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Small Business Tips: Document Management

Small Business Tips

This is part of our Small Business Tips series.  Setting up a start-up business filing system is a guest blog by professional Brisbane Document Management Consultant,  Michael Crook.

Filing, let’s face it not that many people like it. It takes time, it’s is boring and oh, it is boring. Setting up your start-up business filing system may not be as exciting as designing the logo or creating a website, but it is one of the biggest time savers you’ll have, if you do it right. If filing is not done regularly and correctly then you are getting yourself ready for a whole lot of hurt in the future.

Small Business Tips for your Filing System

Filing is Information Management. No matter what your business is, you need to be able to access your information quickly when you need it. If you can’t, then the following things may happen:

· Not able to make the appropriate business decision,

· Fail to make a sale,

· Lose customers,

· Leave your business open to litigation attacks,

· Not complying to local regulatory obligations, and

· The ground opens up, swallows you and your business up thus making you a prisoner of evil subterranean rock creatures that will force to stack rocks for the rest of your life.

(Yeah, you got me. The last one isn’t true. I wish it was, but it’s not.

So remember when you file a document you are actually doing records management and/or information organisation.

How do I know if I if I have organised my information adequately?

Some of you are thinking “My Information is organised pretty well”. I’d like to answer the following questions truthfully;

1. Do you know exactly where to go to find that file or document you are looking for? (How quickly can you do this?)

2. Do you have more than one place where you store your documents electronically (email, hard drive, shared network)

3. Do you tend pile your files under 3 or less folders?

4. Do your document names look like: “Working_Doc 1 (draft 3) rev 6.doc”?

5. Does your folder structure have folder names such as:

a. Miscellaneous.

b. Other,

c. Current working and

d. Old Stuff?

If you have answered yes to at least one of these, then you need to rethink how you organise your information.

Below are some things you need to be mindful of when organising your information

Paper Vs. Electronic?

Paperless office? Yeah right.

A recent report by AIIM found that businesses are using more paper than ever.

However most of your hard copy documents can be either be scanned (and filed correctly) and maybe then destroyed or kept depending on its importance. There are certain documents (e.g. contracts, etc.) that you should always be kept.

Most paper documents can be scanned and then be destroyed. Why you might keep a paper document is for reference and you like to hold documents in your hands. If this is you try to only keep it as long as you need it.

Clutter is not good for the office.

How many repositories should you have?


All your electronic files should be kept in one space. Please no duplicates on different storage devices. Yes even emails, especially if they have attachments. If the attached document is needed for your business, then transfer it to your main filing repository (HINT!! This will be a hard drive if you operate your business on one computer or a shared drive if use multiple computers and/or have one or more staff members).

I would necessary file all emails, however there are some which you might like to keep (or need to keep) for a period of time. The one that you need to keep should be filed.

Clutter is not good for the office.

How should I organise my data?

Your system should be both meaningful and functional. When creating a folders think about what your business does and what sort of information you need.

What is important to you, the subject matter of the document or the function it does? Although most records mangers have strong views about which is important, really what it comes down to is you need to find a system that works for your business.

All your folders should be named in way that is meaningful. Thing to keep in mind:

· Does this folder name accurately describe its contents

· If someone else needs to find a document does the file structure help or hinder in directing them to the correct document?

· No one likes deep folder structures: Please keep the structure as shallow as needed. Three deep is preferred but five deep can be more practical.

When it comes to naming your documents, you need to develop a naming convention that is both simple and meaningful to your business. Things to keep in mind are:

· Keep it short.

· Keep it accurate.

· Capitals vs. Lower case: what is best for you?

· Can documents be sorted in chronological order?

· Can documents be sorted in and alphanumeric order? (Should they be?)

· How do you tell the difference between an original document and a copy?

· How do you tell the difference between a final document and a draft or revision?

Clutter is not good for the office.

How long should I keep it for?

Getting this right is very important.

The best tool to do this is to keep a retention schedule. A retention schedule is a basically a list of documents stating how long each document needs to be kept for. You can create a schedule for each document or a groups or documents, whatever is easy for your business.

However when creating a retention schedule you should keep in mind:

· The legislative requirements: You should know how long you are required by law to keep certain files. You should know the various legislations which controls your business. They may require you to keep documents for a certain period of time. You really should find this out and act accordingly.

· What is standard practice: Sometimes it isn’t clear how long you should keep for. It is best to err on the side of caution and use retention schedules developed by your local records keeping and archiving authority.

Some good examples of retention scheduling can be found at:

· National archives of Australia

· Queensland State archives:

Top small business filing tip:

If that is a bit too much to take in, there is only one thing you need to know about filing and organising information:

Clutter is not good for the office!!!

Setting your start-up’s filing system up right the first time will save you headaches down the road and will ensure that you’re on top of your documents from day one. Now, get off the web and do you filing!  For more small business tips, check back on the Talk About Creative Blog regularly.