(originally published on a startup’s blog, but the company has since closed)
It doesn’t take much to become overwhelmed with everything you need to do at work. One week could be super mellow, then all of a sudden it seems like every possible thing that could go wrong does. Scrambling to plan a business trip the day before, waiting to the last minute to run errands, or pulling an all nighter to finish up a project on a deadline not only leads to an increase in stress and a drop in morale, it could also destroy your company’s finances, and contribute to an overall decrease in productivity. Learning how to plan ahead can help your business run smoothly and keep your team on track throughout the year.
Know you have to take a business trip in a few months? Don’t hesitate to buy your plane ticket. If you’re traveling during off peak (not a holiday or vacation time) aim for making your reservations around six weeks in advance, but begin research 2-4 weeks before that. Around Thanksgiving, go for 3 months in advance, ditto for other major holidays or times corresponding with spring or winter break. You can’t predict exactly how airfares will behave, but on average, you’ll see prices increase as you get closer to your date of departure regardless of when you’re planning on making the trip. Also, be aware that some airlines also charge last minute booking fees or same day change fees. Airfare Watchdog put together a list of all the fees for the most popular airlines.
In an article on Lifehack, Thursday Bram of Hyper Modern Consulting advises travelers to book trips in blocks and hop from one location to the next instead of going home in between each. Without the return fare costs, you’ll end up saving more than half of what you would spend on separate roundtrips. Plus, if you can choose the order of locations, you can design your trip to have the shortest travel time.
Listen to Complaints
Tackle the little things before they become monstrous problems. If you’ve received a complaint from a client, whether it was sent directly or posted online, look into it. An article on [Entrepreneur](http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/71318 advises businesses to attend to any grievances early lest they turn into major time and money drains. “‘Avoiding lawsuits is a big factor in business success,’” says tax book author [Holmes] Crouch. ‘Even arbitration can get expensive.’ The best alternative: Try to work out any problems before they grow to the point that attorneys get involved.”
Hire a Temp
If you know you’re going to have a massive influx of work, consider hiring a temp to take on part of the burden. Being able to delegate tasks (even just the small stuff that takes time but no actual brain work) to an additional person means less chance of everyone working overtime and becoming increasingly more inefficient as the day progresses. It might cost more in the short term to bring on someone new, but according to Business Insider, “Employees under high levels of stress cost 40% more than the average worker.” The article cites “related health care and workers’ compensation claims, absenteeism, turnover, productivity loss and more” as possible explanations for the increase. Long days also mean catered dinners, and other potentially expensive ways to boost company morale.
Plan Your Buying
If you were waiting for Black Friday to stock up on goodies for your office, think again. A recent article from the Wall Street Journal notes that “Retailers’ prices registered their biggest drops last holiday season on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and the cheapest prices overall came on Thanksgiving Day itself.” If you’re in the market for new office furniture, wait until January or the end of April, rsays Freeshipping.org’s The Best Time to Buy Guide. The guide also says that computers are cheapest in August and December.
No matter the time of year, it’s always a good idea to plan your shopping trips in advance. Compare prices for easy to find items like paper, cleaning supplies, and ink to see where you can get the best deals and check websites for coupons. If you don’t need something immediately, you can also put up a wanted ad on Freecycle.org or Craigslist to see if anyone is looking to get rid of what you want. With Freecycle, it’s free to use and as long as you can arrange pick up, it’s all yours for no cost.
Keep an Eye on Your Finances
Obviously, the easiest way to sabotage your company finances is by forgetting to pay your bills on time. Creditors can charge late fees ranging from about $15-35 per monthdepending on whether or not you’ve been late before, and your interest rate may increase to the default rate (around 27.88%) as opposed to your normal rate of around 15%. If bills aren’t automatically deducted from the account, add due dates to your calendar app of choice and set reminder emails for a week or two prior. Or use an app like Mint. It sends reminders so you pay your bills on time, keeps you informed of your balance, notifies you if there’s unusual spending activity, sends email alerts if you’ve gone over your set budgets, and categorizes and labels all of your expenses. Not only is it a good way to ensure that your bank isn’t going to charge you a minimum balance fee or a maintenance fee, but it’s helpful for spotting credit card fraud.
Write it Down
Just because you’re no longer in college doesn’t mean you can’t still use an assignment notebook. An article on Fast Company advocates for writing your to do list and deadlines down on paper rather than typing them into your phone or computer. “By committing your thought to paper, you’re also doing more to lock it into place,” writes Kevin Purdy. “Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, has the brain scans to prove it. Berninger told the Wall Street Journal in Oct. 2010 that as your hand executes each stroke of each letter, it activates a much larger portion of the brain’s thinking, language, and ‘working memory’ regions than typing, which whisks your attention along at a more letters-and-words pace.” Keep a notebook and pen in your pocket or laptop bag for easy access and see if that makes a difference. If not, go back to your old way. No harm, no foul.
Use the new year as an excuse for revamping your business’s organizational methods. Buy a new wall calendar for the office and mark down deadlines, expected busy times, even company parties. It might seem menacing to have “pay bills” literally looming over your head in big black marker, but it beats having late fees to dispute or a surprise chunk of change taken out of the company account. Planning ahead doesn’t mean you’ll be able to predict all of the weirdness that might attack in the future. It just means being prepared for when it does and having the tools in place to handle it without disrupting the workflow.