Records Management Tips for Small Businesses

For many businesses, the focus of records management is on the organisation and storage of documents. They want to be able to securely store their business documents in a way that enables quick and easy access. At this level, the goal is business efficiency.

Record keeping systems can range from paper-based systems (think: cute-coloured manila folders) to slightly more complex computer (Windows Explorer) or cloud-based ones (Dropbox, Google Drive or perhaps even Evernote). Ultimately, the type, size, and complexity of your business is what determines the best record keeping system for you. I have to say though, most of the clients I work with have embraced cloud-based storage as the way to go and it works well.

In addition to keeping good records, is the equally important piece around knowing which of your business records need to be retained and for how long. Typically, these cover records that have a taxation implication. Here the goal is compliance.

Developing a document management approach for Efficiency

Not all document management systems are created equal. When shopping for a document management system, consider its features in relation to your specific needs.

The following five features are what I consider the MVP:

  • Cloud access: You want to be able to access your stuff from anywhere and at any time, whether you’re online or off.
  • Intuitive user interface: You are literally going to interact with your document management system on a daily basis, so it needs to look good and be intuitive for all levels of use.
  • Search capability: As your business and team grow, and the range of documents you create / retain expands, a robust search function will become a must have.
  • Version control: Good systems should offer some sort of a mechanism to go back in a document’s history.
  • Permissions and protections: This one is especially important as you go from being a solopreneur to running a team. You really need to be able to set permissions around access and view/edit rights so that access to documents is driven by an individual’s role on your team.

Now that we’ve got the tech end of things covered, let’s talk process:

  • As early as you can in your journey, you need to come up with a filing structure that works for you. As an example, the first level of folders might look something like this:
Folder Structure in a Small Business
  • You also need to settle on a file naming convention that you are happy to use consistently. Everyone on your team needs to understand and use this convention too.
  • Remember, email has become a huge part of doing business. Most of us communicate with our clients, teams, suppliers, and contractors via email. This means keeping a good filing system for your emails is also crucial.

The great thing is most email services allow you to create folders to organise your emails.

Here, I am inclined to mirror the same filing structure that you have for all your other records. That way you just have the one system to work.

Developing a records management policy for compliance

There is no one way to set yourself up.

I always say — start your business with a simple record keeping system and fine tune it as your business grows so that it continues to cope with the increase in number, type, and complexity of records.

Here are the steps to take when developing a records management system for your business:

Sort and classify all your documents

(a) Critical documents include things like contracts, agreements, and proposals that led to a project being won. These tend to be retained securely for a set period of time and then permanently archived.

(b) Non critical documents would include the more operational or administrative-type records like travel records and meeting minutes. These tend to be retained securely for a relatively shorter period of time and then destroyed when they are no longer needed for business purposes.

Research how long different record types need to be retained based on where you are based

For those of you operating in the Australian environment, here is a link to the records you are obligated to keep and a guideline around retention periods.

Map out your records management policy

A simple spreadsheet showing classification, minimum retention period and storage/disposal guidelines is all that’s needed.

In this step, you want to consider the appropriate approach for both electronic and hard copy records.

Now that you have a clear and compliant plan, all that’s left is to stick to it.

I truly believe that the right records management system can go a long way towards reducing stress, increasing efficiencies, and managing risks so I hope this post has helped in some way, even if it presents itself as a first step in the right direction.

Oh and, if document organisation just isn’t your thing, feel free to delegate it 😊