It’s easy to go paperless and I’m going show you exactly how to do so without spending much money. I went paperless at home and in my office 3 years ago and it’s been one of the most important tips for small business success I could pass along. I never have to worry about locating documents like receipts, agreements, tax reports etc. It’s a snap to outsource work. And it’s easy for my family to get their hands on important documents at all times. I save a chunk of change in postage, file cabinets and storage. That’s what I call total peace of mind. Plus it’s green.
Need more motivation? According to ehow.com*:
a. The cost of printing, copying, postage, storing and recycling can be 31 times greater than the price of paper. I never thought about the real cost of handling paper but I see the savings now that I never touch the stuff anymore.
b. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper a year. I don’t know how many trees that is…but it’s too many.
c. A 4-drawer filing cabinet costs about $25,000 to fill up and $2,000 to maintain when you consider labor.
In my case, I was able to chop off about $400 in monthly rent once I scanned all the old documents and gave away my file cabinets. And that savings is on top of the reduced labor we save by no longer physically having to file and retrieve documents. A side benefit that I didn’t anticipate was that going paperless also allowed me to hire virtual staff. It also became a key element in my business continuity plan.
But I have to admit that I was full of anxiety before I decided to go paperless. I didn’t know where to start. As a result, I delayed making the move and that was a shame. The longer I waited, the more difficult the conversion to digital was.
Don’t repeat my mistake. Here’s how you can go paperless in 2 weeks or less:
Day 1 – Define the Mission. Share the Mission
You’re going to need everyone in the office or at home to be behind your move to go paperless. Everyone is going to have to adopt new behaviors. Nobody is going to do it right 100% of the time. Mistakes will be made. Anticipate that. Talk about it.
Remind everyone about the payoffs and how each member of the team is going to benefit by going paperless. Don’t get angry. You are going to have to remind people of the “new protocol” many times. Expect this and don’t blow a gasket when somebody flubs it. You can delegate most of the work behind this process if you take responsibility for motivating the clan. If you don’t, the hard work will all fall to you.
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Day 2 through Day 7 – Define Your Process
There are many ways to go paperless. But don’t overthink it and don’t waste your time looking for the “perfect” solution. “Good enough” is far better than “perfect” because you can implement the former immediately buy you’ll spend the rest of your life searching for the later. Here’s the process I use.
1. When Paper Documents Are Received in My Office
a. Contact the vendor who sent the document and ask them to either resend it electronically and/or to send all future documents electronically. The person in my office who handles a particular process is the person who contacts the vendor and tells them which email to send the document to.
Make sure to only work with banks that can send electronic statements.
Get all your bills (and pay all your bills) online as well.
I suggest you use auto pay to take care of all your bills and accounts payable. Most banks provide this service. If you take advantage of this you won’t waste money on postage. You will also stop wasting time getting stamps, you’ll never incur a late fee, you won’t’ waste time paying your bills and you’ll always be able to put your hands on your old statements. What’s not to like?
b. What to do if the vendor is unable to send the document electronically or if our clients send us documents.
Again, we always ask if the client or vendor can possibly email us or fax us the document. I set up my business to use a “virtual” fax service. This service takes the fax we receive and converts it into a pdf which we store electronically. This is fantastic because it saves us from having to scan. Nice.
If no matter what we do, we have to deal with paper, we fire up the scanner. We have one person scan the document and let the responsible person in my office know the document has been received.
2. When Paper Documents Are Received At Home
I actually go through the same process – but I end up doing most of the work myself. First I contact the sender and ask them to send future documents electronically. Then I just scan the document. No big deal.
This is the simple process that I use and it works. Of course there are a few critical steps like file saving protocol that make or break your system. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Day 8 through Day 12 Get Ready, Get Set, STOP
Before you start on your paperless journey, you have to get three tools in place; hardware, software and a folder/file protocol. The good news is you only need a little hardware to make this work, you probably won’t need to buy any software at all, and I’m going to give you a very useful and simple folder/file protocol you can use if you like. Not bad…eh?
In my office everyone has a sheet fed scanner on their desk. At home, we just need one. These are just like a fax machine. You can load multiple pages in the bin and it scans each sheet one at a time. I think the machines cost about $125 each – very inexpensive. They pay for themselves in about 2 months. This is a very smart way to invest in your business.
We also have one flatbed scanner in the office. We use this when we want to scan pages from books or documents that are bound (like tax returns). The main point is this. If you want everyone in your office to be on board with going paperless everyone has to have a scanner on their desk. Don’t scrimp on this step.
In the office, all our computers are in a network of course so the documents are scanned and saved to the network drive. This way, everyone has access to the information.
The only software we use is Adobe Acrobat to save files in pdf format. You probably already have this on your computer. If that is the case, you don’t need to spend any money on software. Celebrate. Go buy yourself a double scoop of ice cream.
Some people tell you that you must have a document management software package. For the life of me, I can’t understand why. As I said, I’ve been paperless for 3 years in my office and home and somehow I’ve survived just fine without any expensive software like that. All you need is a smart folder/file protocol.
How to Arrange Your Files and Folders
How you name a file is less important than what folder you stick it in. Think about your folder system long and hard. Consider how you set up your physical folders and if it worked or not. Replicate what works and change what doesn’t. Talk about the folder system with your staff. Get everyone’s input and progress slowly.
At first we ignored the folder issue and paid dearly for it. We quickly learned that scanning is useless if you can’t retrieve the document. Make sure to talk to everyone on your team about your filing system. I also suggest that you meet regularly to discuss the system and fine tune it. This will save you tremendous heartaches down the line.
When it comes to naming files, we simply load up the name with as many keywords as possible and file it in the right folder. As long as the folder name is intuitive, we always find our files.
Day 13 – Implement for New Documents Only (at first)
You’ve got your hardware, software and folder and file naming protocol. It’s time to dive in. As soon as a document arrives at home or in your office, refer back to the process you developed on day 2 through 7. Scan the document immediately, file it and destroy the hard copy. Show commitment.
Work slowly and make sure your folder system is really solid. Are you quickly able to retrieve documents you’ve scanned or do they get lost? Is your system intuitive for everyone or do people keep asking where to find different files they’ve scanned?
Don’t worry if you have to tweak your folder system. That’s fine. And that’s why we’re starting slowly. Use this system for all new documents as they come in. Once you are certain that the system works, hire a local high-school kid to scan and file all your old documents.
I hired my daughter to do this and it saved me a ton of time. I explained the file naming protocol and had her write the path where she saved the file on each document she saved. This way I could make sure she understood my directions and could correct any errors she made.
Day 14 – Back Up
I am not a fan of using Drop Box or Google Docs to back up your records. The space is limited. Instead, I bought 2 external backup drives and alternate using them every other day. This is simple and inexpensive. For my business I use additional online backup services which are redundant but help me sleep at night.
Going paperless is actually quite simple if you break down the steps and do one thing at a time. It’s also a great thing to do if you want to make your business successful. If you’re like me, you might overthink things and it will get in your way. Dive in. Take a step at a time. Be willing to learn and teak the system to meet your needs. Talk to everyone involved to ask for their input on how to improve the system.
There will be some growing pains. But after 6 months, the only question you’ll be asking is why I didn’t do this sooner.
What has been your experience? What keeps you from going paperless?