Today’s post is inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal that talks about the importance of keeping track of financials when you are running a small business. The article, “Starting Up and Conquering the Numbers,” is an excerpt from a WSJ publication called: The Complete Small Business Guidebook.

The article accurately points out that many people start a business to support themselves doing what they love. And too often they neglect to focus on the numbers side of the business.

If you want to be successful, you’ll need to ramp up your accounting knowledge. While you can certainly rely on an accountant, bookkeeper, or trusted employee to provide advice on your company’s finances, it’s critical that you gain a comfortable understanding of the numbers. As the owner, you’ll need to make important decisions concerning the purchase of inventory or equipment, expansion into new markets or the hiring of more employees. To do so, you’ll need to have a handle on your company’s finances.

The article tells the story of Wendy Goldstein, who opened up Costume Specialists in 1981, selling custom-made costumes to corporations, schools and theater companies.

After some major setbacks, Ms. Goldstein rolled her sleeves up and got to work.

First priority? Getting to know her company’s finances—something she’d made the mistake of never doing before. At the time, she had an eighteen-year-old college student working part-time on the books. She called him into her office and said, “Okay, I need to know every Friday these three things: how much money we have in the bank, how much people owe me and how much I owe people.” She remembers him laughing and saying, “You mean you want cash flow, accounts receivable and accounts payable.” Her response was: “I don’t care what you call it. I just need to know it!”

It is that simple, and it is that important … when you are running a small business it is amazing how quickly those fees and charges and expenses add up. Good record keeping is absolutely essential, as is always having a clear picture of how fiscally healthy the business is.

For more advice on good financial practices for small business, check out this article on the About.com Entrepreneur’s section.

Advertisements

11 Hours A Day …

Posted: March 21, 2010 in Time management
11 Hours A Day Starts With an 18 Minute Plan for Managing Your Day

Over the years, I’ve tested so many different methods of planning your day, everything from the fairly simplified Pomodoro Technique to the wildly complex Microsoft Project. This is a very low-tech, high impact method that I wanted to share: “11 Hours A Day” by Knock Knock. (image here: http://su.pr/1zXSDC and here: http://su.pr/2n3UTX )

I’m going to borrow from a note that my wife just sent to me and then come back to the method itself.

An 18-Minute Plan for Managing Your Day (by Peter Bregman)

STEP 1 (5 Minutes) Set Plan for Day. Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. What can you realistically accomplish that will further your goals and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been productive and successful? Write those things down.

Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritize your list. There is tremendous power in deciding when and where you are going to do something.

If you want to get something done, decide when and where you’re going to do it. Otherwise, take it off your list.

STEP 2 (1 minute every hour) Refocus. Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.

STEP 3 (5 minutes) Review. Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?

The power of rituals is their predictability. You do the same thing in the same way over and over again. And so the outcome of a ritual is predictable too. If you choose your focus deliberately and wisely and consistently remind yourself of that focus, you will stay focused. It’s simple.

What I have found with this notepad is that it forces me to think about how I will spend my time and what I can get done in the specific context of time available. I block out time that I have already committed for appointments, meetings or driving time and what I am left with is those few vital hours for productive work. I make my best estimate on how long a specific action will take and block it out as an “appointment” on my 11 Hours A Day daily calendar pad. And as I complete the tasks, I check off the items and move on.

These pads are hard to find, but if you’re interested you can find them on the Doodlebugz Web site.

If you have a great way to plan your day, let me know … every second counts these days!

These days, when you hang out your shingle and go into business for yourself, increasingly you are doing so in a virtual way. So, thanks for checking out my shingle … here on WordPress of all places! T21 has been a dream (a daydream, if I am completely honest) since April 2009 when I first started reading up on the accelerating trend of “free agency;” the notion that we are plying our trade in an entirely new context and moving from project to project like digital bedouins.

When you’re working a full time job for an employer, a concept like “free agency” can both inspire you and scare the bejeezers out of you – often at the same time. After reading Daniel Pink’s “Free Agent Nation” I realized that there are so many compelling reasons to test the waters, and to do it sooner than later to see if I have what it takes.

The big challenge right out of the gate is answering this question: “What do I have to offer?” Or more specifically, “What do I have to offer that people are willing to pay me for?” And then of course, you also have to ask the question, “Can I earn enough to live on?”

The answer to the first question was tougher than I thought. There are things that I do well: business writing, strategic planning, project management, team leadership, marketing strategy, and many other things. In fact, that starts to look like a “Jack of all trades” as I type it out. Much of that work only “works” when you are part of an organization, from the inside looking in as it were. So in order to make a living with these skills, it is essential that you can also offer context for practical application of these skills.

Here’s my top five list, in no particular order, of the value that I believe I can offer to an organization that needs help in these areas:

1. Developing marketing and awareness communication strategies for special projects and initiatives.

2. Assessing an organization’s readiness for change, and providing guidance for change management projects.

3. Specialized writing in support of corporate programs, public policy and employee/associate engagement.

4. Training on teamwork, time management, supervisory skills, project management, goal setting and staff development.

5. Solving business challenges through the targeted use of technology, including productivity software, social media/Web 2.0 resources and project management tools.

If you know of an organization that needs help in these areas, let me know. This is going to be quite an adventure, I can already see that. I appreciate the words of encouragement and advice that you have given me and will make a point of keeping in touch. And for now, until I have a proper blog set up, I will be sharing my tips, tricks and lessons learned right here. Thanks for reading, and if you have some ideas for future posts or projects, don’t be bashful!