Are you at the stage where hiring an office manager is critical? Are you approaching that abyss of information control and feel like you're on the edge of total chaos? Relax. Help is on the way.

A GOOD HIRE Your office manager might be in your circle of influence. When it comes to qualifications, experience is a plus, but you might not find someone who has worked in a remodeling office before.

Photo: Kathy Shertzer Office management, however, has systems that flow through all types of businesses. Profit and loss statements, budgets, and balance sheets are similar in any industry. The principles for good management are universal: Spend less than you make, keep good records, and manage people well. Make sure your hire is capable with numbers, proficient with people, and honest. The office manager will have access to employee records, payroll, and other sensitive information.

It's also critical to evaluate a person's character. Is it stellar? Is the person open to adapting to your company culture? Can you count on her to do the right thing — even when no one is looking? Many owners have suffered embezzlement and other forms of theft from unethical office managers.

STEP BACK Now that you've hired an office manager, it's important to turn over the day-to-day bookkeeping and minor office decisions to them. Your business needs your creativity and energy invested in the company's development and growth.

If you've done your homework, then you know this new hire is a capable, trustworthy, and organized individual. Let your new office manager establish filing systems, accounting and job reports, and standard operating procedures for the office. Doing so will produce a burst of creative energy and will allow the office manager to develop a sense of ownership at an early stage of his or her employment.

Also, ask the office manager to compile a book or fact sheets outlining the new procedures. This will ensure that you're in sync with the systems, as well as serve as a training guide in the event that your current office manager leaves the company.

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT Feedback is a critical component when branching out into these uncharted waters. New systems and procedures can be overwhelming at first for everyone in the company. A good manager not only encourages his employees but also challenges them to grow. Be sure to give your new office manager praise and encouragement every step of the way.

INVEST IN EDUCATION Encourage your office manager to pursue growth. Send her to classes or encourage her to read books and magazines about remodeling. Train her in the industry language.

You may also want to invest in networking organizations. Networking often inspires fresh approaches to various office systems and can bring new ideas to your company.

PAY WELL When you find a quality office manager, make sure you pay her what she's worth. Offer her industry-comparable benefits and a good vacation package. Be generous. It really does count, and it will instill loyalty. You may think, “I can't afford much,” but consider that a good office manager should save the business her salary and then some. Think about how much time you are losing by continuing to manage your own books when you could be using that time to generate sales or develop your client base.

Don't delay any longer. Create an office manager position, invest in the search, then sit back and reap the rewards. You might even have time for a vacation!

Kathy Shertzer has been the officer manager/gatekeeper for eight years for DuKate Fine Remodeling, a design/build firm in Franklin, Ind. To reach her, call 317.736.9961 or e-mail