When “Business As Usual” Needs an Overhaul
Not all “business development” is about developing new business. Entrepreneurs also have to spend time and thought on systems for running the company efficiently.
This is a full disclosure piece: I hereby disclose that I despise paperwork.
I didn’t get into this industry to sit in the office generating invoices; I’d rather be locating and interviewing witnesses. The work is important, we tell ourselves. We need to be out there knocking on doors, we tell ourselves.
We don’t have time to push paper.
I hate pushing paper. I’d rather sit in a surveillance van in 100+ degree weather for eight hours than spend two hours figuring out procedures for billing a government entity. But without the paperwork, there’s no getting paid. And without getting paid, there’s no surveillance van.
This has been a constant struggle for me in business. I like investigative work. I hate administrative work.
I like investigative work. I hate administrative work.
I have a friend named Kenny Polly. Kenny runs the auto shop where I buy gas and have our cars serviced. For the past (I’m shocked by this number for several reasons) thirty years, Kenny and I have spent almost every morning drinking coffee and discussing the problems of this planet. If I’m in town, I’m walking to Polly’s Service Center at at five o’clock in the a.m. to have a chat and a cup of joe.
On Tuesday mornings, when I walk into Kenny’s shop before dawn, Kenny is always – without fail, every Tuesday morning – in his small office reviewing stacks of receipts, work orders, and paperwork. It’s a thing he does with religious fervor. Kenny Polly does paperwork on Tuesday mornings. It’s just what he does.
Sure, he pushes the stacks of paper aside when I walk in. He stops long enough to drink a cup of coffee and solve some of the world’s problems, but he’s in that little office when I arrive and he goes back in when I leave.
Then Act Like a Professional
An instructor visited Nashville a few months back to shoot video for a new course we’re working on together. She mentioned continuing education, ’cause that’s what we do. We provide online education for investigators and other professionals.
So, Melissa and I were talking about how I often wait till the last minute to renew my real estate appraisal license. I blamed it on the fact that I don’t have a full-time appraisal practice any more. I blamed it on too much work. I blamed it on the fact that I hate paperwork. She said something that took me off guard.
“Suck it up. You’re a professional, aren’t you?” she said. “Then act like a professional.” We went on to have a long and in-depth conversation about what it means to be a true professional.
I made a strong case for doing quality work and showing up on time and dressing like a professional. She kept coming back to actually being professional, and all that being professional entails – like keeping on top of the business side of the business.
I admit it. I do not like paperwork. I do not, no more than any of you, enjoy completing my continuing education requirements, or billing clients, or renewing my license. I can find about a million reasons to avoid these things. But at the end of the day, having a system in place helps. Thanks to my pal Kenny and visiting instructor, Melissa, I’ve implemented a new schedule.
Tuesday = Paperwork Day
Here’s a newish innovation I’ve instituted, thanks to Kenny Polly: I’ve set aside a day every week for paperwork and nothing else. I lock the door to the office. I turn off the phone. I complete invoices. I schedule license and designation renewals. It takes me a full day, one entire day every week, to stay on top of these things. (There are a lot of moving parts.) I’ve been doing this for only a short while. I have a notion that the longer I stick to this routine, the easier it will become, as most habits do.
I feel more professional already.
I’m sitting in my office right now. It’s Monday afternoon. I’m writing an article for PI Education and Pursuit Magazine. This morning I worked in the PI Education studio on an upcoming course for PI Education. Monday, in my new schedule, is production day. I’ve had a lot of distractions today, but I’m determined to work the plan and get as much material produced for PI Education as I can. Tomorrow, I’ll dive into the paperwork.
I’ve been working my entire adult life on getting better at the work. Thanks to increasing demands, I’m now working on getting better at the business. A few tools I’ve come to rely on over the years, and which I strongly recommend, are:
Evernote — This app is massively helpful for working a complicated case with multiple attorneys and investigators. It lets my defense team organize files, photos, documents, websites, and screenshots and share everything with each other, including whatever addendums, notes, and chat threads we’ve affixed to each piece of info.
Harvest — Helps me keep up with time worked on the many cases I’ve got open at any given time and build invoices automatically. The app also lets me key in mileage and store photos of receipts for each case.
I have found it interesting that the more time and effort I put into improving the running of the business (the day-to-day things that all business owners must do), the more quality time I have to do the actual work (interviewing witnesses and investigating crimes and malfeasance).
This month, January, we’re talking about business development. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m hoping that sharing my struggle will encourage some of you to focus a little more time and energy on managing the day-to-day. The struggle is real.
Bonus: Our pal Kelly Riddle, a PI in San Antonio, has penned yet another book for private investigators. This one is titled: Things They Didn’t Tell You (About Starting a PI Business). Kelly is a profoundly organized human and knows how to keep the books in the black, so if I were you I’d click here and buy it now.