September 17, 2014 Business Planning en_US 5 tips to become a paperless small business
Business Planning

5 tips to become a paperless small business

By Katherine Gustafson September 17, 2014

Want to lower your overhead by 30 to 40 percent? Switch from paper to electronic documents, advises Matt Peterson, president and CEO of eFileCabinet.

Going paperless allows you to [be more efficient], and efficiency equals money,” Peterson says. “Responding to customers quickly is your edge as a small business, and being efficient and paperless gives [you] that edge.”

ILM Corporation estimates that searching through paper files can take up as much as 30% of employee work time. The opportunity cost of floor space occupied by filing cabinets adds up as well. The company offers a Document Conversion ROI Calculator to give business owners a better idea of how much they might be able to save by converting to digital format.

Although “going paperless” can evoke images of endless scanning of paper files, it is best to simply start by scanning all new incoming material. Only then, after that has become habitual, should one work backward over stored files. The ILM calculator includes a section for tabulating how much it might cost to have employees do so.

Prices for digital document management services range from $20 a month to $2,000 or more, depending on the number of users, space, and features needed.

The investment typically pays off, Peterson says. A key advantage of systems like eFileCabinet is that they can securely store your documents. Data — whether it’s stored in paper or digital files — that isn’t properly backed up may be compromised.

“No matter where you live, you’re prone to some kind of disaster, like theft, fire, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes,” Peterson says. “It seems like no one is out of that danger zone.” Nearly three-quarters of companies that lose their data in natural disasters are out of business within a year, he maintains.

Other advantages to keeping digital records include the ability to access your documents from anywhere (if you’re storing data in the cloud) and the added efficiency of being able to search for files using keywords.

“We let people import their emails and file by client or category, and they’re searchable and indexed,” Peterson says. “It’s an essential repository for everything a small business does; it’s the lifeblood of their organization.”

Peterson offers these five tips to small-business owners who are interested in going paperless:

  1. Focus on document management. Aim for more than just storage. Implement a method of organizing and searching files that makes your operations run smoothly. Choose a solution that allows you to index — and then search — your documents with keywords.
  2. Ensure multiple backups. Savvy companies back up records in more than one place. Always back your files up on a separate hard drive that is stored elsewhere and then find a reputable company that offers cloud backup for a monthly fee. Peterson recommends seeking a storage provider that’s been around for a while. There are a range of providers to choose from.

  3. Rally your team. Digitizing is a disruptive process; people may get nervous when they can’t push paper around anymore. It’s important to get everyone on board, so you don’t end up maintaining redundant paper-based and electronic systems.
  4. Scan and file everything that comes in the door. To begin the monumental task of digitizing, store and index all incoming communications in a digital format. Also start indexing any new digital files you create, including email. Shred paper documents after you scan them.
  5. Be mindful of regulation. Make sure you find a document management solution that meets the regulations for your industry, whether you’re in financial services, medical, education, or another field. If you store sensitive client data, security should be your top priority.
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Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington. Read more