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Painless projects Featured

9:22am EDT November 19, 2004
Bruce Reissaus wants his business, Advertising Specialties Alliance, to be the best, if not the biggest.

His aspirations for it were hampered, however, by a simple reality: He didn't have a methodical way to keep track of customer orders.

Reissaus and his wife and partner, Jennifer, started Advertising Specialties Alliance as a part-time venture in 1995 and took the business full time in 2002. Early on, the couple had no problem keeping track of the small number of customer orders. The details were recorded on scraps of paper and sticky notes.

As with a lot of salespeople, Reissaus likes the interplay between himself and his customers; the paperwork isn't his favorite part of the job.

"When we were small and when business was light, most of that was retained in our heads, and we knew automatically what to do next," says Reissaus.

Advertising Specialties Alliance handles two basic order types: event-dated, which require that merchandise be delivered to a customer by a specific date to coincide with an event, and nonevent-dated items.

When there was a handful of orders, it was easy to keep track of the details. But when the business took off -- revenue in 2004 will be double that of 2003 -- juggling the details became more of a challenge.

"If our 10-day or 12-day normal lead time stretches to a month, it's irritating for everyone," Reissaus says.

A slip-up on a nonevent-dated order would be relatively easy to repair, in most cases. But Reissaus realized what the impact would be if the company fumbled an event-dated order.

Reissaus decided to develop a customer project sheet to keep track of each step in the sales process with each customer. He identified approximately 70 possible steps involved in each order and developed a form that includes all of a customer's information and lists each step in the process. It's simple, but it captures the data needed to keep each customer order straight.

And while his company is relatively small, Reissaus says the model is scalable and can be used effectively as his business grows. His system resides on paper documents, but it could easily be placed on a database.

To help fellow networking group member Linda Schumacher, a project management professional, Reissaus purchased her book, "Ready, Set, Succeed." The book, it turned out, provided Reissaus with some valuable tips to help manage the project of developing the customer project sheet.

* Remove the planning process -- both mentally and physically -- from the day-to-day operations, allowing you to think about it and analyze the best design for the solution.

* Do it when you won't be interrupted. This highlights the value of taking it away from the day-to-day operations of the business. It also minimizes the possibility that you will be drawn away from the task by the immediate demands of your company.

* Impose deadlines. "If you don't impose a deadline, it's never going to get done," says Reissaus.

Schumacher suggests that business owners who want to undertake a project outside their normal day-to-day activities should consider the amount of effort it will require, the investment in time and resources needed and the impact the final product will have on the business. In Reissaus' case, a simple solution that required a modest investment in time and effort produced a lot of bang for the buck, an approach Schumacher suggest might be the place to start.

Says Schumacher: "You might want to start out with something small. Then you can learn the techniques and the process and add to them as you incorporate them into your business." How to reach: Advertising Specialties Alliance, www.asalink.com; Schumacher Consulting Inc., www.lindaschumacher.com