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Electronic Tools for Entrepreneurial Success

"Half of any job is having the right tool" was one of the earliest lessons I learned from my father growing up on a farm in Nebraska. As an organizing and productivity consultant, it continues to serve me well.

As a business owner for over 20 years, one of the principles it took me too long to learn was that the reason for owning a business is ? or should be ? to develop something of value that you can one day sell to someone else for a profit.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs have a service or product that is, or could be, of great value to others, but their lack of business skills is a huge stumbling block to success. Fortunately, technology is solving much of that challenge. In my experience, there are three electronic tools that are essential to creating a business you can someday sell: (1) a contact management program, (2) a financial management program, and (3) a filing system management program. These three programs will manage all the aspects of the administration of your business ? and provide a method for you to get out from under the mounds of paper that harass most entrepreneurs!

Contact Management Program

My tool of choice in this area is ACT! Because of ACT! I can eliminate all those elusive business cards I collect, and be confident that I will give the right person the right information at the right time. Scraps of papers, Post-it Notes, and reminders scribbled on napkins can be transformed from annoyances in action ? at exactly the right time. Now, don't get me wrong! I can't imagine living without Post-it Notes, but they were designed to be a temporary tool ? not a permanent faded reminder paper stuck to you computer monitor, which you don't even notice anymore! Another favorite tool of mine in this arena is Card Scan, which enables you to scan business cards into ACT! without having to type in the info. If you collect 10 or more business cards in a week, it's well worth the investment. (It's a not a perfect system, for sure ? but a major time and frustration saver.)

With ACT, not only can I be sure that I am doing the right thing at the right time, but because we are networked, I can easily check to see what my support staff has done as well. For example, let's say I answer the phone and the person on the other end is someone whose name I don't recognize. I can quickly do an ACT! search, and know that my assistant talked to this person last week about a potential presentation. I note in ACT! what I said to the prospect, and set an ACT! alarm for my assistant to send the appropriate additional information. Another example: Frequently I receive e-mail newsletters from experts in various fields. I put their contact information in ACT! so that I can access their expertise in a matter of seconds.

It makes me sad now when I think of all the people with whom I have lost contact from the early days of my business. I prided myself that I did a good job of organizing people ? and they didn't need me any more. What I failed to realize was that I would be developing other products and services in the future that would be of interest ? but I lost the opportunity.

Financial Management Program

In my experience, one of the biggest nagging worries in the back of many entrepreneurial mind is "I sure hope I don't get audited." Using a financial program, such as QuickBooks, eliminates that worry. While QuickBooks won't reduce the possibility of an audit, it will increase one's comfort with the ability to easily produce accurate information if needed.

QuickBooks (or QuickBooks Pro for time-billing companies) lets the business owner easily keep a finger on the fiscal pulse of the company. And remember ? if there is no fiscal health, there is no health at all. It is critical to the success of any business that the owner has a working knowledge of the financial management routine, and that he/she develops a system of frequent checks on the growth and health of the business.

While QuickBooks has remarkably vast capability, the real secret to successful money management is simplicity. By designing the QuickBooks accounting system to match the flow and style of the business, one can easily enter day-to-day transactions including customer and vendor invoices, bank account transactions, payroll and inventory. While most business owners are naturally inclined to "over classify" in terms of the number of accounts available, a better strategy is to use fewer accounts. Those that roughly correspond to the tax return (perhaps restated in the language of the user's business), with a few additions specific to the enterprise should be sufficient. Then, when it is time to do those infrequent analyses of rare events, QuickBooks' comprehensive sub sort capability (i.e. Payee, date, transaction type, etc.) comes into play.

Once the data entry system is reutilized, the owner will want to develop a few regular reports ? "snapshots" of the business that allow him/her to see both the trigger points of the financial profile as well as the big picture, all at a glance. In this way the entrepreneur can remain in control of the direction of the business ? past, present and future - avoiding unseen potholes along the way.

And guess what? The new version of QuickBooks interfaces with ACT to make it easy when time to convert all those contacts into customers!

A Filing System Program

Research shows that the average entrepreneur spends 150 hours per years looking for misplaced information ? much of it on paper. Spending those same hours on making a sales call or creating a new product or service will do a lot more for your bottom line ? to say nothing of eliminating a major source of frustration.

There are three components to an effective filing system: (1) Mechanics, (2) Management and (3) Maintenance. If any of the components is weak, your filing system will be am on-going frustration instead of a valuable resource.

1. Filing Mechanics One of the major reasons we procrastinate about filing is that it is simply too time-consuming. Here are some tips to make it quick and easy:

? Make sure there is always adequate room in a file cabinet to add papers.

? File papers directly into hanging files. If you take individual papers directly from the file, you do not need a manila file inside.

? If you need to take the entire file out of the file cabinet, create a hanging file and a manila file with the same label.

? Put the plastic file tabs on the front of the file folder.

? Keep color systems simple.

? Use staples instead of paper clips.

2. File Management One of the major frustration sources of frustration about filing is deciding what to call a file. The solution to this frustration is a File Index ? a list of the names of your files. Before you make a new file, you can check the File Index to see if an appropriate file already exists. You can use a word processing or spread sheet program to create this index. A revolutionary new option for managing your files is also now available: Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger (www.thepapertiger.com). This software program allows you to keep your information in paper form in your filing cabinet, automatically cross-reference the information, and use the incredible search power of the computer to find anything in your files in five seconds or less ? regardless of who filed it! The software will also print file labels and a File Index automatically.

3. File Maintenance Regardless of the management or mechanics techniques you use, all filing systems have to be maintained. But there is good news! There are only two steps required to maintain any filing system indefinitely: (1) make sure that the File Index is a living document ? a perfect reflection of the names of the files in your cabinet. If you add a new file, add it to the File Index, and when you remove a file, delete it. (2) Clean out your files when the cabinet gets too full for easy filing.

Of course there will undoubtedly be other programs you need related to your particular expertise, but in my experience, these three programs are crucial to every entrepreneur's success!

? Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

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