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Creating Efficient Business Systems For Your Small Business

Whether you enjoyed school or not, I think we can all remember the thrill of new school supplies: the smell of new pencils, the promise of blank notebooks, and crayons and markers that still have their sharp points. Supply lists have gotten a bit more elaborate today, with thumb drives and complex filing systems. I was thankful that my son’s teacher gave him three organization choices and it reminded me of just how different we each are when it comes to storing and retrieving information. Even the most electronic “paper-less” offices have some papers around, and information needs to be found quickly and easily – that’s really what efficient systems are about. We all know someone who can find one paper amid a stack of many and we wonder how on earth they do it. We envy the person with everything incolor-coded notebooks, papers that barely hit a flat surface before they’re hole-punched and put away. If you still get frustrated with your business system, or lack of a system, here are some basics:small_5183267783

1. Files – if you like to be able to move papers around while you work with them, loose files may be right for you. Finite projects with a beginning and an end do well as files.

2. Notebooks – great for projects with multiple, yet separate, areas to keep organized. If you tend to lose track of information or easily get distracted, consider large notebooks or accordion folders to keep everything assembled. I use notebooks for coaching groups: a notebook for each group, separate sections for each client. ADD’ers (those with Attention Deficit Disorder) can do well with this system, as the chance of forgetting anything is decreased.

3. Buckets – a decorator friend of mine has a bucket for each repeat client where fabric samples, paint swatches and ideas are stored. If your business involves non-regular shaped items, this can work for you. Silkscreeners, printers, and trades’ businesses could benefit from this system.

4. Piles – Pile people are often guilt ridden and ashamed of their piles, having been told over and over that they need to straighten up their office. People with strong visual skills or in 3-dimensional fields (think massage, architecture, engineering, design) do well with piles, as they can “see” through the piles; these are the folks who can find that one piece of paper amid stacks within a minute. If you truly work well with piles, embrace it. If you have piles from lack of decisions or plain laziness, give yourself a physical boundary that your piles won’t exceed. Make a decision about the rest and act on each item rather than letting the papers create adistraction.

There really is no right or wrong when it comes to organization; it just needs to be a system that works for you. Make a choice and then use it. As my kids have heard me say, the best tools are only the “best”if you use them.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

photo credit: MyTudut via photo pin cc

Decide, then Go. Two Simple Steps to Success in Business

Summer is winding down and school is right around the corner, which caused me to ask, “What do I still want to do this summer so I can say “What a great summer! I did everything I wanted to do.” Those of you who know me, won’t be surprised that I asked my family a similar question before summer vacation; “What do you want to be able to say at the end of vacation that you can’t say now?” BEach

Summer plans, vacation, and business are all more enjoyable and fruitful when there is a clear objective with specific, concrete actions set in place. It’s one thing to say, “I want to have the best summer ever” and quite another to say “I want to take surfing lessons” (my daughter’s goal for our beach vacation). Business owners have so many goals on their plate that the objectives sometimes get lost or confused. Personally, I know that when I have too many goals on my mind that it’s easy for me to spin around in circles and get less done than I would like. When my clients are frustrated and struggling to move forward decisively, I ask them: “What one thing do you most want to get done today/this week/this quarter/this year?” or “If you get nothing else done, what one action will most move you forward?”  Here’s the simple two-step process for success in business:

  1. Decide.
  2. Go.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

I can hear you now saying, “But I can’t decide!” If that’s the case, determine what additional data you need so that you can decide. Chances are you do know what you want, but something’s holding you back. If that’s the case, remember that you’re just signing up for the next step, not the next 20. Just one step. The most important thing. Here are some ideas:

  • Book client appreciation event.
  • Post ad for new employee.
  • Run trial ad on Facebook.
  • Ask for meeting with your ideal client.

In the remaining days of summer, my list could include painting the deck chairs, visiting DC, more sailing, and well, you get the idea. Instead, my list is simple: get outside with my family. So, you’ll find me in the White Mountains of New Hampshire tomorrow. 


– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

photo credit: Nicholaus Haskins via photo pin cc

Business Year End, Are You Ready?

Summer is starting to wind down, families are talking about back to school, and your business may be transitioning from one season to the next. For many businesses, August can be slow and that can cause even the most seasoned business owners into a panic. That panic is easily avoided, though, if you know where you are with respect to your goals what you need to do reach your goals. Follow these three simple steps to feeling at ease as business year end approaches:

  1. Compare year-to-date results to your 2012 goals. Even if you never wrote down your goals, you had a number in your head. Are you where you need to be? Calculate how much business you need to do between now and December to reach your original goal.6156635313_a8dfb335b6_n
  2. Decide if your original goal needs to be adjusted – up or down. Just as it doesn’t make sense to shoot towards an overly optimistic goal, it also makes no sense to aim towards a goal you’ll reach by October. It’s just not fun! Make sure your 2012 goal feels “right” – the right amount of a stretch to energize you without overwhelming you. With your new goal in hand, determine the amount of business needed per month.
  3. If you’re running behind your 2012 goals, you can no longer convince yourself that “things will turn around” just as long as you stay the course. Decide on up to three courses of action you will take to meet your monthly target. Here are some examples:

          To increase my monthly sales to $12,000 from $10,000, I need to: 

  • Reach out to all former customers by mail by 8/31 followed by a targeted e-mail campaign by 9/11 with a bundled product/service offer. Remember to make it time-sensitive!
  • Create, test and implement a system to shorten the customer’s buying cycle by at least 1 week
  • Meet with staff to hear their business building ideas by 8/22; create an employee incentive program for one of those ideas and kick-off on 9/1. Make this fun and exciting!

Once you’ve created action goals, share them with a colleague, a friend, or a coach. Ask them to hold you accountable and set check-in points in your calendar. 

Business panic is most often caused by not knowing where you really stand and by the lack of a plan. Define those two and your fear will decrease; take action and see results and your panic disappears.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach


photo credit: Krissy.Venosdale via photo pin cc

Let’s See Where Curiosity Takes Us; Set Big Business Goals

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When I was a little kid, my dream job was to be an astronaut; specifically, I wanted to be the first woman on Mars.  No surprise, then,  that I was glued to the radio yesterday listening to NASA command center as Curiosity successfully landed on Mars.NASA Curiosity

Two things stood out for me:

1. The bold goal, stated out loud, of having humans on Mars in the 2030s. Saying your goal out loud sets it in motion, compels you to act. The bigger the goal, the more important it is to say it loud; it will gather energy and support will rally around you. Believe in your bold goal and circumstances seem to line up for you, opportunities will appear. If your network is less than encouraging, find a new support network. It’s your dream; it deserves strong, sustaining, support.

2. Just like JFK’s stated goal of putting a man on the moon, the path to putting humans on Mars may not be clear, the steps not yet clearly defined. What matters is taking a step that hadn’t been taken before; amazing things can be learned by taking action. Entrepreneurs like to be in control; when we don’t know the exact path to take it can prevent us from acting. No matter if humans are on Mars in 2039 or never, I guarantee that scientists will know more by sending Curiosity into orbit. Small business owners will be farther ahead by trying something they haven’t tried before, by being curious. 

Command center’s chatter stays in my mind, and I can’t stop imagining what it felt to be in the room as milestone after milestone was checked off as successful. NASA team members celebrated the success, yet acknowledged that it is but a step along the bigger journey. One employee couldn’t have summed it up better, for them or for business owners, when he said, “Let’s see where Curiosity takes us.” Explore.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

photo credit: Brian van der Brug-Pool/Getty Images

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.