Professional organizers: Paper kills - MoneySense

Professional organizers: Paper kills

How to kill your paperwork problems before they kill you.

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The disorganized pay more. Whether you run a home business or a multinational, your ability to organize yourself is crucial. Problem is, being organized comes as naturally to entrepreneurs as centring the Montreal Canadiens’ power play.

“People throw away hundreds of dollars” by losing receipts and forgetting to record potential tax deductions, laments Linda Chu, a professional organizer in Vancouver. And that doesn’t include the time you waste sorting through messy desks and impenetrable filing systems.

Mandie Crawford, a former police officer turned small-business consultant in Calgary, says running your own business is much like police work: “The job may be fun, but the paperwork will kill you if you don’t do it right.”

Unfortunately, recognizing the problem doesn’t mean you can fix it. Two-thirds of respondents to a recent Office Depot survey admitted they don’t know how to get organized or stay that way.

It takes systems to turn entrepreneurs into administrative whizzes. Enter a new breed of professional organizer who will come to your home or office to help you create procedures for controlling clutter. “Organizing is a growth industry,” says Chu, founder of Out of Chaos Inc. and marketing director of the industry association, Professional Organizers in Canada. POC now has 545 members across Canada, up from 100 five years ago. Inspired by such popular home-makeover TV shows as Clean Sweep, much of the industry is geared to consumers. But with the disappearance of secretaries from most companies, organizers are finding there’s plenty to do in business as well—at rates ranging from $45 to $175 an hour.

The POC website (organizersincanada.com) has a “Find an Organizer” page if you’re serious about creating systemic change. But if you would rather do it yourself, here are 10 money-saving tips from three expert organizers.

• “Leverage your time,” says Chu. If you’re not a detail person, hire a bookkeeper to record your expenses and a student to input the names on that collection of business cards scattered over your desk.

• Put receipts for business expenses into a basket or file folder as soon as you get them. If you do that 21 times, it becomes a habit that will serve you forever, says Elizabeth Verwey of Small Office Mentors in Toronto.

• Keep a notebook in your car for recording business trips: date, purpose, kilometers driven. Verwey records every trip, whether business or pleasure, “so I don’t have to remember to do it for business.” (She’s seen the Canada Revenue Agency disallow vehicle deductions for entrepreneurs who didn’t keep detailed logs.)

• Where to put your receipts when traveling? “Baggies are your friend,” says Chu: use plastic sandwich bags to keep receipts together. Make sure you fill in the details for each expense every day (cab drivers rarely write in the pickup point or destination any more).

• Store old receipts in clearly labeled bankers’ boxes. If you move, “take them with you in your vehicle,” urges Crawford. Three years ago, her mover lost a box containing two years of her records during a move from Hamilton to Calgary. When she was audited by Canada Revenue, being unable to prove those expenses cost her $5,000.

• When buying business supplies online, immediately print out your receipt, says Verwey. That way your deduction won’tget forgotten come tax time.

• Don’t combine your personal and business banking. “If you run your business out of one account there’s never any question about what your expenses are for,” says Crawford. “If the auditors see personal stuff in your business account, they’ll question everything.”

• Go digital. Use small business software such as Simply Accounting or QuickBooks to track your revenue and expenses, says Verwey. The reports you generate will tell you where your business stands all year long, and make tax time a breeze.

• Hire a pro to do your taxes. They know how to claim the maximum deductions—safely. “My accountant has earned me money every year,” says Verwey. “If I did my own taxes, I wouldn’t begin to see all the money that he gets back.”

• Save time by creating email templates for messages you send out more than once. Crawford has 30 templates ready to go for everything from answering frequent questions to politely pointing out that a member’s credit card payment didn’t go through. “There’s lot of things you do over and over again,” she says. “The more you systematize that, the more efficiently you can run your business.”

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