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As an architect, Joel Berman has lots of keys. To keep them straight, he has a system: Each project has its own bag, and he puts the key in the same pocket inside each bag.

“I can just grab the bag when I head out and know the key will be in there,” says Mr. Berman, 43. “There’s no fumbling through a bunch of keys.”


With countless keys to keep track of, Joel Berman has a system: Each project has its own bag, and each bag has a special pocket for its key. Photo: Callie Lipkin

Although the trusty system has saved him time and embarrassment, he can’t take all the credit for it.

Soon after launching Joel Berman Architecture & Design Ltd. in Andersonville in 2002, Mr. Berman realized he was spending more time trying to get organized than creating any drawings. He also needed help with bookkeeping, basic accounting and debt collection.

“I would have to reinvent the wheel each time I started on a new project,” he says. “I knew I needed to be more consistent; I just didn’t know where to begin.”

So he called the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) – a non-profit organization with sites around Chicago that provides marketing, computer and career training for entrepreneurs – after hearing about it at a Hanukkah party in 2003. Mr. Berman attended three of its two-hour, weeknight sessions with 10 other small business owners to learn how to develop systems to become more efficient, like the key-in-bag idea.

“Entrepreneurs are typically more creative than organized,” says Mike Kramer, a former business owner and Mr. Berman’s instructor at JVS.

After completing the free course, Mr. Berman spent 16 hours organizing his office and cleaning out his client database. He got rid of the random Excel spreadsheets he’d been using for bookkeeping, spent $200 on QuickBooks Pro and paid a financial software consultant $600 to train him on the computer program. He also started collecting a 20% to 35% retainer fee for new projects. Within three months, he’d organized his entire accounting system.

“It all seems so obvious,” says Mr. Berman, whose company brought in $200,000 in revenue last year. “But I just needed someone to sit me down and tell me what to do.”

17 Apr 07  By: Joel Berman

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