Friday, January 29, 2010

In small companies, you wear many hats

I received a call recently from a dear friend with a dilemma. She works for a small company and handles both the customer service and accounting functions for the company. She wanted my advice.

A few years ago, I worked for a small company in a "Special Accounts" department. My duties included overseeing the deliveries for Client X, handling customer service, coordinating with the salesperson and collecting from their national offices. I also created a manual that had the price charts and the instructions for order processing.

I inherited an ongoing accounts receivable issue. The previous assistant had not kept up with billing and she had not being able to collect on orders processed over 120 days old. As the new Assistant, I was asked to find all the documentation and proceed with the collections efforts. It was a learning experience for me, and I was able to collect about $40,000 in billing 120 to 360 days old. This was the reason why my friend was asking for my help now.

My friend works for a small company where she was initially hired to work on a new product. As the economy stalled, the company downsized and kept only those employees that could handle more than one task. She had experience in customer service and as a freelancer, has had some experience with accounting. Now, as an employee, she finds herself working on all three departments. She is having trouble keeping all the hats on and handling all her duties effectively.

My advice for my friend is the KISS principle, Keep It Super Simple. I asked her to sit down, either at home during the weekend, or at the office on Monday, and make a list of all the responsibilities she thinks she has. Then, on Monday, take a blank piece of paper and write down everything she does and how long each task takes. It should look something like this:

8:00 AM Working on product A. Spent an hour and a half on schematics
9:30 AM Calls to clients 103 and 105 about the pending invoices.
10:00 AM Returned calls to three customers who needed more information.
11:00 AM Early lunch
12:00 Meeting with engineer for production of Product A.

You get the idea. I asked her to do this process for a couple of days, ideally, the whole week. so that she can take a look at the actual tasks that she handles as opposed to what she thinks her duties are. Then, she should sit down, analyze what she is really doing, what her boss expects from her and how to handle her hours more effectively. Without figuring out what you are doing, it is really hard to get your work done efficiently. Doing this exercise might take a little more time. It will help my friend keep her clients and bosses happy and it will make her life a lot easier.

When you work for yourself or for a smaller unit, some times you have to wear many hats. Some responsibilities might make you uncomfortable, some might be easier for you to do. Remember that in many job descriptions, the last line always says: "and any other duties required". Take the challenge head on, you might be surprised at how much you learn and what you find out about yourself in the process. Best of luck.

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