Controlling the Paper Trail
Ideas for controlling the paper trail can be broken down into specific areas of the business.
The accounting system. Accounting systems can be done in one of two ways -- by hand or by computer. If your business still manages income and outgo by written methods, upgrading to a computer system may be a top priority.
Computer accounting can manage income, pay bills and do payroll accounting including tax deductions. Home banking takes computer accounting a step further. With access to the Internet, you can manage and transfer funds, even download the bank statement directly into accounting software such as Quicken.
Many software accounting systems are user friendly and easy to learn and manage. Hiring an accountant who uses his or her own system is a sound option, as is loading the software onto your computer and hiring the bookkeeper to come in once or twice a week to do posting and pay bills.
Another boon to computerized accounting is that it can greatly reduce the volume of paperwork. Its has been a significant force behind the move to the paperless office.
Computer software can simplify business in other ways. Savvy practitioners in every field, including window treatments, use computers for every step of the business process. For window treatments professionals that includes recording measurements and information, designing treatments, calculating, faxing or e-mailing the orders, keeping track of scheduling, and keeping information together in customer files. (For more on these software packages, see On-Line: "A Hard Look at Software," D&WC, May 1997.)
As long as you back-up information, the computer is a very convenient way to tame the paper tiger. Computers can potentially simplify and streamline business, making it more efficient.
The filing system. Even as we begin to integrate the computer -- partially or wholeheartedly -- paperwork still is a reality. Ordering, confirmation, delivery, invoicing, billing and bill-paying continue to be handled by the U.S. mail or other service.
Many filing systems work equally well. In selecting a system that works best for your business, consider these options:
1. Files alphabetized by vendor. A fairly simple approach in which orders or invoices (or photocopies) are kept together according to supplier -- an easy way to find that last order without going through all the purchase orders and invoices.
2. Bills paid by month. This file folder could contain paid invoices. It's always wise to write on the invoice the date paid, check number and amount. This file also might contain a written record in addition to the check register, either a computer print out, hand-written note or a photocopy of the check registry, which can be kept in a file folder or a three-ring binder. This record can be kept as a quick reference along with a copy of the bank statement to confirm that the vendor cashed the check. However, bank statements are proprietary information and should not be kept where employees can find them.
3. Alphabetized customer files. No doubt two file systems are needed: Current or active and inactive or completed. Although the designer or decorator could keep the current files at his or her work station, it is a good idea to color code the files (one file color per sales person). Colored dot stickers work well, too.
4. "To be filed" box. An essential part of any filing system is keeping up with it. Filing each paper when it's received is efficient; so is the idea of a "to be filed" box, which may sit on or near the filing cabinet as a receptacle for everything that needs to be filed. This prevents items getting lost, too.
5. Purchase order binder or folder by month or vendor. This is a numerical or chronological binder with copies of all purchase orders. Using tabbed divider pages, the POs can be kept in order by month or by vendor. A copy of the purchase order also can be kept in the customer's folder.
6. Cross-referencing to salesperson and customer. This is a one-sheet list, perhaps kept at the front of the purchase order binder, on which each PO number and date is cross-referenced to the sales person and customer. This creates an at-a-glance reference.
7. Daily log. This is a fantastic idea for businesses that sell custom interior fashions. It is a list of moneys (documented by check, cash, credit card and number) received by date and from which customer and cross-referenced to the designer. The daily log should be kept in a binder in a chronological order to serve to double-check moneys that come in.
Ideas for Organizing People and Production Flow
Here are a few ideas for enhancing the business organization and production flow. It is important for everyone to feel his or her opinion matters. Some very successful companies solicit ideas from their employees, then implement those suggestions.
1. Brainstorm meetings can improve organization when you:
Allow everyone to have input and give their opinions. Write down all ideas, synthesize them and determine which are to be implemented. Follow up with written titles and responsibilities. Put them in an employee handbook or on posted instruction sheets that clarify responsibilities and duties. Re-evaluate them on at least a yearly basis.
2. Work out an ideal scenario for production flow:
Write it down with a list of what is to be done, when, where, and who is responsible for each step in the production process: ordering, receiving, transporting, fabrication, finishing, storage or shipping or installation. Post the list so everyone is aware of how things should be done. Consider making it a photocopied checklist.
The Annual Business Plan
A yearly evaluation of the business plan should include the following questions as a way of doing a healthy tune-up of your business:
1. Who and where is our market? What is a typical customer market profile?
2. What are our products and services? Are there some that we should eliminate or others we should add?
3. What is the business structure and what are the positions within our business? Is this still what we want, or should it be changed?
4. How are we growing? Do we need capital to finance new computers, hardware and software, inventory or samples, marketing or advertising, expansion of the business?
5. How do we obtain needed capital?
6. Is our salary or commission rate still on track? Do we need to make adjustments?
Editor's note: In the December 1997 issue of Draperies & Window Coverings magazine, Nielson looks at organizing the workspace.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.