything you can think of. Don’t let it sit there and collect virtual dust any longer!


How-To: Take Control of Your Office Scheduling

It can happen to the best of us. Maybe it was the holiday season, or the dog days of summer. Maybe there was a rash of employee absences. Whatever the reason, the office schedule has slipped off track. Possibly that was acceptable for a while, but now it is threatening to careen off the side of a mountain to a fiery demise two hundred feet below. You have to get your office schedule under control, but you feel as though it may be too far gone. Perish the thought!

 

It is never too late. It will take some hard work, cooperation, and determination, but you can have the well oiled office machine you once had. The tools are right here. All you have to do is put them to use. Here are some things you can do to get things started today.

 

Start With Your Desk

 

One of the things you may have noticed slipping under the radar is your own backlog of to do items. If this is the case, then you need to start with yourself and your own desk. Start clearing out all of the things that you have been putting off for one reason or another. This serves a dual purpose. For one, it is much easier to get organized and start a new plan if you take care of yesterday’s garbage. That means taking a look at every sheet of paper in your inbox and cluttering your desk and getting rid of it one way or another. And no, this doesn’t mean just slipping it into a bottom drawer. If there are things that need to be done, now is the time to do them. Secondly, producing a clear desk gives you a clear head and helps your office start to get back on schedule. Most likely, your delays in getting things done has put someone else behind schedule as well.

 

Create a Resource Folder

 

You can do this not only on your computer, but encourage your employees to do the same on theirs. A resource folder is something that you set up that you keep all your important resources within (who would have guessed!). You can even go beyond making a simple folder, and create folders within that. Then you can really get down to the nitty gritty. Separate your documents, internet bookmarks, and programs according to your needs. You can also save articles and interesting pages you come across on the web or through email in one of those folders. This way when you want to share it with someone else (as you inevitably will), you won’t have to spend half your morning trying to find it again.

 

Do not overlook the power of creating a folder like this in the real world, either. Computers are great, but sometimes you come across resources and files that aren’t electronic. This is why it’s great to duplicate your resource folder with the real thing. Smead and Universal both make quality folders that can be used for just such a purpose. If you come across magazine articles or newspapers clippings you want to save, this is the place to do it. This would also be a great place to store memorandums you’ve sent out or received about company policies.

 

Schedule Weekly Efficiency Meetings

 

No one likes to go to boring meetings, this is for certain. But if you can make your employees understand the importance of staying on a schedule, perhaps they will come to the meetings with ideas under their belts, ready to help out. If you notice that certain employees don’t like to participate, then you know which ones to keep a close eye on when it comes to keeping on schedule and increasing productivity. It might be time to trim some of the fat.

 

Enact Some Customer Relations

 

In the time that your office schedule has begun slipping, so might have your contact with your most important asset: your clients and customers. Take the time to give a shout to all of your important customers and make sure they still know you’re around and still appreciate your business. Find some nice, but inexpensive trinket or token of appreciation to send to all of them. The important thing is just to keep your business in their minds. The next time they need a product or service that you sell, they’ll be sure to come back around rather than go to the competition.

 

 

 

Efficient Time and Billing Management

Far too many offices and business fail to recognize the importance of strict time and billing management. This is especially true for small businesses, sometimes made up of only one person, selling a service. If you take a look at your office and see that billing has become lax, now is the time to get it back on track. Lost billing time is lost money, pure and simple. You need to implement changes right away, and watch how much more efficient and profitable your office becomes. Stress the importance of proper billing to all of your employees, and most of all, learn it for yourself. If you are not sure of the best way to go about changing or improving your billing system, read on for some tips. These strategies and programs have been used by some of the most efficient companies in the world to turn their time into money.

 

By The Hour

 

Different companies use different methods of billing for their time. If you are the type of office or self contained company that charges by the hour, billing should not be much of a problem. It is just a matter of keeping strict control over the amount of time that is being worked, and then collating that into a format in which you can charge correctly for that time.

 

There is robust software that can do this for you, and the best programs are not that expensive, so you should not hesitate to pick them up and install them. After all, the amount of money you will save being free from billing errors will undoubtedly pay for the software many times over. There is even some web based software that is free and does a pretty good job of handling hours billed. Once you get to the end of the month, you only have to transfer your billing information into your invoice program and everything else will take care of itself. You do have an invoicing program, right?

 

Charging by the Day

 

The software we discussed before can also help you out if you are charging by the day, or the half day rather than by the hour. Some companies find this a much more efficient way of billing, and even offer their clients discounts for accepting this type of billing system. The great thing about billing by the day or half day is that you can keep track of it using a spreadsheet program that is most likely already installed on your computer. If that program has been gathering dust for some time, now is the time to bring it out of the mothballs and put it to use. All you need to do is set up a spreadsheet for each client and keep track of the days worked, and how much this should bring to bear in the billing cycle. You can use this same spreadsheet to keep track of any expenses you’ve incurred for each client as well.

 

Outsourcing

 

If you find it would be less efficient or wise for you to handle your own billing, there is good news! There are many freelance billing specialists that can help you collate your billing system, and will not cost you an arm and a leg in the process. In addition to individual freelancers, there are established companies that do the same thing. These companies will likely charge you more, but you may have more peace of mind as to who you’re handing your records over to and entrusting the proper billing be done.

 

In order to choose the best company to do your billing, take the time to research and find out a bit about their practices. Make sure they have handled billing of your type in the past. If possible, get some references. In fact, if you have friends in the industry, it might be better to get a recommendation than to try to pick a company out of the phone book. If you decide to go with a freelancer, references are doubly essential. Talk to people and find out what the median pay is for these types of services so that you don’t wind up getting taken for a ride. On the other hand, you don’t want to hire someone who will do it for dirt cheap. There’s always a reason why someone is undervaluing themselves.

 

Whether you choose to do it yourself or outsource, billing and time management does not have to be an impossible mission. If you’re having trouble keeping everything tidy and on schedule, At-A-Glance makes quality desk and wall calendars you can use to get organized. Follow the steps above, and you’ll find that your company will soon be making the money it deserves.

3 Foolproof Ways to Clean Up Your Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping, properly done, is one of the most often overlooked aspects of a new business or office manager. It always seems like a task that can be put off, or perhaps never completed at all. After all, what’s really wrong with the way you are doing things now, right? Sure, it may be a little messy, and yes, you can’t always find what you need when you need it, but that’s still preferable to spending all day and night trying to organize all the clutter.

 

You may want to re-think this perspective on organization. You could be spending a large amount of manpower and time on chasing down receipts and paperwork, and you may not even realize it. Think about how much time has been wasted in the last month, for instance, looking for paperwork that should have been easy to find in seconds. Now multiply that by the amount of time you have been in business and see how this kind of wasted time can add up. And the worst part is that with a situation that you have now, paperwork and receipts can become easily lost. This paper trail is essential for a business. Imagine if you get audited by the IRS. It only makes sense to organize your bookkeeping, which is why we have devised a simple plan for you to do so.

 

Time is a Critical First Step

 

The first thing you need to do is set aside a chunk of time in order to accomplish this task. How long it will take will depend on how disorganized your bookkeeping is. No matter how messy your system has become, however, there is no reason it should take more than a day or two to set things right. If you need to, have one of your assistants come in on a Saturday and see if you can work as a team to get things in order in one day without interruptions. Grab a large three ring binder, such as those made by Cardinal, and get a hold of some divider cards to help make the transition smooth. Get some letter sized paper, a stapler, and some plastic folders. The only other thing you’ll need is your business receipts and paperwork. All of your invoices, scrap pieces of paper that important things are written on, and anything else you think needs to be better organized than it is. Head out to the coffee shop, grab a big cup, and set to the task of making your office run more smoothly, and making your life a lot easier.

 

Getting Organized

 

Okay, you’ve got your coffee, you’ve got your assistant, and you’re bravely taking time on a weekend to make things right. Trust us, it will be worth it in the long run (although your assistant may never see it that way, so hopefully you’ve bought him/her a coffee, too.) The first thing you need to do is organize your binder into separate sections. The first section will be for invoices that have not yet been paid. This will most likely be invoices from your suppliers or vendors. Write at the top of the invoices the date on which they are due and then organize them in such a way that the one that needs to be paid first is on top. The second section will be for your paid invoices. Receipts, in other words. Since many receipts and invoices don’t come in a handy letter size format, staple those that don’t to a sheet of paper for easier storage. Write at the top of each of the invoices the method you used to pay them. The next section is for unpaid invoices that you have sent out–money that is owed to you. Then a section for invoices you’ve sent out that have been paid. Finally, make a section for bank statements.

 

Keep It Organized

 

After you have accomplished this wonderful task, you do not want things getting back into disarray. This can happen more quickly than you might expect. You’ll want to set aside a day each month (or even more frequently if you feel it needs it) that you revisit your bookkeeping binder and make sure that things are still working in the way you set up. In fact, you may find it easier to simply gather your invoices and receipts in a folder and then add them to the binder on that scheduled day each month. Either way is acceptable, and the latter way may save you some time on a day to day basis.

 

Bookkeeping Basics

 

Now that you have everything nice and tidy and neat, you have two options at the end of the year. You can either take out that binder and use your own savvy and some accounting software to see where you are at, or you can just hand the whole folder off to your accountant. Either way, your new bookkeeping system should make things a lot easier to deal with come the end of the year, and come tax time.

 

 

 

How to Ensure the Safety of Your Mailroom

In a day not that far removed from the anthrax attacks of 2001, people are genuinely concerned about the safety of their office mailroom. After all, businesses, perhaps even more so than people, have a way of attracting attention, and not all of it will be positive. Of course, dangers can not only come through the mail, but internally as well. This is true not only of the mailroom, but of all aspects of the office or business you work in. As workplace safety should be a paramount concern of any office manager or executive, we have devised an article which will help you to ensure the safety of your workers, and particularly that of your mailroom.

 

Make Sure Your Security Procedures Are Current

 

One thing that tends to fall by the wayside in any office or business is security and safety procedures. Put someone in charge of making sure the handbook is up to date, and make sure all employees have a copy. Observe the employees and make sure they are following all securities procedures to the letter. With time, this is one of the areas that tends to get lax. Make sure that if this is the case, that it is remedied. If necessary, put someone in charge of specifically maintaining all security and safety procedures. In addition to this, it is always a good idea to make sure your mailroom is using up to date equipment to ensure safety as well as efficiency. Safco and Fellowes, among others, make high quality mailroom equipment that can be used in conjunction with a well oiled mailroom.

 

Give Proper OSHA Training

 

Ensure that your employees are well versed in the procedures to follow in case of fire, waste spillage, or the encounter of chemicals in the mail they sort. It is better to be prepared for the worst then to assume that nothing will ever happen. In all likelihood, of course, nothing ever will. But at the same time, it pays to be alert and careful, and know what to do should a bad situation arise. This includes following OSHA guidelines, which can not only keep your office mailroom within the letter of the law, but contribute to a safe working environment and produce less risk of having a workman’s comp claim down the road.

 

Communication Is Vital

 

It should be standard to issue all of your mailroom employees either walkie talkies or cell phones (or both) in order to maintain communication in the event of an emergency. These employees need to be in constant contact with their superiors, even if they do not have a supervisor overlooking them at all times. If an emergency does arise, it should be easy to contact someone through the use of these devices.

 

Enforce Access Restrictions

 

All mailroom employees should be issued a badge or a security code in order to access the mailroom. You don’t want any part of your office or business open to intruders, but the mailroom is an especially vulnerable spot. Once your access system is in place, make sure it is followed without question. This is another area where companies tend to relax after a few years, but it’s a better idea to stay vigilant.

 

Be Wary of Suspicious Deliveries

 

Finally, make sure your employees know what to look out for when it comes to deliveries they handle. Do not accept deliveries from carriers that do not have proof of the organization they belong to. In addition, have them be aware of what constitutes a package or delivery that could be suspicious. This includes packages that have much more than the needed postage, and addresses that are sloppily written. Any packages or envelopes that are stained, or lacking a return address are also worthy of caution. None of these signs inherently mean there is something menacing about the package or delivery, but they are telltale signs that something could be wrong. On the other hand, any delivery from unknown origin is worthy of suspicion, and your employees should be aware of this as they work through the mail.

 

In all, mailroom safety is no different from safety in all aspects of the office. Making sure all procedures are followed and your employees are well educated will help to make your workplace run smoothly and reduce the risk of threat or danger.