Today’s post is by Julie Gibbons (aka tractorgirl).
She has been a great many things in her life, but one way or another, she’s been involved in bookkeeping and office management for over two decades – mostly in small to medium-sized biz. That means she’s seen lots of bits of paper, and many systems for dealing with them that range from – in her words – “the good, the bad, and quite frankly, the downright pitiful”.
Today, she’s got a few hard-won tips for small biz to share with you – because I KNOW how much we creatives LOATHE paperwork: but if we’re running a business, it’s a vital part of the puzzle.
“AARRGGGHHHH!” I can hear you visibly shiver (oh yup some things make ALL the senses recoil…).
But here, let me tell you: with good systems in place, it really ain’t so bad.
Systems are great, ESPECIALLY when you’re a tiny biz and you have to do just about everything yourself, AND you have to remember how to do it all.
Using systems means that things are dealt with the same way every time, which in turn means your resulting information is consistent. And THAT means you can use it to make well-informed decisions about your biz.
Systems are also good simply because they mean that you don’t have to think quite so hard every time you are confronted with a piece of paper. Quicker and easier – save those brain cells for more important work!
A system is only good as long as it EASY TO UNDERSTAND and it is USED.
So, my number one tip is to write your own ‘cheatsheet’ – a list of the trickier tasks in the running of your biz and how to do them, so you can refer to it if ever you can’t quite remember.
This saves you stressing about it and/or doing it differently to last time. (Writing stuff down about the techniques you used in creating your last masterpiece is also an excellent idea! Just put it in a different notebook…)
Cheatsheets are particularly good for tasks you do less frequently, (eg. monthly/quarterly/annual jobs).
It’s not only helpful for you, it’s also helpful for others (like your accountant). And for when someone else needs to know how to do it (like when your biz grows, you’ll need an offsider!) Or for when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, you can much more quickly identify WHERE the problem occurred, and be able to think of solutions so that it doesn’t happen again.
Now, I’m not the entirely perfect office organiser, but I’ve got pretty good at it over the years, and our accountant always smiles at me and gives me lots of ticks on the reports when we pay him our annual visit.
So here are my tips.
1. Write yourself a cheatsheet
(Mine’s 1 x double-sided A4 page long. It needs to have enough info to make your processes clear, but not too much that you confuse yourself).
We have a very old and basic version of MYOB that we do our accounts on, so I include tips and tricks on my cheatsheet for dealing with its quirks too.
2. Write down all of your income and expenses
Now, because you’re running a biz, I’m assuming you’ve got the basic concept of writing down all your income, and all your expenses. There are many different ways of setting this out, depending on what suits your purposes. Jess has done one example over here.
3. Write down the details
So, what to do with all those bits of paper that you collect – receipts, bills, you know, STUFF? When you buy materials and services for your biz and you get your receipt (doesn’t matter whether you pay by cash or card), always write on the receipt EXACTLY what it’s for (especially if it’s for a particular job) – so when you finally get around to sorting out all your dockets, you’ll know how to handle them.
NEVER trust anything to memory. Always write down everything, either in a special notebook, or actually on the relevant piece of paper (for instance, the details of conversations re: commission work, including the date).
Put aside time on a regular basis to go through your special notebook for any follow-ups that have to be done, and to do your accounts. Once a week works well for me. Don’t skip it.
4. File, file, file
You need a good filing system. Before you start a filing system, write down what you want out of it, and think about how it might be arranged so that it’s easiest for you.
Alphabetical? Chronological? Types of things, such as invoices, bank statements, quarterly reports?
Maybe you need a couple of different groups of files, depending on your own criteria.
I have a couple of filing spots. I have an in-tray for bills that need to be paid and forms that need to be filled out; a set of drawers for pre-sorting bank statements and receipts etc that need to be reconciled; and of course a filing cabinet drawer for the completed paperwork.
I find the small drawers (you can use a wall-mounted file if you’re short on space) for pre-sorting receipts especially useful, as we have several different accounts for various things (savings accounts, credit cards, cheque accounts, as well as tax deductible cash receipts), so that I can put those messy bits of paper in there when I first get them, and there is not such an enormous pile of mixed up ATM and EFTPOS receipts to have to go through at the end of the month/quarter/year.
5. Put it away properly!
Lastly, after I finish our tax returns, I empty out the files, and put all of that year’s documents together in a bag, label it and file it in another cupboard. That way, it’s out of the way, but still easy to access it if I need to find out stuff that happened last year.
There’s lots of general information here, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.