As a business owner or entrepreneur, you potentially generate a lot of paper. Contracts, invoices, financial records – not to mention trade publications and junk mail – it all adds up. Going paperless, or at least minimizing your office’s paper input and output has both pros and cons. If you’ve decided to take the paperless plunge, there are steps to take to make the transition as painless as possible.
Less Space Required
One of the most obvious benefits of going paperless is the reduction in the amount of required storage space. Digital files take up a lot less floor and shelf space than file cabinets, boxes and piles of paper. Less paper also make relocation easier if and when you decide to move your office or manufacturing plant.
More Efficient Filing
Another big advantage to going paperless is more efficient filing. Even the most efficient paper file system falls short where cross-referencing is concerned. Maintaining a list of cross-referenced files helps – but the list must be updated with every new file added or old file deleted. By contrast, cross referencing electronic files is a snap. In many cases, typing in a single keyword produces a complete list of related files.
Easier, Quicker, Less Expensive Document Transmission
Services like UPS, FedEx, DHL and local courier services have made it possible to move documents overnight – and in extremely urgent circumstances, within hours or even minutes. But such services are often extremely expensive. On the other hand, transmitting electronic documents via email or services like Dropbox or Google Drive is instantaneous – and often free, even for lengthy files.
Security breaches are far and away the most hazardous drawback to going paperless. Maintaining electronic records in house minimizes the risk of data breaches – but does not eliminate such risks – especially from ransomware attacks. Storing documents in the cloud eliminates ransomware risks – but potentially increases the risk of data breaches.
Utilizing a strong in-house security protocol, including anti-virus and anti-malware software, plus a firewall decreases the risk of viruses and Trojans for files maintained in house. Maintaining backups offline reduces the risk of ransomware. If you opt for a cloud-based service, insisting on strong encryption (or HIPAA-compliant services for sensitive documents) can produce peace of mind.
Irretrievable Documents and Data Entry Errors
Irretrievable documents represent a minimal risk if you scan paper documents manually, input data by hand – and store your company’s files locally. However, going paperless with utility bills and bank statements puts you at risk of being unable to retrieve past records, because many banks or utility companies only retain old statements for a limited time. Even if archived documents are available, there is often a steep charge involved for retrieving them.
Relying on cloud storage relieves your company of much of the burden of maintaining security for your files (see below). However, your company is then at the mercy of the cloud storage provider. Choosing a company that emphasizes maximum uptime and responsive technical support minimizes that risk.
Finally, making the transition to a paperless office requires scanning paper documents into electronic files or manually inputting data. Neither process is foolproof. In fact, document reading and data entry errors can go undetected for weeks or even longer. Double checking scans and data entry results minimizes the risk of errors – but does not eliminate such errors completely.
Incompatible Formats and Inaccessible Data
Transmitting documents stored in Word, Excel or another format to other users can be problematic. Incompatible file formats or files that are not mobile friendly can result in lost information. Storing files in PDF format makes transmission easier, but retrieving information from PDF files requires conversion software – which like scanning paper documents, is not always foolproof.
Making the Transition Easier
Deciding to go paperless requires little more than thoughtful consideration. However, the transition process can be tedious. Hiring temps can ease the burden. However, reducing the number of documents that must be converted is also desirable. The following three steps can help.
- Toss, then Toss Again: While some documents, such as tax forms and contracts should be retained, outdated paperwork can be shredded or used as scrap.
- Minimize Paper Statements: Request paperless statements from utility companies. File your taxes electronically. While it’s true that outside entities won’t maintain your records indefinitely, you can and should establish and maintain your own files.
- Eliminate Junk Mail: Just as you can opt out of telemarketing calls, you can opt out of unsolicited mail. The National Do Not Mail List, DMAchoice.org and OptOutPrescreen.com allow you to request being removed from prescreened credit card offers and other unsolicited mail.
Going (Nearly) Paperless
Going completely paperless is unlikely to be practical or even possible. However, for many companies and entrepreneurs, minimizing paper records is the right choice. If you decide to take the nearly paperless plunge, following common-sense safeguards can make the transition as painless as possible. It’s also a good idea to consult with an accountant or attorney before discarding any questionable documents.