Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Going Paperless a Daunting Task for Your Small Business? Start with Now.

For those of us who didn’t start our businesses or careers in the height of the technology age, we started with file cabinets full of documents, personnel and accounting files, and stacks of printed paper.

For so many reasons, it truly is time to go paperless – or at least paper limited. But it’s a daunting task to think about how to go about it. Where can you begin?

Let’s look at the reasons to go paperless or paper limited: 

1.    It helps the environment – No soapboxes here, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency we use about 71 million tons of paper and paperboard every year in the U.S. alone. That still includes 33% from whole trees and other plants. What you do have to print, please recycle or reuse.

2.    It lowers costs – Less paper and ink mean lower office supply costs. Less paper also means less physical storage space needed, and no more fire proof file cabinets that cost you thousands of dollars each!

3.    It is more efficient – Less paper also means less clutter around your office. You can easily set up an online filing system that is just as efficient, if not more so, than your paper filing system. It also takes far less time to save an electronic copy than to get up and walk to the file cabinet or file room to file a paper copy every time you have to file something.

4.    It is safer – Electronic storage, with proper backup systems in place, protects your documents from catastrophic loss in the event of a fire, flood, burglary, or other calamity. The necessity for proper and redundant backup systems cannot be overstressed here, because calamities can happen in cyberspace as well. But if you invest a little in redundant backup systems on site and off site you will be well protected from any event.

Great, so you know it’s the right thing to do, but it’s overwhelming to think about going paperless or paper limited. Where in the world do you start?  

Start with now!

1.    Decide you want to have less paper in your life. Make the decision. Right now.

2.    Be legal - Check with your lawyers and accountants to determine what documents you have to retain in paper form to be compliant with legal regulations and requirements for your company and industry.

3.    Buy a great desktop scanner – I unfortunately haven’t found a scanner Made in America yet (if you know of one, please tweet us @profedge or leave a comment below!). I have a ScanSnap sitting within arm’s reach of my desk and it is fabulous. It scans multiple sizes at once and even scans front and back. You can save it or email it.

4.    Have a recycle bin in your office – If you have paper you can’t reuse, please recycle.

5.    Buy a great paper shredder – It’s important to shred anything with personal or confidential information on it. If you shred and your recycling system allows, please recycle.

6.    Set up your electronic filing system – If you are a one person office, this is likely already in place. If you work with a team and share files, be sure everyone is using the same system. Set file naming conventions that will make it easier to find files once you’ve stored them.

7.    Set up your backup systems – Be sure you have multiple systems, both on site and off site to assure redundancy in any situation.

8.    Start with now – Take a look around your office. What do you see that you can scan and save electronically right now? Scan it and save it, then shred it or recycle it.

9.    Think about where your paper comes from and eliminate as much as possible – Can you send and receive invoices electronically? Can you accept digital signatures and electronic copies for contracts and agreements? Can you use internal emails instead of printed memos? Does it make sense to provide your team with tablets so they can take notes electronically? Think about how many processes you can put in place to limit or omit the use of paper. Start now putting those new processes in place.

See there, you’ve started. Now that you have new processes in place, your office will be less cluttered, your processes will be more efficient, and you will be successfully dealing with all future paper. If you have file cabinets full of paper, tackle them one file at a time. Over time you will get there and you will be saving money, be more efficient, and save some trees in the process.

Have you gone paperless or paper limited? What processes have you implemented to get there?

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are You Familiar With How SCORE Can Help Your Small Business?

SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Their work is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and 13,000+ volunteers, so they can deliver services at no charge or at very low cost to your business. Have you used SCORE to help your business? Reply to let us know how!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What small businesses should bring to every contracting relationship

Many small businesses today hire contractors to handle a portion of their business logistics or operations. It just makes sense; contractors can often offer more specialized services for less than a small business can hire someone on staff, and can hire multiple contractors who are experts in what they do to cover multiple part-time tasks.

So, we know what the contractor brings to the table – the contractor has to perform the services you agree to in your contract at an agreed upon price and within the time allotted. There are many other things contractors should bring to the relationship, but we’ll save them for another time.

But what can businesses bring to the relationship in order to make it successful? Well, money, of course, but that’s not all. The way a small business participates in a relationship with a contractor can make the difference between success and failure.

Here are some tips that every business should bring to every contractor relationship: 

·       Communicate – Be specific about what you are looking for up front. Contractors, especially the good ones, can do a lot for you, but they aren’t generally mind readers. The good ones will be able to adapt to your personality and changing needs just like a good staff member would, but they still can’t read your mind. So be specific. Tell them what you are looking for – and if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for up front, schedule regular review meetings to make adjustments to the statement of work along the way.

·       Communicate – If you aren’t happy, don’t wait until the job is done and just walk away. Granted, there will be contractors you will work with that just aren’t the right fit. And you should say that and move on – chances are they will know it too. But if it should be the right fit and you just aren’t happy with something that happened, discuss it. Wouldn’t it be better for them to understand how you feel so they can make it right and make you happy, than to start all over with someone else? 

·       Communicate! Just like your employees, contractors need to hear when they are doing things right. Tell them when it’s a job well done. Offer up a testimonial they can use in their marketing. Tweet something nice about them or post something on your other social media sites. Tell them, and tell others. It’s the greatest compliment you can provide and will go a long way to creating a happy “employee.”

So you see that the pattern here is excellent communication. It is the key to a successful contractor relationship on both sides of the equation. How are your contractor relationships?

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ten steps to take now to jump start your marketing plan!

If you run a small business or work for one, hopefully you developed a business plan, which included your original marketing plan, during your start up. Chances also are that your business and marketing plan are either lying in a file somewhere collecting dust, or, if you are electronically efficient, sitting in your electronic file storage unopened for months or even years.

Things change so dramatically nowadays, we recommend to our clients that they review their marketing plans quarterly, at a minimum. Marketing plans should always be fluid, and regular reviews allow you to look at what has been working and what hasn’t and make adjustments accordingly. It’s also a great opportunity to consider new marketing avenues that are available to you.

But how do you go about it? If you are a solopreneur, engage your network in some of this process. If you work with others, bring in a team that represents each area of your organization. If you work with a marketing consultant, they should facilitate the review with vital members of your team. Taking a team approach to review will help you see the bigger picture. Following are ten steps we recommend for reviewing and jump starting your marketing plan: 

1.    Review your company’s goals and objectives, mission and vision statements, and elevator pitch. Make adjustments as necessary based on changes in the marketplace, changes to your products or services, and changes to the organization.

2.    Review your target market(s) and revise them as necessary. Is it time to expand into other markets or other geographical areas?

3.    Once these items are all in place, review your previous marketing plan – did you complete everything you wanted to? Review analytics to see what worked best and what didn’t.

4.    Review the budget available for marketing activities. Whether it’s $1,000 or $100,000 you need to know what you have to work with.

5.    Brainstorm possible new marketing activities. Get out the flipcharts or white boards. We work remotely and we are visual people so we use to help in our brainstorming activities.

6.    Research, research, research. Once you have all your possibilities down, go do the research. What will it take to meet the goals you’ve set? And, what are the projected outcomes of each activity?

7.    Once you have all the research in place, bring your team back together to talk about what you actually can do within your budget and team resources. You won’t likely be able to do everything on your wish list, but save the research so you can update it later if things change. Decide if hiring a consultant to help with some or all of the implementation would benefit your organization.

8.    Develop a launch schedule and timeline. Typically you want to keep a rolling 12 month marketing schedule in place. Put in all of the activities you want to accomplish around each of your marketing tactics, assign each of them a date and a responsible party. Add a comments section so your team can keep each item up to date as you progress through the year.

9.    Have your team review the schedule and marketing plan to assure everyone is on the same page.

10. Schedule a time for your next quarterly plan review!

Take some time this month to dust off that old marketing plan and revise it based on what you know today. It will not only jump start your marketing activities, it will motivate and jump start your business!

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Is Your Organization Energized?

If you are a small business with employees, how is the morale amongst your staff? Do you offer an environment that energizes your employees, or one that sucks the life out of them? Here are some ideas you can implement to keep your employees, and your company, energized.

·        Empower them – when you empower your staff to be independent thinkers and make decisions, you foster an atmosphere of independence and self-confidence. Empowered employees will better represent your company in every way. Lay the groundwork, be sure they understand the company’s goals and vision, and then let them go. And let them fail. If they make a mistake, counsel them on it and move on – that’s how they learn.

·        Communicate with them – when employees don’t have at least a foundational understanding of what’s going on with the company, they will write their own stories. Let them know what’s happening at the company level, with customers and potential customers, and with the leadership. If they know, they can better support you and the organization.

·        Surround yourself with people smarter than you – a great leader will hire people who know more about their job than management. He or she won’t be afraid to hire someone who might be smarter in some areas. Hire people who are the best at what they do in every area of your company and you will see growth in every area of your company.

·        Listen to their ideas – they’re smarter than you, right? So listen to them. All ideas are good ideas and listening to those from your staff may give you a new perspective. It’s also good to provide a way for employees to share ideas anonymously, in case you have some that prefer to help from behind the scenes while you stay in the forefront.

·        Challenge them – you know you work best when you are challenged, so be sure to challenge your employees too. Stretch their talents, give them responsibility, and make the most of the variety of skills they bring to your organization. Find their strengths and put them to work for you.

·        Create a learning environment – everything changes rapidly now, so be sure to empower your staff to always be learning. Provide them opportunities, support a flexible schedule to allow for classes, send them to seminars or invest in online learning opportunities. Hold lunch jam sessions or host an internal wiki so they can share what they have learned with others in the organization to maximize your investment.

·        Be a giving organization – what is your company doing to help your community? Provide an environment where your organization and your individual employees can give back to the community and it will instill a sense of pride throughout your company. Allow employees time off to volunteer for an hour or two each month, choose a community organization that matches your organization’s ideals and launch a giving campaign. No matter what size business you have, you can always find ways to give back.

·        Introduce an 80/20 policy – allow your employees to work on company projects 80% of the time and spend 20% of the time working on new and exciting ideas. This one falls right in line with several other things we’ve already talked about. How powerful would it be if 20% of your organization’s time was spent on new ideas and better ways to do things?

·        Have fun – I personally think this is the most important! We spend nearly 30% of our lives at work, why in the world shouldn’t we integrate fun into it all? There are so many ways to do this – from decorating or dressing up for different events or holidays, to holding motivational events, to putting a game room in your facility to offer decompression time. There is no dispute to the powerful healing aspects of laughter. Adding opportunities to have fun throughout your workplace will result in happier, calmer, less stressed employees and the benefits will be infectious.

These are just some of the things you can do to keep your staff and your organization energized. Over the coming weeks, we’ll look deeper and provide some proven examples of some of these ideas. Help us out! Click the comments button below to let us know some of the energizing ideas your organization has put in place.

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff.