Organizing for Success

In the beginning, you have an idea for the perfect business.  You dream about it turning into a multi-million dollar agency where you are being featured on the cover of magazines, the keynote at conferences or just being able to send your kids off to college. 

In preparation you get the business plan together, set up the cool home office and start networking.  You are on the road to entrepreneurship. You get great advice from successful small business owners like “Don’t forget to work “on” your business and not just “in” it.” And they are correct, you cannot forget to move out of the implementation phase of small business and work on the strategy.

Unfortunately, too many business owners get caught up in the dream and the hype and jump straight into the “on” your business without ensuring that all of the “in” it stuff is in place.  You must deal with the minutia up front so that when your big opportunity comes (and it will) you are prepared.  This is the “in” your business part of small business. Let’s get into how to ensure you are setting things up properly which will lead you to success and not failure.

One area that many new entrepreneurs forget to address is organizing their filing system.

Your memory is great right now with one or two client files, however, you will probably not be able to remember everything for 50 clients.  

Imagine tomorrow that 50 new clients knock on your door and want your products or service.  Great, but how will you keep their orders organized?  You need an efficient filing system in place before the rush.  Follow these simple steps for quick results:

1. Begin by deciding where your files are going to live in your office.  Yes, I said live.  Files are living, breathing entities that will need care and attending.  Even if they are archival or permanent files, you will need to know what is in there just in case you need to find that information. As well as how to keep them and when you can shred.

As your clients and vendors expand so will your filing system, so be sure to give yourself enough room to grow.  If you do not have file drawers, start with file containers.  Just be sure to label the outside of the box to avoid opening up several of them before you get to the one you need.

Keep your business files separate from your personal files.  Put all personal papers in a separate drawer, file container or another room.  This will also help you keep fit but that is another column.

2.  Determine the categories you will need to create.  Category suggestions include Clients & Vendors, Accounts Payable & Receivable, Internal Forms and Company “Must Have” paperwork just to name a few.  Make as many as you need and add more when you need. Remember, living.

HINT:  Use color coded hanging files to find categories faster!  Save RED files for the most important papers as it indicates “URGENT”.  Use other colors based on your preferences and what will trigger your memory as to what the file folder contains.


Here we have client Shepherd Maximus, who is also affiliated with Purple Shoe Inc. as we can tell in the cross reference short code (xref).  We know his client number in case there is an electronic database to reference. There are notes for sales people that he orders every six months. His bill is due within 60 days, not later than 90 or he receives a 10% penalty.  He became a client on January 15, 2002.

Maximus, Shepherd (Client #12345)                  

xref:  Purple Shoe Inc.              

Date created:1/15/02                                                      

Notes: Order every 6 months                              

due 60 days; NLT 90 or 10% penalty 

Once you have all of these the way you like.  Write what is filed in the drawer or box on a sheet of paper and keep it in the front of the drawer.  This quick reference sheet will help you and your employees get to know your system and have less wasted time on trying to guess where you may have put an important document.

You can do this same thing electronically on many different devices out there. Research to find the one that works best for you. Whether it is virtual or physical the categories can look the same.

3.  Decide what the order you want the files to be in.   Will your files be in chronological order or in alphabetical order?

Which way you use will be determined by your business needs.  A concierge business may choose an alphabetical order verses a manufacturing company with orders placed in chronological order.  The order is yours to determine, just be sure to write it on your front sheet so you do not forget.

4.  Start filing.  Make a pile of all of the papers in your office, sit in a comfortable place and start sorting.  This can be the most tedious part of the process so make it fun.  Put on music that makes you feel successful or of an artist that inspires you, download an audio business book, or listen to a podcast about new concepts in your industry or marketing strategy.   This is a great way to work ON your business and IN your business at the same time.

While sorting, work in 15 minute increments.  You can do anything for 15 minutes!  Then take a break and set your sights on the next 15 minutes.  During that 15 minutes, do not let anything distract you – INCLUDING the phone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…..

Make quick decisions.  If you can’t name it – it doesn’t have a home. Drop it to the side and come back later.

Set a realistic goal.  If you have been working on your business for months, give yourself a couple of weeks to complete this project, but remember you must schedule at least one day a week to Organize for Success!

Preparing your filing system may not be the most fun and exciting part of a business plan. However setting them up properly at the beginning will help you run a more efficient operation when business is really booming.

Darcella K Craven has over 20 years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and military organizations. She is currently the Executive Director of the Veterans Business Resource Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting Honorably Discharged Veterans, National Guard and Reservist and Active Duty personnel and their families with transitioning back into civilian life with starting and expanding businesses. An Army Veteran, she holds a Masters of Arts in Management from Webster University and is currently pursuing her Doctors of Management focusing on impact of military experience on small business decision making. Darcella has been featured in numerous articles for her transition from the military and the welfare system to an accomplished business woman and is actively involved in many civic organizations.

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