Organize Your Creative and Practical Sides


Start the New Year on the Right Foot: Organize Your Creative and Practical Sides

By Marcia Passos Duffy


Creative minds are not often associated with being fastidiously organized. But right and left brain need to coexist if you are to have a successful business, particularly when it comes to your business’ finances.


To do this, experts say, you must first give up the notion that being creative means you are incapable of focusing on the practical nuts and bolts of running a business.


"I find most artisans focus on their craft, but not on their back-end,” says John Sanpietro, a certified business coach based in upstate New York who specializes in advising paper craft, rubber stamping and scrapbooking business owners. (http://www.stampingismybusiness.com/) "They often lack systems, which makes the day-to-day operation of their business more difficult,” he says.


"Artisans frequently make the mistake of thinking that being organized will hamper the flow of their creative juices. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Alice Price, a professional organizer with Organize Long Island (http://www.organizelongisland.com/). "Being organized reduces worry and anxiety and frees the creative juices.”


Now that the New Year is here resolve to integrate your creative and practical sides to keep your business organized – and running smoothly.


Here’s how:


Establish Systems


There are three key systems that need to be set up, says Sanpietro: Customer, financial and time management.


1. Customer systems. Set up a system that works for you to keep track of your customers and prospects and following up (which is key to repeat business). This system could be as simple as a tickler file, or can be an Excel spreadsheet. January is also the perfect time to take inventory of your products, says Carol Hagan, CEO of Curatorial Management System (http://www.curatorialmanagementsystem.com/), which sells a series of art business products. "Photograph and document finished artwork, progressing art and new purchases (art, tools, and equipment) stowed in the studio and at home,” says Hagan. Determine if your insurance coverage is sufficient. "Taking an inventory shifts your focus back into the studio and ensures that your business is adequately protected against loss,” she says.


2. Financial systems. Keep track of your income and expenses every day. "If you wait until the end of the week or month or year it takes disproportionately longer to do it…which means you’re less likely to do it,” says Sanpietro. Also make sure that your business and personal finances are kept separate, advises Robert W. Hampton, CPA, an accountant with Impart Financial, LLC (http://www.impartfinancial.com/) of Fort Worth, TX. "Separate checking accounts and credit cards make sorting things out a lot easier,” he says. And don’t forget taxes, says Hampton. "Self employment taxes – which are on top of income taxes – can really bite the unwary in April,” he says. If you find you don’t have the mind – or stomach -- to keep up with the finances of your business, hire a bookkeeper or an accountant.


3. Time management systems. Do you have ‘office hours’ when you work your business? "If not, then you’re probably working your business all the time, which leads to work-life balance issues,” notes Sanpietro. If you do have office hours, are you using them properly? Do you use to-do lists? Do you prioritize those lists? "If you don’t have a time management system in place, even if you have the other two systems, you’re probably not using them or getting the most out of them,” says Sanpietro.


Take Time to Organize


Debra Baida, a professional organizer with Liberated Spaces (http://www.debrabaida.com/) says that artisans should take time in the beginning of the year to set up a calendar and filing system to make customer, financial and time management systems work more efficiently.


For example:


• Write down the entire year’s major events – such as trade shows and festivals – into your new calendar at the beginning of the year.


• Set up new folders and files to collect and record tax information. Take the time to create folders (one each) for invoices/income, receipts/deductible expenses, investments, and key vendors. This will make filing and accessing information easier throughout the year.


• Start each year with a new checkbook register. This way you can file each year's register with that year's tax papers.


• Prepare for last year's taxes. Tax-related documents will begin landing in your mailbox this month. If your 2009 papers are in disarray, schedule tasks in your calendar now so you can tackle them before April.


Resolve to Get Control of Clutter


"Most artists I know have a lot of clutter around them,” notes Kathy Peterson, a lifestyle/design expert, television co-host on Lifetime TV, and founder of Craft for Health (http://www.craftforhealth.com/). "Some artists have product that is too old to use anymore which takes up space. Get organized first by throwing out what is no longer any good,” she says.


Take time to organize our work space into five zones, suggests Lorraine Kimmey, president of Simply Organized Solutions, Inc. (http://www.theorganizingservice.com/): 1) Creative Work, 2) Business Work, 3) Technology, 4) Reference Material, and 5) Archive/Storage.


"Remember that when you are sitting at your desk or in your Creative Zone, you should have everything you need within easy reach,” says Kimmey. Items that you don't use regularly -- such as reference books or archives -- should not take up valuable real estate on your desk.


Make sure that this year you use technology to eliminate clutter, rather than complicating your life, advises Victoria Tillotson, a jewelry designer (http://www.victoriatillotson.com/).


"Use your blackberry/iphone/other device to keep track of your schedule, act as your phone book and retain important information about your accounts/vendors. If you use Facebook or Linkedin, spend time bringing your profile up to date and review your contacts.” If people on your social networking circle are no longer applicable to your business, delete them, she says. "Too many unrelated people make mental clutter,” she says.


Take Time to Focus on Your Day


Before she begins each day Tillotson spends a few minutes writing in a journal to get her thoughts organized. "The journal not only lets you free-write and vent, it also provides a concrete piece that you can go back to when you feel you've lost your way, which happens a lot with artists!” she says


At the end of the day, spend some time clearing your work space and returning tools of your trade to their respective "homes” to help you start your next day organized.


Update (or Create) Your Business Plan


Lastly, don’t forget to look at your business plan. Don’t have one? If not, take some time to create a simple plan. There are many good templates online to follow.


"It’s important to know what you’re going to be working toward this year. Ask yourself, ‘what would I like my business to provide for me and/or my family that it’s not currently providing?’ If you can answer that question, you gain clarity of purpose… which, in turn, gives you clarity of action,” says Sanpietro.


If this seems like a lot to do in a few days (it is!) take each step in doable chunks each week. For example, take a couple of hours this week to set up your filing system for 2010. Next week set up two hours at the end of the week to purge clutter from your workspace. In a few weeks time you will be on your way to a more organized – and even more creative – business.
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MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (http://www.backporchpublishing.com/) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state’s artisan and business organization, NH Made. Marcia’s articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She also publishes two online magazines, Home Office Weekly.com (http://www.homeofficeweekly.com/) and The Heart of New England.com (http://www.theheartofnewengland.com/). Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.