People have been implementing different ways to go paperless for a long time now. We understand that this is not a new emerging topic and are certain you have probably implemented at least one of our bullet points. Our goal for this article is simple: enable our readers to be more knowledgeable on this stuff, especially if it can help increase productivity and save some money. Perhaps there is a few ideas we do not outline today, and if so, we would like for you to open up dialog with us and pitch in a little. We would love to do a follow-up blog post with some more great ideas.
First we would like to point out not all paper documents should be digitized. We are not experts in law, taxes, or real-estate by any means, but we have enough common sense to outline some concerns and make some suggestions to give you something to think about before stuffing a document into a shredder and avoid some potential pitfalls. Here is a few examples to think about when dealing with paper documents:
Pension plans typically last 50 years or more. There is no statute of limitation on fraud, so the normal 3-year or 6-year or 7-year IRS ‘keep” rules don’t necessarily apply. Proof of cost basis in property, i.e., if you inherited it, or if your parents bought it and they die, so you can properly calculate capital gains or estate taxes. Also, title searches and property transfers might require keeping records for 100 years or more. If you have no records, the assumptions you are allowed to make usually work against you.
Are the values of the property or other items provable by means of written appraisals or other arms-length valuations, as the dates of those values are claimed on the returns? If IRS wants to claim fraud for whatever reason, there is no statute of limitations. All they have to do is request they are auditing for fraud, even if no fraud is found. Bottom line is there is a lot to think about and our suggestion is keep the original paper for all legal documents, active contracts, etc. and or consult with your attorney, tax, or real-estate experts.
• Establish a file structure and a way you are going to name files to make sure everyone is on the same page. This is often called coding and makes retrieving the documents down the road a lot easier.
• Make sure you are prepared for a disaster and have a backup plan in place to cover the wide range of contingencies. From fried servers and hard drives to cyber-attacks and hacking, you need to have backup plan and it’s not a bad idea to have cyber liability insurance as well.
• Sift and sort ruthlessly through all paper documents and either scan the important stuff or recycle/shred the old no longer needed stuff. There is some paper documents you don’t want to discard of due to laws or retention policies as explained above so be certain before taking the leap.
• Don’t use your printer. Instead choose the “print to PDF” feature and save web pages.
• Understand specific compliance requirements in your industry regarding your documents to avoid having to start over with your paperless efforts. This is especially important in the legal and health industries.
• Digital documents should be saved in a centralized repository such as a file server, SharePoint, Basecamp, DropBox, Google Docs, or SkyDrive. These options may not meet your organizations needs in terms of security, workflow, compatibility, backup, continuity, etc. so do your homework or ask us for advice. The point is digital documents are easier to find via search when organized and online then digging through a file drawer.
• Send out all invoices via email. Most billing software on the market has this capability. This will save money on paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps. Most importantly this process will save a bunch of time. On the other end of the spectrum, this will eliminate the customer from having to scan, publish, and store/shred any materials. Paperless billing is a win/win!
• Convert paper intake forms into digital MS Word or PDF files or web based forms and publish them on your web-site so customers can fill them out making it easy for everyone to have a digital copy to keep rather than a paper copy to deal with.
• Manage contracts with online services and get electronic signatures. Use a service like DocuSign or Adobe’s EchoSign.
• All bills should be paid online. Electronic statements should be delivered via email not snail mail. Most financial institutions offer services such as “Bill Pay” that handle all of this to make the process of paying bills easy. Alternatively, you can create a specific mailbox such as firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up to all the accounts with that email. Then manage all the accounts in a password manager to assist in easy payment processing month to month. Eliminate your paper bills!
• Make sure to save your online statements (bank, bills, etc.) securely in one of your repositories. We don’t always know how long electronic statements will be accessible online. You can either find out or take matters into your own hands and simply save them at the end of each year.
• Use a service by a company called Earth Class Mail and have all of your mail scanned and sent to you digitally. After a few months you can eliminate all the junk and get what really matters.
• All notes, best practices, and processes should be saved and digitally organized in a software program such as MS OneNote, Evernote, Circus Ponies Notebook, or Livescribe Smartpen.
• Make scanning easy for everyone. Put a scanner on everyone’s desk or have one centrally located in the office for ease of access. Please note that choosing a dedicated document scanner can be an in-depth process and will require a bit of research. We are not going to go into detail on that today, however you may want to consider having both sides of a document scanned, a certain amount of pages per minute capacity, OCR on a PDF document, etc. Lots of things to think about when buying a scanner. If you are planning to scan a lot of documents, the process of purchasing a dedicated scanner and dedicated scan station is a whole other ball game and is something you should reach out and talk with us directly about. If you want to put a scanner on everyone’s desk for low volume scanning, here is a short list of some we recommend: Canon ImageFormula DR-2010C and Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500.
• Choose the software you scan documents with wisely. If you use a proprietary program, some day that program won’t work, or lack compatibility with new operating systems, and you won’t be able to read your older files. One program that has been around forever that is often recommended is VueScan by Hamrick.
This is a generalized overview of going paperless. We understand every business is different and needs a customized experience based on many factors. We hope this gave you some ideas you can run with. Thanks again for being a loyal reader of our Predictably Better newsletter. We’ll be back next month!