First Person: The Value of a Small Business Filing System

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John R. Aberle created this image of a computer directory with file folders and documents to show a file system for “How to Save Time by Having a System for Your Files.”

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John R. Aberle created this image of a computer directory with file folders and documents to show a file …

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I first learned the value of a filing system as a sales person when I used index cards with date and month divider tabs to keep my sales call organized. I also had file folders for customers organized alphabetically so I could find my notes before calling on someone.

When I became a sales manager, the need for files became greater. As a small business owner, the importance of a filing system really became important because now several people needed access to the information, like pending orders. Whether you use physical paper files or digital, you need to know how to save time by having a system for your files.

How You Benefit by Organizing Your Filing System

For 40 months as a small business consultant working for an international company, I was required to find savings for clients, regardless of the type consulting job it was. I learned quickly to look for labor savings. Poor filing systems account for a lot of wasted time in most small businesses.

There are several reasons that wasted time is important to you as a small business owner or manager:

- People looking for a file aren't able to do more productive work.

- It might mean keeping customers waiting for an answer, which can be very frustrating to them.

- In the worst case scenario, it can mean overtime or missing a deadline.

Remember that 15 minutes wasted looking for files that could have been found easily with a good filing system add up. If your $10 per hour employee's burdened labor cost is $15 per hour, here is what those costs mean:

$15/hour x .25 minutes x 5 days per week x 50 weeks (2 weeks dropped for vacation and holidays) = $ 937.50 per year - for that one employee only / = $1,875.00 per year for two employees

How many employees do you have this applies to? I have seen clients where they typically wasted far more than 15 minutes per day. One type of small business where a lot of time can be wasted is in an engineering and surveying firm because of the extensive files they must maintain that often get buried on someone's desk. They also frequently lack some important document that should have been filed days or even weeks ago.

Admittedly it takes time to decide on how you want your filing system organized and then to set it up the first time. It's the second time it is used that you start to recover the investment of time and effort. You will really appreciate it when you are in a hurry to find the information in one of those files.

How to Organize Your Office for Efficiency and Effectiveness

Here are some practical suggestions for paper or physical files:

- Determine what information you need in paper files

- Small businesses can sometimes benefit from paper files because it is easier to train a new employee what to do

- Sales reports - while it is wonderful having all of this information on a computer, salesperson typically resist doing paperwork and, especially, entering information into computers. While this may have changed with texting and iPads, you may still find it easier to have a clerk enter the data off a paper report

- Files you need for the government, like INS records on each employee

- Staple a checklist of what this file should contain on the inside cover of the folder

- Use "file in Use" card as placeholders for files removed*

*I like having large, colored cardstock forms with a grid for Date Taken / Name (printed) / Signature / Date Returned / Initials for Return - use signature here too if you could have confusion over the initials.

Two Tips for Organizing Computer Files

- Date things in yymmdd order on your computer files.**

- Put a text document in the file folder to tell people where to find a file or document when it isn't in that folder.

**This greatly simplifies searching for the right file - compare the examples below:

Jones Quote 100115

Jones Quote 111209

Jones Quote 110729

Jones Quote December 09, 2011

Jones Quote January 15, 2010

Jones Quote July 29, 2011

An organized filing system saves time looking for important documents and records. First, you will stop paying for wasted labor. In the example above, a low paid employee searching for misplaced files 15 minutes a day added up to roughly $1,000 per year. You will also remove a lot of frustration from your life. Whether all of your files are all on a computer or some are physical, you need to know how to save time by having a system for your files.


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