Businesses are built on documents, and even before you start up your business, you discover how many documents you need to function. From business plans to bank statements, from employment contracts to NDAs, your business is awash in documents. As these documents pile up, they take up space, and you spend a lot of time looking for the right one when you need to check some terms or conditions.
We recently explained why you should use SaaS accounting software for your startup, and another way to make your business more efficient is to go paperless. As much as possible, store digital versions of documents and shred the paper.
Here’s why your business should go paperless.
Paperless is Green
When you go paperless, you obviously save paper; it’s a lot greener than having stacks of documents, some in multiple copies. With the ease of reading documents on tablets, there’s no upside to having hundred-page contracts on paper any more.
You’ll save a lot of money on printer paper and toner, you’ll use less resources, and you’ll even save space in your office as you won’t need as many file cabinets.
Paperless is Efficient
When you need to find a specific clause in a paper contract, or an expense on a paper bank statement, you spend a lot of time perusing documents to find what you need. With digital documents, it’s easy to search for a keyword, a phrase, or an amount.
You’ll save a great deal of time when you need to find important information. You’ll also save time receiving paper documents, opening mail, distributing them, then filing them; most of your documents can arrive by email, or you’ll download them directly from vendors, suppliers, or your bank.
Going Paperless Saves Money
Instead of sending paper invoices, it’s cheaper – and faster – to email PDFs to your customers. Instead of customers taking up to a week to receive invoices by mail and process them, they’ll get them immediately, and you’re likely to be paid more quickly.
And, as I mentioned above, you’ll save money on paper, and on expensive toner. Also, when you need to distribute an updated version of a long contract, you won’t need to print it out again; just update the document’s version number and send it to those who need it.
Going Paperless Makes Documents More Available
When a business has file cabinets full of paper documents, people have to go to these documents to access them. With a paperless business, you can store your documents in the cloud, and employees can have immediate access to whatever they need, wherever they are.
Since many tools today, such as accounting software, CRM software, and ERP tools, are cloud-based, it makes sense that all documents that are used with this type of software are also stored in the cloud. However, when you go paperless, a bulletproof backup strategy is essential. You can’t just store your documents in a single location, but need to make sure they are replicated and backed up daily, because your entire business depends on accessing these documents.
How to Go Paperless
Going paperless is a multi-step process. Here’s what you need to do.
Examine the type of documents your business creates and uses. Determine which documents are already available in digital form (bank statements, contracts, accounting documents, etc.), and make a checklist if necessary.
Look at the documents that you still receive on paper. Check to see if you can get digital versions of them in the future.
Check compliance rules. The IRS is happy to accept digital documents, but some administrations may not. Also, if you work overseas, the rules may be different for documents related to business in other countries.
Choose where you will store your files, and how you will back them up. Your IT team is essential to this step, and make sure that the storage location is easily accessible, yet secure, and that employee access can be granted on a granular basis.
Set up a system for organizing and naming your documents. This is one of the keys to an efficient paperless system; you need to know where each type of document is to be stored – ie, which folder on which server – and how they are to be named. One good convention is to include dates and keywords in the file name. For example, if you sign a contract with Acme Widget company, you might name the document 2018-12-07-contract-distribution-acme-widget.pdf. Those keywords will help you later find all the documents of a specific type. Also make sure that the server on which the documents are stored allows you to search within documents, when you’re looking for a specific term, company name, or person, so you don’t have to copy hundreds of documents to search them locally.
Scan existing documents. This is a labor-intensive process, but only needs to be done once. There are document-feed scanners that can scan long documents quickly, and perform OCR (optical character recognition), saving them as searchable PDFs. (The ebook, Take Control of Your Paperless Office, can tell you how to choose the right scanner, and how to work with its software.)
Shred all the scanned documents. But first do a check to make sure that the documents are readable. You don’t need to check each one, but as they are scanned, someone should look through them to be sure that all the pages got scanned correctly.
Going ahead, everyone in your company needs to know how to name documents, where to store them, and how they can access these documents and search them. They also need to scan incoming paper documents, such as signed contracts and other documents that still arrive in paper form. Make sure to have someone from your IT department do this – or, if your business is small, a dedicated scanner – or put scanners on the desks of those employees who gets lots of paper documents.
Going paperless may seem daunting, but once you’ve made the transition, the benefits are immediately apparent. If you’re just starting a business, make the choice as soon as you can, and if your business is more established, look at how you can become leaner and more efficient using digital documents and getting rid of as much paper as possible.
Is your business paperless? Ever considered the cost savings moving from paper to paperless? Have a question or other feedback about this story? Drop us a comment below.