Today is National Organize Your Home Office Day! Why an entire day devoted to only one physical location? Because home offices tend to accumulate a lot of clutter — mostly paper. So, take some time to declutter and organize your home office. When you can actually see your desk and find your bills, you will be happy you did! To help you get started, here are some quick tips:

  • Eliminate paper from your home office by simply using your calendar more frequently. Instead of keeping the paper, put the information (location of meeting, for example) on your calendar and throw the paper away (or recycle!).
  • Do you tear out articles from magazines and newspapers? You had every intention of organizing those parenting articles and decorating ideas. Yet, there they are, still just a stack of paper. Either finally let them go (trust that the information is mostly in your head now!), or create categories and file them (Gardening, Decorating, Parenting, etc.).
  • Are you an intellectual hoarder? So many people keep stacks of newspapers, books & magazines they hope to read them “someday.” Go online to read your favorite periodicals and blogs, listen to audio books while driving, only keep a realistic amount of physical reading material, etc. Get rid of the physical clutter and free up that intellectual mind of yours to actually take in more information!
  • Start Shredding! Use a crosscut shredder to avoid identity theft. Americans spent 300 million hours resolving issues related to identify theft in 2007 (between 30-60 hours per victim). Be sure to shred credit card offers/solicitations.  Credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft (33% of all cases).

And remember, everyday can be Organize Your Home Office Day — a little at a time goes a long way. Happy Organizing!

In August 2009, I had the honor of taping a segment of the public access television show, The Path: Positive People, Places & Things in the Hudson Valley. It was a great experience! I was interviewed by co-hosts, Marisa Miles and Tameeka Williams. We discussed my business, LM Organizing Solutions, including the funniest and most embarassing moments I’ve experienced as a professional organizer! I also offered tips for staying organizing during back-to-school time and throughout the year, and demonstrated some great organizing tools and products.

You can watch the video by clicking here. Be sure to leave me a comment and let me know how you liked it.

I am always amazed at how travel can improve your business and your life. Recently, my husband and I visited the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Lucia. It was a fantastic vacation by all accounts. The island is a marvel of nature with soaring peaks, an active volcano, lush rainforests, volcanic sand beaches, etc. We stayed at a really special place called Ti Kaye Village Resort (http://www.tikaye.com/) and booked through a wonderful local company named Serenity Tours (http://www.serenitytvl.com/). I was able to unplug from my busy life back home, and truly enjoy a tropical escape. However, I did not turn my business brain off just because I was on vacation. To the contrary, I carefully observed and realized that travel in general, and the people of St. Lucia in particular, can teach us a lot about how to run successful businesses and live better lives. Here are the lessons learned. 

  • Great Customer Service Gets Noticed – We all know how important good customer service is. But how many businesses truly excel at customer service? At Ti Kaye, the little touches made a big impact. The check-in procedure gave us a glimpse of how amazing the service is. You arrive and are given a complimentary drink (rum punch!), a banana leaf necklace is placed around your neck, you sit in the open air bar enjoying the view, and the manager comes over to introduce herself and tell you about the resort. You sign one piece of paper, give a credit card, and then are shown to your cottage, where your bags are already waiting for you. What got our attention was how personalized it was, and how it didn’t feel like a traditional check-in. There’s no lobby. You’re sitting at an open-air bar with an amazing view of the Caribbean Sea. Another example of the excellent customer service is the complimentary neck and shoulder massages before dinner. (Don’t even get me started on the spa!) It was the little things that made a big difference, and truly got our attention. From a business standpoint, customer service is not only still king, but gets noticed and creates true fans of your business.
  • Make Your Clients Feel Special by Personalizing the Service – Our tour guide from Serenity Tours, John, actually took the time before he met us to find out what we do for a living, and then weaved it into the conversation. For example, he saw that I do motivational speaking on my website, and commented how much he loves Tony Robbins and finds motivational speaking so inspirational. He found out that my husband is a veterinarian, and shared that his sister-in-law is also a veterinarian. He offered to arrange for us to tour her vet practice on the island. That type of personalized approach in going deep with your clients, researching them, and really taking the time to find out what makes them unique goes a long way. We truly felt special. I have no doubt that Serenity does that for all of its clients, as all service-based business owners should do.
  • Manners & Friendliness Count – St. Lucians are friendly, warm, and open people, and this makes visitors feel welcome and appreciated. This is something we can all benefit from in life and in our business with our clients. Manners and friendliness make a difference! For example, they call elder women “Mom” in the British tradition as a sign of respect. We noticed it and thought it was a nice touch. We were always greeted with a friendly salutation, thanked for our service, and were even treated to some warm, big hugs when saying good-bye. Treat your clients with respect, mind your manners, and engage them with warmth and affection.
  • Challenge Yourself – There are twin volcanic peaks on the island called The Pitons. You can hike Gros Piton, which is 2600 feet high. It is a serious physical challenge, but also a mental one. It took us 2 hours to reach the summit, and then 2 hours to hike back down. It is a difficult hike as the trail is very rocky so you have to really watch your footing, and it is steep. But, it is worth it! The views from the top are incredible! Doing something like that when you are traveling, or even in everyday life, can remind you of your own strength and resilience personally and professionally. Are there new business ideas that you are dying to implement but have been holding yourself back? Challenge yourself. The rewards may be amazing once you reach the “summit.”
  • Be Authentic – We loved hearing about the history of the people that live near Gros Piton in the community called Fond Gens Libres (land of the free). The community was originally formed of Royalists escaping the guillotine during the French Revolution, and then slaves that had escaped or been freed (St. Lucia abolished slavery in 1834.) There are only about 100 descendents of those original ancestors living in the community of Fond Gens Libre today, and they are fiercely independent. They stand true to their beliefs and way of life. Their example serves as a powerful reminder to stand by your beliefs, your views, and be authentic to your true self personally and professionally.
  • Give Prospects a Free Taste – At the resort where we were staying, there is a lovely secluded beach called Anse Cochon. And there are some local “beach dudes,” which is their official term according to the St. Lucians. One is known as the Fruit Man. He climbs trees every morning and fills up his kayak with coconuts, bananas, and a number of other delicious tropical fruit. He then kayaks out to the visiting catamarans that come to the cove for snorkeling excursions. We would watch him and think, “Do people really buy from him?” “How does he make a living as there are not that many tourists on this secluded beach?” We soon had our answer. While we were swimming one day, he kayaks over to us, cracks open a coconut and says, “Taste.” So of course, what do we do? We taste. And it is this fresh, delicious coconut water, surrounded by fresh coconut meat. We are in heaven. He tells us that he will bring us another one later in the week, and if we really love it, then we can pay him for both. We get another one a day or two later, and then a third one on our final day, and we pay him for all three. That’s when it dawns on me that Fruit Man is an amazing sales person. Why? Because he gave us a free irresistible taste of what he sells, and once we experienced it, we were hooked! This is a great example of giving your clients a free taste of your services and expertise. Whether it is a free monthly e-zine, a preview teleclass, a free phone consultation, a free special report or article, a Facebook Fan Page where you post tips or provide extra value, etc. Don’t be stingy with your expertise and content, as it will come back to you in sales and fans — at least three-fold if the Fruit Man is any lesson.
  • Rejuvenate & Refresh – Unplugging, decompressing, relaxing, and leaving the daily grind of your life is a great opportunity to rejuvenate and refresh so that you come back ready to face your life and work again. So make time for travel and vacations. They are an important part of staying fresh. Besides, you just may learn some fantastic business lessons too!

So, your business is growing and you are ready to outsource or delegate some of the work.  However, you are confused about how to classify a new team member: employee or independent contractor? The following is an overview of classification of workers to help guide this important business decision.  As with any aspect of your business that is of a legal or tax nature, you should consider seeking the formal advice of an accountant and/or attorney to assist you.  Hopefully, this overview will provide you with enough basic information to ask relevant questions of your business advisors.

Classification of Workers

  • Classification of a person as an independent contractor or employee is important for tax purposes.
  • For an independent contractor, you must file IRS Form 1099-MISC to report payments of $600 or more.
  • If you classify an employee as an independent contractor and you have no reasonable basis for doing so, you may be held liable for employment taxes for that worker, which typically include income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment.
  • If you want the IRS to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee, you can file Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.

Independent Contractor vs. Employee

  • As a general rule, an individual is an independent contractor if the person for whom the services are performed has the right to control or direct only the result of the work, and not what will be done, how it will be done, or the method of accomplishing the result.
  • An individual is an employee if he or she performs services for an employer and the employer can control what will be done and how it will be done.

Categories of Control

The IRS examines the relationship between the business and the worker by reviewing 3 categories:

  1. Behavioral Control
  2. Financial Control
  3. Type of Relationship
  • These 3 areas form a list of 20 factors that the IRS uses to determine the distinction.  IRS Revenue Ruling 87-41 outlines the 20 factors in detail.
  • Generally speaking, independent contractors retain control over their schedule and number of hours worked, jobs accepted, and performance of their job.
  • Employees usually work a schedule required by the employer and their performance is directly supervised.
  • IRS Publication 1779, Independent Contractor or Employee, is another valuable resource that discusses the differences between the two classifications.
  1. Behavioral Control

Behavioral control covers whether the business has a right to direct or control how the work is done through instructions, training, or other means.

  • When and where to do the work.
  • What tools or equipment to use.
  • What workers to hire or to assist with the work.
  • Where to purchase supplies and services.
  • What work must be performed by a specified individual.
  • What order or sequence to follow.
  • Whether worker is trained to perform services in particular manner.

Training is an area where some small businesses come close to creating an employment relationship with independent contractors by requiring detailed training, including “shadowing” of the business owner/service provider, and requirement that services be provided in a certain manner. 

Requiring an independent contractor to have taken certain classes is not the equivalent of providing training, but merely requires a qualification level and skill set required for work.  It may be a safer route to take when hiring subcontractors.  Also, training in company policies is not necessarily the same as training in how to do the actual services.

2.     Financial Control

Financial control considerations are as follows:

  • The extent to which the worker has unreimbursed expenses.
  • The extent of the worker’s investment in the facilities used in performing services.
  • The extent to which the worker makes his or her services available to the relevant market.
  • How the business pays the worker.
  • The extent to which the worker can realize a profit or incur a loss.

3.     Type of Relationship

The IRS examines the relationship between the parties:

  • Written contracts describing the relationship the parties intend to create.
  • The extent to which the worker is available to perform services for other, similar businesses.
  • Whether the business provides the worker with employee-type benefits, such as insurance, a pension plan, vacation or sick pay.
  • The permanency of the relationship.
  • The extent to which services performed by the worker are a key aspect of the regular business of the company.

For more detailed information visit www.IRS.gov and refer to IRS Publication 15-A, Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide or IRS Publication 1779, Independent Contractor or Employee. 

Terms of an Independent Contractor Agreement

The following are typical clauses found in an agreement between a retaining business and an independent contractor:

  • Define independent contractor status
  • Scope of work (duties & required responsibilities)
  • A non-solicitation and/or non-compete clause
  • Non-disclosure clause
  • Copyright/work-for-hire
  • Consent to use of trademark
  • Payment terms (compensation & out-of-pocket expenses)
  • Term of project or relationship/termination
  • Obligation to carry general liability insurance
  • May also include a governing law provision, indemnification clause, conflict of interest clause, non-hire provision, and request for taxpayer ID number for 1099. 
  • Non-compete agreements are reviewed by the courts for reasonableness based on several factors, including the nature of the business, the nature of the worker’s duties, the geographic territory encompassed by the non-compete, and the length of time chosen.  They are often hard to enforce. 
  • Non-solicitation agreements can protect against stealing of clients and/or employees. 

For an employee, you can draft a basic employment letter outlining date of hire, salary and benefits package, probationary period, pay raise eligibility, etc.  Employees are generally “at will” unless otherwise designated, meaning they can be discharged due to any legitimate, non-discriminatory basis. 

The employer chooses which benefits to offer (sick leave, vacation, etc.); benefits are usually not required (check state and local laws and regulations).  Benefits are mostly based on industry standards and employee expectations, and are used to entice employees.

As with any major business decision, do your homework — speak with expert advisors, (accountant, attorney, business coach, etc.), and speak with colleagues that have experience in retaining workers in  order to find out which classification makes the most sense for your business. 

Good luck!

© 2010 Lisa Montanaro. Information provided in this article is intended as a general overview and is not to be construed as the rendering of individual legal or tax advice. 

What is a Meta Decision?

A meta decision is an umbrella-type decision that impacts all of the smaller decisions that come thereafter.  It is made with the intention of impacting or replacing a number of future decisions.  Thus, meta decisions are crucial to organizing because they save the mental anguish and time involved with making hundreds of individual decisions one by one.

How Can You Use Meta Decisions to Get Organized?

You can use meta decisions with clothing (“I will not keep anything that I have not worn in the last 2 years”), magazines and newspapers (“If I have not read it in the last 3 months, it gets donated or thrown in the recycling bin!”), e-mail (“I will check email for 1 hour in the morning, 1 hour after lunch, and 1 hour in the evening only.”), requests for social events (“I will commit to 3 social events this month only.”), etc.

Let’s take paper for example. You can make a meta decision to purge any business paperwork that is over 7 years old.  Then, all you need to do as you are sorting is look at the dates.  Anything that is older than 7 years automatically gets purged.  This takes the guesswork out of reviewing and making a decision regarding each and every document.

Essentially, using meta decisions is a clever way to establish rules and set boundaries.  Try it!  I guarantee it will free up some of your mental clutter, allowing you to purge more of your physical clutter.

The DECIDE to be Organized Group Coaching Program starts in 2 days! So, if you are still on the fence, this is your last chance to join us. We begin Tuesday night, Feb. 9th, at 7:30 pm with the first of 6 teleclasses. We have a great group of participants already registered. I am very excited to lead this group through the entire DECIDE process over the next 6 weeks, and watch them make positive changes in their homes, offices, and lives!

There will be 6 (six) 90-minute calls in a row on Tuesday evenings from February 9th to March 16th, each starting at 7:30 pm EST. (If you miss a class, no worries! All classes are recorded for your convenience.)

If you have always wanted to get organized, but could not afford one-on-one professional organizing services, this is your chance to get the help and support you need! There are only a few spots left, so if you know this program is for you, act now. You have nothing to lose – except maybe some clutter, overwhelm, and stress! Click here for details and registration.

Want to learn more about the DECIDE process? Click here to listen to a 10 minute audio interview about it! (Scroll down to play bar towards end of the page.)

So join us for DECIDE. I promise it will be the best decision you’ve made toward your goal of getting organized in 2010!

Getting Organized Has Never Been Easier! I am teaming up with Calahan Solutions, Inc. and other professional organizers and virtual assistants to make the most of National Get Organized Month, which is January 2010. Announcing “Get Organized Month January 2010 – The Great Organizing Giveaway!”

Starting January 25, 2010, seekers of organization and productivity wisdom can go to www.AskTheOrganizingExperts.com and sign up free resources such as ebooks, tip sheets, audio programs and more, as well as enter into drawings for amazing prizes.  Information will be categorized into three main categories: your office, your time, and your home.  Business professionals, parents and students will all find expert material that fits their personal productivity and organization needs.

I decided to participate in the Great Organizing Giveaway by providing an MP3 recording of a teleclass called “Conquering Paper Clutter” to everyone that participates.  “Conquering Paper Clutter” offers tips and advice on how to conquer the paper in your home, office, and life once and for all! It is also entertaining as it is in the style of an interview and features real questions by participants on how to deal with paper clutter, my trademarked approach to organizing, DECIDE, and many other useful tips and advice about how to get and stay organized. 

My fantastic colleagues in the professional organizing and virtual assistant industry have contributed tons of great information and resources, so be sure to check out the page. And get ready to be “wowed” with all of the great content!

To your success – Lisa

By the time this posts to my blog, I will be enjoying sun, fun, relaxation, and hiking on the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Lucia for a week to celebrate my birthday (which is January 28th). I am very much looking forward to it! 

However, it made me realize that I need to extend the Early Bird Special for my DECIDE to be Organized Online Group Coaching Program until February 2nd when I return. This will give you all a chance to sign-up at the reduced rate while I am away. So take advantage of my birthday vacation and don’t hestitate if you are interested in the program!
 
Who Is the Perfect Candidate for this Group Coaching Program?
  • coaching programThose that learn well in a group environment.  Participants will have the opportunity to interact with each other, realize they are not alone, and share challenges and solutions with the group.
  • Those outside of my geographical area that cannot work with me one-on-one.
  • Those that are on a budget and cannot afford one-on-one organizing services.
  • Those that need structure in order to reach their organizing goals. The program includes weekly homework assignments for those that want to work on their own between sessions.
  • Those that benefit from an accountability aspect. You have the opportunity to report your progress each week, as well as have access to me and other participants by email and social media.

There will be 6 (six) 90-minute calls in a row on Tuesday evenings from February 9th to March 16th, each starting at 7:30 pm EST. (If you miss a class, no worries! All classes are recorded for your convenience.) There are also lots of great bonuses, like an e-book, e-mail access to me and the participants, a follow-up laser coaching session, and more!

Due to the interactive and intimate nature of this program, space is limited! So, if you know this program is for you, act now. Registration is only $199 if you register by Tuesday, February 2nd. You have nothing to lose – except maybe some clutter, overwhelm, and stress! Click here for details and registration.
So join me for DECIDE. I promise it will be the best decision you’ve made toward your goal of getting organized in 2010!  

Having trouble sticking to those New Year’s resolutions to become better organized? You are not alone. Although just about everyone seems to understand the benefits of being organized, it’s not always easy to figure out just where to start.

Thankfully, there’s Get Organized Month – a national event sponsored by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) each January that is designed to highlight the benefits of the association and working with NAPO’s professional organizers.

Many people use the start of a new year to think of ways in which they can improve their lives, and becoming more organized can help save time and money, increase productivity, enhance one’s quality of life, and reduce stress. In fact, in its most recent survey, NAPO found that 96 percent of respondents felt that they could save at least some time each day if they were more organized at home and that 91 percent felt they could be more efficient at work if they were better organized. Overall, 71 percent indicated their quality of life would improve with more organization.

To highlight ways in which people can become more organized at home, work, and even school, NAPO members and chapters throughout the country will be hosting events for Get Organized Month.  Check with your local NAPO chapter to see if there are any Get Organized Month events planned in your area.

Get Organized Month is also a time for NAPO members and chapters to give back to their local communities. Schools, local businesses, and community agencies have all benefited from NAPO members’ help to get organized, streamline processes, and reduce clutter. Every year since I became a NAPO member, I’ve chosen a non-profit organization as the recipient of my Get Organized Month pro bono project. One of my favorite Go Month projects was donating organizing services to my local humane society! 🙂

This year, I have chosen the Junior League of Orange County, Inc. as the recipient of my Get Organized Month pro bono project. The Junior League of Orange County, NY, Inc. is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  Membership is open to all women over the age of 21. 

I will be volunteering my time and expertise by participating as a speaker in the Junior League’s Winter Leadership Workshop, to take place on January 23rd from 10am-2pm at the Carl P. Onken Conference Center at the BOCES campus, 53 Gibson Road Goshen, NY 10924.  The workshop includes 3 one-hour sessions with a choice of 3 topics per session and a networking lunch.  I will be presenting three sessions: DECIDETM to Be Organized!  An Empowering Process for Change, Goal Setting for Your Career & Your Life, and Stand and Deliver: Dynamic Presentations.

Tickets for the Winter Leadership Workshop are $35 in advance (received by January 20th) and $40 at the door.  The workshop will be a great opportunity to network with other Orange County leaders while strengthening and developing leadership skills. 

If interested in registering for the Winter Leadership Workshop, please contact Krista at , leave a message on the League Line at 845.344.8554, or visit their website at www.jlocny.com.

To locate one of NAPO’s professional organizers in your area, you can use NAPO’s free, online automated directory, searchable by zip code, country, and organizing service at www.napo.net. The site also has a lot of great information about Get Organized Month, so be sure to visit!