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13. How to get organised

As you are your own boss, you are the only person responsible for not only ensuring you deal with the day-to-day admin but also that you are compliant with all regulations. To ensure as much of your working week is spent on projects you can bill clients for, the admin side will need to be completed as efficiently as possible.

As you get going and your hard work pays off, you should hopefully see your workload increasing - and with that the admin that inevitably comes with it. This can be overwhelming unless you have a system in place to simplify procedures and to remind you automatically when to chase people.

Much as it's tempting to 'file' paperwork to one side until another day, this inevitably will see you with cashflow problems where you submitted a client invoice late and that client takes several weeks to pay because you haven't chased it or you lose favour with suppliers for being a slack payer. It could even cost you money if you are consistently late filing VAT returns for instance.

Devise a system from the outset that caters for all your diary and contact management needs. Whether it's online or a tick boxes on a job bag that progress from brief, quote sent/accepted, schedule agreed, client invoiced, date to chase etc - so long as it works for you to keep track of your business in a timely manner.

Start now before you get going - if you don't, your competitors will.

Databases

Ultimately an online system will allow you to add notes with greater flexibility so that you can easily refer back to previous conversations before making a call. Some have reminder systems built in to nudge you when it's time to chase an invoice or call a prospect.

Better still use the database to accurately log each project, its value and the amount of time you spend servicing that client so that you can qualify your most profitable clients and therefore dedicate more time culturing those clients.

If you keep contacts on a database you will need to comply with the Data Protection Act.

Outlook

If you currently use Outlook Express you may consider upgrading to Outlook which has additional facilities to organise your working day with a calendar and address book and task list.

Time Management

Have a list of activities that have to be carried out everyday - back ups, checking email etc to ensure that these are done.

Write another list of things that need to be done at any one time, 'nasties' or the tough jobs that have to be done at the top and the lesser evils towards the bottom. The theory is that the guilt of staring at the tough jobs too long spurs you on to complete them so that the nicer tasks towards the end are a relative pleasure. It's also good to physically tick off tasks accomplished.

Set time limits for everything that you do - to ensure you complete a project within a quoted for time and to reign in time spent which can't be billed. Classic examples are researching online where you end up surfing sites you hadn't intended to drift on to!

Take regular quick breaks from your work to refresh your thoughts. Reward yourself if you complete tasks ahead of the time you set (or feel free to punish yourself if you don't!)

If you are having an unproductive afternoon and project time allows, go for a walk or take the afternoon off to shake off the creative block.

Set clear lines of distinction between home and office. If you work at home set aside a separate work area so that you mentally leave work at the end of the day. When you leave the office, leave the office - do something that you associate with switching off. If you work from home so there is no 'drive time', read the paper, take the dog out etc. Invest in a separate business line to that room so that you only answer work/family calls at the appropriate times to avoid unwanted distractions.

Review your longer term business progress regularly. Put days in the diary throughout the year to review your thoughts and refocus to ensure your time is still being spent wisely.


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