Filing and archiving information your business needs is a critical component to success. Don't fall behind on this. Whether taxes, contracts, personnel records, or bills of sale, you'll need to know where this important data is quickly and easily.
Each type or category of documents probably has a specific retention horizon. As a result, some files need to be kept close at hand for everyday use, while other records might be archived and not needed or seen again for years. Regardless of the size of the business, you need an efficient file organization strategy for everything. You'll avoid having your office buried in random piles of paper.
Short-Term File Storage
Keeping files that need to be instantly accessible, but only every few days or weeks, is a unique challenge. The trick to short-term file management is to keep files out of the way, but indexed for rapid retrieval when these records are needed. Computers are great for this kind of thing. Connect all your office desktop computers to a single network through a WiFi router, and back up your important files on a single multi-drive server.
For small data sets stored in a straightforward, linear way, you can use a commercially available spreadsheet program with access for everyone in the company. As your business grows, you'll probably need a relational database since the files and data you need increases in complexity. Talk to your IT professionals about the best software to support your growing business and archiving needs.
Long-Term Archive Management
Long-term archive management is very different than short-term file storage you're keeping on the computer. Keeping a file on hand for years or decades almost certainly means paper. Storing paper documents takes forethought and good file organization.
Set aside a little floor space in your building, or rent a lot of floor space in someone else's building, and set up some sturdy wire shelves. Because large amounts of paper can be rather heavy, you’ll want to check to make sure each shelf can support at least 100 pounds. Use collapsible boxes to keep the papers neatly tucked away, and seal them with cellophane tape. Make sure all sides of the boxes are clearly labeled with a black marker pen, since any one label can be smeared or made illegible with the passage of time.
Quick File Retrieval
On the extreme opposite end of the storage spectrum, some records need to be instantly available all the time. Planograms and briefing papers are good examples of this, since they need to be viewed frequently. Keep these records inside the file cabinets at night, ideally locked down tight, and take them out when you start up each morning.
Have a rolling cart handy for distributing the records to whomever needs them at the moment. Make sure each type of document has its own Manila folder, even if the quarterly report runs to 500 pages and the daily invoice is a single sheet; give each its own file folder, and don't mix them up. It’s equally important to attach a clipboard to the cart and require that each person sign for the documents they're working on.
With a thriving business, you may be drowning in paperwork and electronic files. To bring sanity to your file management system, sort the paperwork according to how you use it, and then archive it in an orderly fashion so you can find what you need when you need it. It's also a good idea to purchase a shredder and a large wastepaper basket. As you bring your files under control, you'll be surprised at how much clutter you can do without.
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