Time to get organised?

Running your organisation on spreadsheets and sticky notes may be costing you more than your time!

Had an interesting chat with a client recently, in which she told me all about a new graphic designer they’re working with for printed promotional material – and said what a great job he’s done with their brochure rebranding and identity. “Trouble is” she went on, “he’s a bit slow and haphazard on the admin side of things so we can’t use him very often – it upsets our Head Office to have to constantly chase him for his contract or confirm meetings and time spent on work assigned to him.”

Intriguing problem isn’t it?

Here is someone doing a great job for their client and delivering the exact service required, yet their client is not converting into a raving fan because the administration of their business relies on stability and consistency – which this supplier is not delivering. This reflects poorly on his service overall because, as someone once said; how you do anything is how you do everything.

I can sympathise with the graphic designer in this case as it’s not easy to upscale your business or organisation to cope with the demands of higher end, higher value clients – or serving more of the people you set out to help. This invariably involves more paperwork or admin time, which can easily eat up more of your precious productive hours than the work you actually love to do and deliver. Which can in turn lead to the whole “careful what you wish for” mentality as you WANT to be busier but also know this needs to be manageable as you move forward.

Often the business owner is the one most affected by this, particularly if you don’t have a huge team of staff to delegate important tasks to, or struggle to manage such a team when you do.

I remember only too well being at that point in my own business and, at times, the pressure was enough to make me feel physically ill. All I really wanted was to free my desk of the little day-to-day tasks that only took minutes each day – but how those minutes added up – so I could do more of the work I love. To have more time to go and visit or support my favourite clients was a dream for me, but I knew taking on droves of admin staff would only increase my costs – plus take up my time to properly train them – what I needed was a robot!

Okay, not literally a robot, but I did realise that automation was the key to freeing up my time (and soul) from the mundane “got to be done” tasks required by almost every project we worked on. If only I could create a system for simple day-to-day jobs and make my business more efficient, look better to clients and (most importantly) run without me being the bottleneck. That would be bliss. 

So this is what I did; I reviewed my ten most recent projects and made a note of each step or task which could be carried out by someone other than me. I imagined I had a fleet of keen, hard working and pro-active administrative staff, just champing at the bit to do these little tasks and touches which make all the difference to our clients. This is the list I came up with:

  • Timely email response to enquiries
  • Confirming calendar appointment availability and bookings
  • Email reminders, driving directions and guidance for clients visiting our office
  • Conference rooms booked for larger meetings (with refreshments of course!)
  • Minutes circulated after meetings to all attendees
  • Notes added to my daily calendar to prompt for follow-up afterwards.

So my brilliant technical development team were charged with creating just such a system for our company to use to improve our own efficiency – and what a difference it makes. I no longer have to remember to send emails out regarding any of these subjects; calendar bookings and shifts are automatically assigned, documented and confirmed; my p.a. is automatically prompted to make follow-up calls; and I know that everyone at minuted meetings has secure access to the notes for each. 

This is a really useful exercise for any owner/manager to carry out, and a great opportunity to step back and take a look at your current systems objectively to see where the bottlenecks and slow-downs are happening in your organisation. 

I knew my team could deliver the perfect solution for this because they’ve already created many similar systems for clients of ours who were struggling to manage multiple enquiry streams, multiple venues, multiple shifts or events; or multiple staffing challenges. 

Such as the system we created for a regional charity who run pop-up night shelters for the homeless at numerous locations around in East Sussex. They were challenged to meet the demands of ensuring each shift at each venue was adequately staffed by the most appropriate members from their team of volunteers. Each venue had a different number of volunteers required for each shift; some needed to include a volunteer with a food hygiene certificate; some required a certain number of qualified first-aiders to be among those on shift – it was a logistical nightmare! Then there were the demands placed on the administrative team to notify, confirm and remind each volunteer about which shift was assigned to them, at which venue, at what time… it was no wonder they were struggling to meet the (sadly) ever growing demands on their service.

We created an online system to automate and manage all of this for the charity, so they could easily register their volunteers electronically – including details of any particular skills, experience or qualifications – and see them instantly assigned to the most appropriate shifts, venues and times to suit their individual preferences and availability.

The system then emailed each volunteer or shift leader to advise who should be where and when (including handy links to google map locations for different venues), whilst simultaneously notifying and updating a clear online dashboard for the admin team so they could see at a glance where any shortfalls may pop up – giving them time to plan ahead and avoid having to close any shelters at short notice. We also included a method for Trustees and Board Members to easily and securely circulate meeting minutes and sensitive information without the potential risk and unreliability of email attachments.

Thanks to this new system, not only can the charity more easily manage the existing demands on their service, but they now have a scalable and sustainable model to do so going forward. This has the double benefit of reducing strain and time demands on the existing staff and volunteer team AND is a key attraction system for inbound funding streams, as many require proof that any funding assigned will not be eaten up in staff time or administrative costs. 

So if your Charity (or Company) is struggling to manage multiple people, places, or paperwork… Stop. 

Use the exercise above to work out where your time is slipping through your fingers on everyday repetitive tasks and think about how you could automate this – just taking one or two of these off your desk could make a real difference, freeing up your time to do more of the work you love. 

Because if you’re falling behind with your admin or filling your day with the same little tasks over and over, it could be costing you much more than your time. 

About the Author: 

Fiona Allman-Treen is an expert in strategic website design and online software systems to enable sustainable growth for business owners and charities globally. An established presenter and devout believer in encouraging entrepreneurship in young people, Fiona founded Hastings-based web agency FAT promotions Ltd in 2001, creating effective websites and online solutions for a portfolio of international and blue chip clients. She also loves classic cars, red wine and plays the ukulele.

Read Fiona’s latest articles first on LinkedIn.