Use Good Office Management to Control Chaos in Your Small Business

How to Be a Good Office Manager

Frustrated businesswoman talking on cell phone with paperwork and coffee
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Disorganization and confusion are irritating but they’re also just plain bad for business. Think of it as a formula if you like: chaos increasing equals profits decreasing. The answer? A good office manager. Here's how you can be one and control chaos in your small business:

1. Establish office management routines and stick to them.

Routine tasks need routine procedures if you want to stay organized and keep things running smoothly.

Set up routines for handling paperwork and office systems. For instance, if possible, every piece of paper that comes into your office should be handled once, acted upon, and filed – not haphazardly piled on a desk. Similarly, digital communications such as emails should be prioritized and acted upon immediately if possible, or flagged for future action.

Office systems, including desktops, laptops, file servers, multi function printers, and mobile devices, will need both the administration and emergency procedures. When the system crashes or a computer-related piece of equipment fails, everyone in your office needs to know who to call and what not to do (such as try to fix the problem themselves). These data management articles provide helpful tips for everything from office filing systems through computer backup procedures.

2. Set up clearly delineated responsibilities.

Good office management depends on people knowing who is responsible for what – it’s people who are accountable who get things done.

What would happen, for example, if the purchasing for your small business was done by whoever whenever? Would you be able to find printer paper when you needed it? Putting one person in charge of ordering all equipment and supplies solves the problem and keeps things running smoothly. Have employees email the designated person any requests for supplies, or post a handwritten list in a conspicuous place where people can add what they need.

It’s the same with (computer) systems administration. You need to have one person responsible for the security of your computer systems and keeping track of things such as accounts, passwords, and software. Using cloud-based systems for office applications, accounting software, and data storage is an ideal solution for small businesses, but you still need to have a trusted person assigned to perform administrative tasks such as adding/deleting users, assigning permissions, etc. 

3. Keep records – and keep your business records updated.

Keeping records sounds like the easiest part of good office management – until you consider the need to keep those records both accessible and updated. But the first rule for being a good office manager will help you get a grip on this; make updating records an office routine. When you get a new customer or client, for instance, it only takes a moment to enter him into your contacts database. Then it will only take another moment or two to update the record after you’ve spoken to him on the phone.

(Note, too, that most jurisdictions have Privacy Acts that regulate the handling of customer information).

4. Take a walk through your office and have a sit.

Is your office an example of space management or space mismanagement?

When you walk through the office, do you have to detour around obstacles or run the risk of tripping over something?

When you sit down at a desk, could you actually work comfortably there? Are things logically arranged so that the things that you would use most at the desk are closest to hand?

There are a lot of things crammed into offices nowadays, from printer stands through filing cabinets. For good office management, you need to be sure that all the things in the office are arranged for maximum efficiency – and maximum safety. The Basics of Small or Home Office Design provides tips for safely meeting the power, lighting and ventilation needs of your office space.

5. Schedule the tedious work.

It’s too easy to put off things that you don’t like doing, and most business people don't enjoy tasks such as filing, shipping and receiving, or bookkeeping - even office managers. Unfortunately, an office, like a kitchen, won’t function well without the chores being done.

If you are a small business owner who’s in the position of not being able to assign whatever you view as boring or unpleasant work to someone else, force yourself to get to it regularly by scheduling time each week for it. Take a morning or afternoon, for instance, and spend it making the cold calls, returning non-priority email inquiries, making social media postings, catching up on the accounting, or updating the records.

6. Delegate and outsource.

In a perfect world, everyone would only be doing what he or she had time to do and did well. As the world is not perfect, instead a lot of people are doing things that they don’t have the time or talent to do well.

Delegating and outsourcing can not only improve your small business’s office management but free you to focus on your talents as well, thereby improving your bottom line. A part-time or Virtual assistant may be able to handle many of your office or administrative tasks. For more on delegating, see Decide to Delegate.

7. Make business planning a priority.

Many small business owners spend their days acting and reacting – and then wonder why they seem to be spinning their wheels. Business planning is an important component of good office management and needs to be part of your regular office management routine.

Successful small business owners spend time every week on business planning, and many use daily business planning sessions as a tool for goal setting and growth.

This business planning guide is a great primer for getting your business planning efforts underway; it lays out a business planning framework for your small business and provides resources on everything from writing a vision statement through the rules for setting business goals.

If you have staff, involve them in business planning, either formally or informally.

You'll Love the Difference

Don’t let chaos interfere with doing business. Once you start applying these seven principles of good office management, you’ll be amazed at the difference good office management makes – and how much more business you do.

See also:

Why Cloud Computing Is Ideal for Small Businesses

Mastering Your Filing System

How to Create a Document Management System

10 Tips for Organizing Computer Files