As I was preparing to begin my venture into the livery business, I noticed a lot of emphasis placed on whether or not you should be an entrepreneur. There are tests and surveys in magazines, on websites, and in the first chapter of nearly every “How To…” book ever written. What I couldn’t seem to find was a system for organizing and structuring a business.
Initially, I just stuffed everything into a single folder and leafed through it when I needed something. That folder quickly turned into a forest once I actually got things moving. With DOT applications, insurance policies, vehicle records, and marketing materials, the folder was as thick as an encyclopedia volume and it became cumbersome (not to mention time consuming) to find anything. What I needed was a system of organization that would set me up now and be expandable into the future. So, having been a military reserve officer for 23 years, I fell back on the only real organizational system I knew — the system used by our own military.
The military organizational system has been around for many years and is so effective even giant companies use it. Terms like “executive officer,” “strategic objectives,” and “campaigns” obviously come from the military and have been adapted for business use. It’s not surprising that many military officers retire to the business sector. The interesting aspect of this is that the military system is very simple and can be used in any size company, not just a big business. Applying a similar system to your business means you will have a solid organizational structure that grows as a business grows. This system can help expansion when the time is right.
Whether you’re just starting out or own a seasoned company, the lack of a firm organizational structure in your business is like an unpaved road. You may get where you want to be, but it takes longer and there are a lot of potholes along the way. A business plan sets the course, but organizational structure is the foundation of your company. Establishing a base line for your business using a military type structure will not only pave that road, but turn it into a superhighway.
The Four Parts of Military Organization
The military (and large corporations) organizes into four basic parts, or departments. They use offices of Administration, Intelligence, Operations, and Supply (or Logistics). Each department is broken down into subsections. Administration handles all the personnel and paperwork issues. Intelligence gathers information on friendly and enemy units, safeguards people and secrets, and conducts research for future developments. Operations is the planning cell for current and future campaigns, as well as training. Supply handles everything needed to keep the units maintained, clothed and fed, and makes sure they have all the tools they need to conduct operations.
But how do we, as small businesses, use a structure meant for a huge organization and why should we? The main reason why is to save time. Knowing where everything is located makes it fast and easy to access what you need. As for how, each of the above categories is easily adapted to your business.
We can start as small as organizing things into four file folders. This alone makes things more manageable. The four folders can be labeled Admin, Research, Operations, and Logistics. To make the structure even more complete, head to your computer and create a header sheet for the folders. The header sheet serves as an index of the general paperwork that each folder contains. You can tape this sheet to the inside left of your folders.
Administration: The first folder, Admin, is for all the paperwork that keeps your business running. List the following on your header paper: licenses, operating authorities, job applications, employee records, and insurance policies. If it’s dreaded paperwork, it goes in here.
Research: The second is your Research Folder. Don’t be fooled by the title. Marketing, sales, and publicity information are in here. All of those rate sheets you get from marketing firms, credit card offers, and marketing materials from other companies go in here. Customer data is also stored here. This is a great place to store website passwords so you don’t have to go through an email process every time you forget one.
Remember all that great information you got from the LCT Show? This is the place to store it so you know where that valuable material is when it’s time to make a purchase. Do you track rates from competitors? Store those rate sheets here. This is also where you want to keep any interesting or pertinent news articles, including copies of ones written about your company. This is where you store your press releases, and it wouldn’t hurt to make a printout of your web pages so if something happens to them they can be reconstructed. Your marketing plan (at least a copy of it) should be in here as well.
Operations: Next is the Operations Folder. Your operations folder is where you keep your appointment calendar, business plan, training program, rate sheet masters, and plans for expansion.
Logistics: Lastly, the Logistics Folder is for the financial and physical items of the business. Accounting, maintenance schedules, vehicle files, and office supply inventories are here. If it’s an item needed to fund or run your business, inventory it in this folder.
Wearing Four Different Hats
Now that your folders are prepared, you have a base line for operating your business. I actually take each folder out and function as that “department” for a couple of hours each Monday to set up my week. This keeps me on track and saves a lot of time and stress.
I also have corresponding computer files for each main folder, so I know where to place documents that are emailed to me. This adds computer enhancement to the main sections of the business. As each paper folder is opened, you can open the corresponding computer folder as well. You can also create shortcuts to a computer program and put them in each folder. For instance, a shortcut to your dispatch program can be placed in your operations folder, or one to your finance program in your Logistics folder. An additional benefit to keeping one main folder for the business with all the others inside is that you can drop the whole thing onto a CD-ROM, making backup a fast and easy operation.
Adapting the military organizational system to your business is actually pretty easy. The system is designed to remain intact for as long as you own your business. It will tell you when, where, and how to expand your business. These folders will eventually grow into file cabinet drawers. Those drawers in turn will become employees, and the employees will become entire departments as your business flourishes.
Dave Allen resides is a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer, former emergency medical service helicopter pilot, training video producer, and aerial photographer. He owns and operates Racing Limos in Spokane, Wash.