Why Your Construction Business Should Invest in Paper

Invest in paper, it is good for your construction business

A word to the wise. I don’t often say this, yet I am now. If you don’t have the time to read this article and follow the valuable links, bookmark this page and come back to it later.

Paper as investment

“Whaaaat?” you say. Here at Schulte and Schulte, our clients, our peers, and even our friends know us for being a paperless office. Heck, even our business cards rest peacefully on our phones, just waiting to be “handed out.”

Plus, we often strive hard to help our clients move into the paperless world.

Yet, here I am suggesting commercial construction subcontractors should invest in paper.

Yes paper.

Because its value is so immense.

Paper sets you apart

Brett and Kate McKay, owners of The Art of Manliness, wrote an article titled, The Myth of Scarcity: 12 Stupidly Easy Things That’ll Set You Apart from the Pack.

In the second of their “12 Stupidly Easy Things” they suggest using handwritten thank you notes. They say, “Thank you note writing has become such a lost art, and receiving snail mail is so delightful, that sending handwritten appreciation has become one of the most effective ways to set yourself apart from the pack.”

Likewise, Kyle Young, writing for Lifehack gives us, 10 Reasons You Should Write More Handwritten Letters.  

While all of his points are good, my favorite is the fifth. He says, “It helps you pause long enough to say things that matter. Texting and email are mostly reactionary. You need information, so you reach out. Writing letters is much more deliberate. You do it to give, not to receive. You write because there’s something you need to say, not something you need to know.”

Paper (plain paper) for the win

Len Markidan, writing at groove has the audacity to scoff at the craziness of “branded handwritten notes.” He says, “Too many businesses get hung up on the “branding” of handwritten notes . . . . . That’s crazy. Handwritten notes don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they’re not supposed to be! If you want something to look perfect, type it up, have a designer make it pretty, and spend a bunch of money getting it printed. But if you want something to be effective, then you don’t need to worry about any of that.”

Effective is the keyword in the last sentence. Powerful!

His article titled, 5 Free Scripts for Writing Handwritten Notes That Wow Your Customers is chock full of great information concerning the practice of handwritten notes. And of course, the 5 free scripts are right there available for your use.

Additionally, Markidan tells you why you can’t use “my handwriting stinks” as an excuse for not setting yourself apart.

Greeting cards too

None of the folks I’ve mentioned above talk about the power of adding store-bought greeting cards as another tool in your connection’s toolbox. Yet, I do see them as quite valuable.

Of course, there are the Thank You cards and the blank interior cards which should be among your tools.

And there are the spot-on greeting cards that can be added.

If you’re concerned about finding the right card in a sea of cards check out my “5 Doggone Good Card Picking Rules” below. Before you begin, think of the people you touch in your business. They are likely general contractors, employees, vendors, other contractors, service providers, referral partners, and subs.

And, you already know what types of cards to purchase for:

  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Death or other type of loss
  • Congratulations
  • Holidays

5 Doggone Good Card Picking Rules

  1. Put your CRM (or your brain) to use. Look for connections. Think about hobbies, collections, or interests.
  2. Plan to shop when you have time to browse. At first, you may have to make time. With practice you’ll get better. (If you have someone you trust who is good at this, send them.)
  3. Typically, humor is a good bet. Making someone laugh out loud, or at least smile is a great way to grab their attention.
  4. Pick up several different cards for various people in one shopping spree. Save the extras for the appropriate time.
  5. Hand delivery of cards is perfectly acceptable. Yet, if you’re planning to mail, don’t forget the stamps.

Write this down

Paper – for hand writing notes, cards, and letters is a valuable tool in your connection’s toolbox! It is worth the investment.

 

It is our desire this article (among our growing library of construction-centric informational articles) is helpful in assisting commercial construction contractors build better building businesses. http://www.schulteandschulte.com/blog/

Providing Accounting, Contract Document Management, and Advisory Board Level counsel for small to medium commercial construction subcontractors.

So you can Run With the Big Dogs. Call us! 866-629-7735

 

Going Paperless in Your Construction Contracting Office: Are You Kidding Me?

Before going further, I better get this thought out there. Instead of calling it the paperless office, let’s call it the less paper office. There are myriad reasons why paper is probably not going away soon. The realities of paper in the construction contracting industry force even the most tech-savvy owners to contend with external forces such as customer needs and regulatory or legal requirements.

Yet, there are ways to eliminate much of it and simple ways to deal with what is left. The way it shapes up, you can either manage it or it can manage you.

Where does all that paper come from?

Vendors, wanna-be-vendors, customers, fellow contractors, government entities, service organizations, your copy machine . . . and on and on.

But, you can begin to stem the paper barrage when you realize every piece of paper coming into or generated in your construction contracting office is likely to fall into one of these four categories:

  • Archival (such as completed contracts, insurance policies, or real estate records)
  • Reference (like warranties, active contracts, or your policies and procedures)
  • Actionable (for instance reminder notes, call slips, or your daily roster)
  • Trash (you know – everything else)

If it feels as if it is raining paper and your office roof is leaking it is time to deal with the paper overload.

What should be done with it?

The simple answer is to digitize as much as you possibly can, keeping in mind the four categories seen above. The less paper stuffed in file drawers, piled on top of desks, and wafting in the breeze on office walls the fewer “emergency paper searches” and “last minute re-does” you’re going to have.

One app we at Schulte and Schulte, LLC recommend for helping you move closer to the less paper office is Hubdoc. You can find out more about it by reading this article written by our own Technological Operations Leader, Steve Lewis.

The harder answer is you may have to make a concerted effort companywide to clear the paper clutter. Moving to a new digitized system may take some time, but the reward will be seen on both the financial meter as well as the hassle meter.

If you’re still wondering Why it is a good idea to ditch the paper, this 10 point list will give you a bigger picture.

The down and dirty of dealing with all that paper

I borrowed stole Barbara Hemphill’s brief list of questions to ask yourself when determining what to do with clutter – in this case, paper clutter.

  1. Do I really need to keep it?
  2. In what form should I keep it? (paper or digital)
  3. How long should I keep it? (risk management is involved here)
  4. Who is responsible for it?
  5. Who needs to have access to it?
  6. How do I find it once it is processed?
  7. How do I back it up?
  8. What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I toss it and need it later?

In the end, when it comes to either paper or digital documents, legal counsel and your tax preparers advice are what I recommend when you need to know what to keep, how long to keep it, and how it should be stored.

Set your less paper goals now

I’ve noted it is probably impossible for most construction contracting companies to go completely paperless now, yet a move towards doing just that can save time, money, and space. When you and your staff no longer find the need to focus on document processing and searching, you can focus more on doing the things that keep your business going and growing. While an entirely paperless office may now live only in daydreams, an office which uses less paper is without doubt an achievable goal.

Moving to the less paper office will make you and your staff more effective and better equipped to meet the day’s challenges, as well as give you a head start on scaling your construction contracting business up to the next level.

 

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This is the another in a series of articles concerning getting your construction contracting business more organized on your way to scaling your business. You can go here to find more articles in the series.

The Tickler File, an Age-Old Tool for the Modern Construction Contractors Office

We’ve found most people fit in one of three categories when it comes to understanding and using a tickler file.

In which category do you fit?

  1. I’ve never even heard of a tickler file.
  2. I tried it and it didn’t work.
  3. I use and love my tickler system.

If you’re in the number one slot, hang on I’ll explain not only what it is, but how to use it.

If you’re in the number two space, please give me a chance to show you some new ideas, techniques, and approaches which might just move you into the number three category.

And, if you’re in the third spot, yay! You already know how this simple tool makes running your construction contracting office so much easier. Plus, there may be a few ways to use your tickler file you hadn’t thought of before.

So, what is a tickler file?

You may have also heard this file described as a pending system, a bring-up file, or a holding box. It doesn’t matter what you call it, the point is it’s a great tool for keeping your brain as well as your office organized.

The best way I can describe it is, “The tickler file is a system meant to tickle your memory, it’s a fantastic way to help you keep track of details you don’t want to have roaming around in your head, hiding out in virtual space, or lying around on your desk.”

We’ll start with the physical aspect of a tickler file, then move on to the latest concept of an integrated system (which includes your computer or other digital device) for tickling your memory.

While the tickler file has been around for a long time, David Allen a productivity consultant, re-popularized the idea with his bestselling book Getting Things Done.

In his system there are 31 file folders labeled 1 through 31, followed by 12 folders labeled with each month of the year. These folders are then placed in an easy to reach spot. For example, you could choose to use a desk file drawer or a desktop file box.

The file number which should be in the front of the file each day is the one corresponding to today’s date. After you’ve emptied today’s file, you move that number to the back of that section. The month which should be in the first slot of the 12 months is the month following the one you’re presently in. When you move “next month’s” files into the appropriate daily files, you also move that month’s folder to the back of the month section.

What goes in the files?

Documents you’ll need again soon, follow up notes, coupons, reminders to call back, bills to be paid, status reports, evaluations, tax related items, requests for feedback, event tickets, flyers with directions or instructions, warranty expirations, forms to be filled out, — really, simply any item or piece of paper which needs to be reviewed or acted upon can all go into the proper day of the month or left holding within future months.

Here is the rule-of-thumb I use when deciding which pieces of paper find a temporary home in my tickler file – if I’m not filing it or tossing it, it is a good candidate for my tickler file. Let’s face it, a tickler file truly is more effective and useful than looking all over bulletin boards, magnet boards, taped or tacked on walls, or a stack on your desk in order to find the paper you want. Plus, with a tickler file the risk of completely forgetting something beneath the stack is eliminated.

A real-life example of something that is hanging out in my tickler file right now is a flyer I received from Fry’s Super Market. It states that on the dates February 17th through 19th every VIP customer (meaning if you have a Fry’s card) will be able to save twenty cents per gallon of gas at the new Fry’s location in our neighborhood. Chances are great that on one of those dates I’ll need to purchase gas. If I don’t take advantage of the offer on the first date, I’ll move it to the next day, then the next. If, for some crazy reason, I haven’t used it by the end of the offer that piece of paper will find its way to file 13.

What comes out of the files?

Nothing. Well that is, nothing comes out of the tickler file if you don’t use it. Yet, if you get into the habit of faithfully using your system everything comes out at some point. It will either be acted upon or filed when the time is right. Which reminds me, only put in stuff that is really better done at a future date.

Also, in the past I would have advised sticking to the desktop box storage system because of the “out of sight, out of mind” concept. But now-a-days, there are ways to get around that problem and I will tell you about it a little further down. For now, I’ll introduce you to another way to build your physical tickler file.

Shrinking the tickler file

One reason the tickler file was so popular in the past is paper was a major problem in all offices. These days – not so much. Yet, there are still paper items which we all must deal with and that is where a shrunken version of a tickler file comes in quite handy.

The major concepts concerning the use of the full-blown version and the shrunken version are about the same. The difference is felt mostly in the space and time devoted to housing and using the tickler file.

Let me introduce the shrunken version I developed and use specifically for two reasons, 1) my office space is very small, and 2) I don’t have a large number of paper items to deal with.

I use only 8 folders and they’re labeled like this:

  • Monday
  • Tuesday
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
  • Friday
  • Next Week
  • Next Month
  • Later

Just like the full-blown version, upcoming action items are placed in the appropriate day of the week, or one of the other noted files. At the end of the week, I check the “next week” folder and slot items from it into the daily files. I also place the “next month” folder into the midst of the daily files when “next month” takes place in the middle of a week. If there are items in the next month file which are to be used in week three or week four of the month I place them in the “next week” file and slot them in during the weekly review. Also, always check the “later” file at the end of the month. You may need to bring some items forward.

Did you say electronic tickler file?

Why yes, there is a way to have an electronic tickler file. Just be aware, like the (almost) paperless office the electronic system is (almost) paperless.

Matt Perman, on his site, What’s Best Next posted an article titled A Few Quick Examples on How to Make Your Tickler File Electronic. Check it out. It may be all you need.

Use it or lose it

Setting up the system takes minutes. Using the system also takes only minutes a day. BUT, getting into the habit of using a tickler file system is the hardest part. I know, I’ve tried on more than one occasion. In reality, the hardest part about using a tickler file is actually starting to use it.

Remember I mentioned I would tell you about the ways to remember to use your tickler file? One way to solve the problem is to place a “trigger” in your space. For example, you walk into your office, put away your personal belongings, and right there in the spot where you’re putting your purse or your lunch there is a note that says, “Check the tickler file.” Yep, make it the first thing you do each morning and that soon becomes a habit.

Another way to remind yourself is to put a repeating task on your digital calendar. You open your calendar and there the notice is – Check Tickler File. Your next step is to reach for your tickler file.

I read where some folks sent themselves an email with a reminder to check the tickler file. Find the way that works best for you and use it.

Wait, there’s more

Lest I sound like the annoying salesman on TV, I do want to let you know there are also some added benefits of using a tickler file you may not have thought of. One fellow shared that when he tried (again) to get his tickler file system going he purposely added some things just to get in the habit. He enjoyed music and was trying to learn some new songs. So, he added the lyrics to songs on a few days, reviewed the songs, then refiled them in upcoming days so he could review again. He said it wasn’t long before he was in the habit and no longer needed to “seed” the tickler file.

Studying for a new license, need to learn about a piece of software, want to understand an app better? Drop a note in your tickler file reminding yourself to take 15 minutes to study. Put the note back in tomorrow’s date or a few days down the road. In just a few days, you’ve put in an hour or more towards learning what you need to know.

Want to tackle an “extra project” (like organizing the office) but don’t have time? Drop notes in your tickler file in which the project is broken down into nibble size pieces. They might look like this, “clean top right drawer,” “straighten files A through C,” “rearrange top shelf in storage closet.” You get the idea.

Choosing the right tickler file system

Now that you know about all the benefits you receive from using a tickler file it is time to decide which works best in your office. (By the way, any of these systems will work well at home too. Think about getting all the junk off your kitchen counter and you’ll know what I mean.)

The easiest way to decide which system is best for your office is to determine how much paper you must deal with on a daily or regular basis.

  • Lots of paper – Go with the 43 files, you might like this ready-made unit.
  • A little bit of paper – try my system
  • Hardly any paper – make use of the electronic file

Adding a tickler file in your office is an excellent way to use an age-old tool in managing your modern construction contracting business.

This is the first in a series of articles concerning pieces of the organizing puzzle for your construction contracting business. You can go here to find out more about what has or will be showing up in the collection.