A messy office has a negative effect on your image.

Contractor offices are not known for their neatness, or orderliness. Since we typically visit our customers at their home or business, maybe that's OK. Or is it really OK to have a messy, disorganized office? What are the consequences? Does it cost us any money? I suppose that's the real question.

Sure, most of your customers never see your place of business, but if only one customer happens to drop by to pay a bill or pick up a part, you're caught. A messy office makes it look like you run an unprofessional business.

Customers want professional standards used in the completion of their jobs, so even a hint of a lower standard for running your business can affect their view of your business.

The people who work for you are probably a bit more understanding and loyal to the business. However, even they will begin to question the level of professional standards that apply to your office.

Would you want their work to be accomplished in a way that resulted in even the appearance of a messy, disorganized pile of papers? If not, that makes it more difficult for you to operate with policies that give the message: "Do as I say, not as I do."

We spend significant sums on maintaining an image for our business; customer service, advertising, signage all contribute to that quality image. We don't want to risk tarnishing a high-quality image because we are careless in maintaining our office and the appearance of our business.

It's always better to run a clean, organized office. So, I'll share some specific examples of items to look for and ways to maintain your business' professional image and appearance.

First Impressions

If you put yourself in the other person's shoes, you'll get an understanding of what your customer or vendor sees when they drop by your business.

Take an objective view and look around as though you were a customer. We are so used to seeing the premises every day that we begin to overlook the clutter and disorder someone else would immediately notice.

Start outside. Look in the parking lot and be honest about your impression. Does it look like the kind of place you would like to do business with?

Let's look closer. Does the pavement need attention; is it cracked and weather beaten? One of the items that always bothers me is trash scattered everywhere. That sort of thing makes the place look unkempt and poorly run. Make sure someone always picks up visible trash. Keep the place swept so it looks like management runs a neat and clean shop.

Something that can get away from you is the paint. You see it deteriorate slowly. Soon it needs painting and it seems like you just painted it -- a few years ago. Everyday your employees see the exterior and compare it to other businesses that they pass on the way to work, or places they could work if they chose to. Your customers will see it, too.

Recall your first impressions of a business that looked pretty shabby the first time you saw it. Didn't you begin to suspect the quality of the work or, at least, the management when you glanced at it?

It takes time to regain the trust lost by a faulty first impression. The important thing to remember here is that customers -- especially customers -- assess the quality image of your business from many sources besides the technical quality of your work.

The good news is we can do something about an untidy image. And it doesn't cost very much. The effects of a clean-up policy are, however, long lasting and provide an improved image. I admit it is difficult to measure the hard cash value, particularly in the short run, but it pays off.

More Appearance Items

When you are out walking around, continue your scan of the outside areas of the business. Include your sign in the inspection. The attractiveness of your sign can mean the difference between just displaying your business' name and an invitation to do business.

What about the space where the trucks park? Is it clean? Does the area look organized? Don't forget the windows. People notice, even though you may be used to the appearance.

Speaking of glass, if you have a glass front door, I'll bet it needs to have the fingerprints that often accumulate on those kinds of doors removed.

Now check the operation of all the lights. Burned-out bulbs get ignored sometimes. It could become a safety item if you are not careful. Replace any burned bulbs as soon as you see them.

Are your desks clean and organized? Does the office smell of cigarettes? How clean are the carpets and floors? I have noticed that many shops have no janitorial service to clean, dust and take out the trash on a daily basis. If you do not have someone cleaning regularly, hire a service to do it (it's part of the cost of doing business, if you are a quality shop).

Simplify Office Processes

Filing information on customers, invoices, etc., can be easy if you simplify it. For example, two copies of an invoice -- one for your business and one for the customer -- are all you need if you have a computer system. Printing or using more copies or multiple forms just increases the complexity of your filing, and your costs.

If you have not used information from a file in the last 24 months, get rid of it. Clearing out excess data in your office will keep operations streamlined and efficient. No need to file or save papers you won't use. It's the same approach some people use for their clothes closet: if you haven't worn it in a year, donate it to charity. Donate your old files to the trash.

An effective way to deal with an accumulation of business cards is to keep track of them by date. Write something relevant, plus the date, on the card in red pen. Then file them by date. When they have aged too much, get rid of them.

Clutter sneaks up on you. Without warning all of a sudden you have things piled in all sorts of places, and you have trouble finding what you want. The only way to deal with it is to consistently get rid of all the extra items on shelves and desks. If the item is useful put it where it is supposed to go. Otherwise get rid of it.

The way to accomplish this task is to have a no-clutter policy. That means everyone (including the boss, he's the leader) cleans up their work area and files or discards the items often left on desks or in work areas.

There is a greater benefit to running a neat and tidy place besides eliminating the possibility of offending a customer, reducing the morale of the employees or just not being able to locate something. Every morning when you arrive you will be refreshed to see the order and neatness that characterizes your business. That alone is a great motivator to be more productive. Your employees will enjoy the same refreshing feeling, too.

Eliminating the negative energy associated with clutter and a messy shop and office will pay dividends for you -- even if no customers come to see you at work.